Sunday, February 27 was the last Sunday of Black History Month. For the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), it was also Racial Reconciliation Sunday. While the tradition began in 1965, this year, the event drew sharp criticism from some SBC leaders, including the SBC-affiliated Conservative Baptist Network (CBN).
Founded in 1845 after splitting with northern Baptists, the SBC had a history of opposing the abolition of slavery and advocated for the ordination of pastors and the commissioning of missionaries who owned enslaved people. However, the SBC has made a concerted effort to break ties with the racism bound up in its founding, advocating for racial justice and inclusion through various resolutions and initiatives, from the middle of the 20th century into the present.
Such efforts on the part of the SBC have often been met with backlash and staunch opposition from some within the denomination’s own ranks, this year’s Racial Reconciliation Sunday included.
The SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) created a bulletin insert for SBC churches to use in their commemoration of the event this year. The bulletin insert, which was authored by Lemanuel Williams, said in part, “Racism has its roots in demonic strongholds that aren’t easily bound. They are primarily spiritual.”
Williams urged Southern Baptists to pray and fast “against the strongholds of racism.”
“Racism—and slavery along with it—is our nation’s original sin. It is backed by demonic forces and cannot be easily overcome,” Williams went on to write. “Developing a regimented practice of prayer and fasting against these strongholds is the best first step in waging warfare against them.”
The SBC’s Executive Committee tweeted a link to the resource for churches on Friday, saying, “This Sunday, February 27, is Racial Reconciliation Sunday in the SBC. The @ERLC has provided a free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church this weekend.”
The tweet received a number of negative responses, resulting in an official statement of dissent from the CBN, as well as some bewildered replies from SBC pastors and leaders who were confused as to why a Sunday dedicated to racial reconciliation had become so controversial.
In response to the SBC Executive Committee’s tweeted link to the ERLC’s resource, one commenter said, “How sad that you all can make such a spectacle of the Lord’s day. Every Sunday should be for worship. There should never be different ‘themes’ that seem so man-centered rather than God/gospel centered.”