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Black minister leaves Southern Baptist Convention to shed light on racism

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, speaks with reporters after a resolution similar to one he submitted June 13 on racism was unanimously approved June 14, 2017. Messengers adopted a resolution "on the anti-Gospel of alt-right white supremacy." Photo courtesy of Baptist Press/Van Payne

(USA Today) A black Oklahoma State University lecturer says he is renouncing his ordination as a Southern Baptist minister because of the racism he sees within the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

Other black Southern Baptist leaders acknowledged the sentiment Lawrence Ware expressed in his New York Times column, published Monday (July 17). But they say staying a part of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Southern Baptist Convention allows them to help the network of churches continue to move toward racial reconciliation, a high-profile issue it has dealt with in recent decades.

The Bible calls for unity, said the Rev. Byron Day, president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“The SBC has some racist people in it, but so does other denominations as well,” Day said. “I am one that believes that it’s better not to leave, but rather to stay and help educate other brothers and sisters about problems, whether it be racism or some other issue.”

A controversial photo of five Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professors posing as rappers. Screenshot from Twitter

Ware, who is not a well-known minister but serves at Prospect Church in Oklahoma City, told the USA Today Network that he didn’t make his decision lightly or quickly.

In addition to the denomination’s pro-slavery roots, he pointed to a series of recent incidents that led to his departure, including a controversy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that involved white professors dressing up as rappers.

“I understand the logic behind wanting to stay inside an institution and make changes from the inside. … That motivation is noble in some instances, but it’s also enabling in others,” Ware said. “I just came to a place where I couldn’t stay in.”

Ware’s tipping point came last month when the Southern Baptist Convention did not immediately disavow white supremacy during its annual meeting in Phoenix. He did not attend the two-day event, and Day pointed out that Ware may not have the full picture of what happened as a result.

The resolutions committee initially rejected a resolution opposing the alt-right movement, a term often applied to those whose political views embrace white nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism.

Committee members raised concerns about the resolution’s language, and the full convention voted not to overrule the committee. Tense discussions and national media attention ensued; leaders crafted a new resolution and it passed.

READ: In dramatic turnabout, Southern Baptists condemn white supremacy

Day thinks the resolutions committee made a mistake by not amending the first resolution and bringing it to the floor for a vote initially.

But he called the resolution that eventually passed the strongest effort the Southern Baptist Convention has made concerning racism to date.


“We can only keep talking about it. Keep preaching about it. Keep encouraging all of our churches to speak out against it. That’s all we can really do,” said Day, who also is the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Maryland. “By the grace of God, we hope to see our convention get better at it.”

Lawrence Ware, a minister with Prospect Church in Oklahoma City. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, the Texas pastor who wrote the original anti-white-supremacy resolution, said he respects Ware’s decision to go, but he stays because of all the good the convention accomplishes, such as church planting and financial support.

But he wants more black Southern Baptists in denominational leadership roles and for the convention to denounce the “curse of Ham,” a religious theory that justified the basis for slavery and segregation. It was in his resolution, but not the one the convention passed.

“I think the Southern Baptist Convention is worth trying to bring healing and hope,” said McKissic, who is the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church. “The majority of the people’s hearts are in the right place, but there is still some work to be done.”

Ware, who also is co-director of his university’s Center for Africana Studies and the diversity coordinator for its philosophy department, will continue to be a minister at Prospect Church.

The church is aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention as well as the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Ware will continue to associate with the latter but told his pastor he would no longer be involved with the church’s Southern Baptist Convention-related work. (In the Southern Baptist Convention, ordination is a local church matter. The denomination doesn’t ordain or license ministers.)

Ware wrote that he knows of five others who have quietly left the denomination over the past year. He purposely made his departure public and announced it in a national publication as a way to push the Southern Baptist Convention to confront it.

“Me doing that quietly will not force them to come to terms with the lived experience of people of color in that denomination,” Ware said. “I think that more needs to be done to substantively change the culture of SBC, and I wish them the best.”

McKissic said he does think Ware’s column shed a public light on concerns raised privately by some Southern Baptists, and the mishandling of the alt-right resolution forced many black Southern Baptists to question whether they should stay. He said he knows about five people who quietly walked away, and he convinced about seven others to remain.

The Rev. Kevin L. Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware, said he is not aware of anyone closely connected to Southern Baptist life who has left. While moved by the painful story Ware shared of being called a racial slur at a Southern Baptist camp, Smith took issue with the conclusions Ware drew in the column.

But Smith does think the resolutions committee should have worked through the wording of McKissic’s initial resolution, recognizing it was an important issue for some Southern Baptists. Not doing so illustrates the challenge faced by a denomination with millions of people in it.

“That was something that was burdensome to a portion of the convention and there were other parts of the convention that just didn’t seem to realize how burdensome that was to some other brothers and sisters,” Smith said.

(Holly Meyer writes for The Tennessean) 

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  • Doesn’t matter to me who stays or goes. Even the liberals Unitarians are having their diversity troubles (of whatever kind).

    And if one takes the position that anybody anywhere can be a racist (since all temptations are common to humanity according to the Bible), then ….

  • I’m not particularly concerned about whether he stays in the SBC or leaves it. But the reality is that if he goes into any other denomination, he will find racism there, too. Racism is sin and there are tares in every church.

  • I agree that would solve some problems, but not that many. Racism is a sin and there are a zillion others.

  • One of the amusing little secrets about the progressive “inclusive” churches is that they have much smaller percentages of non-whites than the evangelical and Pentecostal churches. The Episcopalians and ELCA and UCC boast about how “diverse” and “inclusive” they are but they have considerably lower percentages of blacks and Latinos than the Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, and Churches of God. Liberal churches are essentially Sunday morning clubs for white liberals. Apparently those clubs don’t seem very attractive to minorities (or Christians).

  • I’m not sure. With our tribalism human nature we would have many ways to identify “us” v “them” such as religion, ethnicity, language and politics. But yes, racism is a biggie.

  • I am not surprised at the inflammatory remarks made by many on this site and from others, it’s because the hearts of men must be changed.
    No matter which law stands on the books, until the hearts of men are changed the laws are just a play on words.
    As our Lord has said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
    We cannot change the hearts of men by implementing laws, only God holds that power and until people realize it’s not just a ‘I don’t like you because of your color thing’ it’s I don’t like you because there has not been a spiritual new birth taken place in my soul.
    We must be born-again, that’s the only solution we have left.

  • Your point is well taken. For example, while in Germany in the early ’70’s I learned the Germans did not like Turk guest workers. One commentator in the Stars and Stripes compared the social status of Turk guest workers then to be about what African Americans faced in the 1940’s.

  • I disagree.

    We can stop rewarding hate. We can stop ignoring hate. We can stop pretending hate isn’t hate simply because someone says “I’m religious.”we can stop dividing people by race, language, religion, sexual orientation.

    When the baptists split 170 odd years ago, it was because of religious differences over owning other human beings. When The methodists split at about the same time, it was over religious differences about owning other human beings. When the Episcopalians split a few years ago, it was over religious differences over whether gay people were fully human beings.

    It would almost make you think that maybe religion isn’t the answer.

  • You are absolutely correct in your assessment, religion is the culprit that divides all of humanity into various classes, dissensions and the like, but when Christ is the Savior and Lord of one’s life, there is a distinction made between people whose lives have been changed into a new creation and those who tenaciously hold on to the facade of hopeless religion.
    Religion is the cause of many wars, death, bigotry, and many other despicable occurrences caused by religion, the religious and the religionists all in the name of ‘religion.’
    But when a man or a woman has been born-again there is a remarkable change in the individual’s life; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
    This my friend is where the line of demarcation distinguishes between religion and true Christianity.

  • I’m not looking for an argument, but this is what every believer says. “Just do what I say that god says, and we’ll all live apply ever after.”

    Which version of Christianity are we to follow? I lean towards UU and UCC myself. Baptists make my skin crawl. In any case, Jesus himself said. “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” So probably no religion that includes Jesus.

    Maybe the problem isnt the wrong religion, because every religion claims that all of the rest of them are wrong, including yours. Perhaps the problem is religion itself.

  • Neither am I sir, but I think we are addressing the same ‘issue,’ ‘religion,’ and it will always be a major factor in the complexity of a dying world and people fail to see what it is that’s holding love for one another back.
    Again; RELIGION.
    Every man wants theirs to be the one that will cure all the world’s problems, but there is only one that is based upon ‘true relationship’ and not the religious trappings of men.
    Whether you want to believe it or not Jesus is the only way to God, He is the only One who’ve paved the way to the one True God of the universe, He said,”I am the way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father, but by Me.” John 14:6
    I am praying God will change your heart to receive God’s only provision for our salvation.
    You may ask, salvation from what? Jesus died to save you and all who will believe from the wrath of God.

  • “Jesus died to save you and all who will believe from the wrath of God.”

    And you have illustrated the problem with religion exactly, better than I could have. Jesus IS god, so he died to save us from his own wrath at us for his failure to create us better than he did.

    I’m sure it makes sense to you, but not to me. For the record, just so you know, I very nearly became a Christian some 50 years ago, but that conundrum stopped me. You will probably consider this inappropriate, but for me, it sums up the dilemma exactly.

    Knock! Knock!
    Who’s there?
    It’s me, Jesus! Let me in!
    I’m here to save you.
    Save me from what?
    From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in!

  • Your cunundrum make sense to me, I’ve never thought of it the way you have but it makes sense. I had a similar one to yours about the same amount of time ago. Mine was why in the world would I want a God to lord over me if heaven and hell were not on the table. For me, I had to come to some conclusions and decide some things outside the prospect of heaven and hell, other wise what I was confessing to believe seemed like a lie.
    In his day, those who did not believe became the wrath of God upon him, Jesus that is, if we can believe his story. Just a thought your cunundrum made me consider. Thanks for posting that.

  • As always, thank you for your kind words.

    I’m either happy that I was able to help, or conversely, sad that I might have contributed to taking away something from you that you find valuable.

    Contrary to what several people here seem to think, I am neither anti god nor anti religion, though I am no kind of a believer. I have no issue with religion in general, or Christianity in particular. If faith makes your life better, and you a better person, then I am actually all for it.

    The problem is that it so often doesn’t make people better. The issue for me is always what people do with their beliefs. I’m willing to discuss or argue about religion itself, which was the point of my answer to the OP. She clearly means well. But she hadn’t thought it through. I would never tell her she is an idiot or a bad person for being a Christian, because I don’t think she is.

  • No sadness. The foundation of my faith is fine I just thought what a great question, what is my answer. I can say that the prospect of heaven and hell caused me to consider the prospect of a God and savior. As a kid I questioned the sincerity of stating a decision based on a get out of hell free card, I had to base it on something else. I guess for that reason I haven’t given God’s wrath much thought. Knock knock my wrath is coming let me in or I’ll kill you hasn’t been a question I’ve ever thought of anyone having to consider. For me it was more like, knock knock its me …just me.
    That’s me, with that said, let me say I get it when it comes to your question, I mostly get the honesty of it.