Nearly two dozen black pastors met with Southern Baptists of Texas Convention executive director Jim Richards and convention staff for a prayer and listening session on racial reconciliation amid national tensions stemming from black men being killed by police in Baton Rouge, La., and St. Paul, Minn., as well as gunmen killing police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Richards invited the SBTC pastors to discuss ways the convention can assist churches of all ethnicities in working together for racial reconciliation in their communities.
“Whether it’s racial justice, whether it’s law and order, whatever the perspective is from [our] churches, we need to help them see what your concerns are, what your heart is, and how we can help our churches minister in the current environment,” Richards said.
Dante Wright, SBTC vice president and pastor of Sweet Home Baptist Church in Round Rock, opened the session by sharing his views on the Black Lives Matter movement, comparing and contrasting it with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Wright explained that he does not see Black Lives Matter at its core as a group that hates cops or promotes violence but one that seeks to replicate aspects of the Civil Rights movement and voices legitimate concerns about police brutality and inequality in the criminal justice system.
At the same time, Wright said, one of the major differences between the Civil Rights movement and Black Lives Matter is that the latter “has eliminated religious leaders, they have eliminated biblical principles.”
Terry Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church and former SBTC president, agreed, noting that Black Lives Matter has a variety of voices, some positive and some negative.
“Society doesn’t know what to believe; everybody’s caught up in whether it’s good or it’s bad…. [Black pastors] have to have the voice that overshadows the negative voices,” Turner said.
Prior to leading one of several prayer times throughout the July 19 meeting, Turner thanked the pastors in attendance, noting God’s sovereignty in the midst of chaos.
“We’re caught up in the midst of turmoil and trauma in our society, but it has not caught God unaware,” Turner said, noting that the tragic events and racial tensions have been used by God to provide a forum for discussing solutions.
“It allows us to deal with some of the racial issues that have been swept under the carpet for over 100 years in our society,” Turner said.
Pastors expressed their frustrations and concerns related to racial injustice and inequality that still pervade American culture in sometimes subtle as well as sometimes volatile ways. At the same time, they discussed ways their churches are seeking to engage in racial reconciliation within their communities.
Jack Crane, pastor of Truevine Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth, shared how his church held a prayer meeting following the police shootings in Dallas and invited local police officers so they could pray for them.
“If we’re on the same team, then it should be the norm in the church for all of us to come together and say we stand for one cause,” Crane said.
Donald Burgs, pastor of Alief Baptist Church in Katy, said solutions too often are sought reactively instead of proactively. His church has pledged to be a community partner with the Katy police department.
“When you meet with the police chief and mayor in your community, you are not asking for anything; you are sharing what your church membership is going to be as a community partner.”
For Alief Baptist, this has included dialogue with the police department on the value of body cameras and de-escalation training for officers as well as compliance procedures for citizens. Additionally, men in the church have offered to be “boots on the ground,” mentoring young black men who are repeat offenders.
Tony Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship and president of the SBTC African-American Fellowship, challenged pastors to be intentional about creating a multicultural church with staff and leadership of varying ethnicities. Recognizing it’s “easier said than done,” he said this approach ultimately “builds relationships in the congregation” and allows the pastor to de-escalate tensions in the congregation during difficult times.
“It takes a long time to build relationships cross-culturally, and it’s hard work,” Mathews said. “You have to know people and build relationships with people before you get to some of these volatile areas or you’ll end up building barriers instead of bridges.”
Bryant Pearson, founder of Bowtie Boys Mentoring Program in Garland, said churches must get involved in the educational and economic systems because much of racism stems from economic disparity. He said he seeks to get police involved in the lives of young children so mutual respect is built between them.
Wright agreed with Pearson about the cyclical nature of poverty and the criminal justice system, which is why the church he leads has opened up a barber shop, beauty shop and daycare center to provide jobs to those with criminal records.
E.W. McCall, a longtime pastor in California and currently a specialist in African American ministry with SBTC, encouraged fellow pastors to be “system savvy” by using their influence for God’s glory and speaking out against government laws and policies that contribute to inequality and racial tensions. He also challenged pastors to preach the Gospel unashamedly as the only hope for reconciliation.
McCall reminded the pastors of the need for them to “show up” at convention meetings and “pay up” through their church’s participation in the cooperative program. “We are the convention,” he said. “It’s the theology of presence — I need to see you guys that’s here today at these statewide meetings.”
Other solutions discussed during the meeting included black pastors building friendships with pastors of other ethnicities in their communities and looking for multiethnic worship opportunities such as swapping pulpits with another pastor. The pastors also asked for the state convention to provide future opportunities for pastors of all ethnicities to dialogue with one another in small-group settings to find solutions for racial reconciliation.
Richards concluded the meeting by promising to fulfill this final request of black and white pastor discussion forums “sooner rather than later.” He issued a challenge for the black pastors present to build relationships with white pastors in their communities and bring them to the meetings.
— Keith Collier is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.