In a powerful essay for the New York Times, Lawrence Ware, a co-director of the Center for Africana Studies at Oklahoma State University and an ordained minister, says that he’s “renouncing” his ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention.
The reason? Their hesitation to condemn white supremacy and their continued bigotry against LGBTQ people made his support untenable.
… As a black scholar of race and a minister who is committed to social justice, I can no longer be part of an organization that is complicit in the disturbing rise of the so-called alt-right, whose members support the abhorrent policies of Donald Trump and whose troubling racial history and current actions reveal a deep commitment to white supremacy.
What’s more, while they hesitated to adopt a resolution that condemned white supremacy, they did not hesitate to throw out activists who tried to raise awareness about the ways in which the convention fails its L.G.B.T.Q. members.
It should be noted that there’s reason to believe the hesitation over a resolution condemning white supremacy (at the recent SBC annual meeting) had less to do with its content and more to do with the timing of when it was proposed.
Still, it’s not like that the only example linking Southern Baptists to ignorance of racial issues if not outright racism.
Ware also points to the faculty members and administrators at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who posed like this to promote their School of Preaching:
Was it stupid? Yes. Was it racist? Hell yeah. Were they punished? Not a chance. And that’s what bothers Ware:
The university president apologized and lamented the “moment of bad judgment,” but nothing meaningful was done. To me, their performance constituted more than bad judgment. Mockingly stereotyping African-Americans revealed the moral bankruptcy of their souls. These men are responsible for preparing ministers for the work of the church, after all.
And, of course, you have the overwhelming evangelical support of Donald Trump, which makes no sense at all if you’re trying to align supposed Christian values with Trump’s words and actions.
Ware notes that some Southern Baptist leaders are not on the Trump train and vocally and frequently condemn racism in no uncertain terms, but they’re in the minority. And the prejudice against LGBTQ people has never gone away and is, indeed, still promoted by the faith.
Ware is still a Christian, and he notes that he “will still remain a minister in the Progressive National Baptist Convention,” but his affiliation with the largest Protestant denomination in the country is over.
I love the church, but I love black people more. Black lives matter to me. I am not confident that they matter to the Southern Baptist Convention.
If there’s any criticism to offer here, it’s that the SBC’s positions on these issues were never a secret. Is Ware only now realizing that there are a bunch of racists among SBC’s leadership and membership? How long did he stay in the SBC knowing how they felt about LGBTQ people? Does he have any idea what Southern Baptists believe about women? (President Jimmy Carter left the denomination nearly two decades ago because of the SBC’s stance on women.)
The point is Ware could’ve written the bulk of this essay decades ago without having to change very much.
But we can all speculate as to why he didn’t leave earlier. This was his denomination. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but maybe he thought he could help change it from within. There’s comfort in the familiar and leaving the denomination — very publicly, no less — would create a lot of personal problems that he might understandably want to avoid.
I’m glad he did it now, though. Let’s hope other current SBC leaders — black, white, and everyone else — have the courage to do the same. How much racism, sexism, and bigotry are they willing to tolerate?
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