By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
I received a press release recently from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., about an address President R. Albert Mohler made during a “Leadership Briefing” on campus. His topic: George Washington.
Mohler had several kind things to say about our nation’s first president. Then he added the “but.” He referred to the fact that Washington owned slaves and observed that his legacy “is polluted by his short-sighted views on slavery and race.” Mohler may be right, but do we need to keep dwelling on our past? It’s not news. Washington and several of our nation’s founders owned slaves. It’s documented. It was part of the culture of the country at that time.
Did that make it right? No. Slavery is wrong in any era, including today when human trafficking is running amuck in our society.
We are focusing too much on the past. George Washington has been dead for more than 200 years. He can’t apologize for owning slaves. Removing his name and the names of other founding fathers off buildings or currency (the outcry today) won’t “right their wrongs.” But lest we forget, they are among the reasons people today can freely “protest” about perceived ills in our society. People who protest in other countries don’t often live for very long. Washington and the founding fathers fought for the freedoms we have today. They had their flaws, but they did a lot of good. Were they perfect? No. Only one perfect person ever existed and He died on the cross so those who confess their sins and call upon His name can reside with Him one day in heaven.
It’s time to stop dwelling on the past in regard to race. The Southern Baptist Convention has apologized on more than one occasion for the sins of our founders who owned slaves. We can’t change that either. Hopefully, Southern Baptists have evolved over the past 150-plus years. I know that we have in Tennessee.
Part of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s vision statement is that it be a “premier Great Commission organization that reflects ethnic diversity.” For instance, the board of directors of the TBMB met a few weeks ago and the ethnic diversity was refreshing. Is it what it should be? Probably not, but efforts are continually being made to include more people of all ethnic persuasions on our boards and entities in the state convention.
At a recent staff meeting of the TBMB, a number of our part-time church planting catalysts were present. The majority of them are black or ethnic. Why? First and foremost, they are godly men who feel called by God to make Christ known throughout Tennessee. Secondly, the world has come to Tennessee and, in order to reach the world, we are going to need men and women of all color and ethnicities to come together, to work together, and to pray together to reach our state, nation, and world for Christ.
One ethnic group — whether it’s white Americans, black Americans or Hispanic Americans — won’t be able to reach our state for Christ. It’s going to take a joint effort.
Pastor Ternae Jordan Sr. of Chattanooga is one of those church planting catalysts (African-American) and he spoke during a chapel service at the staff meeting. We have shared his story in a past issue. But he reminded staff of the day more than 20 years ago when his then 15-year-old son, T.J., was shot while sitting inside a YMCA waiting on his mother to pick him up.
He told the heart-wrenching story of how he saw the machine that his son was hooked to “flat-line,” an indicator that life was slipping away. Then he told how in the lobby below people of all colors and denominations were gathered together, lifting his son up to God. That line began to move once again. His son recovered from that tragedy and is now following his father’s and grandfather’s legacies as a minister.
God hears the prayers and hearts of His people — regardless of color or ethnicity. It’s time to stop dwelling on the past and focus on the present and the future. There will always be tension among races because people are sinners. But if Christians will lead the way, we can make a difference in improving race relations in our state and nation.
Regardless of what anyone may tell you, we (believers in the Lord Jesus Christ) are all going to be together one day in heaven, regardless of color or ethnicity. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all learn to love each other now?