Earlier this week, Kirk Franklin officially announced his intention to boycott the Gospel Music Association and the Trinity Broadcast Network “until tangible plans are put in place to protect and champion diversity, especially where people of color have contributed their gifts, talents and finances to help build the viability of these institutions.“ This comes on the heels of a portion of his speech being edited out for the Dove Awards telecast. While support is pouring in for one of gospel music’s most decorated artists, there are many who oppose the boycott and wish to proceed without any interruption of fellowship.
Truthfully, we all want to continue without disruption of fellowship, but we also cannot disregard the gift of disruption when sent from God Himself. What is this disruption? It is the shining of a light on one of the darkest segmentations of the body of Christ, racists. Not every racial offense is bred from hatred. Sometimes the culprit is cognitive dissonance, and other times it’s unconscious bias. However, when willful acts are committed, immediate redress must be given. Many seeking to dismiss Franklin’s boycott as an overreaction or misunderstanding of simple editing for television don’t understand the depth of the issue Franklin and so many others take issue with.
While the gospel and contemporary Christian music communities seek to find a resolution, First Baptist Church in Naples, Florida is grappling with its own lack of racial dexterity. In a letter to the congregation, the Pastoral Staff lamented that “through social media, texting, phone calls, and emails, racial prejudice was introduced into our voting process.” In the aftermath of this rancor caused by racism, the church must decide how to proceed, albeit without a new Pastor. The vote for Pastor Marcus Hayes’ appointment to the Naples church was all but a formality, until certain members initiated a campaign to block him. The percentage needed was 85%, but the vote fell short at 81%.
What this shows us is that racial disparity is still prevalent in our church. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning” and that remains true. In its expanded form, 8 am, 9am, 9:30 am, 10 am, 10:30, and noon on Sundays also fit that narrative. These segregated Sundays and services become segregated radio station, television stations, political parties and even award shows. Though the church and bride of Christ are established, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it, there is much to be said about a segregated bride. As Jesus said in response to those that called him the devil, a kingdom divided against itself won’t stand. There is no way to serve a segregated savior and to think that it pleases the Lord to have His people divided is falls way short of any scriptural interpretation.
The Southern Baptist Convention has long grappled with race issues and many of its stalwart leaders were stern segregationists, promulgating the curse of Ham and were the last to acquiesce to integration and civil rights for blacks in America. The residue remains though in a 1995 resolution the convention denounced racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin.
This didn’t stop the practices from flowing in the undercurrent of American Baptists, and in 2017 when Pastor Dwight McKissic introduced a resolution to denounce white supremacy, it was met with consternation and shifted the meeting into utter chaos. The concession? A revised statement against the alt-right, seemingly bolstered by rhetoric from President Donald Trump.
Whether sitting at church or at Lipscomb University at the Dove Awards, the tension is there, though it may not be as pronounced as in other places. Racial tension is embedded in the fabric of the identity of the United States of America. While the freedom fighters fought for their freedom from British rule, they did so with the help of their captive, enslaved laborers. The war of 1812 was won due to the force and ingenuity of enslaved Africans. The constitutional right that guaranteed freedom and liberty excluded the abductees, their families and for centuries, any semblance of their heritage throughout the country they worked to build.
So, what now? We’ve enjoyed freedoms and even unbridled fellowship with other races in America, what’s keeping God’s children in America from achieving the level of fellowship outlined in the bible? What are we to do when our brother needs to be corrected? I take this example from the Apostle Paul that I want to share with you. In Galatians Chapter 2, Paul recounts his face to face rebuke of the Apostle Peter. Peter was not in fellowship with the grace that had been made available to he, Paul and other believers and at that moment, Paul took immediate issue with him.
In Galatians 2:18 Paul says to Peter: “For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”
For each step toward racial reconciliation taken, there are multiple steps taken backward. We can’t continue this vacillation and expect to achieve racial harmony. As we work toward racial reconciliation, there must be and will be difficult conversations ahead. The sin of slavery is not one Christians should shy away from. The Apostle Paul begs the question in Romans 6:21 “what fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” Either white American Christians are yet partaking in the fruit of slavery or they are not yet fully ashamed. Either way, we are assured that “the wages of sin (even the sin of slavery and racism) is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Whether achieved through a boycott, disfellowship of members causing dissension or a miracle of biblical proportion, the time is now to get serious about racial reconciliation. As I close, I want to remind you that in the Kingdom of God, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)