PHILADELPHIA – On Wednesday, August 9, 2017 a group of about 40 people attended a Town Hall Meeting at Great Commission Church located in Philadelphia, PA. The topic of the Town Hall Meeting: Why are Blacks Staying in the SBC?
Panelists: Dr. Larry Anderson, Baptist Resource Network Healthy Churches Director and Lead Pastor of Great Commission Church (Philadelphia, PA)
Rev. Hal Hopkins, Church Planting Catalyst (BRN Philadelphia) & Lead Pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church (Breinigsville, PA)
Alonzo Johnson, Lead Pastor of Believers Bible Fellowship (Philadelphia, PA)
Moderator: Pastor D. Kyle Canty, Missional Living Catalyst (BRN Philadelphia)
No assumptions were made that the audience knew the details surrounding McKissic’s resolution, the backlash, the alt-right movement and the like. The moderator, Kyle Canty, spent the first portion of the meeting addressing those things. In doing this, he laid a foundation for discussion where everyone was able to start on the same page.
The first question asked of the panel was “How big of an issue is race when you think about the Southern Baptist Convention?” Dr. Larry Anderson responded: “It is a huge issue.” He alluded to the racist roots of the origin of the Southern Baptist Convention stating, “Every step you take away from those embarrassing beginnings will be huge and any misstep that is remotely parallel to those embarrassing beginnings will be paramount. The history of racism in the SBC is something that cannot be ignored or denied but it can be redeemed.”
Pastor Hal Hopkins: “Is there a race problem in America? It’s not just the Southern Baptist issue, it is an American issue. This nation was founded on the same kinds of principles that the SBC was founded on. Not at any point in America were we [people of African Descent] considered equals. We have come along way but in the DNA of American culture as with the SBC culture it wreaks with the stench of racism.”
Following Hopkin’s response, there was a question from the floor from Stephanie, a Caucasian woman.
Stephanie asked: “Can someone give a brief history of the SBC and its connection to racism?”
Pastor Hal Hopkins – “The SBC began on the wrong side of the racist issue historically. During the discussion as to whether or not we should have slaves, the SBC decided the issue was too close to their pocketbooks and they wouldn’t give up slavery. They decided to keep their slaves and they did so in the name of Christ.”
Pastor Alonzo Johnson: “Recent statements of what it means to be American and making America great again happened as a result of an African American serving two consecutive presidential terms in the US. There was a huge backlash and this put Trump in the presidential office. As a result, a lot of our history (racism, hatred) is resurfacing and it is bleeding over into the church. “
Next Question: “What was the disconnect between the Mckissic resolution being brought? Why did it create a firestorm?”
Dr. Larry Anderson: “There’s a resolution committee made up of 10 people- 8 Anglo, 1 Latino, and 1 African American. Those on the committee did not fully understand the magnitude of the resolution. They decided to table it so they could have more time to review. It was perceived as dismissing it. The way the process works is as follows— you submit a resolution by a certain deadline, it is read and a conclusion is made. In this instance, the resolution was read but a conclusion was not made by the time the Convention took place. So the committee decided to table it.”
Question from the floor: “Why did McKissic think it was necessary to present the resolution?”
Dr. Larry Anderson: “The political climate has almost made the term evangelical synonymous with republican. Those who outwardly supported the republican agenda created a climate that caused people to question where does the SBC lie in regard to our position on equality. All of those things were called into question when people make statements about how Jesus would be a republican.”
Pastor Hal Hopkins: “Our discussion tonight is not about whether democrats or republicans are correct. But the alt-right finds its roots in [the] republican [party]. This [issue of racism] is a moral issue. It’s not merely a political issue. An issue about race, privilege, equality of human beings is an issue about God as the Creator. Imago Dei—if we all bear the image of God that reality has implications for this discussion.”
Next Question: “If this was merely a procedural misstep with the resolution being tabled–Is there really an issue of race or racial reconciliation that we need to worry about as African American Members of the SBC?”
Pastor Hal Hopkins: “From my own perspective, it seems that African Americans think there is a race problem. But what really concerns me is that I’m not sure that too many of our Caucasian brothers and sisters feel the pain of African Americans as it relates to that issue. I look around here [in the room this evening] and the majority of the people here are African Americans. We sent an invitation to hundreds in our area and while the majority are African American we still have 40 or so in our region that are of another race. I’m not sure that anyone thinks there is much of a race issue other than African Americans [indicated by the lack of them showing up here today]. For example, when Obama was elected as President many of my Caucasian brothers and sisters said “see, we don’t have a race problem, we elected an African American President”.”
Dr. Larry Anderson: “We absolutely should be worried, concerned, involved, and vocal. We need to show up at conventions– local and national. The committee [that read McKissic’s resolution] reflected the [demographic] convention (20% is other, 80% anglo). But the fact that the committee looked at the resolution and didn’t recognize the magnitude of it— means [that] a committee should be more scrutinized and equipped to deal with issues like this. Unless we are at the table working on these things and talking about these things it is unrealistic to expect a resolution to come about.”
Next Question: “In light of the New York times article by Lawrence Ware do you believe that his perspective represents the majority of African Americans in the SBC?”
Pastor Hal Hopkins: “[I’d say] yes his perspective on racism probably represents the SBC African American thinking. No, his perspective on leaving the SBC does not represent the SBC Blacks at large. There are some who choose to leave—no doubt, but in my conversations with others I haven’t seen that to be the majority. I can have a better position to challenge this system as being part of it rather than being someone on the outside trying to push for change. We live in a fallen world. So any group [that] I am a part of is messed up because I am in it. We need to accept the fact that there are no perfect organizations, no perfect families, [and] no perfect people. We have to figure out how to apply the Gospel to the context we are in. How do we apply the grace of the Gospel to this situation and seek to redeem it in a broader context?”
Question from the floor: “Are there any committees in the SBC that represent the Black perspective?”
Pastor Hal Hopkins: “Yes, there are several entities in the SBC that help speak to the entities that we are talking about [for example] The African American Fellowship—a group of SBC pastors that come together to talk about issues relevant to the Black Experience. There are gatherings of local African American pastors. Yes ,there are organized groups of SBC African Americans who regularly get together to talk about those issues.”
Comment from the floor – Chris Betner: “I have push back to the notion that DR Ware’s conclusion isn’t widespread. McKissic argued that for the African American in the SBC it is like being invited to someone’s house for dinner and being told to sit at the kids’ table. You are invited to attend, but you aren’t in position to shape or mold or engage in conversation. I agree with Pastor Hopkins that there is value in staying. Yet, as an African American in SBC we aren’t invited to the table. While we can have our groups and discussions there’s a very small amount of us who are invited to the TABLE. I think a lot of pastors are considering stepping aside or pulling back because they are not at the table. Our presence at convention etc doesn’t seem to make a difference.”
Pastor Jackson [from the floor] responded: “My church is new to the SBC and from what I have experienced at the local level-SBC has been a partnership where we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we would. I came to the SBC with resources and we established a relationship. I have received from SBC the training that I wasn’t getting from other conventions to move my congregation forward regarding evangelism and missions. At the larger table there may be a problem but the network of churches I have been affiliated with locally has benefited me. WE have to look at it at two levels- Nationally and Locally. My relationship with the SBC has helped me on the local level. I think there is a two-tier level that we need to have this discussion on. How do we make a difference on the national level while doing ministry on the local level?”
Dr. Larry Anderson: “In the BRN there are 101 African American churches, 78 other churches, 149 Anglo churches. It’s the most diverse convention in the SBC. What is the BRN in relation to SBC. BRN is our local make-up, we are part of the SBC. We are at the table based on the number of churches that make up the SBC. Having a seat at the table in part is due to who makes up the Convention. The SBC is 84% Anglo—that is reflected in the national committee. However, our voice is at the table and we have to keep pushing for it to be heard.”
Question from the floor: “Does the SBC stand by this resolution?
Moderator: “Yes the resolution was accepted. You can view the resolution online at SBC.NET.
“ A resolution is just that, its just a resolution. In itself it doesn’t change anything. What needs to happen now is that you have to take the resolution and make policies that reflect the reality of what is in the resolution. “ -Pastor Hal Hopkins.
Comment from Stephanie (from the floor): “As one of two white people in the room, I am very disappointed in white people’s failure to show up. I have an interest and compassion that drives me to be here. There is a lack of interest and compassion in a lot of white people’s minds and I think it’s sad. There’s a lack of interest in wanting to know. “
Dr. Larry Anderson: In the BRN Philly Meeting, It was decided at the table that we needed to know where our Executive Director stood on these issues. He is a new Exec that just came into office. Because we are at that table and have that relationship we were able to challenge the silence. He put a statement out. PA and SJ is light years away from the national SBC as it relates to [cultural] sensitivity etc. The Exec wasn’t invited to this discussion but he was informed, he wasn’t invited because the panelists wanted people to be able to speak freely and not feel intimidated by his presence. There is a table and there are opportunities.”
Pastor Hal Hopkins: “My own commitment has been to create opportunities for African Americans to serve. I have used whatever influence I have to make that happen.”
Final Question from Moderator: “What can individual churches do to progress the work of racial justice and racial reconciliation within their context and the Convention?”
Pastor Alonzo Johnson: “It starts with relationship. We have to be willing to have relationships with people who don’t look like us. We have to go cross-culturally and engage people across cultures. Sunday is still one of the most segregated days of the week. We have to be willing to engage others and see people for who they are. [It will mean having messy hard conversations but in order to be in relationship they are necessary conversations to have. It will mean getting outside of your comfort zone and engaging the other. It also means being authentic as you engage the other.”
Pastor Hopkins: “It is important to engage other cultures, how they engage and read the Scriptures, how they interpret Scriptures. I think that we have to be deliberate in taking advantage of those opportunities to have those relationships and have conversations about it. It’s not acting as if the issue of race does not exist. Some people would rather ignore it. But it does exist and it is an issue. Mature believers have to get to a place where we are willing to talk about those issues and listen to the other party and their perspective and what their experience has been like. I hope to be a catalyst for causing that to happen—to stimulate some of those discussions as well as to challenge majority culture to think about race, African American brothers and sisters in particular and their plight in the Convention and in America at large. I wake up every morning and I am reminded that I am an African American man. I don’t know that our Anglo brothers and sisters wake up in the morning and consider the fact that they are Anglo. I wake up every morning and am aware. It has implications in my life. Throughout the day I have to be aware of it and be aware of how I act. Unless you are African America you may not even think of those issues.”
Dr. Larry Anderson: “The blood that connects us must be stronger than anything that separates us. We have to dare to be courageous and uncomfortable in order to swap pulpits, to have relationships with other brothers and churches. We have to recognize that the kingdom of God is vast and diverse. I am aware of the reality that I am a Black man as well but when I describe myself I start with describing myself as a follower of Christ. I think we need to start there.Serving as the Director of Church Health in this Convention, almost every time I attend a national meeting I am the only African American in the room. But I know if I’m not there we have no representation. It is uncomfortable but I sacrifice and die daily in order to build relationships across cultures. We all need to have some difficult conversations. We need to learn to speak the truth in love. We have to deal with the actual issues and address them and learn how to love our brethren that don’t look like us.”
Dr Larry Anderson ended by extending an invitation for those interested in continuing the conversation. Those interested in going further with the discussion were encouraged to leave their contact information. For more information on how you can get involved visit BRN Philadelphia