During the last several years, evangelicals have engaged in numerous initiatives in racial reconciliation, causing even the most jaded observers of race relations in the movement to take notice. The Southern Baptist Convention repented for its "sin of racism." The National Association of Evangelicals and the National Black Association of Evangelicals (NBEA) took significant steps toward healing their historic rift. Two Pentecostal denominational associations—one white, one black, which had originally split a hundred years ago—merged. Promise Keepers (PK) made its "sixth promise," which focuses on racial reconciliation, the movement's priority for 1996.
As a Latino journalist reporting on racial issues in the church for the past 13 years (see, for instance, CT, "The Myth of Racial Progress," Oct. 4, 1993), I have never seen racial awareness in the evangelical church on the scale we witnessed these last couple of years. And for that we should feel encouraged.
At the same time, this progress raises the stakes for evangelicalism. If the movement fails to convert these high-profile actions into true reconciliation—a state where nonwhites experience real equality and acceptance—race relations could actually worsen in the church. Already there are rumblings among black Southern Baptists and members of the NBEA that structural changes have stalled and they are going back to "business as usual." As Latinos say, Entre el dicho y el hecho, hay mucho trecho—between words and deeds there's much road to travel. The toxicity of past promises gone sour is still high among African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans.
What will it take to experience true reconciliation? Good intentions are not enough. ...1
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