:Originally in By Their Strange Fruit
In “The SBC and white-led racial reconciliation,” I challenge the racial reconciliation initiative Southern Baptist leaders have launched. I ask: For all their good intentions, might these SBC pastors instead only further illusion? I suggest: The only white-led “initiative” that can further racial reconciliation is an initiative to humble ourselves, to see and turn from our sins.
We cannot do that quickly or easily. Pride and a clinging to privilege will keep us from doing it at all.
Insidiously, pride and privilege whisper to leaders who genuinely want racial reconciliation, “You have to retain your status, to do the most good.” Falling for the lie, we cling to our titles, defend the structures that provide them, idolize the privilege we enjoy as Christian leaders – and avoid at all costs humbling ourselves.
I’ve remarked to white Christian leaders how desperately we need to confess and repent. I’ve suggested we cannot do it corporately until we do it personally. I’ve watched the blood drain out of each face, seen the body language become defensive, felt the room grow cold.
As a leader, getting gut-level honest about my sins requires me to be vulnerable before people who may not continue to follow me if they know the truth. If I try to lead them to confess sins, especially racial sins, they may revolt, and strip me of my “place.”
My choice? Avoid confession, and protect myself. OR, choose against pride and the fear of losing privilege. Count honoring God more important than loyalty to my denomination, ministry, network, church or cause. Deny my yearning to retain power and status, in order to follow my Lord.
Paul faced down pride and privilege. Listing all that had given him status as a religious leader, he declared: “These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7 CEB).
I was Southern Baptist for 50 years. The last seven, I served as a denominational leader. The last year-and-a-half, I was treated abusively. Finally, I was given an ultimatum – at which point God freed me to resign. The wrongdoing and the ultimatum had one goal: to pressure me to uphold the demeaning and division the denomination fosters in regard to women, a justice issue very kin to that of race.
Before the abuse, I had thought we were making progress with regard to women in the church. In accord with denominational views on women and with the full approval of my leaders, I had taken what appeared to be small steps in the right direction. Suddenly, a few leaders who felt threatened by the changes began to lash out. When they did, other leaders ran for cover. None wanted to risk the loss of finances, status, control. I was battered; the progress evaporated; the status quo was restored. For all my sincerity, I had only furthered illusion.
Out of that fire came years of healing, researching, seeking God and seeing much I hadn’t previously seen. With deep grief, I confess:
What I faced in this century in the heart of the SBC, and what I subsequently discovered in my own heart, are attitudes that were embraced and defended by the evangelical church culture from the days of the settling of the Cotton Kingdom. Though many changes have occurred since the Civil War, the white church culture rooted in the Deep South still has not seen, dealt with or turned from these demeaning and divisive attitudes at their root.
Seeing all this, I wrote We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church:
Desperately, we look for another way. We believe “airing our dirty laundry” will shame us. No. It will free us from the shame that has bound us so long.
We believe blame for racial injustice lies somewhere else. Indeed, there’s danger of your reading this article, and thinking, “Ah, those Southern Baptists. It’s their fault.” But God doesn’t point fingers. He exposes hearts. Always, he does so to redeem. As we, in humility, agree with what he shows us about us, he cleanses and renews.
We believe that we, as Christian leaders, don’t have any idols. Yet, our terror of losing our status shows we do. Left unchallenged, pride and privilege will busy us trying to lead in racial reconciliation, while blinding us to the things within us that stop it cold.
Deborah Brunt is an author and blogger at keytruths.com. Her book, We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, explores in-depth the issues identified in this article.