“There was kind of this collective decision to forget,” Hankins said. “The question is, ‘What is our responsibility for the past?’ Sure it happened a long time ago, before we were here, but it was still hurtful and sinful. It was clearly wrong and needed to be put right.”… As they strategized over how to mend old wounds, the complexities of history and race in the small town of Oxford – and the South as a whole – became apparent.
OXFORD – In the words of William Faulkner, the past is never dead. It’s not even past.
It was with this in mind that the Rev. Eric Hankins and his congregation at First Baptist Church in Oxford passed a resolution to retract and nullify a 1968 vote by the church to ban African-Americans from its pews.
“Too often apologies are made to no one specifically,” Hankins said. “But a true apology has to acknowledge someone specific. The vote in the ’60s was cast by the whole congregation during a Sunday service, and we passed this resolution in the same way.”
When FBC presented the resolution to Oxford’s historically black Second Baptist Church in August, the Rev. Andrew Robinson said he felt a sigh of relief from both groups.
“When First Baptist Church took this step, it wasn’t just the church. For the white community to offer an apology so openly is a true sign of humility and repentance,” Robinson said. “And to me, that shows it’s serious, that people are moving in the direction of healing.”
Hankins first came to First Baptist in 2005, and quickly sensed some lingering race-related burdens carried by the congregation.
“Every once in a while, an older member would vaguely mention how the church was on the wrong side of a few racial issues,” Hankins said.
As 2012 drew to a close, Hankins finally received the full story. In 1968, when integration was a fast-approaching reality, the pastor and deacons drafted an open-door policy, allowing anyone to become a member. However, the measure was voted down by the congregation.
“Rejecting an open-door policy meant adopting a closed-door policy,” Hankins said.
Resolution on Reconciliation and Revival
WHEREAS, since our founding in 1842, First Baptist Church was established for the purpose of Gospel witness in this city, state, nation, and world to show the love of Christ to any and all (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:16-20). In many ways, we have fulfilled this purpose well, but we have often struggled on the issue of race; and
WHEREAS, the Scriptures clearly teach that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), come from the same parents (Acts 17:26), have equal worth and dignity before God (Acts 10:34-35), and are equally the objects of His love (John 3:16); and
WHEREAS, our congregation’s relationships with African-Americans have been marred from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and
WHEREAS, in subsequent generations, we failed in many instances to support and, indeed, often opposed efforts to secure the civil rights of African-Americans; and
WHEREAS, such racism was often invoked under the supposed sanction of God Himself through the mishandling of His Holy Word and the perversion of His Gospel; and
WHEREAS, in April of 1968, our congregation voted in a duly-called business session of the entire church to exclude African-Americans from worship; and
WHEREAS, we continued into the mid-1970s to use this policy in official church business to guide our treatment of African-Americans, most notably by refusing to allow their children access to our bus (Mark 9:42) and by refusing to host a community-wide Day of Prayer in our sanctuary because African-Americans had been invited (1 Corinthians 10:32); and
WHEREAS, the Southern Baptist Convention sought to take steps to address the egregious sin of racism by confessing it publically and seeking the forgiveness of African-Americans in 1995; and
WHEREAS, that same year, First Baptist Church reached out to our African-American brothers and sisters at Second Baptist Church for a season of shared worship services and fellowship as part of a process of our changing views on race that had been developing since the mid-1970s as African-Americans began to attend and join our church; and
WHEREAS, we have been experiencing and obeying the correction and direction of the Spirit and the Word concerning race for many years and continue to grow as a place where all people are welcomed and loved regardless of race; and
WHEREAS, especially since 2011, we have been praying earnestly and examining ourselves as to unconfessed sin (Matthew 5:23-24, I Corinthians 11:27-32, Psalm 66:18) desiring that God would bring revival to our families, church, city, state, and nation. We have asked that our collective sins not stand in the way of His restoring a right relationship with us (2 Chronicles 7:14).
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the members of First Baptist Church, on July 21, 2013, unequivocally denounce racism in all its manifestations as sin against Almighty God. This repudiation of racism has been our attitude for decades, and we want to leave no doubt in the Oxford community; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we declare as utterly sinful the vote in April 1968 to exclude African-Americans from worship and the decisions that flowed from it. That time-period in Oxford was extremely difficult, but such difficulties in no way excuse what was done. Many were against those decisions at the time, but the will of the congregation was determined by a clear majority. Even though this happened years ago, we are one body, sharing in all things, even painful things (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Therefore, on this day, we renounce and repent of those decisions with our whole heart. We seek the forgiveness of the Lord and of African-Americans who were and are still hurt by these things, and we hope they will extend such forgiveness to us (Psalm 51:9-13, James 5:16, 19-20). In addition to the sorrow we have caused, we acknowledge that our witness and our relationships with God and each other have been diminished greatly as a consequence of this sin of our past; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we will seek opportunities for continued reconciliation with churches, leaders, and individuals in the African-American community, that we will support and encourage African-American sister congregations in our collective kingdom work, and that we will strive to learn sustainable means of fellowship and mutual encouragement (Revelation 7:9-10); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that, because it is still the tendency in the Church-at-large to gather with those with whom we have the most affinity, our congregation will seek to discover how we can continue to grow as a place where people of all races are welcomed and included. We affirm that the New Testament teaches that the power of the Gospel is fully on display when every humanly constructed barrier comes down within local churches (Ephesians 2:14). We reject the idea that it is permissible for churches to ignore that calling on the basis of convenience or personal preferences (Romans 14:5-12); and
FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED, that we will be a church that leads the way in calling this town, this state, and this nation away from its ugly past with regard to race, through a present experience of growing Gospel obedience, into the saving knowledge of Christ alone, and into a future where there is no division of any kind, but where we are one in Christ (Ephesians 2:15-22).