Out of the mouths of Southern Baptists

Surprisingly (to me at least), a high-up in the Southern Baptist Convention has gone off on racism, Sarah Posner reports.

After the failure yesterday of a grand jury to indict the New York police officer who was videotaped choking Eric Garner to death, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, launched into a denunciation of racism in the church on the ERLC’s program “Questions and Ethics.”

Saying he was “shocked and grieved” by the news, Moore added:

Romans 13 says that the sword of justice is to be wielded against evildoers.

Now, what we too often see still is a situation where our African-American brothers and sisters, especially brothers, are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be executed, more likely to be killed. And this is a situation in which we have to say, I wonder what the defenders of this would possibly say. I just don’t know. But I think we have to acknowledge that something is wrong with the system at this point and that something has to be done.

Moore added that in the wake of Ferguson, he has called for “churches that come together and know one another and are knitted together across these racial lines.” In response, though, he said, “I have gotten responses and seen responses that are right out of the White Citizen’s Council material from 1964. In my home state of Mississippi, seeing people saying there is no gospel issue involved in racial reconciliation.”

“Are you kidding me?” Moore exclaimed incredulously.

If even the Southern Baptist Convention can see it…


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    Except that they can’t. In “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America” (Michael O. Emerson/Christian Smith, 2000, Oxford University Press), the authors make the following observations:

    [W]e argue that religion, as structured in America, is unable to make a great impact on the racialized society. In fact, far from knocking down racial barriers, religion generally serves to maintain these historical divides and helps to develop new ones.

    The text cites two letters, one from The Black Person to Dear White Person, and a response, published in Christianity Today magazine in 1971 (see page scan at http://tinyurl.com/kcn9wt9).

    But there are some subtle differences in her expression of reconciliation as compared to the black writer’s letter. First, the letter from the black writer uses the vehicle of a personal letter to communicate from one race to another; the white writer, though, quickly individualizes the letter, claiming that she cannot speak for other whites. She also asks to be seen as an individual, not a member of a race, and says her goal is to treat individuals as individuals, regardless of color. This seems perfectly reasonable, but it has an important effect. The need to work for social justice and social equality between races is minimized, even dropped. If we are to focus on individuals only, then justice does not mean working against structures of inequality, but treating individuals as equals, regardless of the actual economic and political facts. Equality is spiritually and individually based, not temporally and socially based.

    The Evangelical Christian solution identifies racism as a “sin” problem, which can only be resolved by changing people’s hearts through the grace of Jesus Christ or some such.

    Recalll that during the Jim Crow era, “Most evangelicals, even in the North, did not think it their duty to oppose segregation; it was enough to treat blacks they knew personally with courtesy and fairness.” The racialized system itself is not directly challenged. What is challenged is the treatment of individuals within the system.

    What is clear is that those who are profiting from this status quo have found a means of feeling they are not contributing to the problem – “Not me! I have black friends!”

    For many, the race problem, no matter how big or how small, ultimately came down not to a social issue, but to personal defects of some individuals in some groups as they attempted to relate to each other.

    This is a critical distinction, because societal problems require societal solutions, whereas individual problems can only be resolved on an individual basis by those individuals themselves.

    Underlying traditional Christian thought is an image of man as a free actor, as essentially unfettered by social circumstances, free to choose and thus free to effect his own salvation. This free-will conception of man has been central to the doctrines of sin and salvation. For only if man is totally free does it seem just to hold him responsible for his acts. … in short, Christian thought and thus Western civilization are permeated with the idea that men are individually in control of and responsible for, their own destinies.

    Although the larger American culture is itself highly individualistic, the close connection between faith and freewill individualism to the exclusion of progressive thought renders white evangelicals even more individualistic than other white Americans. … Quite unlike progressives, evangelicals believe there are right and wrong choices as determined by a divine lawgiver. Because evangelicals distrust basic human propensities (as the result of the doctrine of original sin), they view humans, if they are not rooted in proper interpersonal contexts, as tending to make wrong choices. For this reason, for evangelicals, relationalism moves to the forefront.

    For evanglicals, relationalism (a strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships derives from the view that human nature is fallen and that salvation and Christian maturity can only come through a “personal relationship with Christ.” It is difficult to overemphasize the significance of this relationship for evangelicals. It is a bedrock, nonnegotiable belief. … For most white individuals, however, sin is limited to individuals. Thus, if race problems – poor relationships – result from sin, then race problems must largely be individually based. … [A]nother evangelical man said, “We don’t have a race problem, we have a sin problem.”

    Although much in Christian scripture and tradition points to the influence of social structures on individuals, the stress on individualism has been so complete for such a long time in white American evangelical culture that such tools are nearly unavailable. What is more, white conservative Protestants believe that sinful humans typically deny their own personal sin by shifting blame somewhere else, such as on “the system.” (Evangelicals are thus also antistructural because they believe that invoking social structures shifts guilt away from its root source – the accountable individual. … For instance, they are aware of affirmative action because such programs can impact them in their social location, and they tend to oppose such programs because they go against evangelical understanding of accountable freewill individualism.)

    This goes a long way toward helping explain the conservative Evangelical hostility toward feminism as well, I think. But let’s proceed:

    This woman saw prejudice and discrimination in institutions, but only insofar as they contained individual bigots. Even when respondents assented to the existence of systemic discrimination, they saw it as tangential, even superficial compared to the true problem of negative attitudes and unhealthy relationships. … Many evangelicals did see an institutional aspect to the race problem. … If these institutions would leave the race issue alone, the race problem would nearly disappear. For white evangelicals, the government is a major culprit in manufacturing a race problem. … Welfare does not just break down the family, it leads to individual sin. Further, it is blacks who, perhaps because they are seen having less intitiative or moral fortitude, are more likely to receive welfare. It was also common to link welfare directly to the demise of individual initiative and responsibility among African Americans.

    And so you see how neatly racism fits within the conservative, anti-government, anti-“entitlement”-programs attitudes so prominently displayed within the Tea Party, for example. This is why so many Evangelical Christians feel right at home within the Tea Party.

    Because our white respondents saw the playing field as essentially flat and the vast majority of people as unprejudiced, if they did encounter or heard stories of African Americans who were less than friendly toward white Americans, many felt it must be the blacks themselves who are to blame. Whether because they cannot forget the past, are overly sensitive, or incited by black leaders, blacks exaggerate the problem. The issue here is not whether such analyses are correct, but that they are offered to the exclusion of other possible accounts of the race problem. … For most white evangelicals, it is obvious that prejudice and discrimination are minimal, and if others realized this, the race problem would essentially disappear. As an evangelical pastor from Illinois put it, on the whole, “especially in the Christian community, I don’t think there’s that much division. … If we didn’t give it so much attention, I think it would die of its own accord.”

    This perspective misses the racialized patterns that transcend and encompass individuals, and are therefore often institutional and systemic. It misses that whites can move to most any neighborhood, eat at most any restaurant, walk down most any street, or shop at most any store without having to worry or find out that they are not wanted, whereas African Americans often cannot. … “Today blatant, subtle, and covert discrimination against African Americans persists in virtually all aspects of their public life. …Racial discrimination is pervasive, and cumulative and costly in its impact.” The individualistic perspective encourages people to dismiss such evidence as liberal, wrongheaded, overblown, or as isolated incidents.

    White conservative Protestants blame blacks more – or hold them more accountable – than other whites do. Nearly 2/3 of white conservative Protestants say that blacks are poor because they lack sufficient motivation, compared to half of other white Americans. White conservative Protestants clearly are more likely to see inequality as rooted in black individuals than are other whites.

    And the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination, with more than TWICE as many members as the next largest. And as for that comment that “there’s not that much division in the Christian community”:

    “We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 13, 1968

    What’s changed? Church congregations remain overwhelmingly mono-ethnic.


    It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also. http://tinyurl.com/o8zjdlv

    What may come as a surprise, though, is that clergy tend to be far more progressive than their congregations. A number of white clergymen actively supported the Civil Rights Movement, marching with protesters etc. The great majority found themselves fired from their churches within a year.

    Sorry this ended up so long – difficult problems do not readily lend themselves to 25-words-or-less summaries.

  2. Crimson Clupeidae says

    To Russell Moore, I say this: “Who are you and what did you do with the real Southern Baptists?!?”

    Sorry, I got nothing meaningful here, and post one was a great, factual, informative post!

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