Declaring that "the day is over" when the Southern Baptist Convention is "a white Anglo Saxon denomination," Paige Patterson said he hopes that within five years the SBC will elect its first ethnic president.
"I believe, deep down in my heart, with all my soul that the future of the Southern Baptist Convention has to be a multi-racial, multi-ethnic future, or quite frankly, it has no future," Patterson said during the North American Mission Board's second annual Ethnic Presidents Roundtable Conference held Feb. 1-2 on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
Patterson, president of the SBC and Southeastern Seminary, and Robert E. (Bob) Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, Alpharetta, Ga., met with representatives of more than a dozen ethnic fellowships within the SBC in an effort to increase ethnic involvement and representation in the nearly 16 million-member denomination.
Currently twenty-six ethnic fellowships hold member status in the SBC, the majority being Korean, African American and Hispanic, said Michael Cooley, special assistant in leadership development with the North American Mission Board.
During his first term of office as SBC president, Patterson said, he made a concerted effort to appoint ethnic representatives to nearly every committee for which he was responsible, an effort he pledged to be equally as faithful to at the 2000 annual convention in Orlando.
"I intend to use someone if I possibly can from every ethnic fellowship and hopefully numerous ones from many of the ethnic fellowships," pledged Patterson.
Patterson, who preached his first revival in a Chinese Baptist church at age 15 and has since visited sixty-five countries, said his love and appreciation for ethnic diversity was fostered by his parents.
"I have a Palestinian-Arab brother, a Mexican brother, and a Japanese sister who all grew up with me in the home," Patterson said. "Every meal was an international experience. ... I grew up in an international family and I learned right there that the most colorful and enjoyable experiences in life ... cross lines that so often divide people. I really do want to see us with a new day in our convention."
SBC leaders point to the ethnic presidents conference as further evidence of the denomination's resolve to foster cultural and racial diversity in the new millennium. In 1995, the SBC overwhelmingly passed a resolution on racial reconciliation seeking forgiveness from African-Americans for any involvement in the past injustices of slavery, segregation, and racial prejudice.
Reccord said as the convention seeks to become more ethnically diverse in its leadership, it's imperative churches increasingly become more culturally and racially diverse.
"I think we've got to continue to push toward multi-cultural churches where in a church it's not just converted Jews, it's not just African Americans, it's not just Eastern Europeans," he said. "The church I read about in the New Testament is a church that is spread across all kinds of cultural barriers and in any given church it wasn't just homogeneous. I frankly think that has become much more a sociological principle than a theological principle."
Phil Jones, director of NAMB's strategic planning support team, said the SBC's 1998 Annual Church Profile report listed about 45,000 congregations, of which 6,000 were identified as predominantly ethnic. Jones said that according to the report ethnic congregations, totaling 635,000 members, represent about 4 percent of the denomination's membership.
Reccord said NAMB's goal for reaching the mega-cities with the gospel through their Strategic Focus Cities (SFC) initiative will not be realized without the involvement of Southern Baptists from all ethnic groups.
"No one group can go in and impact a city," Reccord said. "It's going to take us working together."
Chicago and Phoenix have been identified as first-priority evangelism and church-planting targets for 2000 involving thousands of volunteers, media blitzes, and ministry activities. Boston and Las Vegas are slated for 2001.
Reccord said NAMB needs immediate assistance from ethnic fellowships in planning for an evangelistic outreach this summer in Orlando where 4,000 people are expected to attend a "Christian block party."
Cooley said NAMB is making a concerted effort to reach the ethnic populations by focusing on student ministries and the metropolitan areas.
"Those are really all linked together because where are the students? They are at the universities and the major schools," Cooley said. "Where are the ethnics? They're in the cities. So it all wraps around the cities and it fits nicely with Strategic Focus Cities."
Simon Tsoi, pastor of the First Chinese Baptist Church, Phoenix, Ariz., illustrated how cross-cultural evangelism goes both ways when he described during his Feb. 1 chapel address at Southeastern Seminary how he led a "white" woman to salvation in Christ during his flight to Raleigh, N.C.
"As our Lord Jesus Christ loves everybody, whatever the background may be, you and I should model after Him, if we truly believe that He is our Lord and Savior," Tsoi said.
Representatives from the following fellowships attended the conference: Romanian, Hmong, Korean, Ukrainian, Middle Eastern, African American, Filipino, Chinese, Cambodian, Messianic, Korean, Japanese, and SBC of the Deaf.