By Diana Chandler
ARLINGTON, TX (BP) — Evangelicals challenge political leaders who support same-sex marriage and abortion, and they should also stand strongly against vitriolic rhetoric, violence, and hatred, Pastor Dwight McKissic said in a panel discussion on racial tension he hosted Aug. 20 in Arlington, TX.
Among guests on the panel was Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines, who renounced racial and political hatred, saying it has no place in a Christian’s life.
Speaking to an ethnically diverse audience of around 650 people, McKissic addressed the racially-charged violence in Charlottesville, VA. He specifically expressed disappointment in President Trump, who publicly blamed “both sides” for the clash between white nationalists and counter-protesters that turned deadly, leaving one young woman dead.
“Evangelicals need to say on this issue, we respect the president, Trump … but on this issue, he’s wrong and he’s giving air to these racists, and he needs to stop it, period,” McKissic said. “Barack Obama was wrong on same-sex marriage. I said it. Half of my church voted for him; he was wrong.”
In addition to Gaines and McKissic, were seven other panelists that included pastors, a law enforcement official, and an educator for “A Kingdom conversation on race and the alt-right.” Panelists accepted questions from the audience in a discussion following a 6:30 p.m. worship service and corporate prayer at McKissic’s pastorate, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, TX.
Gaines, who described his pastorate Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, TN, as composed of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, said such political diversity “makes it hard” to discuss presidents from any specific party.
“I think we ought to be mature enough in the Lord to look at anyone and say I disagree with what you’re saying, but I still respect you as a person,” Gaines said. “You have to respect the office to have any civility in the nation, and whether you respect everything a person in the office does, that’s another matter. I pray for Donald Trump every day, not because I believe in everything he does, but because he’s the president.”
Gaines noted, “I have learned to disagree with people’s views … but we have no right to hate anyone, and whether it’s the president currently, we have no right, not as a Christian. You have no right to hate Barack Obama, you don’t. You can disagree with somebody’s views.”
An effort to rebuild unity
McKissic, who introduced a resolution condemning alt-right white supremacy adopted at the 2017 SBC annual meeting, organized the Texas event to begin rebuilding national unity.
“I thought it was important for us to experience joint worship,” McKissic told BP after the event, “and by doing so we made a statement to our God, the world and ourselves.”
The 90-minute discussion drew questions regarding President Trump, diversity among Southern Baptist leadership, the lingering effects of America’s systematic enslavement of blacks, ethnic diversity among Southern Baptist congregations, unity among evangelicals, effective dialogue among different ethnic groups, and educating today’s children about race relations.
In response to a question regarding the lingering effects of past racism, Gaines said he found it difficult to grasp the pain African Americans still experience as a result of slavery, particularly the separation of families characteristic of the injustice.
“It’s hard to be sold. It’s hard for me to even fathom what it was like at those auction blocks where families were torn apart,” Gaines said when asked what is the proper response to suggestions that blacks “get over” the past. “I have 10 grandbabies, one on the way, and I can’t even fathom my children being sold into slavery. So there’s no doubt that that caused a huge impact. So I feel like for somebody to say get over it, that’s a wrong response.”
Take time to listen
Ronnie Goines, lead pastor of Koinonia Christian Church in Arlington, said the very same leaders who would have blacks overcome the past are “the supporters of keeping the history in front of us to remind us of it, via statues and certain things that represent the very era that they want us to get past.”
Joseph Caldwell, president of the Memphis College for Urban and Theological Studies, encouraged whites such as himself to take time to listen to the concerns of blacks.
“The issue around race in America is that white leadership doesn’t listen when African Americans try to say that racism is real in America. White leadership doesn’t listen when African Americans try to say, ‘we live in fear.’ White leadership doesn’t listen over and over again,” Caldwell said. “For me it’s important, if we mean we want to be unified, if we mean that we want to be inclusive of everyone in the body of Christ, that those who have traditionally been in positions of power sit down, and allow those who have traditionally had their voices squelched stand up and teach us what it is we need to know about … race in America.”
Panelist Jason Paredes, lead pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, encouraged pastors to take the lead in developing relationships with members of other cultures, thereby encouraging congregations to do the same. Only through relations will different cultures learn the issues that are important to one another, Paredes said.
“The conversation has to spark first, before we can rise up together and fight on behalf of the other brother and sister,” Paredes said. “This is one place where pastors need to lead out. If we don’t develop those relationships, our congregations never will.”
Gaines joined Paredes in encouraging pastors to be intentional in embracing other ethnicities in ministry outreaches and evangelism. The SBC president pointed out a monthly breakfast meeting he hosts with a diverse group of pastors in Memphis.
“We have been discussing … all of the issues that we’re talking about here,” Gaines said, “and it really gives me a perspective that otherwise I would not have.”
Rounding out the panel were Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson; Kenneth Jones Jr., pastor of First Como Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth; attorney and First Como member Leon Reed; and Oza Jones, Cornerstone’s youth and young adult pastor.
In worship preceding the panel, Gaines presented a message from Acts 16 on evangelism unhindered by cultural barriers, McKissic pointed out the birth of all cultures from Adam and Eve, and Jones presented a definition of the alt-right movement.