I feel like Michelle Obama. During her husband’s participation in the race to win the Democratic nomination she made the statement that for the first time in her adult life she was proud to be an American. Hyperbole we all hope(d). Tonight I sit in my hotel room still ruminating on the message Alton Fannin, the President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, gave earlier this evening. I feel like saying something similar to our soon to be first lady. It would be something like, “For the first time in a great while, I am proud to be a Southern Baptist.” Hyperbole, not so much.
Fannin stood and addressed our latent, and not so latent racism driving many Christian responses to the election of Barak Obama. In a decidedly prophetic message, Alton stood tall suggesting in the history of our denomination we have not gotten the race issue right until it is too late. We did not get it right in 1845. We did not get it right int he 1950’s and 1960’s. We “apologized” in the late 1990’s for more than 100 years of such missteps but that did not seem to really get the job done as he, and I, have heard racially motivated responses to the recent election. His challenge, “Let’s get it right this time.”
Context is everything. Alton affirmed what it meant to him to be a Southern Baptist. He is Southern Baptist by conviction. He likes what we do and how we do it. But, he is willing to stand in a day and admit that our history if full of illustrations that in a Christian denomination that regularly points to the Scriptures as our authority, we have not taken the stand consistent with those same Scriptures.
Preaching from 1 Timothy 2, Fannin gave the context most oft overlooked. Paul told Timothy to pray for the king. That would be Nero. Yes, the fiddle playing, Christian persecuting, despot of a ruler. He did not suggest young Timothy pray the Emperor adopt his morality, his economics, nor his foreign policy. Instead, the Apostle Paul exhorted the young pastor to pray for kings and rulers so that we can lead quite and peaceable lives – reverent, godly and holy lives. Lives acceptable to God who desires everyone “be saved and know the truth.”
Willing to pick on both Democrats and Republicans, Fannin noted racism transcends party lines. He suggested the proper response is not to give away a moral position, economic preferences or foreign policy agendas. Instead, he noted these all pale in comparison to the call to pray for leaders so we may live peaceable lives. It was funny when Fannin noted we act as though we need not pray “as hard” had McCain been elected.
I am proud to know Alton. He was an encouragement to me a couple of years ago during a lengthy conversation we shared during a conference break. I am proud Alton stood and declared that we should live in ways that acknowledge the life, death and resurrection sets everything right, including poor race relations. I am proud that on a day when Bobby Kelly discussed the theodrama of Scripture and pointed to a way of understanding Scripture that transcends the word games of our denomination, Fannin demonstrated confidence in the authority of God in the Scriptures to inform our way of loving the world.
I am glad I drove to Tulsa today.