By Bob Allen
Ethics head Russell Moore told 550 people at a conference March 26 he believes God is giving the Southern Baptist Convention a second chance to atone for its racist past, but “in order to do that we must repent, not just rebrand.”
“Our heritage is one that comes to us, we’ve been told, through a trail of blood, but not all of that blood is the blood of Christ’s cross,” Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said during the opening address of a two-day summit titled The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation in Nashville, Tenn.
Speaking on the second anniversary of his election to lead the Southern Baptist entity dedicated to issues in the public square, Moore based his message in the New Testament book of Ephesians, where the apostle Paul mediates between quarreling Jewish and gentile Christians by reminding both groups they “are united in one body through the gospel.”
“The problem when we come to this text, when we’re talking about issues of racial reconciliation, is that white people inevitably assume that we are the Jewish Christians in this text, and that black people and Hispanic people and Asian people and others are the gentiles,” he said. “We’re the regular people who are supposed to be here, and you all are welcome.”
Moore said the problem with reading the text that way is: “There aren’t any white people in Jerusalem in First Century A.D.”
“The fundamental problem that we have when it comes to this issue in the American church, even when we understand that there is a problem, is that those of us who are white, born-again Christians tend to assume that the Body of Christ is white with room for everybody else,” he said. “White people are normal, and the others that we minister to are ethnic.”
Moore said if preachers do not address race “we are leaving consciences in sin” and “empowering the devil.”
“We are not the state church of the Confederate States of America,” Moore said. “We are not inheritors of a lost cause but of a new creation. The cross and the Confederate battle flag cannot coexist without one setting the other on fire.”
Moore said Southern Baptists need not just conservativism, but “the sort of conservatism that knows what to conserve.”
“If what we’re conserving is 1950s Dixie, then we’re conserving something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we will be fighting God, and we will not win,” he said.
“For a people who have all the marks on our history that we have, it seems to me that God is working and God is giving us another chance to get this right,” Moore said. “In order to do that we must repent, not just rebrand.”
Moore said the problem is not that black, white, Hispanic and Asian churches are openly hostile toward each other or cannot come together in a meeting or joint worship service, but the message that worshipping separately sends to unbelievers.
“The problem is that Sunday morning, when we are signifying to the rest of the world, ‘here is a picture of the Kingdom of God,’ we gather with the same people we would gather with if Jesus Christ were still dead, and that’s blasphemy,” Moore said.
“What people will say is we’re trying to reach people with the gospel, and people would rather be around people like them,” Moore said. “Sure they would, and I’d like to fight and fornicate and smoke weed and go to heaven.”
This is the second year the ERLC has held a summit for pastors and church leaders on pressing social issues facing the church. Attendance at last year’s inaugural summit on homosexuality was 1,300, with 10,000 live-stream viewers on the Internet.
Moore had originally planned to address race at next year’s leadership summit in 2016 but moved it up a year after the deaths of black men killed in clashes with police in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y.
The original theme of “The Gospel for Life” will be integrated into a large-scale pro-life conference in Washington in partnership with next year’s March for Life demonstration held annually on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishing a woman’s right to abortion.