Southern Baptists reject racism

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Aug. 4, 2017 at 3:27 p.m.
Updated Aug. 5, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Northside Baptist Pastor Darrell Tomasek said the church accepts all ethnicities into its congregation.

Northside Baptist Pastor Darrell Tomasek said the church accepts all ethnicities into its congregation.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

At the June Southern Baptist convention in Phoenix - a convention Northside Baptist's senior pastor the Rev. Darrell Tomasek has attended in recent years - a discussion of racism arose.

A black Southern Baptist pastor Dwight McKissic, of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, urged an anti-alt-right resolution to the floor, a resolution that was initially met with convention dissonance.

"For several reasons it initially didn't make it out of the resolutions committee. There was mention of inappropriate language, then that it was poorly written, then that there was some confusion about what the alt-right was," said Tomasek, who did not attend the convention, supported the racism-decrying resolution.

The alt-right is a group of prevalent white nationalists throughout the nation, primarily in the South and Midwest, with far-right ideologies rejecting mainstream conservatism.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest fellowship of Baptist churches in the world within the larger Baptist body, rejects the alt-right, but many of its members do not reject the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Convention formed in the 1840s in Georgia, splintering from the northern Baptist churches because Southern Baptist slave owners were not receiving missionary appointments. Methodists and Presbyterians of the era both splintered from their northern counterparts over issues surrounding slavery.

"That's unfortunately part of our history. We're not proud of it, and it was important for us to show we are repentant for this," Tomasek said, mentioning the Convention's ongoing attempts to reconcile its historical ties, even openly apologizing in the 1990s for founding on such principles. "I'm proud the resolution made it to the floor and how it was resolved. I was a little concerned it wouldn't get voted on."

The resolution, which was accepted by the Convention, openly states the Convention would not tolerate racism of any sort. Any racist overtones from churches within the fellowship of churches may result in a "disfellowshipping" process, where the Convention would no longer recognize a church participating in alt-right behaviors.

Per the autonomy structure of Baptist churches nationwide, if a Southern Baptist church is disfellowshipped with the Southern Baptist Convention, it still may assemble and hold church services, but it would no longer receive support or recognition from the Convention. It would be ousted and wholly independent.

So how prevalent is racism in the Baptist church?

Not very, said University of Houston-Victoria's Director of Criminal Justice, Keith Akins, but the racist offenders among the crowd blend in with the masses.

"Baptists are not racists; I would never say that. But it's important to remember the KKK in the South were intertwined with the Baptist churches," said Akins, who received a doctorate in anthropology and religion and has written extensively on religion violence, hate crimes and terrorism and formally infiltrated the KKK for academic research. "The alt-right is essentially the Klan in suits instead of sheets."

Akins said the alt-right are powerful, present across the nation, including the Crossroads, and blend traditional conservative ideology with racism.

For the churches among the Southern Baptist peg that would be considered alt-right supporters, Akins said the church leadership will always set the tone.

"It really depends on the pastor's attitude whether the congregation goes down that path," he said. "When I was growing up, I attended three Southern Baptist churches, and I would say two of them would have been horrified to have racist members. But one of them probably wouldn't have been opposed."

At Northside, racism is not tolerated, said Tomasek, who mentioned the church's vow to remain multi ethnic and open to all.

"For me, personally, I can never understand the challenges others face with racism and the best thing I can do is keep open lines of communication going and not rush to prejudgment," the pastor said. "I'm proud they got this done. It's a resolution on where we stand as a body, a statement of belief."

But Akins cautions that racism isn't a concept most people want to talk about or admit they participate in.

"The majority of people would be offended to even be asked (if they were racist)," he said. "We think of racists as people who put on robes and burn crosses, but to get a better idea of the subtlety, we should ask questions like, 'Would you be OK if your white daughter brought home a black husband?'"

Akins also said the alt-right resolution is an important topic to discuss while President Donald Trump is in office.

Because while the president may not support or acknowledge the alt-right, they certainly support and acknowledge him.

"They overwhelmingly support Trump. Whether Trump enjoys the support, I couldn't say, but I still get the newsletters and follow the newspapers (of alt-right), and they mention the support of Trump," he said.

With the resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention, which is composed of many black members, Akins said he doesn't see racism entirely going away in this country.

To be sure, the Convention does not want to be seen as supporting men in white sheets, but it's something every Christian denomination has wrestled with at some point," Akins said, mentioning the church's grappling with other issues, too, including women and gay clergy and homosexual marriage.

For Tomasek's part, he plans to endorse the resolution, answer questions to his mixed-race congregation as openly as possible, and continue to encourage dialogue about God's truth with anyone who wants to talk about it.

"We won't stand for racism. God created all people equal," Tomasek said.



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