Not too long ago, the Southern Baptist Convention elected its first African-American president, Fred Luter of New Orleans. The denomination also has gone on record denouncing the sins of past racism that surrounded its formation in 1845 and more recently has repudiated the Confederate battle flag in a sign of racial solidarity. This year, H.B. Charles Jr., of Jacksonville, Fla., became the first black president of the Pastors’ Conference, and Walter Strickland, an African American leader at Southeastern Seminary, was elected as first vice president of the SBC.
Still, after its Resolutions Committee failed to bring a resolution denouncing the alt-right movement—which promotes white supremacy, white nationalism and racial separatism—confusion in getting a resolution to a vote created quite a stir. Some on social media and in other news outlets misperceived the SBC’s apparent inaction as having racist overtones. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Southern Baptists is said to be the most ethnically diverse denominational convention on the continent. One in five Southern Baptist congregations is predominantly African American or ethnic in makeup. That includes about 3,000 black churches, more than 2,000 Hispanic churches and more than 2,000 Asian churches. More than 100 language groups are represented among SBC churches, and about half of North American Mission Board’s recent church plants are predominantly non-Anglo.
Ken Weathersby, Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement, recently told BP he is “grateful to God that Southern Baptists recognize the need to assist non-Anglo churches that are part of the SBC.” Weathersby added, “Until everybody is saved, we’ve always got room for improvement.” But racial reconciliation is occurring within the SBC because believers of many races and ethnicities have their “hand on the gospel plow together.”
Here are a few snippets from various fellowships now held in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting which illustrate our growing racial and ethnic profile:
The 4,000-church strong National African American Fellowship announced new partnership initiatives to increase black church participation and leadership in the SBC.
Partnership initiatives with its mission boards, intended to strengthen churches while advancing the Great Commission, are at various stages of development, NAAF Executive Director Dennis Mitchell reported. “Critical to NAAF’s success in delivering value to our partners is our ability to help our partners access needed mission and ministry resources,” Mitchell said of the 4,000 churches it represents.
Through a new African American Leadership Development Pipeline in partnership with the North American Mission Board, NAAF has identified 20 African American leaders to mentor for SBC participation.
Augusto Valverde, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Nuevo Amanecer in Miami, was elected as the fellowship’s president. He previously served from 2002-2004 and again in 2006.
David Johnson, executive director-treasurer of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, invited the pastors to partner with Arizona Baptists to plant more Hispanic churches. “Arizona is 30 percent Hispanic and there are only 55 Hispanic (Southern Baptist) churches,” he said. “We need your help to come plant churches.”
Keynote speaker and honored Hispanic leader was Fermin Whittaker, who was executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention for 22 years before retiring last year. In his sermon, Whittaker encouraged Hispanic pastors to work ardently to spread the gospel. “Keep the focus and trust that God will help you,” he said.
Church planting drew the spotlight of the Chinese Baptist Fellowship. In fact, the mission of the fellowship is threefold, according to Benny Wong, fellowship president and senior pastor of First Chinese Baptist Church of Los Angeles. The fellowship exists for planting, caring and training, he said.
As a fellowship, their goal is to see 600 Chinese church plants by 2020. Jeremy Sin, a national church planting strategist for NAMB, brought with him a team of Send City missionaries to share what God is doing in the Chinese populations in their cities.
Arabic praises could be heard alongside the more typical Hebrew worship at the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship at First Arabic Baptist Church in Phoenix. The gathering included a joint worship service of Arab, Kurdish and Jewish followers of Jesus and a fellowship meal.
“We’re here to celebrate the coming together of two different people groups that love Jesus and want to share Him with our people,” SBMF President Ric Worshill said.
The joint worship service came about through the friendship Worshill and First Arabic pastor Jamal Bishara developed as they served together on the Multiethnic Advisory Council appointed in 2014 by SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page. The council sought to help Southern Baptist leaders more fully understand and appreciate the perspectives ethnic churches bring to the common task of reaching people with the gospel.
The Fellowship of Native American Christians celebrated significant growth during its ninth annual meeting at First Indian Baptist Church in Phoenix.
“FoNAC serves as a catalyst blending cultures, a conduit for ministry and those who want to do ministry with Native Americans, and a connector between Native Americans, denominational and tribal leaders, and others … to develop synergy for greater impact,” the group’s Executive Director, Gary Hawkins, told about 100 people gathered for its training session.
FoNAC seeks to serve those with an interest in Native Americans because “if a person seeks to do ministry with an ethnic people group they have little working knowledge of, they risk making many mistakes because of their pre-conceived ideas and assumptions,” Hawkins added.
“Helping Korean churches and serving them is an honorable mission for me,” James Kang, executive director of the 830-church fellowship known as the “Korean Council,” told Baptist Press. “The call of God to this work is to extend the Kingdom of God.”
The Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America is organized similarly to the SBC, with departments for national missions, international missions, education and more.
Fifteen church plants are receiving $400 a month for three years. This money comes from the Domestic Missions budget, which also is providing a one-year scholarship of $500 to 35 high school seniors of pastors planning to attend college.
The Foreign Missions department published 5,000 copies of a colorful and illustrated Spanish-language Children’s Bible. The department, which funds the work of 57 Korean missionaries, also endorsed two more families for international service during its annual meeting.
A vote to postpone election of an executive director and continued emphasis on church planting were highlights of the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America’s meeting, hosted by Fil-Am International Baptist Church in Mesa, Ariz.
Speaking to a full house, Allan Gayongala of Valley International Christian Church in Peoria, Ariz., urged Filipino Baptists to be faithful to their ministries even when they are engaged in tasks that might seem unimportant. “God is not calling us to bigness. He has chosen us for faithfulness,” Gayongala said. “When we are faithful to little things, big things happen.”
Gayongala recounted his own struggles with planting churches and encouraged others to remain patient and faithful. The message complemented the fellowship’s “20/20” initiative, aimed at planting 100 new churches between 2015 and 2020.
In the end, the SBC Resolutions Committee corrected its misstep, and in a strongly-worded resolution, messengers voiced condemnation of the alt-right movement and racist sins of the present. While Southern Baptists still have strides to go in racial reconciliation and ethnic diversity, we are beginning to catch a glimpse of heaven, where “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will gather before the Lamb singing praises.