Southern Baptists: Racial Relations and Spiritual Worth

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Victor Irvine Masters, D.D. (1867-1954) while Superintendent of Publicity of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention was asked to write a mission study book at the 1914 Southern Baptist Covention. The Home Mission Board published the book in 1915. I recently shared Masters’ perspective from this publication in two areas: 1) Southern Baptist doctrinal conditions1 and 2) Calvinistic Methodist influence on early American Baptists.2

In chapter 12, “The Past and the Future” Masters offers some harsh words for the way some Southern Baptists have treated black people. Sadly, it was not until June 1995, 80 years after Masters wrote the excerpt below, that the Southern Baptist Convention voted on and passed the “Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention”.3

Given what Masters wrote on racial relationships in 1915 one big question comes to mind – What took us so long?

The Negro. The Southern white man cannot with his family and white neighbors develop in moral and spiritual worth, if he leaves the black people who live about him to fall prey to disease and sin. The white man cannot go to heaven, while he leaves the black to journey toward the pit. The Negro has made substantial progress in fifty years and the best whites have helped him. It is embarrassing to confess it, but there are thousands of whites who have their names on our church rolls, who have not the spirit of Christ toward the Negro. Every Southern pulpit ought to declare the whole counsel of God concerning the duty of the strong to the weak, the advanced to the lowly and backward, the white to the Negro. Our Mission Boards are helping the Negroes, and our mature and responsible leadership has ever been the Negro’s friend. The Home Mission Board has during all its career done much to help the Negroes through missionary work. For a number of years past it has had about forty missionaries among them and for several years through its Evangelistic Department it has conducted a most promising work for saving and training the Negroes and bringing their churches closer to the white churches in sympathy. Southern Baptists have also taken steps to establish a theological seminary for the black brethren. But Baptists have also an obligation so to interpret the will of Christ concerning our relations to the blacks, that men and women shall know that they cannot really follow Jesus, if they practise injustice toward Negroes. A church member who advocates or winks at lynchings or condones devices for cheating or in the courts imposing upon the least of these, is not fit to be in a church. Southern Christian bodies must do more through their missionary agencies to save the Negro, but of greater importance is it that every pulpit shall ring with the truth of Christ concerning our duty to the Negro and every church become a center of moral stamina, demanding that its own members shall keep themselves clean from the sin of oppressing the weak. The Negro cannot in the South be allowed to journey downward without dragging the white man with him. This fundamental fact is of tremendous importance and should often be expounded and enforced in twenty thousand Baptist pulpits in the South.4

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  1. A 1915 Perspective on Southern Baptist Doctrinal Conditions
  2. Calvinistic Methodist Influence on Early American Baptists
  3. Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention
  4. Masters, Victor Irvine, 1915. Baptist missions in the South: a century of the saving impact of a great spiritual body on society in the Southern States. A manual for mission study classes and an instructive story for the reader 2nd ed. (Kindle Locations 2100-2116). Atlanta : Townley & Company, printers.
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tagged as , , in Baptist,morality,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter L September 16, 2011 at 9:52 pm

This was written 50 years after the “War Between the States” (I am a northerner, but find nothing “civil” in the war), and mentions that the SBC had been working among the black population “for years” (and seems to imply for all or most of those 50 intervening years). Correct me if I am wrong, but did not the Baptists in the South break away from the Northern Baptists denominations because of the slavery and other state’s rights issues? I am glad to see they were attempting to reach the blacks so soon after the war.

2 Terry Reed September 17, 2011 at 12:40 am

It is sad that race is still an issue of any kind. My white daughter will wed her black fiance in two weeks. I only use those adjectives to make a point. I hope if the Lord tarries that my grandchildren’s generation will not see this as a mixed couple but just a couple. I hope that one day our churches will be full of people of all races with no one giving it a second thought.
Terry Reed
Small Church Tools

3 Mark September 17, 2011 at 11:10 am

Peter, you are right that the founding of the SBC, sadly, had slavery as one of its issues. However, this does not mean that some Southern Baptists weren’t reaching out or helping black people. Of course, if the blacks and whites back then may have different perspectives on this issue.

Terry, it is sad that race still an issue. And it’s not just whites against blacks. Thanks for sharing about your daughter. I hope they have a life-long Christ exulting marriage. May they be an example to those who may scoff at them.

4 BDW April 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Conservative leaders have regularly applauded and lifted up the work of individuals such as T.B. Maston and Foy Valentine from the 40s thru the 80s on racial issues. Richard Land has applauded his predecessor Valentine for the work that the SBC CLC did during his two-decade tenure.

The 1995 resolution was appropriate because it was the 150th anniversary. But there were a plethora of positive resolutions on race relations in the previous decades. There’s always been a segment of Southern Baptist leadership that was very progressive and active on issues of racial equality and justice.

In my opinion, the most significant statement adopted by Southern Baptists on race issues was the 1968 Recommendation to the Executive Committee titled “A Statement Concerning the Crisis In Our Nation”

There was much debate from the floor about whether the leave in the admission of guilt regarding racism. Those who didn’t want to make that admission were defeated and the Southern Baptist leadership was able to secure passage of the statement. That statement came at a very pivotal time in our nation’s history. It was certainly a “crisis.”

Historians have said that the Crisis Statement started a “moderate political awakening.” I agree. I wrote about this in my book on James Dunn. Post-1968 you start to see both the Texas and SBC CLCs become more activistic.

Now, I know that conservatives don’t like some of the issues that were ultimately pursued in the 70s and positions taken. But that statement got the ball rolling for the modern form of Baptist political engagement that we see today. Prior to 1968, Southern Baptists were content with a “resolutionary” form of political engagement. Post-1968, things began to change very quickly.

Again, the 1995 statement was a good thing and important. Don’t get me wrong. My question is: what’s happened since? Not much that I can tell. HOWEVER, Bryant Wright should be applauded. His effort to increase ethnic diversity in all facets of the SBC via a sustained, programmatic effort is impressive.

That’s why Richard Land’s comments are so devastating.

http://baptiststudiesonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/a-statement-concerning-the-crisis-in-our-nation-_1968_.pdf

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