A quarter century after apologizing to African-Americans for white ancestors who supported slavery and Jim Crow segregation, the Southern Baptist Convention has kicked out a church for being too racist.
The SBC Executive Committee reported June 12 to convention messengers gathered in Dallas that Raleigh White Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, performed “acts of racial discrimination” indicating the congregation of mostly senior adults “does not presently meet the definition of a cooperating church.”
The SBC constitution deems eligible for membership only churches with “a faith and practice which closely identifies” with the Baptist Faith and Message, the denomination’s official confession of faith last updated in 2000.
While the 47,000-church organization has kicked out congregations for affirming gays and calling women as pastors, Raleigh White Baptist Church is the first known fellowship expelled for violating doctrine that Christians “should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness and vice.”
Based on information provided by Mallary Baptist Association in southern Georgia, Southern Baptist leaders found “clear evidence” of “intentional discriminatory acts toward individuals based solely on the color of their skin.”
“Southern Baptists are not only on record but strongly committed to standing against racism and prejudice,” Executive Committee Chairman Stephen Rummage told the SBC news service, Baptist Press. “If a church stands for racism and prejudice, then they do not stand with us, and we do not stand with them.”
The executive committee of Mallary Baptist Association voted April 3 to withdraw fellowship from Raleigh White Baptist Church for “un-Christian attitudes and acts” toward another congregation. A statement March 4 said those actions “were racially motivated” and “do not reflect the values and mission” of the association of 52 churches.
Since 2015, Raleigh White Baptist Church had shared space with New Seasons Church, an African-American congregation led by a Georgia Baptist Convention church planter. The pastor, Marcus Glass, told the Christian Index, the state Baptist newspaper, the relationship soured when the black church grew to six times the size of the predominantly white congregation, which had dwindled to about 20 members.
Things came to a head March 18, when Raleigh White Baptist Church held a homecoming and told members of New Seasons Church they would have to postpone their worship service until a later time. Worshippers unaware of the change who showed up at the regular time reportedly were turned away, including a girl who wanted to use the restroom.
Founded in 1845 by Southerners who believed owning slaves should not be a test of Christian fellowship, the Southern Baptist Convention issued an apology in 1995 for “historic acts of evil such as slavery” and “condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime,” while committing “to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry.”
As the historically white body grew more ethnically diverse, the convention renewed that pledge in 2017 with a resolution opposing public displays of the Confederate flag and the following year repudiating “alt-right” white supremacy associated with some supporters of President Donald Trump.
This year the nation’s second largest faith group behind Roman Catholics adopted a statement distancing the denomination from “the false teaching of the so-called curse of Ham,” a historical interpretation of Genesis that God marked some of Noah’s descendants with dark skin to indicate their subordinate status to whites.
The non-binding resolution encouraged Southern Baptists “at every level to withdraw fellowship from churches that insist on excluding from fellowship anyone based on race or ethnicity.”
The Southern Baptist Convention elected its first African-American president, Louisiana pastor Fred Luter, in 2012. This year’s slate of officers includes black pastor A.B. Vines, pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego, California, elected as first vice president.
In April, the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission co-sponsored a conference on racial reconciliation marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Comments from the gathering prompted complaints from some quarters that younger and more moderate convention leaders were leading the denomination toward a “social justice” orientation formerly opposed by the Religious Right.
A proposed resolution “against the anti-gospel of the social justice movement” died in committee, and messengers voted down an attempt to reintroduce the statement for consideration from the floor.