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Sunday, March 15, 2015

The SBC and white-led racial reconciliation

Deborah BruntHere, guest writer Deborah Brunt offers her perspective with regard to her denominational tradition and a recent initiative calling for racial reconciliation. 

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), has launched a racial reconciliation initiative, signed by several SBC pastors of different races and ethnicities.

The heartcry and united purpose expressed in the Baptist Press article is encouraging. Yet I’d suggest: The one white-led “initiative” that can actually further, rather than hinder, racial reconciliation will be an initiative to humble ourselves, in order to:
  • see, grieve and turn from sins we haven’t wanted to admit; and
  • adopt a learner/follower attitude toward other races and ethnicities, as we seek together to restore relationship.

The signing of the new SBC initiative by pastors of different races may seem a step in the right direction, as did the election of a black SBC president in 2012 and 2013, and the SBC’s Resolution on Racial Reconciliation, enacted 20 years ago. The current initiative’s signers may well be sincere in their desire for breakthrough. But for all their good intentions, might these SBC pastors continue instead only to further illusion?

Cartoon: Character #1: "I'm not racist but"; character #2: "Shhh...shh, it's okay. It's okay. Just accept your racism and never finish that thought"
In recent decades, openly teaching racial inequality has fallen into profound disfavor. At the same time, white membership in the SBC and other denominations has declined. Indeed, church growth in the US is happening in ethnic sectors, but not in non-Latino white.

Today, white Christians do not want to be seen as bigoted, nor do they think of themselves as such. Denominational leaders do not want to lose followers or income. Yet white people do love our privilege; we love to be seen as the heroes; and we’re terrified of losing control. So we have a strong proclivity to act like we’re leading toward change in race relations, when the changes are mostly cosmetic and we’re still committed to doing things the way we always have.

White men created the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 to defend and align with a Southern culture adamant to retain slavery. In spite of steps taken to create distance from that past, white men still control the denomination, its entities and its attitudes.

Whether Southern Baptist or not, it’s time for white Christians to stop – and even recant – our efforts to “lead out” in racial reconciliation.

Key Truths logo: heart locket
Further, it’s time to repent for believing we’ve already repented for our racial wrongs. Our confessions have yielded far too little genuine, lasting fruit, maybe because we’re so prone to overlooking our sins and so eager to deplore theirs. If we’ll really listen to our prayers of confession, we’ll realize how often we only lament the acts of people “back then” or “out there” or who we otherwise would classify as “them,” and not “us.”

Now 150 years after the Civil War, it’s past time for us to take the long, hard look needed to get gut-level honest about the depth and breadth of our sins. It’s time to see – then grieve, confess and turn from – sins currently operating in our lives, our families, our relationships, our churches and our US Christian culture. It’s time to admit we need guidance and help from others who aren’t “us,” in order to be free.

Deborah Brunt is an author and blogger at Her book, We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, explores in-depth the issues identified in this article. Continue reading with her follow up article on 'Pride and Privilege.'


  1. I like your idea of growth and seeing, grieving and moving forward - it's all about healing and finding things we have in common - not things that tear us further apart.

  2. Thank you, Fruit Baskets - and I agree.

  3. I'm not disagreeing with the sentiment of this post but it strikes me as a bit ingenuous (by author & blog host) when the call to "stop leading out in racial rec" is made by a white Christian on a blog lead by a white Christian, who is trying to lead out in racial reconciliation. Have I missed something?

  4. Um, I meant disingenuous.

  5. heh. Yeah, I figured. I can edit it for you if you want (not sure what Disqus allows commenters to do).

  6. Another thought that it occurs to me is that in situations like the one written in these two posts, sometimes it is helpful to have white people call out other white people so that the heat of doing so doesn't fall on folks of color that might be navigating those structural powers. It has to be done with respect for the wishes of those affected, and without speaking over, but sometimes calling out other white folks is exactly what is needed.

  7. I think you should see yourself as a leader in as much as a leader is an influencer. As far as I can tell, you are trying to influence others by hosting this blog. I wouldn't want you to shy away from the kind of influence and leadership that you are seeking to have.

  8. I definitely agree with the conviction that white people should relate, engage and discuss with other white people about issue of race and relational righteousness instead of leaving the weight of this work for persons of color. And yet, at some point relationships across racial lines are hopefully built.

  9. I fixed it. Whew. Crisis averted. :-)

  10. Fair enough. The question of 'what is a leader?' is an interesting one in itself with many implications in justice work.

    Your second paragraph is right on point. All important and true. (eg. 'Is Justice New' My hope is that newly-awaken folks will continue to push into the work even when it is no longer trendy. The proof will be in the pudging though.


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