Leading up to the annual Southern Baptist Convention, SBC President J.D. Greear spoke this past Sunday (June 9) at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American congregation located in the heart of Birmingham, Alabama. His message was one of sorrow for the SBC’s history of racism while expressing the desire for healing and reconciliation. Greear also added that white Christians who are racist or dismissive of racial concerns are ignoring the gospel.
Birmingham’s Sixth Avenue Baptist Church was founded in 1882. Active in the Civil Rights Movements of the mid-20th century, the church’s website says:
In 1962, soon after the coming of Reverend Porter, the great civil rights revolution of the sixties bombarded the city. The cause of civil rights for our people was advanced with pastor and membership taking an active role. Pastor Porter was jailed three times during protests with the church family in constant prayer for his safe release. The statue at the north entrance of the Kelly Ingram Park (17th Street and Fifth Avenue, North) bears likeness to Reverends John T. Porter, A.D. King, and N.H, Smith, and offers an historic representation of the ministers as they kneeled and prayed at a major protest during the demonstrations of the era. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke many times from the Sixth Avenue pulpit to mass rallies being held at the church. The funeral of three of the four little girls killed in the bombing of our sister church (Sixteenth Street Baptist) was held in the church sanctuary with the world community in attendance.
It’s no secret that the Southern Baptist Convention was formed after slave owning Baptists in the South became upset at the anti-slavery restrictions imposed by Northern Baptists on ministers and missionaries. During the shameful Jim Crow era, many SBC churches not only supported the discriminatory laws but defended them as biblical too. Greear was correct when he told Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, “I don’t need to tell you — the church in the West has had a horrible history of racism.”
Baptist Press reports that Greear followed up that claim by explaining that racism among Christians exists because “Christians lost touch with the Gospel.”
“You see, the Gospel teaches us that there’s only one kind of person. We all got one common problem: sin. We only have one hope: the blood of Jesus. And that means all people — red and yellow, black and white — all alike are precious in His sight because all are afflicted with the same problem; all require the same solution. Jesus wasn’t resurrected as a white man, or a black man, or a Jew or a Gentile but He was resurrected as the Lord of all humanity. When someone sees the world through the lens of the racial bias the only explanation is that they have forgotten the Gospel. It is only by renewing ourselves in the Gospel can we purify ourselves of the racial bias and blindness to injustice that continue to afflict us.”
Let’s pray that J.D. Greear’s gospel witness will be heard by many and that not only will many people repent of the sin of racism but they will turn, in faith, to the only One who can provide eternal healing.