Practicing What They Preach: SBC Elects 1st Black President

There’s no worse insult for a leader than to be labeled a fraud. No one wants to follow a phony.

Even Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms for the worst kind of hypocrites – church folk! He lavished grace and mercy on hard core “sinners,” but He called religious leaders who failed to practice what they preach “broods of vipers” and “white washed tombs.”

More than four decades after Dr. Martin Luther King called Sunday morning the most segregated time of the week, within Christian churches, that’s still largely true. Despite the racial reconciliation rhetoric, pulpit swaps, and ceremonial foot washings of the 1990s, American Christians still seem to prefer congregating in racial and ethnic silos. That’s not universally true, of course, but it’s practically true in most neighborhoods, most youth groups, and in the board rooms of many of our nation’s largest and influential evangelical ministries.

That’s why this week’s news from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is so encouraging. In 1995, SBC leaders publicly repented for the denomination’s sordid racial history, including pro-slavery theology pre-Civil War, and indifference, if not open hostility, to Civil Rights and racial justice throughout much of the 1900s. As recently as the Trayvon Martin case, the leader of the SBC’s policy arm was released for racially insensitive comments.

On Tuesday, June 19, the SBC further practiced what they preach by electing the denomination’s first African American president, Rev. Fred Luter, Jr. from New Orleans.

Racial reconciliation means a willingness to share and release power. Congratulations to the Southern Baptist Convention for modeling what this looks like. Now the real challenge of multi-ethnic leadership begins. As a recent Washington Post editorial surmised:

Diversity in leadership is not just about having a minority as the face of an organization who stands up in front of the convention itself and the media as a public sign that the organization is open-minded and inclusive. Rather, it’s about having diversity of thought among the people in charge who can help offer their experiences toward reaching people whom prior leadership may never have been successful at reaching before.

QUESTION: How can youth workers model leadership diversity in our ministries?

From the UYWI Vault

Leading the Emerging Hip-hop Multi-Ethnic Urban Church,” by Efrem Smith & Eric Knox (UYWI 2006). Free workshop audio.

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