By Bob Allen
It’s time for black and white Baptists to begin honest dialogue about the reality of racial inequality in the United States, says Virginia denominational leader John Upton.
Upton, executive director of the predominantly white Baptist General Association of Virginia, said in an online video posted Sept. 25 that he hopes Virginia Baptists “will step up to the plate and engage in some very needed dialogue right now.”
Upton said few Baptists outside of the African-American community are talking about the mass incarceration of young people, disproportionally black and brown, whose futures are being ruined in the so-called war on drugs.
“It has reached a critical mass, millions and millions,” Upton said. “And nobody’s paying attention to this. When we stopped declaring war on poverty, we declared war on drugs, and we essentially declared war on these young people. And something has to be addressed.”
He urged Virginia Baptists to enter into conversation with African-American conventions about the “crisis going on in our neighborhoods all around us.”
“It’s breeding all kinds of violence,” he said. “And they have no hope. They don’t have good schools. They don’t have job opportunities. How do we begin to address that as Baptists across Virginia?”
Upton, who also serves as current president of the Baptist World Alliance, said one barrier to dealing with racism in America is “that we don’t even understand race.”
He told of a friend from Jamaica who now lives in Virginia who, while filling out a form on his initial visit to a doctor’s office, didn’t know what to put in the category of “race.” He said the patient identifies as a Jamaican, but that is a nationality and not a race, so he wrote down the only thing that came to mind: “human.”
The doctor had a good laugh and conceded: “There’s only one race. It’s the human race. Now there are many ethnicities, but there’s only one race.”
“We need to come back and revisit this race conversation,” Upton said. “Too many are being shuffled aside in our society, and we cannot accept that. Jesus does not accept that. He wants us to find a better way.”
Upton challenged Virginia Baptists to “pick up this conversation” but not to do it alone. “We don’t have the answers by ourselves,” Upton said. “Let’s do it with our African-American friends. And let’s really offer some better solutions, in the name of Christ, than we’ve been offering.”