FBC Oxford, Miss., members apologize for 1968 vote banning black members

September 5, 2013

OXFORD – In the words of William Faulkner, the past is never dead. It’s not even past.

It was with this in mind that the Rev. Eric Hankins and his congregation at First Baptist Church in Oxford passed a resolutionto retract and nullify a 1968 vote by the church to ban African-Americans from its pews.

“Too often apologies are made to no one specifically,” Hankins said. “But a true apology has to acknowledge someone specific. The vote in the ’60s was cast by the whole congregation during a Sunday service, and we passed this resolution in the same way.”

This article appeared Sept. 5 in the DJournal.com —  Northeast Mississippi News web site. Read MORE

Our thanks to Dr. Eric Hankins for responding to SBCToday’s request both for a copy of the resolution and the permission to post it.

Resolution on Reconciliation and Revival

WHEREAS, since our founding in 1842, First Baptist Church was established for the purpose of Gospel witness in this city, state, nation, and world to show the love of Christ to any and all (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:16-20). In many ways, we have fulfilled this purpose well, but we have often struggled on the issue of race; and

WHEREAS, the Scriptures clearly teach that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), come from the same parents (Acts 17:26), have equal worth and dignity before God (Acts 10:34-35), and are equally the objects of His love (John 3:16); and

WHEREAS, our congregation’s relationships with African-Americans have been marred from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and

WHEREAS, in subsequent generations, we failed in many instances to support and, indeed, often opposed efforts to secure the civil rights of African-Americans; and

WHEREAS, such racism was often invoked under the supposed sanction of God Himself through the mishandling of His Holy Word and the perversion of His Gospel; and

WHEREAS, in April of 1968, our congregation voted in a duly-called business session of the entire church to exclude African-Americans from worship; and

WHEREAS, we continued into the mid-1970s to use this policy in official church business to guide our treatment of African-Americans, most notably by refusing to allow their children access to our bus (Mark 9:42) and  by refusing to host a community-wide Day of Prayer in our sanctuary because African-Americans had been invited (1 Corinthians 10:32); and

WHEREAS, the Southern Baptist Convention sought to take steps to address the egregious sin of racism by confessing it publically and seeking the forgiveness of African-Americans in 1995; and

WHEREAS, that same year, First Baptist Church reached out to our African-American brothers and sisters at Second Baptist Church for a season of shared worship services and fellowship as part of a process of our changing views on race that had been developing since the mid-1970s as African-Americans began to attend and join our church; and

WHEREAS, we have been experiencing and obeying the correction and direction of the Spirit and the Word concerning race for many years and continue to grow as a place where all people are welcomed and loved regardless of race; and

WHEREAS, especially since 2011, we have been praying earnestly and examining ourselves as to unconfessed sin (Matthew 5:23-24, I Corinthians 11:27-32, Psalm 66:18) desiring that God would bring revival to our families, church, city, state, and nation. We have asked that our collective sins not stand in the way of His restoring a right relationship with us (2 Chronicles 7:14).

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the members of First Baptist Church, on July 21, 2013, unequivocally denounce racism in all its manifestations as sin against Almighty God. This repudiation of racism has been our attitude for decades, and we want to leave no doubt in the Oxford community; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we declare as utterly sinful the vote in April 1968 to exclude African-Americans from worship and the decisions that flowed from it. That time-period in Oxford was extremely difficult, but such difficulties in no way excuse what was done. Many were against those decisions at the time, but the will of the congregation was determined by a clear majority. Even though this happened years ago, we are one body, sharing in all things, even painful things (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Therefore, on this day, we renounce and repent of those decisions with our whole heart. We seek the forgiveness of the Lord and of African-Americans who were and are still hurt by these things, and we hope they will extend such forgiveness to us (Psalm 51:9-13, James 5:16, 19-20). In addition to the sorrow we have caused, we acknowledge that our witness and our relationships with God and each other have been diminished greatly as a consequence of this sin of our past; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we will seek opportunities for continued reconciliation with churches, leaders, and individuals in the African-American community, that we will support and encourage African-American sister congregations in our collective kingdom work, and that we will strive to learn sustainable means of fellowship and mutual encouragement (Revelation 7:9-10); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that, because it is still the tendency in the Church-at-large to gather with those with whom we have the most affinity, our congregation will seek to discover how we can continue to grow as a place where people of all races are welcomed and included. We affirm that the New Testament teaches that the power of the Gospel is fully on display when every humanly constructed barrier comes down within local churches (Ephesians 2:14). We reject the idea that it is permissible for churches to ignore that calling on the basis of convenience or personal preferences (Romans 14:5-12); and

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED, that we will be a church that leads the way in calling this town, this state, and this nation away from its ugly past with regard to race, through a present experience of growing Gospel obedience, into the saving knowledge of Christ alone, and into a future where there is no division of any kind, but where we are one in Christ (Ephesians 2:15-22).

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Johnathan Pritchett

Hankins and Robinson = Real Christian Leadership

    Norm Miller

    I couldn’t agree more, Johnathan. I would encourage these men to do some ministry projects together. Whereas I applaud FBC’s actions, and the graciousness of Rev. Robinson, were both churches to cooperate in public ministry — WOW — what additional altruistic signals would that send to all ethnic groups in the region.
    As children we sang,
    “Red and Yellow / Black and White / They are precious in His sight / Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
    I say to the Reverends Robinson and Hankins, keep on showing your community and the world that the only color ‘neath the Cross of Christ is that of His blood, and it knows no racial distinction.
    “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” Ps. 133.1.

      Norm Miller

      Re-reading the news article, I found a sentence that looks like cooperative ministry may be in their future: “In moving forward, Hankins and Robinson said their churches will take one step at a time, but with history finally put to rest, they look forward to helping the community as a united front.”

        Johnathan Pritchett

        I certainly hope so, and that other churches do so as well.

        Johnathan Pritchett

        In fact, many churches may have to more than just cooperate in the future anyway in a very radical way, so that smaller Caucasian and African-American churches don’t die out, but rather, they will combine in order to for any church in some communities to exist at all. That would be great in my opinion, and as an added bonus, it would do away with the “Senior Pastor” thing in the process.

Max

Praise God for Dr. Hankins’ leadership in this regard. This was a noble action. It’s never right to do wrong (particularly in church!) and the sooner you can reverse a poor decision the better. Repentance is the first step of honesty, humility and brokenness for such situations. Seeking forgiveness should follow repentance (there’s a difference between apology and repentance) – I suspect that repentance is reflected in the resolution. However, considering that 45 years have transpired, it is recognized that most of the folks who should have repented of their action (whether they led the charge or simply voted) are now in eternity. For those still around, bending a knee in individual repentance – to supplement the corporate apology – would be appropriate. It’s never too late … it’ll do your heart good.

    Max

    Thank you Norm for publishing the resolution. Repentance is its theme, opening an avenue for forgiveness and unity among believers. May this activate the “THEN Will I” promises of 2 Chronicles 7:14 as healing flows in that corner of Mississippi because God’s people were obedient.

    Johnathan Pritchett

    I agree.

    I don’t want to diminish the corporate apology or place it over against the individual repentance. I don’t think you were, Max, I am just saying. It seems there are certainly four people who need to do so in that church for sure though.

    Hankins and probably the majority of the church at this time wasn’t ever racist. However, they recognize the importance of the corporate action even though they may not have been the individuals involved. This certainly stems from Hankins proper Biblical view of corporate election and knowing that most of the world is collectivist and such was the case of the world in which our Scripture comes out of. Corporate identity, etc. all that has tangential influences that lead to this kind of stuff. Orthodox doctrine leading to orthodox praxis. Too often, we hear “that wasn’t me, so why should I apologize” here in the rampant individualism in the West regarding this or that. Props to Hankins for identifying himself closely to the church he pastors, in its history and legacy for the good and bad, and doesn’t think he came and the church and the church itself became something else entirely ex nihilo.

    All churches are a mixed bag of good and bad, and will forever be so until King Jesus returns. Corporate repentance when called for is appropriate and commendable, and not bothering to argue along the lines of “it wasn’t us” and so sweep it under the rug is a great example for all churches that have their own issues to repent of.

      Max

      Agreed Johnathan. Our Christian journey is both individual and corporate. Scripture is clear that both individuals and church bodies need to keep a clear channel open to God through repentance. To the individual, Paul proclaimed “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” To the church, Jesus says “Repent or else!”

        Johnathan Pritchett

        Indeed.

        Now, perhaps many of our Reformed brothers outside the Baptist tradition will take a note from this and own up for not only slavery and racism in many cases, but for the wickedness of the Magisterial Reformers, popular theologians, and many of the American Puritans regarding their violence and disgusting behavior on many fronts, and stop fouling it off to “just the times and context in which they lived.”

        Even the RCC makes apologies on occasion.

Marshall

Proberbs says that: Life & death is in the power of the tongue. And you will eat the fruit of it!

This body has spoken life! I am excited for them and their future.

Robert Vaughn

I don’t want to get off topic, but I have a related question. Perhaps one of the SBC Today writers would consider a post on the subject. In the third comment, Norm mentions cooperative ministry. Assuming the racial issues are put behind, as with FBC Oxford, how do we bring that cooperation together at the local level? I find that over the years of separation, the black Baptists and white Baptists have developed along different lines and have some theological issues that will have to be resolved or overlooked. For example, with the churches I have visited, I find some differences that are problematic to me from a doctrinal standpoint. Let me mention two: (1) the degree to which women speak in the services, and (2) the use of ministers of other denominations, some of whom believe in falling from grace. And sometimes the two combine. I am not aware of any black missionary Baptist women preachers (though there may be some). But sometimes a woman preacher from another denomination is invited to speak in area black Baptist churches. Now these may be things you are willing to overlook. But I don’t overlook them in predominantly white churches, and it seems hypocritical to overlook them in predominantly black churches.

Again, I fear this will lead off topic, but I would like to hear your thoughts. If it is best for a separate post, I understand. Thanks.

    Robert Vaughn

    I meant to write that “I find that over the years of separation, the black Baptists and white Baptists IN OUR AREA have developed along different lines and have some theological issues that will have to be resolved or overlooked.” I can’t speak for other places.

Robert Vaughn

Still hoping someone might have some insight and enlightenment to share on the above theological problem. Thanks.

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