Southern Evangelical Seminary President Richard Land Reflects on the Birth Moment of the 1995 Southern Baptist Racial Reconciliation Resolution
‘I Not Only See the Gap That Remains, but the Distance Traveled’
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—This past weekend marked the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking passage of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) “Resolution on Racial Reconciliation.” The landmark resolution of June 21, 1995, passed on the 150th anniversary of the SBC, grew out of the work of the Christian Life Commission (CLC), which had a long history of social activism that included civil rights and integration.
A key architect of the 1995 resolution, current Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES, www.ses.edu) President Dr. Richard Land recalled the dramatic social and political currents leading to the resolution shortly after his election as the CLC’s executive director. Land was determined to keep the CLC on the right side of the racial issue under his administration.
“After my election, there was much speculation that with the CLC now becoming an uncompromising advocate for pro-life issues, civil rights issues would be deemphasized,” Land wrote in “Racial reconciliation resolution’s silver anniversary,” an op-ed published by Baptist Press on June 19 and republished by The Christian Post the next day. “This media speculation was given a rocket boost by negative remarks about Martin Luther King Jr. made by one of the CLC trustees.
“What the public did not know was that the trustee’s attack on Dr. King was probably provoked by my having praised Dr. King and his tremendous contributions to our country,” Land continued.
As a baby boomer born in 1946, Land came of age during the collapse of Jim Crow laws as segregation gave way to the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in the 1960s. Land says that although the United States and the American church have more progress yet to make toward racial reconciliation, they have come a long way in the past quarter century.
“Am I disappointed that we have not been more successful in quelling the demons of racism in the last quarter-century? Yes!” Land wrote. “I have witnessed and experienced the highs and lows since then. Consequently, I not only see the gap that remains, but the distance traveled and the progress that has been achieved.
“May we all draw inspiration to complete the journey to the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream of a country where all people are ‘judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.’”
The road that led to the passage of the “Resolution on Racial Reconciliation” required reaching across the aisle. Land took the controversial step of inviting Dr. Foy Valentine, one of his “liberal” predecessors and a former executive director from 1960 to 1987—known for his bold stances on integration and civil rights—to speak.
“I told Dr. Valentine that we were holding a conference on racial reconciliation and I wanted him to be one of the plenary speakers,” Land wrote. “I said, ‘Dr. Valentine, my friends will be very upset with me for inviting you and your friends will be very angry if you accept, but the issue of racial reconciliation is bigger than our friends.’ I believed it was very important that there be a seamless passing of the baton on the race issue from his administration to mine, symbolized by his being a conference speaker.”
Valentine accepted, and both men were pilloried by their own supposed allies. But Land pressed on, convening
a two-day “consultation” that included six black and six white Southern Baptist leaders to foster a frank and honest conversation. On the second day, one of the black leaders spoke up.
“Dr. Land, you white people are very complicated people. You don’t always mean what you say, and you don’t always say what you mean…we’ve concluded that you mean what you say, and so we are going to tell you the truth.”
“You don’t realize how badly you have hurt us,” the leader told Land. “We don’t mean you personally, but white Christians. It is one thing to be discriminated against by white people. It is something entirely different when you are discriminated against by Christian brothers and sisters.”
Land believes that God used that honest moment as a spiritual catalyst to help him and others understand that the solutions to racism cannot be stated in the impersonal third person, as earlier SBC resolutions had been couched. Consequently, the 1995 resolution was phrased in the much more personal first person.
“I believe the real ‘birth’ moment of what became the 1995 Racial Reconciliation Resolution was that moment in the consultation in Nashville,” Land wrote. “When you read the resolution, you will see the spirit of repentance, grief, and yearning for spiritual reconciliation that energized it. It was graciously received by so many of our African American brothers and sisters. The resolution made a real difference, thank God.”
Land concluded his article with a charge to fellow believers.
“Let us not [grow] weary in well-doing. May God give us the strength and the wisdom to finish the journey together, arm in arm, redeemed and reconciled heart to heart. Let us be about our Father’s business.”
SES has announced its 2020 National Conference on Christian Apologetics (NCCA), set for Oct. 16-17 in Charlotte. The seminary will focus on the theme of “Hold Fast” for the 27th annual conference by welcoming some of the nation’s top apologetics speakers. The early bird deadline for tickets is Aug. 1, and SES is offering a free apologetics Bible to early ticketholders.
Read more about Southern Evangelical Seminary and SES President Dr. Richard Land, as well as his radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” which airs on nearly 800 stations nationwide, here. Dr. Richard Land is a leading voice of evangelicals in America. He serves as executive editor of The Christian Post and President of Southern Evangelical Seminary, a leader in Christian apologetics education.
This post based on a press release from Southern Evangelical Seminary to Zennie62Media.