NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It’s not every day a major newsweekly asks you to peer into a crystal ball and try to predict the future, but that’s what World magazine recently asked of the president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. World, the fourth-largest weekly newsmagazine in the United States, asked Richard Land and six other prominent evangelicals to write on the topic of black-white relations in the year 2063 — the 100th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
But Land didn’t need a crystal ball to speculate about the state of race relations in America 62 years out. He has been hammering away on the need for racial reconciliation since before God called him into the ministry, and he is hopeful that the ugly barriers between racial and ethnic groups in the United States will soon tumble.
Long a student of the slain civil rights leader, Land wrote his article for the special September/October issue of the magazine from the perspective of a yet-to-be-born grandson, Richard D. Land III.
In composing the article, Land took an optimistic view that was predicated on the fact that the United States would experience a spiritual awakening in the not-too-distant future. “The law has done all it can do in terms of bringing about racial reconciliation,” Land said, while expressing appreciation for the flurry of civil and voting rights laws passed during the 1960s that established judicial and civil equality among the races.
“Yet the rest of the journey is a spiritual one and will only be accomplished by spiritual means in the hearts of regenerate believers — black and white and brown and yellow,” he continued.
“Dr. King’s dream will never be fulfilled without something similar to the First and Second Great Awakenings our country experienced,” Land explained. “Government and laws have done about all the heavy lifting they can do on this issue.”
Choosing among the range of literary options suggested by World magazine editors, Land first approached the assignment by writing the article as if it was a chapter in a history book published in 2063. On reflection, he recalled, “It just didn’t seem to sing.” Then in the wee hours of the Monday morning prior to the start of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans, Land rewrote the text in his hotel room as if he were his own grandson speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the 100th anniversary celebration of King’s powerful Aug. 28, 1963, speech on those same steps.
He envisioned his grandson as president of the Continental Baptist Convention, a fictitious denomination of some 40 million members borne out of the merger of the Southern Baptist Convention with the evangelical elements of both the National Baptist Conventions (in which King ministered) and the American Baptist Churches in the U.S. (formerly the Northern, and then American, Baptist Conventions) as well as former Southern Baptist churches in Canada.
Land envisioned the new convention swelling to 40 million members in six decades — a membership 150 percent larger than the current Southern Baptist Convention. “Most of these new members would be the fruit of a general spiritual awakening in America in which I hope and pray Baptists would play an integral and vital role,” he said.
“This historic merger, based on theology and racial reconciliation was finalized in 2045, on the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Land wrote. He said in a later interview that such a merger would be “institutional reconciliation,” a natural product of the call for “racial reconciliation” laid out in widely publicized SBC resolution in 1995.
“It continues to be my hope and dream that all Baptists of like faith and order will someday be in one denominational family,” said Land, commenting on the possibility of an institution akin to the Continental Baptist Convention as described in the article.
“If it were not for the sins of the fathers visited upon succeeding generations, there would have never been racial division in the Baptist family,” Land continued. He said such a denomination could come to be with a spiritual awakening that sparks “color-blind evangelism.” Land noted that if present demographic trends remain steady, only half of the U.S. population would be Anglo in the year 2063.
In the magazine article, Land paints a vivid picture of a museum dedicated to the victims of slavery — a building built “on the shores of the Potomac, in sight of the nation’s Capitol” and “memorializing the millions victimized by the American ‘Holocaust.'”
Modeled after the existing U.S. Holocaust Museum, which tells the story of the Jewish victims of the European Holocaust, this fictitious museum has as its centerpiece a “graphic, life-sized reproduction of the hold of a slave ship, including wax replicas of slaves packed tortuously and lethally close together.”
“They asked me to dream,” Land said of the World magazine assignment, and to ponder if in 2063 “on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood” and if in 2063 individuals will be judged by the color of their skin or by “the content of their character.”
“It is my fervent prayer that Dr. King’s glorious dream will come to pass in this century,” Land said. “We have had two great religious awakenings, and slavery survived both,” he said, “because Christians failed to understand their prophetic commission to be salt and light in society.
“We still await the kingdom of reconciliation,” Land admitted, adding to a metaphor King uttered during his April 1961 chapel address at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: “We are broken loose from the Egypt of slavery; we have moved through the wilderness of segregation; we stand on the border of the Promised Land of integration.”
Land said King’s dream was not a secular dream, but a moral dream. “We need to understand the enemy we face. Racial bigotry is tightly woven into the fabric of our society.” It is a sin — not a skin — problem, Land added.
“As Christians we have a unique responsibility to tell our culture that the answer to the problem of racism can be found in the spiritual dimension,” he said.
“Rising from the ashes of racism,” the article written by Richard Land for the special September/October 2001 issue of World magazine can be accessed online at http://www.worldmag.com/world/issue/08-25-01/cover_4.asp.