Race to the Bottom: Is Racial Reconciliation Still a Priority for Evangelicals and Baptists in 2023?

I’m not on Twitter anymore. So, mercifully, I don’t see the daily crazy. But it came to my attention this week that a group of posters associated with the Christian Nationalist right were on there feigning ignorance of and then questioning the “narrative” about the lynching of Emmett Till. Apparently, we can’t acknowledge one of the most well-documented cases of racist terrorism in American history simply because it is a part of the “official narrative” of “the left.” The brutal disfigurement, mutilation, and murder of a 14-year-old boy, which was racially motivated by his murderers’ own admission, may have not been “wholly unprovoked, or as thoroughly driven by racism as is claimed.” This vile and tribalistic thinking betrays a profoundly relativistic mindset that is more concerned with posturing in the contemporary political landscape than it is with the truth or with Christian morality. Flagrantly racist attitudes are now treated as merely different “opinions on race.” And it appears to be a part of a growing trend on the so-called dissident right to cozy up to anti-Semitic and overtly white supremacist voices. One of the leaders in this movement suggested to me on Twitter a couple years ago that genetic inferiority is as likely an explanation for racial disparities in America as any lingering effects of systemic racism. The ethnic dimension to the rising ethno-nationalism on the right is becoming more transparent. The mask is coming off.

It is easy to get angry about all of this. And to be sure, righteous indignation is appropriate. But I would suggest the leavening of another emotion: pity. I genuinely pity those who still find a perverted solace in the myth of racial superiority and the hardened path of racial division. I feel sorry for those who are so blinded by a “no enemies to the right” way of thinking that they have departed so disastrously from the way of Christ, where “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

There is a reason why we included an article on racial unity in our Manifesto for Evangelical Baptist Catholicity. Racist attitudes and expressions even within the church aren’t making a comeback. Sadly, they never went away. In the Manifesto, we write,

We affirm that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, are created in God’s image and, if they have repented and believed in Christ, are brothers and sisters together in the one body of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Because of this shared imago dei and because of Christ’s saving work among all nations, peoples, and tongues, we believe that one major task of Baptist catholicity is to promote racial unity, especially within the body of Christ.

The last several years have put a major strain on efforts toward racial reconciliation within evangelical and Baptist circles. We are at a point now where things that almost everyone agreed on a decade ago—about the need for empathy, the acknowledgement of past wrongs (and their lingering effects), and the pursuit of racial diversity in the body of Christ—are dismissed as “critical race theory” or “cultural Marxism.” Few have the courage to poke their heads up in favor of racial reconciliation in this landscape. This too is pitiable.

For Southern Baptists, it would be a good time to revisit our Resolution on Racial Reconciliation on the 150th Anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention. Again, it says things that would get you run out of town as an allegedly CRT proponent today. It spoke of both conscious and unconscious racism and of both individual and “systemic racism.” It apologized and repented for our racist past. It sought forgiveness and healing. It made commitments to eradicate racism from our midst. And it anchored all of it in the Great Commission that our Lord solemnly gave to the church to make disciples of every tribe, tongue, and nation. We should pursue racial justice, unity, and reconciliation not because they map onto any left-right analysis of contemporary American politics, but because they are demanded by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rediscovering and making good on these resolutions is the only possible path for a Baptist future blessed by the Savior of the world.

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