The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest protestant denomination, could elect its first African-American president in June. This is a deliberate step to move beyond its long history of promoting and preaching racial segregation, which predates the Civil War. The Convention was actually born out of a conflict over slavery. Baptists in the south supported slavery and Baptists in the north refused to appoint missionaries who owned slaves.
But despite the origin of Baptist beliefs and worshipping traditions, Sunday, whether intentional or non-intentional, is arguably the most racially-segregated day of the week in America — irrespective of your denominational affiliation. Whether you attend worship services in a church located in the urban core, a suburban area, or in the valleys and hillsides along winding country roads, it is very likely that the parishioner beside you or across the isle is of the same race if not the same ethnic group.
Many of us gather in the pews Sunday after Sunday, unbothered and unfettered by the racial homogeneity all around us, even when the edifice and its distinct steeple peers from a neighborhood whose residents may or may not be homogeneous at all. A neighborhood made up of a variety of racial and ethnic groups, members of which have never dared to dawn the church’s entrance, or never invited to come in.
Since its Convention in 1995, Southern Baptists officially apologized for their history of racism, while also trying to be more inclusive and improve race relations. One can see the transformation occurring in many of the televised services that dominate television screens during weekend services.
But in too many churches in too many communities across the nation, there is no progress at all when it comes to welcoming different races to share in the worship experience.
The Southern Baptist Convention has more than 40,000 churches as members, most of which are in the south and predominantly white. The Convention is working hard to expand its base and in recent years, minority churches have seen the greatest growth rate in the Convention.
What a great trend. Convention members are the first to acknowledge that they still have a long way to go before true integration occurs across the many congregations. But they are determined to keep moving in the right direction.
Electing Fred Luter, a New Orleans pastor, as its first African-American President will put the brotherly love that is preached on Sundays into practice.
Many others can take a lesson and perhaps have a new message on Sundays in words and deeds.