07.09.20

4 Reasons We Left the SBC

INTRODUCTION

“For I wrote to you with many tears out of an extremely troubled and anguished heart—not to cause you pain, but that you should know the abundant love I have for you.” ()

First, I’m not writing this to try to convince anyone. I’m merely writing to corroborate convictions that others already have. Sometimes you have instincts and feelings about things that you can’t put into words until someone else does. This is my attempt to put concrete words around what I’ve felt (and tried to push back against) for years.

Secondly, I want to clarify that I’m speaking on behalf of John Onwuchekwa and my identical twins in regards to the reasons for our departure. I include four reasons for my departure below. I want it to be clear that I’m only speaking for those who would read those four reasons and exclaim “EXACTLY. That’s exactly how I feel.” I imagine that if my reasons for departure were a TV show, there could be a host of spin-offs in regards to frustration with the Southern Baptist Convention. My simple request is that you would feel free to reference this document, but please don’t coopt it for your personal agenda. I’m having a hard enough time coming up with words that adequately capture my own heart; therefore, I imagine that appropriating my words for your cause would only do it a disservice. Thanks for understanding.

Third, I want to make it clear that the SBC was good to me personally. People were genuinely kind and respectful. Multiple people, on an individual and institutional level, offered their help. When we were dealing with a shady group in preparation to buy our church facility and were in need of an expedited process for a loan, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) stepped in and helped us get a loan for our building. The building may have slipped away if we weren’t helped in that regard. So, we praise God for the Cooperative Program that enabled NAMB to steward Southern Baptist resources to help solidify Cornerstone’s place in the West End. For that I’m grateful. We needed money to renovate our church building and again NAMB stewarded Cooperative Fund Giving our way in the form of a $175,000 grant to renovate the church building. I’m grateful for that as well.

Danny Akin and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary have taken steps to resource and scholarship many people of color over the nine years I’ve been in the SBC. For that, I’m grateful. I have relationships with many entity heads which is a resource in and of itself. I don’t leave due to personal acts of prejudice against me. I was favored, loved, and cared for as best they knew how. I was respected as far I could tell.

Nevertheless, I had to leave. The SBC liked me, but I feel like they’ve failed people like me. I’d rather give myself to serving that overlooked and under-resourced demographic than merely enjoy the perks of being treated as some outlier.

THE DECISION: Getting off the bus AND Announcing IT

I’m getting off the bus.

The Southern Baptist Convention is like a charter bus. Nothing more than a vehicle meant to take a collection of people to an agreed upon destination. In 2011, while pastoring in Atlanta, we got on the bus with much skepticism. Once we boarded the bus, we found out that there were a lot of dope people onboard who genuinely wanted to move this bus in a healthy direction. For the past nine years I’ve tried to work by the rules within the confines of the bus in order to change certain directions. I gladly sat in meetings to talk about the matters I’ll outline below. Sat on boards, had private conversations, served in many other ways. I’ve even convinced other people of color to board the bus because I believed it was headed in the right direction. For the past nine years, I’ve been:

(1) Encouraged by friends we’ve met on the bus
(2) Encouraged by the fact that those friends (with influence) genuinely wanted to see the bus head in the right direction—pursuing justice for the oppressed and seeking to prioritize segments of people who have been disadvantaged due to the color of their skin. (Both inside and outside of the denomination).

Nevertheless, as time has gone on, it has become clear to me that the destination that I desire to reach— the correction of the racial injustices and socioeconomic inequalities that plague our country—is an island. And the fact of the matter is….

You can’t drive a bus to PUERTO RICO.

I’ve realized the futility of some of my efforts in the denomination. Not because the SBC isn’t a place full of good-hearted people—there are plenty. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Southern Baptist Convention is the wrong vehicle to address these issues our world is so desperately trying to resolve.

At this point, I just want to pull the little break thing on the bus and make my exit. This isn’t SPEED (remember that movie with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock?). I ain’t trying to blow the bus up; I just want to get off and go about my business. However, the reason I’m leaving this way, as opposed to quietly telling the bus driver to let me off at the next stop, is because I’ve served in public facing ways within the denomination. I’ve spoken with multiple church planters, preached at the pastors’ conference, had my face, name and information on calendars, websites and the like. I’m letting everyone know just in case there are some who only felt comfortable boarding the bus because of my implicit recommendation. I don’t imagine my influence is global, but it does extend to areas unknown to me. There’s a reason disinfectant comes in aerosol containers and not squirt guns. You want it to cover areas that you’ve aimed to disinfect as well as places that are in need of disinfection but you didn’t foresee. You offer it up and let it fall where it may. This is my attempt to do just that.

Below are my four reasons for leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.

REASON #1: Destructive Nature of a Disremembered History

In May of 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention began over the issue of slavery. The Southern Baptist convention was not merely a bystander of racism. Nor were they merely accomplices to this grave evil, as if they were merely “hanging around the wrong country against their parents’ wishes” and found themselves unduly influenced. Rather, this denomination was a leader in the persecution and humiliation of black people. They were architects, instructing its followers as to where and how to lay the bricks to build a wall of racial inequality that still plagues black and brown people to this day!

This history has been disremembered. Not merely forgotten the way one would forget to include the trivial details when recounting a story about their activities a week ago. There is a consistent pattern of the denomination failing to own this troubled history:

  • 2013 – Video shown during SEND Conferences to stadiums of Southern Baptists in an attempt to recount the SBC’s missional history as well as move them to partner in church planting. Slavery is not mentioned, and the topic of race is talked about for 2 seconds in a passing statement describing the 60’s.
  • 2014 – Video shown to church planters recounting the history of slavery. Notice how 90 seconds are given to ambiguous honesty about the ugliness of slavery. While the remaining five and half minutes are given to specific instances of hopefulness about where the denomination is headed.
  • Throughout the years there have been various official attempts to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. Every name change resolution has been about geography and not about the fact the “Southern” in Southern Baptist Convention was not about geography as much as ideology. An honest understanding of history will embrace that the SBC was really one bad marketing meeting away from being called the Confederate Baptist Convention.
    • http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/367/resolution-on-convention-name
    • http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/septemberweb-only/southern-baptist-name-change.html

Active harm requires active repair. Equity will not be accomplished by the mere passage of time, resolutions, or sweeping past wrongs under the rug. Forgiveness isn’t begotten by forgetfulness.

A disremembered history begets passivity, which leads to the second reason for my departure…

REASON #2: RACIAL REPAIR: Obligation or Optional Opportunity

I believe the SBC is uniquely positioned in this season to provide a Gospel Witness to the problem of racial inequality that the whole world is trying to solve. While there are individuals within the denomination who may be working toward justice within their local church structures or seminaries, as a whole, the denomination is not leading to denounce racism in its walls or in our cities.

The SBC undeniably had a systemic hand in perpetuating wickedness, and yet, its systemic efforts to restore and promote racial justice fall flat. Confession and repentance are not optional in the Christian life, and yet, on the topic of racial oppression in America, the SBC is not teaching its members to deal effectively with these issues. Its silence is deafening to those of us who feel the effects of this oppression every day. And those people are in my neighborhood. They are in my church. They are my brothers and sisters. They are me.

Nevertheless, striving for racial equality and seeking to undo those evils isn’t seen as an obligation (something we must do), instead at best it’s seen as a passion project that one has the option to participate in. At worst, it’s seen as a distraction from true gospel work.

This second reason heads straight into my third…

REASON #3: Unhealthy Partisanship – Too closely aligned with the Republican Party

A Marketing adage best applies here. You aren’t who you say you are; you are who other people say you are. Meaning that when it comes to your public perception what other people see and surmise about you is often more important than what you say about yourself amongst yourselves. If a marketing adage is uncomfortable, then maybe Scripture is more helpful. Peter basically says the same thing.

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” ()

Although the SBC represents a diverse array of churches across the political spectrum, the denomination conducts itself in a manner that is extremely partisan. (i.e. Influential churches vocal about pulling funding from the SBC when Russell Moore spoke out against basic human decency issues regarding President Trump in 2016; Pence’s invitation and subsequent address at the SBC in one of the most polarizing political cycles of my lifetime; Al Mohler, the President of the largest SBC Seminary and apparent incumbent President of the SBC, using his public platform at T4G to endorse President Trump and reaffirm his personal lifelong allegiance to the Republican Party…and the list goes on and on).

Hear this, the only people that don’t believe the SBC has a partisan problem are those who have some allegiance to the favored party. Everyone in the world looks and associates the SBC with the Republican Party. The minorities among you believe it to be true.

The Southern Baptist Convention often boasts about being the most diverse denomination in the United States as if it were because of something they’re doing. I tend to believe that they are as diverse as they are despite what they’re doing.

REASON #4: Shallow Solutions where they should be putting on Scuba Gear

While the Southern Baptist Convention is working to solve its unity problem, they fail to realize that this unity problem could be solved by deep diving into the problem of race in America.

Allow me to clarify. In looking at where the Southern Baptist Convention is throwing collective resources to deal with issues of race, they are aiming where a lot of predominantly white institutions aim—racial reconciliation. Let’s fight for unity. While I’m grateful for series like the UNDIVIDED curriculum, I fear it’s addressing surface level issues instead of deep diving into the problem of race in America. Efforts like this focus on relational obstacles to unity instead of systemic injustice and inequality. Understand, unity is a goal, but unity in and of itself is not a vice or a virtue. Unity is a vehicle. The most important thing about a vehicle is who or what’s driving. Bad guys are unified—but their unity doesn’t do much good! To solely emphasize unity without addressing the sources of disunity (i.e., racial injustice and inequality) is to confuse the goal with the pathway. If unity is the goal, then fighting for racial equality is a pathway to achieving it.

The Civil Rights Movement was a unified and diverse movement, not because they took up a fight against disunity. Rather, they were fighting inequality of a societal and structural nature. A diverse group of people found solidarity around advocating for the equality of the disenfranchised. Where you have a diverse group of people sharing solidarity around a worthy concern, you’ll end up getting both unity and equality. Where you merely aim for being undivided, you’ll get neither.

In our circles, whenever issues of justice are brought up, there are immediate accusations of being unduly influenced by critical race theory and cultural Marxism (they did it to the prophets of old who wanted to drink out of the same water fountains). Listen, that’s not what’s influenced me. I’ve been influenced by an unbiased reading of history. So, when Southern Seminary published a report almost two years ago, tracing the influence of slavery to the billion dollar organization that is the Southern Baptist Convention, with no mention of how the Convention intends to repair the damage it caused, it feels eerily reminiscent of when the US Government gambled away half of black wealth from the Freedman’s bank on railroads and merely offered an apology to the effect of Sorry for YOUR LOSS, now let’s move on.

There are reasons why the International Mission Board (IMB) sends over 3,000 missionaries to the mission field and the number of black missionaries remains in the single digits (by my last count). Those reasons can’t be discovered with surface level discussions and strategies. Scuba gear is needed to take a deep dive into the racial history of our country and convention. Then and only then will we understand how we can move forward. Thus far it seems as if the convention has other more important things to do, and concerns such as these are often, at best, extracurricular passion projects for individuals.

Conclusion: WHO IS THE SBC FOR? NOT PEOPLE LIKE ME.

WHO IS MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE DENOMINATION: A closet racist or a black man who openly cares about seeing racism attacked with the full force of the gospel? From personal experience, when talking about issues that are near and dear to my heart, I’ve heard the former leader of church planting for the Georgia Baptist Convention tell other people that we (Cornerstone Church) are not one of them (presumably Southern Baptists). I’ve never heard people of color have the audacity to say the same thing in return.

I really pose this rhetorical question for you to consider. I know my answer and that’s why I’m leaving. I imagine others will come up with their answer. I’m not interested in debating answers. I am just at a place where I realize the SBC is not a home for me.

I LOVE MANY PEOPLE IN THE SBC. I do not leave my brothers and sisters. I leave a former denomination that never really felt like a home. While others were proud of their SBC Passports, I was always aware that I wasn’t a citizen. I was merely there on a work visa. At this point, I believe my work is done.

People often say things like, I imagine it was hard for you to leave. To be honest, it wasn’t. The leaving is never hard. The staying is. The leaving was the easy part. One part freeing, one part refreshing.

I leave having personally given up on the notion that I (or anyone else) can reform the Southern Baptist Convention, or that this vehicle, as it stands, will make it to the destination of addressing the sins that lead to the racial injustices that plague our country (and community). This is something I hope that God will do. I personally would feel no greater joy than to be wrong about my assessment. Nevertheless, this is a mission that I no longer feel personally called to. My work visa has expired and I’m moving on. My involvement will be one of prayer. Like the prophet Samuel I agree that, “As for me, I will certainly not sin against the Lord by ending my prayers for you…” (). But prayer will be the extent of my participation. I trust God that none of our labor was in vain, but I do not see the utility of our church made up predominantly of ethnic minorities remaining in the SBC. Because rather than being an agent of change, I fear our presence has largely been an advertisement for other churches of similar makeup saying “Come in…the water’s fine.” The sign I’d rather hold up is “Enter at Your Own Risk!”

“So then, have I now become your enemy because I told you the truth?” ()

ERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key ’TEST’
ERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key ’TEST’
ERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key ’TEST’
ERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key ’TEST’
John Onwuchekwa
John Onwuchekwa (MA, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a pastor at Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He’s the author of Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church. He and his wife, Shawndra, are the proud parents of one daughter, Ava.

C’mon Up!

19 responses to “4 Reasons We Left the SBC”

  1. […] an article on why he led Cornerstone Church in leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. (See here: https://thefrontporch.org/2020/07/4-reasons-we-left-the-SBC/ .) As an alumnus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of a church that’s […]

  2. Lavonda Mason-Vestal says:

    Thank you for your honesty. This was well written and thoughtful and yet powerfully eye opening. I pray your words of truth do some good in the hearts of those that need to hear them. God bless you.

  3. D. Irene Key says:

    Pastor John, I just started working with urban/ suburban pastors in the metro Detroit area (American, Progressive, National snd Independent Baptists) to see what we can do to address racism in The Church and find ways to begin the healing process. I couldn’t get anyone from SBC to discuss the issue l, not even the urban affairs rep. Would you consider doing a webcast with other pastors?

    I am servant leader for Healing Word Artists and I am coordinating the webcasts for The pastor’s Harmony Group. Please get back to me. Meanwhile blessings abound for your courage and your honest assessment.

  4. Ann says:

    Thank you for laying it out this way; a history lesson I didn’t know I needed yet confirmation of suspected Underlying ideologies. Ez 16:49 – when the church looks like the guilty party. Prayers for you and our churches.

  5. Kendall says:

    has some wisdom to offer us in this situation….The SBC is an organization, as you said there are many good people in the SBC because those people worship the living God. However, don’t presume that the SBC is all to blame, but ask yourself if you were wrapped up too much in the SBC? I examined myself when I was on the mission field and found myself in that same position and realized its not the organization that I serve, but the living God. The SBC might have been the agency in which God used to send me, but God was the one leading in the way in which I should serve, I couldn’t blame the SBC I had to blame myself. If God calls you to step out then step out of the SBC, but don’t step into another “SBC” situation were you give yourself to ideologies instead of the truth in Christ. The SBC can’t address racial injustice…that is a false hope…only Christ can. Political parties can’t address racial injustice….only Christ can. We trap ourselves and think that political and social change comes through organizations instead of the gospel. (NASB) says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The only power to heal this nation whether it be racial injustice, abortion, pornography….the list goes on….the only power that can heal us is found in Christ Jesus the LORD. Until our society turns to Christ nothing will stop all of the injustices we see today.

  6. James says:

    I understand your reasoning and agree we have so much to do to be faithful to believers of all races and to seek justice in the world. We have a sinful pass and continue to confess that sin. Se still have more work to do…we are still reforming. I also think we do far more good for all races throughout the world that is being unaccounted for in this article.

    Secondly, you’ve taken $175,000…and now leaving. Probably would be fair to repay some of that back.

  7. Ken says:

    Thank you Sir… you have left me with much to think about. I appreciate your thoughts and will be sharing this article with my leadership.

  8. Jerry Higdon says:

    The SBC isn’t going to solve the racism problem in our world. It existed throughout scripture and I would guess it will always be an issue. Too bad you choose to abandon ship. We could have benefitted from your perspective going forward. Our focus needs to remain on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. God be with you my friend. I will lift you up in prayer.

  9. Kenneth L. Clark says:

    My name is Pastor ken Clark am originally from Milwaukee Wisconsin. Me and my wife planted at church in Philadelphia Mississippi right after Katrina 2005-2010 join the SBC church Newton Mississippi and the pastor since I’ve been in this hour apart of the SBC I was told that I would never Pastor all white church. 57 years old know about discrimination somewhat naive definitely not stupid you have spiritual discernment. wasn’t so blatant up north. When it comes to the SBC and even Assembly of God. I’m not impressed by the Assembly of God. I wasn’t impressed when the sbc voted in a black man to be president of the denomination, putting a black man is president. but tying his hand from doing what he could to bring equality. I’m equally upset when we become too political when we’re supposed to let Caesar do what Caesar wants to, Us the church should do what God want us to do. I am physically and mentally exhausted I pray for the SBC they talking about they want a Revival in Mississippi I told him to read () then talk about Revival to be honest I am so tired of denominations the first church in the first century God didn’t call denominations mandir we all should be one when the church comes together we are a reckoning Force because we are one with God and one with each other it’s not like that in the times was living at.

  10. Kenneth L. Clark says:

    Pastor many may say that you have abandon ship dont let that comment discourage you. Its easy to say alot when you haven’t walked in the person shoes. Trust me brother this truly isn’t new, Remember Paul confronting Peter. No the church cannot solve the racial problems of the world but it can be resolved in the church as a whole if we as a whole follow ( ) racism is A Sin☠

  11. Harry Carey says:

    I’m glad that Jesus doesn’t leave his sinful church. A man of God would take responsibility for the change he wants to see and it might take a lifetime. This article encourages dis-unity within the church.

  12. Thabiti says:

    Dear Harry,

    Is it your view that someone in John’s position should spend the rest of his life and energy working on these issues even if the mass of other people are not doing their part or interested in the changes?

    If so, how would your view not lead to divisiveness?

    Thank you,
    Thabiti

  13. Tim says:

    Dear Brother,

    Given the context, how would you describe unity? systemic? injustice? I’m not speaking of our national problem but of the problem in the SBC. I read my brothers article but see no hopeful way forward (the article is admittedly a message of hopelessness for the SBC…that’s fine. I’m not part of the SBC, but still, I’m getting weary of hearing what’s wrong without someone giving a way forward. Nothing against my bother, but studying history doesn’t heal the past or offer solutions. It only explains some of the present

    Thanks
    Tim

  14. […] came Onwuchekwa’s 2020 essay, “4 Reasons We Left the SBC,” published in The Front Porch. His introduction assures readers that while he is not trying “to […]

  15. Joe Hale says:

    I do not question the perspective of Pastor John. I just have a bit of trouble when this is presented as being primarily a problem in the White Church. As a mission leader, I have made considerable effort to work with Black Denominations to allow my agency to find solid teachers to go overseas. I have been told over and again that “you are not a part of our denomination,” therefore, we can’t allow you to recruit at our conferences, etc. Many Black Churches I know (I’ve visited several), treat while visitors with kindness, but really do not want to be a mixed church. I’m just pointing out the reality that this problem belongs to all of us, not just one race. May God help us get past these barriers and just learn to appreciate our diversity and love one another, be kind to one another, and model the love of Christ in our relationships.

  16. Lj says:

    As a graduate of southern baptist seminary I am embarrassed for the SBC because of how social justice warrior it has become. And trying to force diversity has allowed bad doctrine to creep in. What’s so funny is that you think they haven’t done enough. I think just the opposite. I wouldn’t be part of them now because of the forces diversity. If I did go to a southern baptist church I wouldn’t give to the cooperative program because Russell Moore wouldn’t get a dime of my money. The Founding Southern Baptist’s we’re guilty of not being able to see truth about race and we’re blinded by their culture. I believe you are blinded in the same way. Systemic injustice and inequality? The current left and blm movement doesn’t want equality. They want racism. They want special treatment for a group of people. Racism will never end this way. You are only making it worse. Just as the founders were blinded by their culture. You are being blinded by your culture. Those that you are listening to. Stop living in the past. Stop blaming people for sins that happened generations ago. Live like you would if there were no racism. That’s the cure. As long as you keep telling me how oppressed you are and how dark your skin is I’m only going to see you as that. If I tell you every day I’m an old fat guy you will only see me as an old fat guy. Just be a human. Just be a Christian. And 98% of people will see you that way. And the 2% that don’t maybe never will. But their kids might one day. But only if you stop reminding them what color you are and how bad they are.

  17. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain your decision.

  18. Lawrence Edward Carter Sr.+
    Reverend Mr. Onwuchekwa, you have my sincere congratulations for the pastoral wisdom, courage, and compassion to speak the truth from the power of your Christian faith.
    Rest assured, your words will be read far beyond the universal Christian Church and it’s SBC; and the inescapable “we” will never be the same. Deep hope, happiness and healing will come the more we follow your lead by participating in our own transformation.
    Peace and richest blessings!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *