President of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, endorsed the black lives matter movement as a Gospel issue to members of the world's largest Baptist denomination Wednesday, but denounced the Black Lives Matter organization that sparked the movement in 2013.
Greear made the endorsement during an SBC presidential address in which he told Southern Baptists that disagreeing with the worldview of the Black Lives Matter organization doesn’t make the issue “black lives matter” untrue.
“Black lives matter,” Greear said after acknowledging the SBC’s racist past and highlighting the denomination’s growing diversity, as well as the ongoing civil unrest over racial inequality in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day.
“I realize that the movement and the website have been hijacked by some political operatives whose worldview and policy prescriptions would be deeply at odds with my own, but that doesn’t mean that the sentiment behind it is untrue. I do not align myself with the Black Lives Matter organization,” he said.
“I think saying bold things like ‘defund the police’ is unhelpful and deeply disrespectful to many public servants who bravely put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect us. But I know that we need to take a deep look at our police systems and structures and ask what we’re missing. Where are we missing the mark? And I’ll say that we do that because black lives matter. We know that honoring Christ in this moment … means listening to those who hurt, lamenting with them, and bearing their burdens,” he said.
Greear, who leads The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area and has long been a champion of intentional diversity in the SBC, explained how the denomination started 175 years ago because founding members supported slavery. The denomination has, over the years since then, rejected and repented of its racist past to become “one of the most ethnically diverse religious groups in the United States.”
“A lot of people don’t know that, but nearly 20% of all Southern Baptist churches are majority non-white and the North America Mission Board tells us that more than 60% of new churches planted recently have been planted and led by people of color,” Greear said.
Following Floyd’s death, which was caught on a video showing him handcuffed, lying face down, begging for his life and crying for his mother before he stopped breathing, Greear urged Southern Baptists to see racial injustice as a real issue that must be addressed.
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“We realize that especially in a moment like this one, we need our brothers and sisters of color. We need the wisdom of leadership that God has written in their community. We know that many in our country, particularly our brothers and sisters of color, right now are hurting,” he said.
“Pursuing justice means laboring for the protection of others as fiercely as we would our own children. A racially reconciled church requires more than just sentiments and hashtags and twitter posts. It requires the humility to listen to one another. The empathy to see things from another’s perspective, the charity to give their motives the benefit of the doubt that we would want them to give to us,” he continued.
“Southern Baptists, we need to say it clearly: As a Gospel issue, black lives matter. Of course, black lives matter. Our black brothers and sisters are made in the image of God. Black lives matter because Jesus died for them. Black lives are a beautiful part of God’s Creation and they make up an essential and beautiful part of this body,” he said.
Reacting to Greear’s address, the Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, a predominantly African American congregation in Arlington, Texas, told the Houston Chronicle that he was shocked but “thankful beyond measure” to hear Greear’s comments, which he praised as “sensible,” “therapeutic” and “without qualification or equivocation.”
“It’s almost surreal to me that it would come off the lips of a president of the Southern Baptist Convention,” McKissic said. “It’s true, it’s right and it should have been said 50 years ago.”
Kyle Howard, a preacher, theologian and Christian counselor, expressed concern that Greear seemingly had to use apologetics to exhort Southern Baptists to believe that black lives indeed matter.
“This is absolutely no shade to JD Greear, I have no doubt whatsoever regarding he’s sincere. BUT, if you have to do a video appealing to Southern Baptists to care abt black lives & are having to convince them to value black lives via apologetics, something is deeply wrong,” he tweeted.
In a separate tweet, he rebuked white Christians for valuing "idols erected in worship to the god of white supremacy" over people.
The only idols White [Christian] America has a problem seeing torn down are idols erected in worship to the god of white supremacy. In scripture, God delights in seeing idols torn down, but many 'Christians' in America have become content w/ them, they even value them over people," he wrote in a Twitter thread.