Under that axiom Dr. Akin writes concerning racism within our convention as a whole and its connectedness to the accomplishment of the Great Commission:
Southern Baptists were born, in part, out of a racist context and have a racist heritage. That will forever be to our shame. By God’s grace and the Spirit’s conviction, we publically repented of this in 1995 on our 150th anniversary, but there is still much work to be done. The Southern Baptist Convention remains a mostly middle-class, mostly white network of mostly declining churches. If you doubt what I am saying look around today, visit a State Convention, attend an annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting, or drop in on 99% of our churches on any given Sunday. We can integrate the military, athletics and the workplace, but we can’t integrate the body of Christ! Shame on us!Until we get right about race I am convinced God will not visit us with revival. The call for a Great Commission Resurgence will not move heaven, and it will be scoffed at by the world for the sham that it is! “We will love you and welcome you if you look like us and act like us!” What kind of gospel madness is this?Starting at home we must pursue a vision for our churches that looks like heaven. Yes, we must go around the world to reach Asians and Europeans, the Africans and the South Americans. But we must also go across the street, down the road, and into every corner of our local mission field where God in grace has brought the nations here.
Dr. Akin is definitely not the first to point out the inconsistency between a desire for the accomplishment of the Great Commission to the nations and a failure to have real and widespread racial reconciliation within our local churches at home. I am about to finish reading Thabiti Anyabwile's excellent book The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors.
Part Three of the book deals with the life of Francis J. Grimke. In an address given in 1910, entitled "Christianity and Race Prejudice" Grimke points out the race prejudice that existed within white churches across America, the inconsistency that reality has with being a Christian, and what was needed to change the sad state of those churches.
He concludes his address with these words:
As I look over this land of ours everywhere I see churches, and these churches in full operation, on weekdays and on the Sabbath. There seems to be no end to religious activities of one kind and another--meetings by day and meetings by night, preaching services, prayer meetings, revival meetings, religious conventions, men's gatherings, great missionary meetings for the conversion of the world, for carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth. And yet right here in America, in the midst of all this missionary activity, this religious zeal, this seeming devotion to Jesus Christ, race prejudice stalks on unhindered. Race prejudice flaunts itself everywhere, unrebuked, as if the Kingdom of Christ has nothing whatever to do with it, as if it were a thing entirely apart from it. The church is anxious to bring the world to Christ, overflowing with enthusiasm for the conversion of the heathen, and yet indifferent to battle this giant of evil right here in Christian America!On the top of the Central Union Mission Building in this city, near Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, is a great sign. It consists of a star, and under the star in large letters are the words, "Jesus is the light of the world." It is illuminated by electricity and night after night it flashes out its message to passers-by. It may be all right to put up such signs, but that is not the way to teach men that Jesus is the Light of the World. The way to do it is not through colored electric lights but through life--by living the religion that we profess, by showing our daily walk that He is our light, that we are walking in the light, are being transformed through His influence into likeness to Him. Thousands of such electric signs scattered everywhere , piled up to heaven, are not worth as much as one life that is being saved by Christ, commending Him to a sinful world.
Grimke states that in light of the race prejudice that exists in local church, and predominantly the white local church, the church has to options. Either she can stop associating herself with Christianity completely because her practice is completely inconsistent with the beliefs of Christianity and the reality of the Gospel or she should repent and live differently--bringing into harmony her life with the principles of the Gospel itself.
Grimke points out that the church has done little, if anything, in fighting this evil because while the white church has grown steadily, the growth in race prejudice has grown steadily as well. The latter is not what you would expect given the reality of the former.
Grimke states that this reality should cause the church to ask the question, "What must be the quality of the Christianity presented in their character and lives if such be the case?" He gives three possibilities: 1.)Christianity is no match for race prejudice, is powerless before it; 2.)the Christianity represented in the white churches of America is an inferior Christianity, is not genuine, is not what it purports to be; 3.) the church has not been doing its duty, has been putting its light under a bushel, has not been faithful to its divine commission.
Which of the tree choices did Grimke think was the cause of this? The third, which I think is somewhat accurate, but I would argue that choice number two is actually the cause of choice number three. It is a lack of a genuine understanding and embracing of the Gospel that has led to a lack of genuinely changed lives that overcome race prejudice through the power of that Gospel.
But, I close with Grimke's assessment:
That real Christianity is powerless in the presence of race prejudice is not true; back of it is the mighty power of God. The gates of hell cannot prevail against it. That the Christianity represented in white America is spurious, I am not prepared to say. [I think Grimke might be more prepared to say this today if he could see the state of the church] That the church has failed to do its duty, in this matter, I am prepared, however, to say. Had it been true to its great commission, had it lived up to its opportunities, had it stood squarely and uncompromisingly for Christian principles, the sad, the humiliating, the disgraceful fact of which we are speaking never would have been possible. That fact that in Christian America, in this land that is adding church members by the millions, race prejudice has gone on steadily increasing is a standing indictment of the white Christianity of this land--an indictment that ought to bring the blush of shame to the faces of the men and women who are responsible for it, whose silence, whose quiet acquiescence, whose cowardice, or, worse, whose active cooperation have made it possible. The first thing for the church to do, I say, is to wake up to the fact that it can do something. Its present attitude is a disgrace to it and is utterly unworthy of the name it bears.
Now, I will admit, gladly that by the grace of God this race prejudice has improved since 1910. However, we must admit, sadly, that is has not improved near enough and its very existence on any level is to our shame and points to a lack of understanding of and appreciation for the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And as Dr. Akin and Mr. Grimke so rightly point out, our hope and desire for a Great Commission resurgence will fail until, by God's grace and God's Gospel, we get this issue right.
May it be so to the glory of God!