Racial Reconciliation in the SBC, by Pastor Larry Johnson graphic

During the 2016 SBC Annual Meeting, the messengers overwhelmingly approved a resolution that called on Southern Baptists to reject the display of the Confederate Battle Flag. Messengers had varying opinions on the resolution. Some said the stance was overdue, and the SBC needed to take the step to further foster racial reconciliation within our convention and churches. Others argued the resolution was political in nature, not a kingdom matter, and there was no reason to present the issue at the convention. While some said the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of racism and systematic oppression, others insisted the flag is merely a symbol of Southern heritage and pride.

With all of these varying opinions, how should Christians approach the display of the Confederate Battle Flag? I’d like to suggest three perspectives.

 

A Christocentric Perspective

In Ephesians 2, Paul tells the Ephesian believers that Christ has unified the Jew and the Gentile. Paul urges them to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3 NIV).

Christ destroyed ethnic barriers, making all believers in him one, and we should make every effort to preserve the unity that Christ created through the cross. To maintain it, we must lay aside nonbiblical categorizations—race, socioeconomic status, and educational achievement—and embrace each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

A Humble Perspective

In Romans 14, Paul addresses believers who have differing views of foods and special days. In the end, Paul says that we should “make up [our] mind not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister,” as we “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:13,19 NIV). Paul reiterates this thought in 1 Corinthians 8.

As Christians, we should be careful that we are not so focused on preserving our American rights that we cause others to stumble. Rather, we should be concerned with the spiritual growth of others. We can willingly relinquish these false freedoms for the sake of those who have not experienced ultimate freedom, which is found in Christ Jesus.

 

A Realistic Perspective

Racism continues to run rampant, particularly in the South, and unfortunately, even our churches have not managed to avoid this sin. I’m an African American pastor of a multiethnic congregation. Shortly after being called to my position, I was approached by two elderly, long-standing members. I sensed they were struggling to speak to me. They apologized as they told me that their husbands would no longer attend worship because I was Black. I could feel their embarrassment.

I enjoy being a member of a multiethnic church, because I believe it is a reflection of what heaven, God’s kingdom, will look like. While the SBC’s resolution is not going to cure the deep sin of racism in our churches, it sends a message to the African-American community that we are standing with them, unified. As Dr. James Merritt passionately commented, we are a people not under any specific flag, but under the banner of Christ.

 

For more on the topic of the Confederate Battle Flag and racial reconciliation, see Dr. Russell Moore’s recent article.


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