The SBC annual meeting, dominated by white males, is in contrast to the diverse programs of the biennial meeting of the American Baptist Churches-USA and the general assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
If the Southern Baptist Convention believes that actions speak louder than words, then its action of having a program of virtually all whites and all males places a big question mark over the convention's 2009 meeting logo.
When the SBC meets in Louisville on June 23-24, the convention's meeting logo is a volume knob with the words "Actions Speak Louder Than Words." The point of maximum volume is next to the word "action;" the point of minimum volume is next to the word "words."
Inside the knob are the words "Love Loud" and the biblical reference of Matthew 5:16.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates Matthew 5:16—"In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
The SBC's message is unmistakable: What the SBC does is more important than what the SBC says.
That constructive emphasis is long overdue. Seeing more good works and hearing less hateful rhetoric is a needed course correction.
But when one looks at the SBC program lineup, the positive message looks inauthentic:
- Monday morning lists all white men, save one African-American male
- Monday afternoon lists all white men, save one white woman
- Monday evening lists only white men
- Tuesday morning lists only white men
- Tuesday evening lists all white men, save one Hispanic male
One would think that in the 21st century more women, more people of color and fewer Euro-American preachers would have been on the program of the nation's largest Protestant denomination that says, "Actions speak louder than words." Alas, racial, ethnic and gender diversity has little place on the SBC platform, even though the SBC often touts its 1995 resolution pledging to eradicate racism from its system.
Contrast the SBC program with the program at the biennial meeting of the American Baptist Churches-USA, which gathers June 26-28 in Pasadena, Calif., and the platform of the general assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which meets July 2-3 in Houston.
The ABC's logo is a cross atop a globe. Atop the cross are figurines in five different colors. The logo includes the text from John 20:21—"I am sending you." —over thematic words "These hands …These feet." The message is about people of all colors and genders in action together.
The ABC program authenticates the logo's message. ABC's first plenary session is opened by an ordained woman and with the welcome from a person of color who is the executive minister for ABC churches in Los Angles. A woman does the scripture reading. A white male speaks. An African-American male preaches.
The next general gathering has a similar degree of diversity, with a Hispanic woman and an African-American executive on the program.
Another session includes an Asian-American woman speaking about the local church. An ordained white woman gives an award to a white couple.
The final session lists the same type of racial, ethnic and gender diversity.
No wonder ABC's general secretary called the meeting a "Multi-Cultural Family Fest."
The actions of ABC speak loudly of its commitment to a multi-cultural denomination in which leadership is gender inclusive.
CBF closes out the almost sequential 10-day run of North American Baptist meetings. Its assembly logo is two white figurines on a globe inside a box. At the top of the box are the words "Embrace the World." At the bottom of the box are the words "Welcome to Your Neighborhood." These are action words—words about global reach and neighbor acceptance.
Whites lead most of CBF's four general sessions, although the gender diversity is visible and significant. A female pastor is listed as the Bible study leader, while a female layperson is listed as the past-moderator. An African-American pastor is one of the communion leaders. A handful of Hispanic women and men appear in the program.
CBF lacks the multicultural depth of ABC, but its diversity in program leadership puts it at more than a century away from the SBC.
One other note about a commitment to advancing race relations is needed. National Ministries of ABC is sponsoring a luncheon where the award-winning documentary "Beneath the Skin" will be shown with a diverse panel. The Baptist Center for Ethics is also sponsoring a luncheon at CBF where part of "Beneath the Skin" will be screened and where the audience will hear from Baptists leaders of color.
Some Baptists may not be where we ought to be in advancing multicultural partnerships and affirming women in leadership. But at least we are marching in the direction of inclusion and know that what we do is a lot more important than words only, than the Christianity of resolutions.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.