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Racial discrimination still a part of some SBC churches, Land says

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Though civil rights for all were established by law some 30 years ago in the United States, “most white Americans have no idea how racist America still is,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the man who led the SBC in 1995 to publicly apologize for their its discrimination.
Land addressed the need for a continued emphasis on racial reconciliation during an academic workshop on Baptist distinctives at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary March 16-20.
“Racism hurts everyone involved,” Land said. “Racism victimizes those it oppresses and racism shrivels the souls of those who are the perpetrators.”
Formerly pastor of New Orleans’ Vieux Carre Baptist Church in 1970, “the only church I knew of at that time in New Orleans that would accept African Americans as members,” Land said if Southern Baptists are going to do much toward evangelizing the world — most of which is not white — “we’re going to have to learn from our African American brothers and sisters how to do it.”
“If we’re going to have truly multiethnic churches, we need to educate our churches on the subject of racial reconciliation,” said Land, who graduated from New Orleans Seminary in 1972 with the master of theology degree. “We are going to have to do color-blind evangelism and win people of color to Jesus.
“Pastors must embrace it and must train their deacons to embrace it.”
Noting the justice finally brought in Mississippi to the three-decade-old murder case of Medgar Evers, Land said racial discrimination is still unfortunately very much alive among some Southern Baptists, “primarily concentrated in the Deep South and in rural areas across the South.”
And in some of those Southern Baptist churches, Land said, “if you scratch a little bit, you won’t just find a racist, you’ll find a Grand Dragon.”
As a recent example, Land gave an account of “a church about 15 miles outside of Wake Forest, N.C.,” where Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his wife, Dorothy, were members until the church refused to allow African Americans to worship.
“The pastor had witnessed to some African Americans in the community and of course invited them to come to church the next Sunday morning,” Land said. However, some deacons protested having the African Americans worshiping there.
Patterson and his wife left the church, declaring publicly, “I will not be a member of a church that does not allow African Americans to worship or be members.”
Several members of the NOBTS academic workshop class said they knew others or themselves had been fired from SBC churches in the South within the past few years for inviting African Americans and encouraging them to become members.
Land said Martin Luther King Jr. addressed this problem, calling white pastors to “push the envelope as far as you can without getting fired, because you will be replaced by someone less committed to the cause than you are.”
“We must continue to bear witness to the fact the God loves us all,” Land said. “We must continue to preach the Word without fear and continue to make a clear case that a racist view is sub-biblical.”
Most African Americans today either have been or have known someone personally who has been discriminated against in recent years, he said, and while most white Americans see a police officer coming their way and are reassured, many African Americans see a police officer and see a threat.
Southern Baptists must notice these inequities, Land said.
“We must learn from the past and not be crippled by it.
“In many ways our forefathers were great men, but they had a huge blind spot,” Land said, admitting that his great-great-grandfather was a slave owner.
“We need to acknowledge that blind spot and we need to apologize and move to initiate reconciliation.
“We must continue to dialogue,” said Land, who hosts a live call-in talk show, “For Faith and Family,” broadcast weekly on nearly 200 Christian radio stations.
“We must continue to pray and be vigilant.”
Careful to say he did not want to underestimate the problem of racial discrimination, Land said, “some real progress has been made,” noting “virtually all church growth in recent years among Southern Baptists in the Northeast has been non-Anglo, multi- ethnic.”
Land’s class on Baptist distinctives included studying the Baptist Faith and Message, a statement adopted by the SBC in 1963. “There is not a sentence, not a phrase, in the Baptist Faith and Message that is not a Baptist distinctive,” he said.
Other topics in the class included religious liberty, separation of church and state, and the development of a unique Southern Baptist theological foundation.

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  • Debbie Moore