Southern Baptists Apologize For Slavery They Repudiated Their Forebears' Support. They Also Repented For Their Own Racism.

Posted: June 21, 1995

ATLANTA — In a quiet rush of thousands of orange ballots, the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention apologized yesterday for their 19th-century forebears' support of slavery and repented for their own sins of racism.

"On behalf of my black brothers and sisters, we accept your apology," said the Rev. Gary Frost, a black Ohio pastor, after the vote at the group's annual meeting. "We forgive you for Christ's sake. Amen."

The resolution of repentance, wrought out of emotional and sometimes tearful meetings between black and white denominational leaders, broke a long and painful silence. It was the first acknowledgment of slavery by the full Southern Baptist Convention.

"We lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest," the resolution read.

" . . . We apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously."

The Rev. Jim Henry of Orlando, Fla., the convention president, said after the vote: "I'm so proud of our Southern Baptist churches. It was one of our finest moments."

The Southern Baptists had their beginnings in 1845, when Southerners split

from Northern Baptists over the issue of slave-owning.

With 15.6 million members, most of them white, the Southern Baptists are now the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Members include President Clinton, Vice President Gore and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R., Ga.).

Yesterday's resolution was approved with little discussion, then celebrated with prayer and applause.

The action came just hours before the crowd of more than 18,000 was scheduled to begin its gala commemoration of the Southern Baptist Convention's 150th anniversary.

Mr. Frost, the pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church in Youngstown, Ohio, and second vice president of the convention, said he was thrilled at the candor of the apology.

"We forgive our brothers not because the pain is gone, but because Christ has forgiven our sins," he said.

Richard Land, the Baptist group's executive director, said: "I think it's difficult to overestimate the historical significance of this action. My great-great-great-great grandfather was a slave owner. I can't change his guilt before God for what he did."

But speaking as a baby boomer, Land said the remains of that legacy of racism now needed to be laid to rest by a generation that has new ideals.

The representation at the annual meeting held this week in the Georgia Dome is overwhelmingly white. But since 1980, virtually all the growth in the denomination has been multiethnic, Land said.

Currently, he said, 500,000 members are African American, and 300,000 are Latino or Asian or from other races.

The idea for the resolution grew out of the Southern Baptists' efforts to take their ministry into urban areas, where, Mr. Frost said, they confronted ''the perception of racism."

Leaders said they hoped the words of repentance would be accompanied by works of reconciliation.

The Rev. Charles T. Carter, chairman of the convention's resolutions committee, recalled an incident from 40 years ago that he experienced as a young white pastor in Alabama. A black minister asked if he might visit the church youth program to see how it was run, and Mr. Carter consented.

Mr. Carter said he realized he was naive when 10 hooded Ku Klux Klansmen marched into his little country church and recited a white supremacist prayer in protest.

"That was 1955," said Mr. Carter, now a pastor in Birmingham, Ala. But, he added with quiet pride, "in 40 years, I'd say it's gone 180 degrees."

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