Southern Baptists are going to need a bigger tent

RNS-SBC-OPED

Phillip Herring, associate pastor of education at First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., raises his hands in prayer during the National Call to Prayer for Spiritual Leadership, Revived Churches and Nationwide and Global Awakening at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 14, 2016 in St. Louis. Photo by Matt Miller, courtesy of Southern Baptist Convention

Source: RNS

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) The Southern Baptist Convention was so famously insular for so long that it earned its own joke about members believing they’re the only ones in heaven.

The nation’s largest Protestant denomination was known more for what, and often who, it rejected than what it included — with political warriors in the SBC leadership often alienating other religious groups and particularly the racial minorities in them.

But over the past decade that began to change:

Southern Baptists elected the denomination’s first African-American president, apologized for supporting slavery, apologized to Asians for the culturally offensive “Rickshaw Rally” vacation Bible school curriculum, reprimanded their former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission chief Richard Land for racially charged remarks, and recognized that its regional-sounding brand has so much baggage that perhaps a name change was in order.

They began reaching out to other evangelical churches and to Roman Catholics on issues of common interest, a collaborative spirit that landed three Southern Baptists in top leadership roles at nondenominational evangelical universities.

Then last week at its annual convention the denomination seemed to confirm its shift toward both ecumenical work and racial reconciliation by taking the first step to joining the National Association of Evangelicals and, most notably, by repudiating the Confederate battle flag.

Southern Baptists elected the denomination’s first African-American president, apologized for supporting slavery, apologized to Asians for the culturally offensive “Rickshaw Rally” vacation Bible school curriculum, reprimanded their former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission chief Richard Land for racially charged remarks, and recognized that its regional-sounding brand has so much baggage that perhaps a name change was in order.

They began reaching out to other evangelical churches and to Roman Catholics on issues of common interest, a collaborative spirit that landed three Southern Baptists in top leadership roles at nondenominational evangelical universities.

Then last week at its annual convention the denomination seemed to confirm its shift toward both ecumenical work and racial reconciliation by taking the first step to joining the National Association of Evangelicals and, most notably, by repudiating the Confederate battle flag.

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