Lawrence Ware’s poignant op-ed in The NY Times is worrisome as it is grievous. Residual racism is an understandable reason for leaving the SBC Convention. Yet, there are other non-obvious reasons to lament after reading his essay.
Even when suffering unjustly, we must speak the truth in truthful ways. In an otherwise articulate piece, Ware concludes in regrettable fashion.
“…I love black people more.”
I love the church, but I love black people more. Black lives matter to me. I am not confident that they matter to the Southern Baptist Convention.
He clarified on Twitter that “church” refers to the “human institution.” Yet, in our day, I fear many people will be emboldened to adopt a less generous perspective, one that tears churches apart at the seams. People are all too prone to justify themselves by ripping quotes out of context. While provocative writing, Ware would have been wise to leave that sentence in his first draft.
The church is God’s strategy for blessing the world. He has no other plan (cf. Nugent’s The Endangered Gospel).
Although not at all Ware’s intention, his comment could fuel the sort of anti-gospel thinking that hindered the church’s mission in the NT. We can easily imagine someone saying “I love the church but I love Jews more” or “I love the church but I love fellow Greeks more.”
What’s more, we should consider the impact of this kind of statement in light of our contemporary American society. Can you imagine the outrage if someone wrote, “I love the church, but I love white people more”?
Christ’s church consists of every color of people; the question “Does God love black people more than the church?” is fundamentally flawed. So is saying that we love [fill in the black] people more than the church.
Christ didn’t die for abstractions
By thinking in the abstract, one easily begins to over speak. We can forget that sinners are people. It has become commonplace to criticize the “institution” of church. Whatever the church is in the abstract, fundamentally it’s still a people.What happens if we casually accept the tired distinction between people and “institution”? Our words might subtly betray our family in Christ and compromise God’s mission for the church.
Ware’s last line illustrates my point (“I am not confident that [black people] matter to the Southern Baptist Convention”). This comment is far too sweeping and grossly unfair to millions of Southern Baptists who detest racism. When such a remark is prominently displayed in The NY Times, he seers a scarlet S on the forehead of those who dare call themselves “Southern Baptist.”
A foreboding sign?
Even if we sympathize with Ware’s departure, I am concerned about what his decision forebodes. How many others will similarly leave the SBC despite the enormous strides that have been made and at a time when the convention needs leaders like Ware and others.
Everyone needs to remember the SBC elected Fred Luter as the first black president of the SBC in 2012. Just this year, H.B. Charles became the first black leader of the SBC’s leader’s conference.
To be fair, the debacle at this year’s SBC Convention does not represent 99% of Southern Baptists. In any denomination, one finds a minority who exploits bylaws or their position to resist the change desired by the vast majority. May such failings and factions not overshadow what God has accomplished nor undermine unity in Christ.
I understand the desire for purity and the stain of association. But the church is no mere institution; we are family. We don’t always choose our family. As family, we envision what we can be, even if progress is slower than we’d like.
I anticipate comments claiming that I miss the point of Ware’s remarks. Not at all. I have three close family members who are black. I get it. However, we must still carefully explain our perspective and decisions.
This entire topic is a verbal minefield. We will misspeak at times. But we still need to offer clarifications where needed.