NASHVILLE — The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee deemed Matoaka Baptist Church of Ochelata, Okla., not in friendly cooperation with the SBC Sept. 19 after the church failed to respond to inquiries regarding alleged racial discrimination.
The SBC Credentials Committee sought information from the nearly 200-year-old church after a representative of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) asked the committee to consider the church’s relationship “on the basis that the church affirms, approves, or endorses discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”
The Credentials Committee did not disclose the details of the BGCO’s concern, but Matoaka Baptist Senior Pastor Sherman Jaquess generated publicity in April after Facebook posts of him in blackface in 2017 and portraying a Native American 12 years ago went viral.
Jaquess told Baptist Press he’s not a racist, and that he himself is part Cherokee.
“I am most certainly not a racist,” Jaquess told Baptist Press. “My whole life’s work, I’ve worked with multiple different types of racial people. I don’t have a racial bone in my body.”
He dressed as Ray Charles at the church’s Valentine’s banquet that has a different theme each year and had a “variety show” theme in 2017.
“I was playing the part of Ray Charles, and the guy next to me was playing Willie Nelson,” he told Baptist Press. “My face was not black, but the flash on the camera made it look black. It was just brown. We sang the song, ‘Seven Spanish Angels.’ I was playing the part of Ray Charles. There wasn’t anything derogatory about it.”
He dressed as a Native American woman, he said, 12 years ago at a youth camp theme night.
Jacquess also said the Credentials Committee did not give him proper time to respond to the inquiry.
EC Chairman Philip Robertson, who serves on the Credentials Committee on an ex-officio basis, told Baptist Press the committee attempted several times to contact Jacquess.
“There is an extensive process before you get to what we did today,” Robertson said. “That does not happen without lengthy inquiries. I think it’s fair to say that those inquiries often begin at the local association level and the local state convention level.
“There’s definitely a collaborative effort between our Credentials Committee, the local association, the local state convention and then even those churches themselves,” Robertson said. “This particular church chose not to respond, but there were multiple efforts.”
The committee made its recommendation based on Article III of the SBC Constitution, Sections 1.5, which stipulates the “Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work,” which “does not act to affirm, approve, or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”
The BGCO, which brought the church to the Credentials Committee’s attention, stands by the committee’s action, the BGCO told Baptist Press.
“The executive committee of the Oklahoma Baptists board of directors unanimously supports the action taken today by the SBC Credentials Committee concerning Matoaka Baptist Church and the pastor who demonstrated unacceptable conduct,” BGCO’s communications director Brian Hobbs told Baptist Press. “We strongly condemn racism in every form and will not tolerate discriminatory behavior.”
Monty Hale, director of missions for the Washington-Osage Baptist Association of which Matoaka is a member, told Baptist Press they learned of the events in April and will take official action at a later date.
“We’re looking into the matter and more than likely they’ll be asked to leave our association,” Hale said. “In the spirit of Matthew 18, I talked with the pastor.”
The association’s constitution stipulates that member churches must be Southern Baptist.
When asked by Baptist Press whether he has since reconsidered his choice of portraying Charles, Jaquess responded, “Any defaming act is repugnant. But I don’t get offended when Black people play a part in a movie or a comedy act and they act like a different race. I know my heart. I didn’t have anything hateful or derogatory toward any race.” B&R