The Southern Baptist Convention (sbc), meeting in Atlanta in June, chose its one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary to apologize for "condoning" racism and later on approved a sweeping reorganization of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

The ink had barely dried on the convention's antiracism resolution when it came under criticism from some black leaders. Yet many others, including evangelist Billy Graham, who spoke at the convention, hailed the historic effort.

The sbc resolution in part states: "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." The sbc, which has 15 million members and 39,900 congregations nationwide, was formed in 1845 after a split in Baptist ranks over whether slaveholders could serve as missionaries.

"On behalf of my black brothers and sisters, we accept your apology," Gary Frost, sbc second vice president and a black pastor, said at the Georgia Dome convention. "We pray that the genuineness of your repentance will be reflected in your attitudes and in your actions." In 1989, the sbc had approved a resolution against racism. But the 1995 resolution was the first ever to address blacks specifically in a way linked with the slavery issue.

sbc president James B. Henry said passage of the measure was "one of our finest moments in Southern Baptist life." Henry said he views the apology as "a huge statement to the African American community of who we are and what we're about."

Graham, recovering from his collapse from intestinal bleeding at his Toronto crusade earlier in the month, told Southern Baptists, "Only when we individually and ...

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August 1, 1995

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