Marshal Ausberry is pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Many of us who are African American Southern Baptists are asked the question, “Why are you Southern Baptist?” Last June in Birmingham at our National African American Fellowship meeting, I preached a sermon that attempted to address this question. I have adapted that sermon into this article.
If I can borrow from the sentiment of 1 Peter 3:15, when we are asked, “Why are you Southern Baptist?” we should all be able to give a reason and do so with gentleness and kindness.
The question we get is, “As a Black man or Black woman, why are you Southern Baptist?” Let me give you a couple of reasons why this remains a question in the community of color, and then I will share my reasons for being in the Southern Baptist Convention.
The challenges of being Southern Baptist as an African American include:
1) SBC HISTORY
The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in May 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, where 293 delegates gathered to break away from the American Baptist Home Mission Society forming a new mission society. The historical fact is that the SBC was born out “. . . of a commitment to preserve and defend slavery” (Matthew J. Hall, Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention). Don’t think the Southern Baptists were walking this road alone—there were similar situations among the Presbyterians and Methodists.
2) SBC HERITAGE
The SBC heritage is that many of our white brothers and sisters were effectively born into the SBC—a heritage passed from their great, great, great Southern Baptist granddaddies. In this heritage the ideologies and symbols of a perpetuated myth include white superiority, manifest destiny, and paternalism. We see this heritage on the names of buildings, revered names in the hallowed halls of agencies and institutions. This revered heritage is a perpetual inference of a mindset that those of a darker hue (Black and Brown) may not be equal and are an infringement upon the heritage for some.
3) SBC HIRING
Recently, an unprecedented number of agency head positions were vacant, along with a couple of other lesser appointments of note. Now, first let me say that all of the selections were filled by men of good reputations, good character, and good qualifications—I know a couple of them personally and they are all good Christian men. But that is not the issue!
The issue is that in a Convention that promotes its diversity and at a time when there were five agency heads vacant, if not one Black, Brown, African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, or Islander is selected, we have a problem in our hiring processes!
I worked in hiring and HR in one of my previous jobs. There is an inherent bias in hiring—in general we tend to hire people like ourselves, because we are comfortable hiring people like ourselves. Unconscious bias toward people who are of the same race, education level, or economic status, and have the same personality, fears, or values, influences who you hire much more than you think.
We need to bring this to the attention of those who have hiring authority. We must be intentional in hiring people who we may not be “racially” comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to hire someone to head an agency who is racially or culturally different! Otherwise, optically, it looks like we are protecting the history and heritage in our hiring.
Again, all the men who were selected are fine and qualified people. We want them to do well, so I take nothing from them. They are all brothers in Christ! But, hear me now: In the SBC, we need Black and Brown faces in high places!
And yet, even with the history, the heritage, and the hiring, I am still unashamedly Southern Baptist!
So let me share why I am Southern Baptist:
1) I AM SOUTHERN BAPTIST BECAUSE I AM A CHRISTIAN.
First of all and most of all, I am unashamedly, unabashedly Christian! I am a born-again, baptized believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am redeemed and Jesus Christ is my redeemer. I am blood-bought and Christ-sanctified, declared righteous by God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day, and through Christ and Christ alone, I have eternal life. I believe that He chose me in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world!
So before I am Southern Baptist, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Before I am Black, I am a Christian. At my core and at my center is Christ! He is the reason for the hope that I have.
Let’s not get it confused—being Southern Baptist won’t save you. There is not a Southern Baptist heaven and there is not a Southern Baptist hell. The Southern Baptist Convention is a tool in the mighty hand of God—don’t get it twisted. We bring glory to God, as a Christian movement, in the hands of Almighty God.
God will shake us to make us, to take us to where He wants us. We are in His hands, and the best place to be in the whole wide world is in the hands of Almighty God! I am Southern Baptist because I am a Christian.
Source: Baptist Press