Last week, Fred Luter was elected the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention (for more information, see this article… and this one… and this one). I could not have been more proud. Or more ashamed of the reasons why this was a truly historic moment for my denomination.
A few years ago, when I learned that the SBC was formed because Northern Baptists refused to allow slaveholders to become missionaries– and that SBC pastors and members had twisted God’s word to protect slavery and to fight civil rights– I was not just ashamed; I was heartbroken. This was not just my cultural heritage that had acted inexcusably– this was my faith heritage, my Christian family tree. They encouraged cruelty and injustice instead of standing for the love and justice of God. How could the denomination that led me to the knowledge of the truth be the same denomination that turned its back on the truth not so long ago?
It is a testament to the power of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness that today the SBC is the largest single protestant denomination in the United States… and that more and more of our churches are becoming ethnically diverse. And it is a testament to the transforming work of God in the hearts of people that today our president is of a race we once oppressed. God transformed the hearts of generations of oppressors to turn to truth, justice, and repentance. He also transformed the hearts of generations of the oppressed to turn to forgiveness and love.
Our God does work miracles.
I know racism still exists in tough, jagged, little pieces in the South and in the SBC. But I pray that God would continue to work miracles and that this pattern of embracing justice and repentance would flood our churches and extend to the rest of the globe. In my opinion, if the SBC truly wants to take a stand for freedom and justice, its people should join in– lock stock, and barrel– with the fight against modern slavery. There are 27 million slaves in the world today– more than any time in history (including the African slave trade). If we’ve really changed our hearts and our ways, we cannot do nothing. Failing to bring justice when you have the means to do so is passive oppression.
This is what the Lord says: The wise man must not boast in his wisdom; the strong man must not boast in his strength; the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth. But the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understands and knows Me —that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things. This is the Lord’s declaration.
It is a time to be proud of how far God has brought us. But it is not time to stop moving. We must keep pressing forward– toward social justice and spiritual freedom for every soul. Maybe that’s too ambitious. But I dream big because my God is big. He will bring justice– we must decide if we are going to part of his campaign or not.
From what I’ve read, Fred Luter has many fantastic qualities and accomplishments that make him a great choice for this office. His election is not just about race, of course. But it does signify a huge step for Southern Baptists.