GRAPEVINE – The path to strengthening racial harmony begins with pastors boldly standing up and applying God’s Word without fear of consequences, Baptist leaders said recently during a panel discussion on the issue.
The Sept. 30 event was sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and featured a multi-ethnic panel of Black, Asian, Hispanic and White Baptist leaders.
Too many pastors “believe in the authority of sufficiency of Scripture” but “are too cowardly to apply it” on the subject of race, said Kevin Smith, pastor of Family Church Village in South Florida and former executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
“The pulpit must teach and apply,” Smith said. “And some folks are just weak on application – not because they don’t know where the text is going but because they are scared.”
Charles Grant, executive director of African American relations and mobilization for the SBC Executive Committee, said biblical discipleship is essential to confronting racism. Quoting a fellow pastor, Grant said, “We need to be intentional about discipling out racism.”
“We disciple small groups on all kinds of topics,” Grant said. “But for some reason, our discipleship small groups don’t include discipleship dealing with the issue of racism. … Why aren’t we equipping our people to deal with it?”
Christians, he said, are “called to deny ourselves daily, take up our cross and follow Him.”
“Whenever we put ourselves, our own agenda, our own desires, above Christ, then we begin to be splintered,” Grant said.
David Tan Mai, pastor of Kirkwood Church in Houston, agreed and added, “When we deny ourselves, we see our brother and sister the same.”
David Gifford, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., noted that pastors often deliver holiday-themed sermons. Including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a time to discuss racism from a biblical perspective could be helpful in understanding of racial issues, he said.
“What greater time than when our nation sets aside that day for Martin Luther King’s birthday for White churches to talk about the sin of racism and to talk about steps to racial reconciliation?” said Gifford, who is white. “… We need bold Anglo pastors to stand up and say in those particular moments, ‘Hey let’s address this.’”
The panelists took questions from the audience and discussed a multitude of other issues, including the need for one-on-one dialogue on the topic of race.
“Dialogue is difficult because sometimes we come into dialogue just like the world,” Smith said.
Many times, he said, individuals enter a conversation with a worldly desire to “win” the debate instead of the goal being to learn, grow and reconcile.
“Dialogue is difficult if we don’t come in with New Testament principles of love, graciousness, patience, long-suffering,” Smith said.
Group discussions about race, Grant said, are best if they include only a small number of people.
“When you keep it small, people tend to let their guards down a little bit better, especially when they have a relationship they’ve built with you,” he said.
Gifford encouraged his Anglo friends to be open to learning.
“[Anglos] have a content oblivion to what’s going on with other cultures, and we are happy to be content in our prosperity and not deal with difficult questions,” he said.
Gifford referenced a regular discussion he had with a black friend about race when he was in his 20s. The conversion was “uncomfortable” at the beginning but “was always under the guise of, ‘We were dear friends.’
“And because of my dear friend, I was willing to listen. And I was willing to alter. And I think that has to be the first thing,” Gifford said.
Some Christians, Smith said, are guided more by the culture than by Scripture.
“Are we not being shaped by the character of Jesus Christ?” he asked. “Sometimes, especially in some of these culture-warring things, we have people who mock the character of Jesus Christ, who mock humility. … How in the world can we mock the character of Christ and not expect to be grieving and quenching the Spirit – which totally leaves us powerless?”
Some church members, Gifford said, “rely way too much on sources of information that are not biblical or not scriptural and that are not led by the Holy Spirit.”
“That drives us in our conversations with others” about race, Gifford said.
The panelists also discussed politics. Smith urged Christians to practice grace and humility when talking about party-line topics.
“Give individuals the dignity of being able to think and articulate that thought,” he said.
Bemoaning dialogue about the 2016 election, Smith said, the dialogue too often was wrongly simplified as: “If you liked Clinton, then you love abortion. If you like Trump, then you’re racist.”
“[But] if you sit down and talk to people … most of them are a little more complex, or a little more different than that,” he said. “You could have dyed-in-the-wool Democrats or Republicans who don’t think anything about race or abortion.”
Such simplifications, he said, are “tremendously hurtful for dialogue.”
The panelists also briefly discussed Critical Race Theory (CRT).
“I came from Nicaragua, which was a socialist country. I lived through it. I know what socialism is like,” said Nelson Fonseca, from New Life Church in Dallas. “I’m going to be honest – what CRT brings is that type of division. It is not helping us to unite. It is making it worse.”
Smith encouraged Baptists to read American history to learn more about the history of minorities in the United States. He added that he read a book recently to learn more about Asian life in the U.S.
“There’s nothing that CRT is purporting that Frederick Douglass and other people weren’t saying in the 19th century,” Smith said. “… You need to learn about the plight of black people in the U.S. if you are ignorant of it. And we’re all ignorant of what we don’t know.”
Tony Mathews, who moderated the panel and who serves as senior strategist over missional ministries for the SBTC, said the panelists demonstrated how dialogue should look among Christians.
“My hope is that when we have discussions addressing race that we will learn more about each other and be able to discuss our differences with civility and celebrate our distinctions in Christ,” Mathews said. “The multi-ethnic panelists did a great job addressing questions and issues that many people are discussing at their dinner tables. I also hope that these panel discussions will remind us that though our skin color may be different, we have more in common than not. I’m hoping that everyone who viewed it will be reminded that together we can accomplish much more for our Lord.”