A collection of clergy gathered to talk about the state of their denomination during their annual religious convention. The conversation of race came up in one session, exposing large wedges within congregations about Black members not feeling fully “embraced.”
One minister was critical of white pastors, calling them “whores for Trump” after they rallied behind the president in what he believed was a backlash against Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States.
On Tuesday, June 14, during the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California, 9Marks and the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary presented “9Marks at 9: The State of the SBC.” The goal was to assess the ministry of the SBC and exchange ideas to make the ecumenical community stronger.
Rev. Kevin Smith, the pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, walked up to the Q&A mic in the aisle to ask the panel, consisting of Mark Dever, Danny Akin, Aron Menikoff, Jonathan Leeman, and Matt Chandler, to further look over the last decade and positions the church has taken. He said, “I think some Southern Baptists lost their minds when a Black man was elected president — not all, but some.”
Smith, a Black man, called out the community for their position on some Black Lives Matter issues, particularly the killing of one Black boy.
“I think some Southern Baptists were unloving to Black people beginning in 2012 with the killing of Trayvon Martin,” Protestia reported Smith as saying. “I don’t mean agree about politics or policy … I just mean giving a darn that somebody else is hurting who is supposed to be your brother or sister in Christ.”
The minister, who also served as the former executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, upset some by saying, “And I think some Southern Baptists just bent over and became political whores with this whole Trump stuff.”
He highlighted several Black pastors who have left the Southern Baptist Convention because they felt alienated, like Ralph West (pastor of Houston’s The Church Without Walls), John Onwuchekwa (pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta), and Charlie Dates, and asked if the other white pastor understood they felt “tolerated” and “not really embraced.”
Smith asked, “So, I just wanted to (unintelligible) what white brothers think the race thing is in the SBC?”
One of the panelists, Dever, a white pastor, said the issue has made him “humbled,” and that he has tried to “lean into those relationships” to help bridge the gaps of race. One way that he attempted to do this was by encouraging people to study history.
He said, “Also being aware of our history. Sometimes, when I say, ‘it’s important for us to know our history’ people assume I am saying, ‘And now I think I need to repent’ or that I’m advocating for reparations.”
“No, I think if you know your history really well, you should be better able to address all sorts of current-day controversies about race,” he stated.
Transparently, Dever spoke about the joint history of discrimination that his members, white and Black, share, and how some people don’t like being made to feel guilty about the stains of racism in the church and society.
“At the same time, I’ve got some people coming up to me and saying, ‘I don’t wanna feel guilty because I am white, and I want you, white pastor, to provide space for me so I don’t feel like I need to go to church and have to repent because I am white.’ And navigating that has been really hard,” Dever stated.
Rev. Chandler thanked Smith for the question, noting that he had to “shift” three years ago to find solid ground for his congregation on race.
After saying he had to stop trying to “solve” the race problem, he admitted he was “losing everywhere.”
“I was losing white people and to Black people. The touchdown kept moving and just was never enough in this direction or never enough in that direction,” he admitted.
His answer to the problem was to “double down” in his community and work on the issues crucial to the people he served and to be a welcoming place by empowering different people, including those of varying ethnic groups, to be heard.
Chandler shared that if he looks nationally at race relations, he gets discouraged, but draws hope from the local church and how people engage with each other.
Another Black voice was introduced into the conversation.
This minister, the last to speak, gave clear examples of how people might feel “tolerated” but “not embraced.”
“If you find yourself not being able to pray for someone you disagree with, like Obama, and yet your congregation hears you pray for Trump, your Black members of your congregation catch that.”
“If in all your sermon illustrations, the heroes you use are all white, and you never mention any Black people, Black people in your congregation feel that.”
He shared how just the small inclusion of a Black figure into a sermon or lifted as someone of valor, is a step in the direction of making Blacks feel more welcomed in the space.
The panel attentively listened and seemed to respectfully nod in agreement.
But some outlets’ reports on the panel discussion suggested the comments were aimed to offend and not build a bridge. It even took issue that none of the panelists “rebuked him for his insults and incendiary statements.”
In protest of Smith’s comments and dismissing all the other comments, Protestia wrote, “As far as becoming political whores and bending over so the bad orange man could impregnate us with racial ideologies, this is not the winsomeness that he was insisting we emulate during his later conference talk that he gave in front of the whole convention, making him quite the hypocrite.”
The publication also cited some of Smith’s comments from two years prior.
In 2020, Smith said in a critique of the SBC regarding various social justice issues, “I just feel like maybe the last 8 to 10 years, the insensitivity and the indifference concerning the supposed pain- pain of brothers and sisters have not been a good testimony for Christianity.”
“When a sister is bruised about issues of sexual assault or something, other brothers in Christ can’t be indifferent or insensitive towards that,” he said. “When a Black man is incensed or wounded about racial injustice in the United States, or excessive force used by police because someone is Black, we can’t be indifferent to that if we say we are the family and the household of God.”
While Protestia was critical of Smith, it did not bash John MacArthur, a dean of conservative evangelical preaching, who spoke at the same conference about the ills of prophetic preaching rooted in social justice.
“You don’t advance the kingdom of God by lining up with the kingdom of Satan,” MacArthur said, according to the Washington Post.
The preacher roared, “Pretty soon it will be women preachers, social justice, then racism, then [critical race theory], then victimization because the world is a ball and chain, and when you’re hooked, it will take you to the bottom. They hate the truth.”
Those comments were fully supported.
The Southern Baptist Convention, an organization that has over 14 million members (70 percent who vote Republican), believes that the downfall of the church is liberalism, the Washington Post reports.
They do not allow women to serve as head pastors and are vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage.
McArthur aligns those progressive ideologies, and those that include race, as the “devil’s work.”
“You will never advance the kingdom of God by being popular with the world. If you think you will, you’re doing the devil’s work,” he said. “How can you negotiate with people who hate Christ, hate God, hate the Bible, and hate the gospel?”
As the convention geared up to vote for new leadership — last week it elected a rural Texas pastor, Bart Barber of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas — it was clear that race, gender, and sexual identity politics were hot-button issues.