Backing Up to Move Forward

Has your car ever been bogged down in the mud? Have you ever been stuck and no matter how hard you punched the gas, the tires just spun round and round, digging deeper into the mire? If you have ever had this experience, then you have learned an important life lesson: Sometimes you have to back up before you can move forward.

I am thrilled that the decision to bar interracial couples from joining a church in Kentucky has been overturned. I am proud of the Big Sandy Valley Conference for intervening and issuing a strong statement condemning any and all forms of racism, prejudice, and bigotry as ungodly. I am praying for healing in that congregation and community. I am glad this sordid tale is behind us.

But there is a bigger issue in the broader Church world, and in our small community of Free Will Baptists (FWB), that must be addressed.

Sometimes you have to back up before you can move forward.

In my opinion, the events of the last week have brought to the forefront an unpleasant reality, and that is, as a denomination, we have not properly dealt with our own issues of bigotry and racism. I do not believe we are racists and bigots; only that, like a lot of Christian groups, we have struggled with this issue and have not dealt with it in a redemptive way. I wish everyone knew my heart. I wish I was as eloquent as others. My intention is not to cause harm. I just think we need to continue the conversation. My hope is that I can help move the conversation forward.

But sometimes you have to back up before you can move forward.

I am a fourth-generation, ordained, FWB minister. I know our history, and I know our history well. On the one hand I am proud of our Northern brothers and their public stand against slavery before and during the Civil War. But on the other hand, our Southern brothers were not as steadfast. They were a product of their time, but it is in our Southern movement that our roots of racism lay.

I love my denomination. This is where God has called me to serve. I have no intention of leaving. But I will speak loudly on what I believe is our hidden sin, and that is the sin of institutional racism.

By institutional racism I mean the problem lies much deeper than any individual or small group of people. This institutional racism is seen in games we use to play as children, at church, where we called each other racial slurs while parents stood by and said nothing.

This institutional racism is present when, not too long ago, interracial dating was not allowed on our Bible College campus.

This institutional racism is felt when people complained about a black guy giving a report at the National Association.

This institutional racism rears its ugly head when a dean at one of our colleges is told not to place a black student in a dorm room where the furniture was donated by a southern church.

This institutional racism jumps out at you when a denominational leader uses the “N” word while preaching at an associational meeting and is never publicly reprimanded.

This institutional racism seeps out of our pours when a church has to be reprimanded for banning interracial couples from being members.

Years ago, the issue of interracial couples came to the National business floor in an attempt to do exactly what the church in Kentucky did. The issue did not pass, but in a room full of hundreds of ministers, only two young ministers (both in their 20s) stood up to saying anything against it. I was one of those ministers, and the silence from everyone else was deafening.

All of the above real life scenarios is what I mean by institutional racism; and this is, what I believe, has to be discussed and repented.

Sometimes you have to back up before you can move forward.

Institutional racism is not an individual problem and so it does no good for individuals to repent. Institutional racism is a corporate problem and must be repented corporately.

You may be thinking, Kevin, why bring up things that happened in the past? Those things do not happen anymore.

I agree we have come a long way, but these things still do occur from time to time. Besides, as far as I know, we have never adequately dealt with the past. Until we back up and deal with the problem at its root, all our talk about how far we have come and how open we are to all people, is just spinning our wheels, digging deeper into the mud, getting us nowhere.

Sometimes you have to back up before you can move forward.

Why do I feel so passionately about this?

First and foremost, because racism and bigotry are wrong. They are sin. They are unbiblical. As such, I don’t think God will bless us as a people until we back up and confess.

Second of all, because I love our denomination. My goal is not to be confrontational, and I don’t like being controversial. I love us, and I am one of us. I want to see us be relevant and willing to speak to the issues of the day. If we do not speak loudly on this issue, we will not be invited to sit at the cultural table and speak to other issues.

Third, because I know my own heart. Like the Apostle Paul, I will be the first to tell you I am the chief of all sinners. My own heart is wicked. I have bigotry and racism in my history. I have asked for, and received forgiveness. I am thankful for grace and mercy.

Fourth, because my church is multi-racial; about a 60%-40% white/black ratio. How can I stand up in front of my people with integrity, when I know what I know and feel what I feel and do not speak out?

The immediate firestorm that brought all this up is over, but the difficult conversations we need to have is just beginning. Will you join me in this conversation?

Next summer our National Association meeting will be in Memphis, Tennessee; one of the most racially divided cities in our nation, and the home of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Wouldn’t it be great if during one of our evening services we invited the Mayor, other dignitaries, the Bishop of the Church of God in Christ, and the media to our service and publicly repented of our sin and committed ourselves to making racial reconciliation part of our mission as a movement?

That would be historic!

That would be a National worth attending!

Sometimes you have to back up before you can move forward.


[ON ANOTHER NOTE: In some earlier blogs and facebook posts I was critical of the official statement released from the FWB National Offices. Some people accused me of piling on, getting personal with our Executive Secretary, and trying to embarrass the leadership of our denomination. Well, that was never my intention, and if I offended anyone, I apologize. This afternoon (Monday, December 5th) I had the privilege of meeting with our Executive Secretary, Keith Burden. I was able to express my concerns with him and he graciously listened. I also apologized to him for any offense I may have caused. It was a great meeting! I believe Bro. Burden feels as strongly as I do, and is as passionate about our denomination standing against racism, as I am. He assures me the denomination will act and this issue will not be “swept under the rug.” I assured him I would make sure it wasn’t, and that I would be his biggest fan and greatest supporter in this effort. I believe him to be sincere, and I pray we can all get behind him, encourage him, and hold him up in our prayers. I am excited about where this conversation is going.]


19 thoughts on “Backing Up to Move Forward

  1. Thanks again for continuing to keep this on the front burner. It is time for Free Will Baptists to stop looking the other way when church leaders, including preachers, tell jokes and stories full of bigotry and racial slurs. It’s time for all of us to stop chalking it up to “they just don’t know better” or “that’s just the way I was raised”. I am anxious to see what unfolds.

  2. I’m glad and thankful for your meeting with Bro. Burden.

    I remember several of those awkward moments of past national meetings especially the year when complaint was made from the floor about a black speaker. The comment died like a thud of dead silence as everyone was embarrassed but no one rose to object. Being in the south and not form the south kept me from speaking up. Shame on me!

    I agree it is time we made things right. But a resolution without a change of heart and no continuing emphasis will accomplish too little. I think it is time to start publishing position papers which could be placed permanently on our national website. These could be scholarly and thoroughly cover much more than a concise resolution.

    • Thanks jbdlsmith. I agree that something more than a non-binding resolution is needed. I like the idea of position papers. But above all, what is needed is a corporate and public repentance. I believe this is how our Executive Secretary feels as well.

  3. I am sincerely glad this has come to some resolution, especially for this couple. I pray the Lord would give them grace and help them work through the sorrow, hurt, and forgiveness that faces them.

  4. Well said, Kevin. Eloquent, even. I will be linking to this post in an upcoming blog post on “Racism and the ‘Personal’ Gospel.” I appreciate your passion, and even more, I appreciate this measured, thoughtful follow-up. Both are important.

    • As a pastor moving from 18 years of ministry in the east and mostly in the southeast and coming as a home missionary to Southern California I immediately began facing things I had never faced before. Among those issues was this one. We had many interracial couples come as guest to our services. We also have a very multiple cultural church where people because of our preschool would come even though they were Hindu, Muslim, etc. Many also came dressed in ways I had never thought of as appropriate for church. They came with a lot of baggage and no ideal of what Christianity was all about. My upbringing and long held feelings were often offended but I had to get alone with my Bible and my Lord and decide how I would handle these matters both in my heart and in my reactions. I decided like Jesus that I would love them for real and let it show without. I’m proud that most of them are still with us and that those who moved away are still in church. Many of them have become true followers of Christ. For example, one of those Hindu families are now believers in Jesus Christ! I now embrace them all without hesitation and call them my brothers and sisters without hesitation, They are among the finest Christian people in our churches. I not only think of them as simply church members but they are among our dearest friends that we have over to our home and we to theirs. An old heart with ideals that were not Christlike can change. I know because mine has! I too am glad we are now dealing with this issue and hope we can completely remove it from our churches.

      Pastor Keith Bartlett
      Sloan Canyon FWB Church, Castaic CA

  5. Thank you for not being “as eloquent as others”!
    I understood you completely!
    So good to know about your meeting with Keith Burden.

  6. Well said, Kevin. I grew up in the south and went to church in the south, but was not raised with preconceived notions about race, even though the community in which I grew up was steeped in racism. It is about time that we as believers realized that there is only one “race”, the human race whom God loves. It is hypocritical to support missions then to look down on the family standing in line at the grocery store.

  7. Pingback: Will Anything be Said? « #grayfwb

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