The Southern Baptist Convention, born of a north-south split over slavery, overwhelmingly passed a resolution Tuesday at its annual meeting in Atlanta lamenting its pro-slaveholder roots 150 years ago and repenting for lingering racism.
The resolution was approved in a show of hands at the gathering of nearly 15,000 voting clergy and lay people. It is the largest mass expression of regret and repentance so far in a wave of contrition for historical wrongs voiced by church leaders from the pope to evangelical Christian groups.
The 15.6-million-member denomination - largest in U.S. Protestantism - has made strides in racial and ethnic diversity in recent years. The 39,000 Southern Baptist churches include about 1,900 black congregations and, in California, many Latino and Asian American churches.
But the resolution “to repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery, from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest” was deemed a needed prerequisite to improved relations with blacks. The Southern Baptist Convention broke with northern Baptists in 1845 in part over whether slave holders could serve as missionaries.
“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,” said the statement, which also asked forgiveness from blacks.
At the the Georgia Dome Tuesday, Southern Baptists stood and applauded when the resolution passed after only 12 minutes of discussion and little dissension.
The Rev. Gary Frost of Youngstown, Ohio, the denomination’s second vice-president and the first black to reach that post, accepted the apology on behalf “of my black brothers and sisters.
“We pray that … your repentance will be reflected in your attitudes and in your actions,” Frost said. Then, leading the assembly in prayer, Frost asked God to forgive both “white racism and black racism.”