The Alliance of Baptists went on record last week declaring itself “a self-consciously anti-racist group.”
The Alliance, a 117-church organization started 19 years ago in a break with the Southern Baptist Convention, adopted a “call to repentance” for racism 16 years ago. Speaking at the time as the Southern Baptist Alliance, the 1990 statement publicly repented and apologized to African-Americans “for condoning and perpetuating the sin of slavery prior to and during the Civil War.”
It further rejected “racism, segregation and prejudice in our past and the continuing pattern of racism, segregation and prejudice which has persisted throughout our history as a Christian denomination, even unto this present day,” and called on the Southern Baptist Convention to adopt a similar statement that same year in New Orleans.
The SBC eventually did pass a racial reconciliation resolution–five years later, on its 150th anniversary in Atlanta.
A new Alliance statement adopted last week, however, acknowledges that
“repenting of our racism is not a one-time event but a long and demanding process.”
“As an expression of our repentance we commit to engage and re-engage in the hard process, the necessary process, the life-giving process of turning away from our racism and turning toward the goal of an Alliance in which there is increasing racial and ethnic diversity, an Alliance in which there is profound respect for all persons, an Alliance in which there truly is ‘no male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek.'”
In his annual State of the Alliance address, Executive Director Stan Hastey called the statement a declaration “that from this day forward we intend to become an anti-racist ecclesial body.”
“Racism is not the same thing as individual race prejudice and bigotry,” Hastey said. “All people are racially prejudiced (regardless of racial/ethnic identity). It is part of the air we breathe. It is socialized into every person. But this does not mean that everyone is racist.”
“Racism is more than race prejudice,” Hastey said. “It is more than individual attitudes and actions. Racism is the collective actions of a dominant racial group.
“Power turns race prejudice into racism. Racial prejudice becomes racism when one group’s racial prejudices are enforced by the systems and institutions of a society, giving power and privilege based on skin color to the group in power, and limiting the power and privilege of the racial groups that are not in power.”
The statement says “the existence of racism is detrimental to all communities,” not just minorities, and that “racial and ethnic segregation and isolation must not be acceptable options in either society or the church.”
The statement commits the Alliance “to discerning the ways in which racism is present in the Alliance of Baptists” and to “an intentional process of becoming an anti-racist organization.”
“We commit ourselves anew to the establishment of meaningful relationships with communities of color,” it says. “We commit ourselves anew to the full inclusion of persons of color in the paid staff and volunteer leadership of the Alliance. We commit ourselves anew to address issues of importance to communities of color at each meeting of the Alliance of Baptists.”
Meeting in Birmingham, Ala., a central city in the Civil Rights Movement, the April 21-23 Alliance convocation focused on a racial reconciliation theme. Alliance members were invited to submit “stories of faithfulness” about combating racism prior to the meeting. A few are posted on the Alliance Web site.
Another Alliance statement passed in Birmingham strenuously objected to a recent move by the U.S. Treasury Department revoking travel licenses to Cuba for religious organizations.
The Alliance, which has a mission partnership with the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba, had its travel license suspended in November 2005. As a result, churches seeking to send groups to Cuba must apply for their own licenses.
Other faith groups affected by the policy change include American Baptist Churches in the USA, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Southern Baptist Convention, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and its partner organization, Church World Service.
Jim Hopkins, pastor of LakeshoreAvenueBaptistChurch in Oakland, Calif., was elected new president of the Alliance. Kristy Pullen from Ashburn, Va., was elected vice president. Both have spent ministry careers in the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
While the Alliance started out as a breakaway group from Southern Baptists (removing the reference to Southern in 1992) the group is becoming increasingly American Baptist. Of 117 congregations currently affiliated with the Alliance, Hastey said, 51 are ABC/USA churches as well. Most new churches joining the Alliance over the past three or four years have American Baptist ties.
Other new churches, Hastey said, are almost without exception “new or transformed congregations” planted in collaboration with the United Church of Christ and, more recently, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.