Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Baptists and Race

"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Introduction
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Roots in the Reformation
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - The Anabaptists 
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - The General vs. the Particular Baptists
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - 18th Century Revival
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Theological Polarization
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Baptists and the Social Gospel

"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Baptists and Race


Thus far, there has only been one chapter I have not enjoyed in David Bebbington's book Baptists Through the Centuries. My distaste for it does not regard the author or his writing, but the tragic history he tells in it. Baptists do not have a history on race relations worth bragging about it. As a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention, our history is particularly distasteful. The challenge of racism is yet another reminder of why theology should trump cultural assumptions.

The author begins by stating that early on, Baptists "drew in people of color from an early stage" (139). Later, however,
race was a profoundly divisive issue. For much of the history of the Baptists, many of the white members of their churches saw themselves as inherently superior, while members of other racial groups were victims of neglect, disdain, or far worse. In particular, slavery was enforced by white Baptists on black people who were often their coreligionists. Human beings were bought, sold, and treated as pieces of property like sheep or cattle. Even after the abolition of slavery, Baptists in the United States deliberately denied full civil rights to their fellow citizens on the basis of race. (140)
We already know that tragic story. But Bebbington also reminds us that that story is not the full story. He adds:
There is, however, another side to the story. Baptists participated in the struggles against the salve trade and the institution of slavery. Subsequently they played a foremost part i the campaign against he denial of civil rights. So, at times, some members of the denomination were perpetrator so racial discrimination, but equally others became champions of its demise. The Baptists' engagement with racial questions forms a remarkably checkered history. (140)
What follows in this chapter is the story between of how some Baptists held on tightly to racial discrimination while others fought hard to abolish racism. Heroic names like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, and Billy Graham feature prominently in this chapter. I was surprised and unaware of W. A. Criswell's stance on this issue. Fortunately the SBC publicly repented and apologized for its part in racial discrimination in 1992.

In the end, two observations are worth being made here. First, though racism is largely abolished in America it still remains that the most segregated hour each week is Sunday worship. It should bother the Christian conscience that there remain black churches, white churches, Hispanic churches, etc. The work of reconciliation will not end until people of every tongue, tribe, nation, and race worship together here as we will there.

Secondly, theology should drive the acts of the church, not culture. Racism, especially in the South, became part of their identity. Instead of seeing the evil of slavery, many held on tightly to "the way things have always been."

Fortunately the gospel is more powerful than racism. Let us pray it continues to open eyes.
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