Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Love Affair Doesn’t End With a Few Apologies: The SBC and Racism

Imagine the worst of the worst happens: You cheat on your spouse.

Thankfully, you are fully willing to end the extramarital affair and repair the damage. Both you and your spouse want to put it completely behind you.

You confess your transgressions and give an extremely sincere and tearful apology.

This apology is wonderful, important and absolutely necessary—but there is no way you could possibly pretend that it is going to fix everything. One apology is crucial, but it is only the first step on a long journey of reconciliation.

From this point on, it’s not enough to simply be faithful—you will have to go out of your way to demonstrate that you are faithful beyond any reasonable doubt. Trust is hard to build, but it is even harder to rebuild. Wounds take time to heal. They need love, tenderness and patience. You have to prove to your spouse that you are sincere and that your heart is in the marriage.  

For example, you generally wouldn’t spend time alone with another single person and certainly not your former love affair. You may have absolutely no intention of anything beyond friendship, but why would you put your spouse in that position? Old wounds can be triggered. Your spouse could be at home anxious experiencing PTSD, going through a series of mental exercises trying to relax with the situation. You are the one who transgressed; therefore you are the one who should go out of your way to reassure your spouse. Don't put your spouse in that position.

You are going to have to prove yourself over and over—perhaps daily. But that’s okay because you love your spouse. People screw up. Repair and reconciliation are both possible. You may even grow stronger in your marriage. Trust may always be at least a little bit fragile, but major healing is possible. However, healing is going to be impeded if you drag your feet over having to "apologize too much" and complain that your spouse "just can't get over it already."

This analogy fits the Southern Baptist Convention and it’s longtime love affair with racism.

The SBC and racism have a long history. The denomination formed in 1845 when it split from other Baptists over its pro-slavery stance. Later, many of its members were deeply embedded in Jim Crow segregation and were often on the side resisting the Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century. 

The SBC has done much in recent years to leave racism in the past. Public apologies and resolutions have been forthcoming denouncing racism and all its trappings. Milestones include the 1995 apology for its complicity in slavery, the enthusiastic election of an African-American president, Fred Luter, in 2012, and the 2016 repudiation of the Confederate Flag. So this year, when a resolution was proposed to denounce the recent resurgence of white supremacy and the alt-right movement in US culture, it seemed like the stage was set for a routinebut deepeningcommitment by the SBC to distance itself from racism in all its forms.

However, that is not how it played out at the Convention this week. The mostly white Resolutions Committee first rejected it from even being brought to a vote. The reasons given were technicalities over topical redundancy and awkward verbiage, but it was all too easy to wonder if there was not another backstory to consider. Voices from the floor tried to resurrect the resolution, but these attempts failed to achieve the needed 2/3 majority. Alt-right groups on Twitter celebrated this as a victory for white supremacy.

Let's consider what this would look like going back to the extramarital affair analogy:

Your spouse admits to some friends that there had been an affair, but tells them it is over and you are healing the marriage. Your spouse asks: “Honey, tell the people that you don’t spend any time with your former mistress anymore.”

A simple "of course not" is all that would be expected to pass through your lips, but to everyone’s amazement, your response is “well . . . it’s complicated . . .”

The trust that had been slowing getting repaired is suddenly put into jeopardy.  What do you mean, ‘it’s complicated?!’

For a denomination whose very origins are steeped in pro-slavery ideology, who members include those who lived and breathed Jim Crow, even two or three apologies will not be sufficient. 

The issue is timely. The campaign and election of Donald Trump has been associated with a surge of racist rhetoric and violence in the USA. 81% of white Evangelical Christianssuch as those in the SBCvoted for Trump. This would have been an ideal time for the SBC to make it clear that whatever support its members may have for Trump is in spite ofand not because ofthe association with racism. 

The official story may very well be true. This resolution may simply have gotten tangled up in parliamentary procedure and rules of order. But to play games with technicalities with such a sensitive issues, especially given your past history, only lends credence to what so many may have already been suspectingthat perhaps this rodeo with racism is not quite over.

African-Americans have been lured by the promise of racial reconciliation many times and places only to find the door slammed in their faces yet again. It’s hard to open up and attempt to trust again.

Some people ask:  Why yet another resolution?  Why can’t we just let this go? We repudiated the Confederate Flag last year, why go through that again?

Those aren't the questions of people bending over backwards to make sure there is no doubt about where they stand on this crucial issue. 

It’s going to take time and sincerity. White people are going to have to prove themselves on this issue over and over again. 

If all you want to do is spit out a quick apology and then go back to doing whatever you have always been doing, perhaps you weren’t as sincere about reconciliation as you’d like to believe. Reconciliation means that things are going to be different going forward. It means not just your words but your actions will to be different, and this needs to be demonstrated consistently over time.


As a Roman Catholic attending the SBC as an outside observer, I was personally moved by how members resolved this issue.  A groundswell of support arose to make certain that the convention did not close without righting this wrong. A resolution against white supremacy and the alt-right movement did ultimately pass a day later, and it was nearly unanimous. I will be writing more about this in the future. I was immeasurably blessed to witness the movement of the Holy Spirit in the SBC in this.

This post is meant to address thoseboth inside and outside the SBCwho are still not convinced about what all the fuss was about. I hope the analogy of an extramarital affair helps to put it in perspective.

As Southern Baptist Jared C. Wilson writes on Twitter:  How long do we keep repenting for the same ol’ sins? Until they’re all gone.

And that’s it, brothers and sisters. It is ultimately not the job of the white community to decide when enough has been done to treat this wound.

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