RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) — The church must stand together in agreement to pursue justice and heal the lingering impact of racism in society, Frank Williams, the newly installed president of the National African American Fellowship, a group of more than 4,000 Black Southern Baptist pastors, said in a recent seminar on injustice and racism.
Willams’ breakout session at the 28th annual Black Church Leadership and Family Conference (BCLFC) July 19-23 at Ridgecrest Conference Center, “A Biblical Response to Social Injustice: Navigating Racial Tensions in the SBC,” addressed God’s perspective of justice, the church’s history which Williams said was complicit with systems of racial injustice, and how churches can be a part of the solution in the Southern Baptist Convention and the larger culture.
Williams explained how injustice and racism flow from spiritual principalities and powers that the church supported and embraced through slavery, Jim Crow and other systems of oppression.
“The church couldn’t fight against racism because it was divided on its legitimacy,” Williams said. “The church couldn’t fight the principality that implemented the system of racism because it liked it. It liked it. You can’t fight a principality and sleep with it. A house divided against itself shall not stand. You can’t fight with a divided heart on the issue. Your prayer has no power. It goes nowhere.
“That’s why it’s going to take all of us to get this right, because the church is all of us together,” Williams said. “It’s going to take us all to fix it.”
Williams pastors Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church and the Bronx Baptist Church in New York. His presentation was among about 100 small-group sessions offered at BCLFC.
He said the SBC cannot change its past but must move forward with a united goal.
“We must continue to work together with sensitivity to the realities of the Black experience, mutually build real relationships across racial lines, purposefully remove lingering systemic barriers, and do all this through the lenses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the exact expression of the God ‘who loves righteousness and justice’ (Psalm 33:5),” Williams told Baptist Press after his presentation. “Additionally, we must together continue to resist the lies of principalities and powers that negatively influence people, that tell us we cannot move forward as a united Body of Christ, and that motivate the worst in us (James 4:7).”
Social ills have spiritual roots, he said.
“If we are fighting principalities and powers, and rulers and hosts of wickedness in heavenly places, whose work is to implement systems in the earth that are against the will of God, and that are detrimental to the human experience and the human soul,” Williams told attendees, “I think we can say unequivocally that slavery was one such system. That slavery’s ultimate root is in a principality and power that used a particular race of people in this world who were vulnerable to that way of thinking about others, or who bought into an ideology that led them to think that way about others.”
Racism and racial superiority were among several ideologies of the Jim Crow era, he said, including such theories as eugenics and evolution.
Williams pointed out numerous passages on God’s desire and mandates for justice and accountability, including Exodus 21:12-14, and 22:21, 24 – 25; Leviticus 19:3-37; Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Psalms 33:4-5, 89:14, and 72:4; Proverbs 2:6-9, 21:3; and Micah 6:8.
The Scriptures point out specifically, Williams said in his presentation, that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne; the Lord loves righteousness and justice, the Lord provides wisdom and success so that He can use those with integrity to guard the paths of justice; God is determined to bring justice to the needy and break the oppressor’s grip on human society, and under the Old Covenant, God established His standard of righteousness, justice, and holiness.”
After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the SBC became “a leading voice of segregation in the South,” among other groups, Williams said. “They became sort of the poster child for segregation and racism in our country.”
The church promoted legislation in support of segregation and racism, and used that legislation as justification for its actions.
“The white Southern culture, including the church, began to endorse and create a violent system of segregation called Jim Crow,” Williams said. “What I found interesting about the way Jim Crow was implemented in the South, was they would actually have planned lynchings that were advertised and after church services. The society included the church, and so the participation of deacons and ministers in these communal affairs was a part of how life happened. I’m focusing on the church, but it was the culture of the country in that particular area at large.”
He likened the church’s participation in lynchings to the work of Pharisees and Sadducees who would seek to kill Jesus after he said something with which they disagreed.
“So this idea of those raising hands in worship and hearing the Word of God and then moving with the intent for murder and to kill is not unheard of. It’s in the Gospel,” Williams said.
Williams points to the Gospel as the solution, as it rescues both the oppressor and the oppressed, and addresses today’s problems that had not yet occurred when Scripture was given.
“For God, everything is connected to justice. We need laws, and we need love. Legislation — Old Covenant — manages behavioral practices and systems of punishment. Love — New Covenant – manages the heart, transforms the mind, and enables grace and forgiveness,” he said. “The whole strategy of God through the Gospel is the full liberation of humanity from principalities and powers.”
Williams encouraged the church to escape false ideologies by preaching the Word, praying, speaking up, fearing God and embracing structural accountability.
“As Christians, let us commit to being a part of the solution with the Word of God and for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17),” Williams said. “God’s ultimate response to the need for justice is seen in His sacrificial love for humanity. He knew that it would be impossible to completely eliminate sin, even the sin of racism within us, and He decided to take sin upon Himself. … He Himself suffered for our sins and made the atonement for the oppressed and for the oppressors.”
Williams referenced Jarvis Williams’ Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, among other readings.
“To erase the stain of racism in the SBC requires all racial groups within the denomination to preach reconciliation, to live multiethnic lives, and to reject and fight against the enduring effects of white supremacy with the Gospel of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus,” he said, quoting from Jarvis Williams’ book.