By Bob Allen
African-American demonstrators gathered Nov. 18 near James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., to protest what they claim is racial bias in the Southern Baptist Convention’s efforts to evangelize students at American colleges and universities.
About two dozen students from historically black colleges and universities chanted “all souls matter” to draw attention to an alleged lack of racial diversity at a Nov. 16-18 gathering of the Collegiate Church Planting Collaborative, an initiative of the SBC North American Mission Board.
“At a time when the SBC is making headlines for its declaration of reconciliation with blacks in America, the organization continues to characterize and exhibit systemic prejudice and practices that are unacceptable, inequitable and ungodly,” the group alleged in a press release Nov. 16.
The stated reason for protesting the Collegiate Church Planting Collaborative was “because its leaders have ignored the call for meaningful dialogue regarding racial inclusion in its mission work on college campuses across America.”
The collaborative “has deliberately excluded black students and black colleges in its mission work related to the college experience,” the press release claimed.
That exclusion “has a vast, direct and adverse impact” on historically black colleges and universities (HCBUs), it continued, because few have Baptist campus ministries and none were informed or invited to collaborate with the CCPC.
“This is telling of the organization’s leadership agenda and scheme to maintain and perpetuate a white, patriarchal base for the collegiate planting division,” the press release continued. “This shows that the SBC CCPC only intends to focus and extend its resources to predominantly white institutions across America.”
North Carolina pastor Gregory Drumwright, a minister to college students, organized the protest after exchanging emails with NAMB officials voicing his concerns after attending a Collegiate Church Planting Collaborative gathering in Oakland, Calif., in February.
“Overall, I have not had a positive experience at the collaborative because of some systemic processes and fundamental values that have been compromised, as it relates to diversity and inclusion,” Drumwright wrote in an open letter to CCPC leaders and stakeholders Feb. 11.
Drumwright, who while a student at North Carolina A&T State University established the Citadel of Praise Church and campus ministry in Greensboro, N.C., in 2003, said he was invited by a friend to attend the meeting and was surprised on arrival to find he was the only African-American there.
“Aside from the Asian host-church staff, being in this bleach-white association and gathering, wherein the core values expressed missions to reach, empower and represent all people, is not only uninviting, but it is no longer acceptable,” he wrote.
“Segregated strategy is no longer how our country is run, nor our businesses, and more specifically, our college campuses,” Drumwright said. “It’s time to cross this bridge when it comes to our discussions about reaching the lost for Jesus, at the Collegiate Church Planting Collaborative level as well.”
After he pointed in subsequent emails “there are more than 100 historically black colleges and universities in America, and they need Jesus, too,” Drumwright said NAMB officials ignored him before finally responding with a dismissive email apologizing for a lack of communication in March.
After he launched the #AllSoulsMatter campaign on social media, Drumwright said NAMB officials sent him an email on the morning of the protest inviting him “to meet privately in order to discuss your concerns in detail.”
Drumwright responded that he would meet with the NAMB leaders only if the students with him in Harrisonburg could attend. According to the Citadel campus ministry website, as of Nov. 18 there had been no reply.
“We are not interested in ‘private’ dialogue, and we stand as one,” the website proclaims. “As it currently stands, NAMB’s ‘efforts’ amount to words on a screen.”
SBC President Ronnie Floyd, who recently joined President Jerry Young of the National Baptist Convention of the USA, Inc., in organizing a meeting of pastors about improving race relations, appealed to Drumwright in an email Nov. 18 to meet with NAMB leaders.
Drumwright pointed out that NAMB officials were not interested in meeting with him in February. “The sudden urge to meet is only because of our activism, not our issues, and the SBC must take responsibility for that as well,” Drumwright wrote in his response to Floyd.
A cached copy of a College Church Planting Collaborative “Innovators” page includes a description of Alethia Church — founded in 2001 in Harrisonburg as a Bible study for James Madison University students that now has 900 members — that no longer appears on the current page.
Leaders of Alethia Church did not respond to an email request for comment.
The folks at #AllSoulsMatter said they don’t know if the omission is directly related to their protest but that Drumwright did receive “a direct conversation from Alethia leadership” at the Monday demonstration “in which they shared their burden for collegiate missions at HBCUs.”
“Thank you Alethia!” the website proclaimed. “We are not asking people to join our side; we are asking people who have a burden for equity, equality and diversity in ministry missions to join our call to bring attention to the truth.
“We cannot continue to use the language of the Gospel and not be held accountable to it.”