Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and
Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27); . . .
Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention, 1995
We repent of shutting our hearts to the experiences of fellow humans whose stories of pain, suffering, hardship, struggle, love and joy mirror our own life journeys, yet are deprived of privilege and marred by racism. We have turned our backs and walked away pretending not to see, yet we saw, pretending not to know, yet we knew, and convincing ourselves that we were not complicit, yet we are.
We now know that we as white Christians have benefitted directly and indirectly from these injustices. We name ourselves as complicit and repent.
An Apology to Our African American Sisters and Brothers for The Sin Of Slavery And Its Legacy, Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy, 2020
In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) wrote a stinging apology and rebuke for their history of slavery and white supremacy. Over 15,000 people were present in the Georgia Dome 25 years ago when the document was read and approved. The Resolution was then used as an olive branch to the black community. The L.A. Times wrote, “The Rev. Gary Frost of Youngstown, Ohio, the denomination’s second vice president and the first African American to reach that post, accepted the apology on behalf ‘of my black brothers and sisters.”‘
Earlier this year the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy passed their Apology document. The Apology, created by the Dismantling Racism and Privilege team, is a strong statement that fills in the missing, overlooked, and denied pieces of social history in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy. It is exciting to see that congregations are examining the Apology and are using it as a platform to discuss current racial issues in their particular context.
As I read the history of the SBC in Robert P. Jones’ book, White Too Long, I see obvious comparisons between the SBC Resolution and the presbytery’s Apology. Since the SBC has a 25-year head start, what can we learned from how the SBC has incorporated its Resolution on Racial Reconciliation and what may happen with the Apology document?
Jones provides a cautionary tale as he looks at the past 25 years in the SBC. Although the Reconciliation document is filled with repentance, regret, and promises, the church has struggled to move past these emotional sentiments into real racial progress. Jones describes what he calls the White Christian shuffle. This entails “a subtle two steps forward and one step backward pattern of lamenting past sins in great detail, even admitting that they have had pernicious effects but then ultimately denying that their legacy requires reparative or costly actions in the present. It’s a strategy that emphasizes lament and apology, expects absolution and reconciliation, but gives scant attention to questions of justice, repair, or accountability.”
The warning from Jones is clear. If the church is going to move forward on issues of race, it must move from lament to accountability; from repentance to justice; from reconciliation to repair. Moving forward means costing the church something today. I do not know what that means for our presbytery. I know there is a conversation in our denomination with the Presbyterian Loan and Investment Program to access their funding (and debt) of African American congregations. I am aware of presbyteries that create incentives for congregations to interview and hire pastors of color. These examples hint at the type of effort it will take to bring racial change in our presbytery.
I believe that if we are going to make any progress against racism, it will take a sustained determined effort. I pray we keep focused, keep at it, and keep the faith believing that a change is going to come. Amen.
Rev. Craig M. Howard