Racism & the Baptists?

In a "special interest" session at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration last week in Atlanta, this is what, according to Ethics Daily.com, Aidsand Wright-Riggins, an African American and executive director of National Ministries, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., said, "While I applaud the organizers of our event in coming together and asking the question of how do we move forward beyond race, I think the real challenge for us is to deal with that insidious cancer that is within the very fabric of our society, that I would term racism."

The NBCC (Jan. 30- Feb. 1) was a convocation established primarily by former presidents Carter and Clinton, both Baptists, which was attended by some 16,000 fellow Baptists, almost exclusively in denominations other than the Southern Baptist Convention. This is the NBCC's statement describing itself: "The New Baptist Covenant is an informal alliance of more than 30 racially, geographically, and theologically diverse Baptist organizations from throughout North America that claim more than 20 million members. Representatives of these Baptist organizations have reaffirmed traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality, as well as their obligations as Christians to fulfill the biblical mandate to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.

Racism is defined as "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race; racial prejudice or discrimination." Despite the fact that race was not part of the NBCC self-description except as remarking obvious physical racial divisions in society, Wright-Riggins managed somehow to find racism there, apparently, and affirmed that even the NBCC honchos mentioned "move forward beyond race." Probably, they did, so what's new with the liberals, as opposed to the conservatives, whether in religious, government or institutional circles? Everything boils down to race and the constant drumbeat to "just do something" about it.

Wright-Riggins elaborated further by claiming that the country is comprised of a "racialized society." Well, of course it is. Racialize is defined as "to give a racial character to." Everyone in the nation owns a racial character, but this does not equate with racism. It's merely descriptive of who people are. The suspicion here is that Wright-Riggins meant racialize to be pejorative and applicable only to those not African-American.

From Ethics Daily.com: "About 10 percent of white children in the U.S. live in poverty, he [Wright-Riggins] said. That compares to 27 percent of Native American children, 28 percent of Latino children and 33 percent of African-American youth live in poverty. 'There seems to be a correlation between social policies and race in this country.'"

There is a correlation of sorts. In 1960, just before the civil-rights legislation was understandably and justifiably passed, the rate of illegitimacy among blacks was 23.6% of births, meaning that more than 75% of black families could be assumed to be headed by a man and wife. Now, that rate is 70%, probably much higher in places like New Orleans, the logical conclusion being that currently only 30% or less of black families are headed by both parents. The social policies of the country were drastically changed, but did those policies eventuate in unintended consequences?

Ethics Daily.com: "Looking to the plight of African-American men with regard to issues of criminal and racial justice, Wright-Riggins noted there are more black young men in prisons than in colleges and universities." One wonders if Wright-Riggins is even remotely aware of what has happened to the black family in the last 40 years, since he seems not to understand the primary reason. More to the point, one wonders what he thinks either the church or the government can do to rectify this social catastrophe within his own community. If he intends to continue claiming his people to be one big collective victim, in the vein of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he might as well be on Mars for all the good he will do.

Reasonable – and yes, compassionate – people understand the nature of the problem. The answer was to be found at one time in school-integration, justifiably mandated by law. That didn't work materially with respect to overall education, though it was great for black athletes. The approach by the NBCC seems to have been church-integration, as if that would materially change anything. Churches should be welcoming to all people of all races, but people of various persuasions, whether religious or racial, usually prefer to be "among their own" – just human nature.

Victimization is an approach doomed to failure. It is very much in evidence in the current presidential campaigns, and the race card is being heavily played, as well as the gender (women as victims) card. There is racism in the country…among all races. People are what they are, and some folks can't stand other folks. However, people in places of leadership, like Wright-Riggins, need to stop blaming others for collective dysfunction and start demanding that specific houses be put in order. Only then will the problems of education, prisons, poverty be solved.