Baptist Groups Discuss Racism

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Jackson, Miss. The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest protestant denomination. The National Baptist Convention is the nation's largest African American Protestant denomination.

The presidents of both conventions joined together to talk about a painful topic, racism.

But both men say the church needs to be leading in efforts for reconciliation between the races.

It was certainly a historic moment as SBC president, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, and NBC president, Dr. Jerry Young, sat beside one another to talk about a topic that is very often avoided, the painful history of racism in the church, especially in the south.

Southern Baptists have a role in the history of that racism; the denomination split from its northern counterparts in the 1800s, partially over the issue of allowing missionaries to own slaves. During the civil rights era, SBC leaders admit that their pastors and members were far too often on the wrong side. But Floyd says Southern Baptists are making progress.

"As president, I've called sin what it is. I've called racism what it is, which is sin. And we've stood against it in Jesus' name," said Floyd. "And we've tried to call the church to repentance relating to it."

Southern Baptists issued a resolution of repentance over their racist past in 1995 but organizers of this event say they hope it will take that a step further. Members of a panel of pastors talked about how they've been affected by racism in the past, and how the church could move forward to end it.

"Racism has been so paramount in our state," said Young. "Now God has through providence decided that he's going to start a movement in the same state to get it right. Oh, bless his name!"

This event, this movement, is a long time coming for civil rights activists like 85-year-old John Perkins, who has worked toward racial reconciliation for 50 years. He says it's a day he has longed to see.

"Progress and joy is the fulfillment of longtime expectation," said Perkins. "So I'm just so overjoyed with the fact that it's happening."

Organizers of this event say they hope the hundreds of people who attended will take what they have learned here back to their congregations and this will be the genesis for major changes in churches across the state and the south.

The Southern Baptist Convention has about 16 million members. The National Baptist Convention numbers about 5 million. They are the largest and fifth largest protest denominations in the United States.