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Some Southern Baptists Want Link to Slavery Acknowledged

May 25, 1995

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ It’s time for Southern Baptists to acknowledge how slavery split the church and issue an apology to blacks for deciding in 1845 to allow slave owners to be missionaries, a group of Baptists proposes.

``We need this for our healing,″ said Rev. Jere Allen, executive director of the church’s Washington association and a fifth-generation descendant of a North Carolina slave owner.

The resolution would be a significant overture to racial healing and is needed for successful evangelizing to blacks and other ethnic groups, he said.

The group is trying to have the resolution put to a vote at the annual meeting next month of the predominantly white 15.5 million-member Southern Baptist Convention.

The president of the General Baptist Convention of North Carolina, which represents 2,000 predominantly black churches, was optimistic.

``It could be a bold step in affirming the sins of the past but also would be making a statement toward reconciliation,″ said the Rev. Clifford Jones.

In 1845, Baptists from across the nation met in Augusta, Ga., and debated whether slave owners could be missionaries. Northerners objected, but Southerners said no one could question a call from God. The church split.

Northern churches generally belong to the American Baptist Convention, Southern churches to the Southern Baptist Convention. Most predominantly black churches are aligned with the National or the General Baptist conventions.

Allen and Southern Baptist officials from Illinois, New York City and Alabama are promoting the resolution, which was approved last year by eight of the 39 state Baptist conventions. It says, in part:

``We publicly repent and apologize to all persons of African descent for condoning and perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime, and though we may not have personally participated in such distant acts of evil (i.e. slavery), we continue to reap the bitter harvest of the resulting inequality.″

The Rev. Mark Coppinger, the church spokesman, said a committee will review all proposed resolutions to determine which will go to the delegates at the annual meeting next month in Atlanta.

He said one question is language.

``It’s important that we acknowledge our record on race has not been spotless,″ Coppinger said. ``Let us lament that. Can we really repent of it, though? How can we repent of something done in 1845? I think that will be an issue.″

The Southern Baptist Convention, whose members include President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, is the largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States with nearly 40,000 churches. Though the dominant faith in the South, the church was conspicuously silent on civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s.

Since then, the annual meeting has considered resolutions on race, and in 1989, delegates declared racism to be a sin.

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