America is facing a racial crisis. Twenty minutes from where we are meeting today is Ferguson, Missouri, where in August 2014, the events occurring there became the tipping point regarding the racial crisis in America. This turning point in our nation personified what was already going on under the surface around the country regarding racial issues. The towns and cities in America can no longer ignore this issue. Any form of racism defies the dignity of human life. Regardless of the color of one’s skin, God has put His Divine imprint on each one of us.
Where has this conversation been in our national political races for the highest office of the land? The silence from both parties has been deafening. This cannot be.
Racism is a major sin and stronghold in America. In a recent May 5, 2016 BARNA report in Culture and Media, “The vast majority of adults agree there is a lot of anger and hostility between ethnic and racial groups in America. (84%)”
Sadly, tragically, and regrettably, it was 159 years ago that the infamous court case of Dred Scott v. Sandford resulted in a decision that many still call to this day the single worst Supreme Court decision in American history. This lower court case that began in the city of St. Louis ascended to the highest court in the land in Washington, DC. It was on March 6, 1857, when the Supreme Court ruled that all slaves and all their descendants — even if they became free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. It was declared that as a black man, Dred Scott was not recognized as a citizen of our nation and did not have the right to sue for his freedom. While this decision was in complete violation of the United States Declaration of Independence that says, “All men are created equal,” it elevated this staggering tragedy of slavery in the public arena of American life. This court decision furthered division in our nation and stoked the already flaming fire that led toward the Civil War. Listen very carefully: Within a fifteen-minute walk from where we sit today in downtown St. Louis is the Old Courthouse, where in 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott initiated a lawsuit for their freedom. This became a defining moment in our history.
Last Thursday, Jeana and I walked into the Old Courthouse and experienced the stories and places where history was made. We stood on the steps where people with the Divine imprint of God upon them were sold into slavery. Yet, history records that months following this tragic decision by the United States Supreme Court in the nation’s Capital, in this same Old Courthouse in St. Louis where it all began, Scott’s owner Irene Emerson Chaffee transferred ownership of the Scott family to his friend, Taylor Blow, who freed them. Working then as a porter in Barnum’s Hotel in St. Louis, Dred Scott died from tuberculosis after enjoying his freedom for just over one year. Historically, we know it was through the sacrifice of the Civil War and the bold leadership legacy of President Abraham Lincoln that only a few years later all the slaves were freed. Yet, it was not until 1870 with the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that all African American men would become citizens and be given the right to vote. It is with deep regret that I can do nothing about this stained past against our African American brothers and sisters; but with all I am and with all I can, I join you in creating a future together that binds up the nation’s wounds and always marches ahead knowing we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)
Before I go further, I want you to meet and greet someone special who decided to come and visit our convention when she was told by a friend I would be mentioning Dred Scott and hosting our racial unity panel this morning. Lynn Jackson is the great-great granddaughter of Dred and Harriet Scott and is the President and Founder of the Dred Scott Foundation here in St. Louis. Would you welcome Lynn Jackson to the Southern Baptist Convention?
Why is all of this so important? I believe the issue of racism is from Satan and his demonic forces of hell. Why do I believe this? Racism is an
13assault on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since the essence of the Gospel is spiritual adoption that releases us from our prior state, anything contradicting that must be a lie about Christ and subversive of His finished work on the cross. Racism is completely opposite of the message of Christ. Racism is completely opposite of the message of love. Racism is completely opposite of the message of reconciliation. While our nation is being divided across racial lines, uniting His people across racial lines best reveals God’s heart for all the nations.
In this desperate time in our nation when the racial tension is building rapidly, our Southern Baptists churches must rise together as one and decry this atrocity and lead through it in the gospel way. Southern Baptists, silent denominations die and their message dies with them. Let’s be clear and not be silent.
We are not black churches. We are not white churches. We are not Latino churches. We are not Asian churches. We are the Church of Jesus Christ. We are members of the same body. The hope for all racism to end in America is in Jesus Christ and in His triumphant church. This is why we are having in this morning’s session, A National Conversation on Racial Unity in America. Let the church rise. The stakes couldn’t be higher!