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'More Than Just Talk:' Black Southern Baptist Pastors Urge Racial Unity as SBC Elects First African American Chair

Rolland Slade
Rev. Rolland Slade (Photo courtesy: Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, CA)

In a historic move, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the US, has elected an African American pastor to lead the group.

In a special meeting of the group's Executive Committee Wednesday, it was announced that Rev. Rolland Slade, senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California had been tapped as the new head. 

"For the first time in the 103-year history of the SBC Executive Committee, we have today elected our first African American chairman," Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee said during the meeting.

Slade expressed gratitude for the unanimous decision to appoint him as the new chair.

"It says that if you do the work, not only will God reward you, but you'll have the support of all the folks you are working with," said Slade.

News of Slade's historic election came during an online panel discussion called, "A 60 Minute Conversation on Race in America," hosted by Floyd. The conversation comes amid growing racial tension in the country following the death of black men at the hands of white police.

Slade and four other African American Southern Baptist Pastors and leaders took part in the conversation which was streamed live on Facebook.

The group called for racial unity and healing within the church.

"The world is waiting for us to come together," said K. Marshall Williams, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church of Philadelphia. "Because Beloved, truth be told, this is just a dress rehearsal for when we get around the throne. I think maybe God is stripping us. I don't know about you, but this has been a stripping time for me, a pruning time for me, a time in the refiner's fire, that God would see what He really has as far as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ."

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During the meeting, Floyd asked the pastors whether the SBC is progressing on issues dealing with race. 

Willie McLaurin, vice president of Great Commission relations and mobilization of the committee recounted being the first black man to preach in some Anglo churches in Tennessee.  

He explained how a 10-year-old boy got saved when he gave an altar call. He said the boy's father came down the aisle, hugged him and asked to speak to the congregation.

"He said, 'I wasn't for this black man coming to be our interim pastor, but my 10-year-old son has gotten saved today and today this black pastor is my brother in the Lord. And any of you who have a racist bone in your heart, you need to come to the altar today and get it right with Jesus'," McLaurin recalled the man saying.

In 2017, the SBC took a stand against racism and alt-right white supremacy. In a resolution, the group denounced "every form of racism, including the alt-right white supremacy as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

But Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said the lack of empathy by white Christians toward the black community's history of racial injustice in America is an issue.

"While I am very thankful about things that have happened in the past, I just feel like the last 8 to 10 years, the insensitivity and the indifference concerning the pain of brothers and sisters has not been a good testimony for Christianity."

Williams agreed and said more action and less talk needs to happen.

"I don't think we need to write any more resolutions," he said. "We need to put some shoe leather in it and effect some change. Our younger generation wants to see practical application of the biblical principle. And for us right now, our hypocrisy because we haven't acted on it and dealt with America's original sin, it has hindered the heathen from hearing when we holler about the holy. They can't hear us."

Pastor Charlie Dates of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago lamented, "This is a very tiring conversation, not simply because of the events of recent weeks, but because this has been a 401-year struggle for African Americans." 

He urged SBC leaders to take meaningful and practical steps to make a difference.

"Maybe a strategic way forward would be to get the ERLC, the strong lobbying arm, to have an arm that is specifically tethered to issues of righteousness and justice," said Dates. "I would love for this convention to say that black lives actually matter and to say it first and then do something about it."

"It's gonna be more than just talk," added Slade. "This is the launching pad. We're going on from here."

Floyd concluded the meeting by quoting Jesus' prayer in John 17, "May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I am in You. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me."

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