Displaying the Gospel through Diversity

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I kissed the little Asian girl goodbye, loaded up the dog and a couple of teenage boys, and headed to the woods. There I met up with two Ethiopians and a few others.

Is that not the strangest beginning to a story you have ever heard? It’s actually a true story. The “little Asian girl” is my adopted daughter. The “two Ethiopians” are the adopted sons of Crossings Ministries president, David Melber. By the way, David also kissed goodbye his Asian daughter before he loaded up the boys and set out on the two-family hunting trip. For the Chitwoods and Melbers, and a growing number of Kentucky Baptist families, race relations have become family relations.

For me, that wasn’t always the case. I grew up in a small, mountain town. The only racial diversity I knew was a few impoverished African American families who lived either in the government projects, where my family lived for a while, or in an area everyone simply called “Nigger Hill.” I attended high school in a neighboring town and found pretty much the same scenario: just a few African American families, mostly poor, who lived in a section known as “Slab Town.”

School classrooms and ball fields provided the only significant interaction between the races. An African American classmate played forward on the basketball team where I played center and running back on the football team where I played quarterback. He became one of my best friends. Even that, unfortunately, did not allow me to escape the inherent racism of our small town culture. Eventually, however, God was gracious enough to expose and expunge that sin from my heart.

On Feb. 12, many Southern Baptist churches will observe “Racial Reconciliation Sunday.” For Southern Baptists, that day is not only an effort to acknowledge and move beyond a shameful part of our history, it is an effort to faithfully display the transformative and unifying impact of the gospel. Paul communicates that impact clearly in Galatians 3:26-28: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV).

Southern Baptists twice elected Pastor Johnny Hunt, a Native American, as convention president. The recent announcement that Pastor Fred Luter, an African American, will be a candidate for convention president is another important chapter in the Southern Baptist story. Our growing concern for increasing the diversity of our fellowship and leadership may be long overdue but it’s by no means too late. I pray that diversity will allow us to more clearly display the gospel in our homes, our churches, and our convention.

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