ARLINGTON, Texas (ABP) — A prominent African-American Baptist pastor says the Southern Baptist Convention has not kept a promise made in 1995 to "eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry."
Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, released an article posted on his blog to media April 8 calling on the convention to repent "for passive and intentional acts of racism in SBC life" that have occurred since the SBC adopted a historic resolution on its 150th anniversary apologizing to African-Americans for the convention's racist past.
McKissic, once a rising star in denominational life until he disagreed publicly with influential leaders over a decision to stop appointing missionaries that use a "private prayer language," said most systemic, institutional and individual racism in SBC life is "passive, not intentional."
For example, he said, a black member was not added to a Great Commission Task Force appointed last summer until it was pointed out that the blue-ribbon group studying denominational effectiveness ought to include an African-American perspective.
McKissic said the oversight wasn't intentional but is symptomatic of a problem that convention leaders must address if they are serious about reaching the world for Christ.
McKissic said for years he has asked many black Baptist and evangelical pastor friends who agree with the SBC's doctrinal stance why they won't join. The answer that comes back, he said, is because the denomination is viewed as "Southern and racial." By "racial," and not "racist," he said, they mean that "the DNA of the SBC is white, and geographically and culturally Southern oriented."
"Therefore, it cannot comfortably or willingly accommodate or assimilate as equals, African-American Baptists' input, involvement and influence," he said. "For years I've disagreed with my friends' analysis. But I've since reached the conclusion, they are right."
Fifteen years after resolving to "apologize to all African Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime" and to "genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously," McKissic said, there has not been one African American hired as the chief executive of any SBC entity. He said he is praying that will soon change, as searches are in progress for leaders of both of the SBC's mission boards and Executive Committee.
As an African American attending SBC meetings, McKissic said he often sees and hears things that he thinks are racially insensitive that seem to go either unnoticed or unchallenged by white leaders.
At a recent state evangelism conference, for example, an evangelist compared President Obama to a wicked king from the Old Testament and prayed with the audience for the president's salvation and that he be "providentially" removed from office if he does not repent.
"The picture of hundreds of Anglo Southern Baptists on their knees praying that God 'providentially' remove the first African-American president of the United States from office is not a pretty picture to African-American Southern Baptists or bibliocentric fair-minded Americans of any color," McKissic said.
He called it "a horrible witness to the world and a poor testimony of Southern Baptists" and urged leaders of both the SBC and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to publicly repudiate the remarks.
Contacted April 8, SBC President Johnny Hunt declined to comment. Jim Richards, executive director of the SBTC, said his convention "asks all followers of Christ to pray for God's guidance and protection" on Obama and any statement to the contrary "does not reflect the heart of the SBTC."
McKissic also cited a 2009 sermon preached at a large Southern Baptist church by a well-known figure who has spoken at several national meetings of Southern Baptists. The speaker prompted approving laughter from the crowd, McKissic said, with lines stereotyping black church services — including that the sermon doesn't start before 1 p.m. and they take up "12 offerings."
"You go to a black church, gentlemen, you are not going to have on a blue suit — you are going to have blue shoes to match, and your handkerchief is going to match your tie, and your whole outfit is going to match your car," McKissic quoted from the sermon. "It's beautiful. And ladies: when we talk about black church, we're talking about hats. And I'm not just talking Easter hats as some of you may wear. I'm talking about satellite-dish hats — big enough to receive a signal, with a curtain rod going down the front that you can just pull the curtain across."
McKissic said in 36 years of preaching at black churches, he has never witnessed what the speaker described.
"If I stated that white preachers preached in Hawaiian shirts and encouraged married couples in their churches to have sex seven straight days, and wore toupees — that may be true in isolated cases, but it would be unfair, inaccurate and racially stereotypical, without foundation, for to me make such a claim."
Sing Oldham, vice president for convention relations at the SBC Executive Committee, said April 8 that the convention continues to move in the direction of reconciliation begun with the 1995 resolution and has made "significant gains" in outreach to ethnic minorities.
Oldham said a work group of the Executive Committee is studying a motion referred by the convention in 2009 to study ways to more actively involve ethnic churches and ethnic leaders in serving the needs of the SBC.
He said McKissic's article "will certainly be a resource this work group may want to consider when it begins to discuss potential strategies it may recommend to the Executive Committee."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.