‘Undivided’ panels discuss race and the SBC

    June 27, 2018

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    Caleb Yarbrough
    Arkansas Baptist News

    DALLAS – Following the release of a video series by the same name the North American Mission Board (NAMB) hosted an “Undivided” breakout session consisting of two panel discussions addressing racial reconciliation within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) June 12 in Dallas.

    “The world is becoming more urban more global. The reality is that if we are going to properly contextualize the gospel we need to address the issue of race” said Dhati Lewis pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta and executive director of community restoration at NAMB.

    Lewis who is featured along with newly elected SBC President J.D. Greear pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham N.C. in NAMB’s “Undivided” video series moderated the panel discussions.

    The first panel focused on the past “How did we get here?” The second discussed the question “Where do we go from here?”

    Panelists included: Greear José Abella lead pastor of Providence Road Church in Miami; Ed Litton pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile Ala.; Kathy Litton director of planter spouse care for NAMB; Vance Pitman senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas; Kevin Smith executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; James Roberson lead pastor of Bridge Church NYC in Brooklyn N.Y.; Jackie Taylor member of NAMB’s community restoration team; George Yancey professor of sociology at the University of North Texas in Denton Texas; Daniel Yang director of the Send Institute in Wheaton Ill. and D.A. Horton pastor of Reach Fellowship in North Long Beach Calif.

    Before beginning the panel discussions Lewis asked Kevin Ezell president of NAMB to address three questions to frame the conversations: “Why now? Why NAMB? What’s your hope for this (discussion)?”

    “I have been a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention for well over 20 years. I have been at the North American Mission Board for seven years. We have talked about this subject for a long time and quite honestly I’m just really tired of talking about it” said Ezell. “It is just time that we actually see progress.”

    Ezell said that racial reconciliation is a “missional issue” for NAMB and that the organization aims to use its influence and resources to lead “the SBC and outside the SBC” in making a difference.

    NAMB “has got to help them (Southern Baptists and others) see that there are needs in the shadow of their own steeple they are not meeting” Ezell said.

    Much of the conversation in the two panels revolved around discussion of principles found in Yancey’s 2006 book “Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility.”

    In “Beyond Racial Gridlock” Yancey looks at four common secular models used by Christians to address racial issues (colorblindness Anglo-conformity multiculturalism and white responsibility) and how they all ultimately fail. Yancey argues that each of the four secular models fails because each claims “a single explanation for why racism is a problem in our society.”

    In contrast to the four secular models Yancey argues for what he calls the mutual responsibility model which highlights Christianity’s “unique answer to racism.” He argues that the mutual responsibility model succeeds by taking into account sinful human nature and placing responsibility for racial reconciliation on both majority and minority groups. Without a biblical perspective on sin and forgiveness racial tensions cannot be overcome according to Yancey.

    Lewis asked the panelists if they have used any of the four secular models in their own ministry.

    Smith said that he has not approached pastoral ministry from any of the four secular models because he always attempts to have an exegetical basis for his views.

    “I don’t use the term ‘racial reconciliation.’ I really spring everything from Ephesians 4:3” said Smith. “Models … about racial reconciliation are stemming from trying to address the consequences of obvious sin and its results rather than stemming from the plan of God.

    “Christian unity is my main language rather than racial reconciliation. Christian unity that is undivided must address those divisions. Historically those divisions are race and class” he said.

    Ed Litton said that his church which is predominantly white fits into the Anglo-conformity and colorblindness models.

    “Individuals in my church don’t want to think of themselves as bigoted but they can act as a group in a very bigoted way” said Litton.

    Pitman said he has stumbled through all four of the secular models but his church has landed on a form of Yancey’s model.

    “This mutual responsibility … is where our church has landed by the grace of God realizing that the issue we face is one of the natural tendency of the flesh” said Pitman. “It’s a flesh issue that transcends race that all of us have been impacted by because of sin. And it’s only as each of us owns that maturity in Christ personally that we begin to transcend that.”

    Yancey said one reason he wrote “Beyond Racial Gridlock” was because the concept of human depravity was missing among secular hypotheses regarding the source of racism in society.

    He said that many within the Church also miss the role that human sinful nature plays in racism.

    “One thing that I want to challenge us with as we move forward in your ministries as you encounter individuals is to really engage and listen to others” said Yancey.

    “If we really know where other people are coming from we can express their ideas in a way where they would say ‘Yeah I agree that’s what my idea is’ not that we agree with their ideas but we can express that” he said. “If we can’t express it that way then what right do we have to criticize their ideas if we don’t understand their ideas?”

    In closing Yang said he is optimistic about the future. “Revelation has been written already” he said.

    “I’m optimistic because we still believe the Bible. Our missiological map is the Bible. If we read it humbly and if we allow the Holy Ghost to come back into our reading then I think it’s going to take us back to Acts where the first missions movement happened – not from Jerusalem necessarily but from Antioch” Yang said.

    “The world missions movement was launched first by a diverse room” he said. “We can’t go on mission until we see reconciliation happen here first. I think if we keep reading our Bibles then we will get to that point.”

    Contact Caleb Yarbrough at caleb@arkansasbaptist.org.