Atlanta pastor Gabriel C. Stovall, having read a much-publicized black minister’s decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention, recounts the dialogue and changes of heart he has experienced in the SBC that stir him to remain in the convention.
Almost 24 hours after the back-to-back deaths of Alton Sterling and then Philando Castile by the trigger hand of police officers last summer, my Facebook inbox lit up.
Nearly a dozen people, who I called brothers in Christ, were saying they had had enough.
They were tired of watching black men get cut down by policemen’s bullets. They were nauseous, they said, of seeing white people scratch their collective heads trying to figure out why people of color were so traumatized by these deaths. And, equally so, they were confused why blacks weren’t seeing the side of the police in these matters — or at least giving those pledged to protect and serve the benefit of the doubt.
These inbox brothers were fed up. They were ready to take action. They didn’t care what it cost them.
These brothers were white Southern Baptists.
I met with one of these men, at his behest, at a Starbucks in downtown Atlanta, nestled closely between where both of us lead small congregations — mine, an historic, predominantly African American church in need of revitalization in a section of the city called the “Old Fourth Ward,” and his, an ethnically diverse church plant.
I spoke to him and he listened. He lamented to me and I listened. We both decided on an audacious goal: to find a way to pull out racism of all kinds by its roots, and to do it through the body of Christ.
We ended that conversation that day, equal parts heartbroken over the re-emerging racial tension in our nation and hopeful that even though we didn’t really know the answers to all of these matters, we knew of One who did.
We agreed to pray about next steps in starting a movement that didn’t seek to be “color blind,” but color-inclusive and color-embracing, at the foot of Christ’s cross. Several weeks later, my Facebook friend and I were joined by six other Southern Baptist pastors and leaders in the fellowship hall of my church, half black and half white.
There we ate together, discussed, vented, shouted, reasoned, agreed, disagreed, acknowledged our biases and what we perceived to be the biases of those whose skin and upbringing were not like ours.
It was uncomfortably productive to the point where we desired to do it again. And again. Our most recent meeting took place in the largest prison in Georgia after a tour we received from the prison’s director of chaplaincy — a black Southern Baptist who, several years earlier, became the first black associational missionary in Georgia and one of just a small handful of black directors of missions in Southern Baptist life.
We invited several others to the table, and when we told others of what we were doing, some expressed interest as well. Since our last meeting, while I’ve witnessed some extremely troubling mindsets and justifications over a myriad of issues, including racism, our current president, etc., I’ve also seen another side of the coin — a side that gives me hope.
It’s a side that causes me to daily dual with the inner dichotomy of empathizing with, and fighting for, continued civil progression of black people and people of color, while also reaching across the aisle to engage more people who believe like my Southern Baptist inbox friends.
What I’ve found is proof that old habits and mentalities die hard, whether you’re intentionally trying to eradicate them or not, and that the truth is often neither to the far left or right, but somewhere smack in the middle.
But I’ve also discovered that there are more than a few truly Christ-loving, white Southern Baptists who want to make full separation from the convention’s racist past and from what I call “political Christianity” — identifying your faith primarily through your political party, no matter what it is.
I’ve also found many who are humble enough to say, “Gabriel, I want to help pull down this nation’s racist stronghold, but I don’t know how. Can you help me?”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Gabriel C. Stovall, online at GabrielCStovall.com, is senior pastor of Butler Street Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward community and a state missionary for church planting and church revitalization in the metro Atlanta area through the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He also serves as the mission board’s Baptist campus ministries pastor at Clayton State University in Morrow, Ga.