February is Black History Month in the United States. It is a time to look back at the history of African-Americans and their long journey to equality in our nation. American history is marred by slavery. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, the harsh treatment continued. There is a deep scar on the American dream in regard to black Americans.
The church did not distinguish itself in the battle for freedom of black people in general or black Christian brothers and sisters. Our own Southern Baptist Convention was birthed during the dark days of slavery, and many of our early leaders were slave owners. It is a part of our history that we cannot deny and in which we take no pride. Indeed, Southern Baptists have publicly and formally repented of our racism of the past.
True repentance means a change of mind and heart. I do find great joy in the fact that Southern Baptists are the most ethnically diverse denomination in America today. The same is true for Oklahoma Baptists.
Oklahoma history has its own twist. The first Baptist church organized in Oklahoma was a very diverse congregation. The church was begun at Ebenezer Station, just outside of present day Muskogee, in 1832. Its make-up was very significant—two Anglos (missionaries), one Creek Indian and three black slaves. While I am not proud of the fact the African-American members were slaves, I do rejoice that they were given equal place as members of our first church.
For many years, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma had a staff person who worked daily to enhance and strengthen relationships with National Baptists (African-American Baptist denomination). We financially supported the leadership of National Baptists in Oklahoma. Early in my tenure, I led Oklahoma Baptists to change this approach. It seemed wrong for Oklahoma Southern Baptists to continue a policy that perpetuated a segregated process. We needed to start African-American Southern Baptist churches. Over the last few years, we have grown from zero to now more than 30 predominately black churches as a part of our convention.
Our black congregations have enriched us as Oklahoma Baptists. The road has been remarkably smooth. Our black brothers and sisters have been given leadership roles without prejudice. We have had the rich privilege of hearing our African-American brothers preach at our convention meetings, serve as officers of the convention and serve on our board of directors. Their presence has deepened our love among the family and underscored the truth that there is no race or language barrier in the body of Christ. We are all equal at the foot of the Cross.
I am very excited that this June, Southern Baptists will likely elect our first black president. Fred Luter, pastor of the great Franklin Avenue Church of New Orleans, is anticipated to be elected without opposition. He is a powerful preacher who has graced the platform of the Southern Baptist Convention and many state convention events across America. He preached at our Oklahoma Evangelism Conference last month. He will be elected not because he is black, but because he is a great leader and dedicated pastor.
I am grateful that Oklahoma Baptists are not segregated. Oklahoma congregations are blessed to have black members, and our convention has a growing number of black congregations. While many black people enjoy the worship and preaching traditions of the black church, I am pleased that, generally, people of color are just as welcomed and important to every Baptist church in Oklahoma. Doors must never be closed to any person seeking a personal relationship with Jesus and the privilege of worshipping Him.
The Gospel is colorblind. The church must be the same.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.