Southern Baptists push to overcome racist past

Southern Baptists meeting in Phoenix adopted a plan Tuesday to try to boost minorities in their top leadership posts as they face continuing reports of stagnant baptism rates and declining membership.

Members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination backed the recommendation for intentionally including minorities as nominees for positions, speakers at the annual meeting, and staff recruited for its seminaries and mission boards.

Before the vote, Executive Committee President and CEO Frank Page acknowledged the need for “measurable information” to help Southern Baptists evaluate their progress on ethnic relations.

“I believe we are living in a day and time where there will be increased ethnic involvement and increased sensitivity to ethnic diversity within our convention,” Page pledged to the more than 4,000 Baptists at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The move toward greater diversity comes as the predominantly white denomination grapples with a 2010 baptism rate that was down 5% from 2009 and a 0.15% drop in membership — the fourth consecutive year of decline.

The recommendation was the result of two years of study after a Korean pastor from Boston requested an examination of how ethnic churches and their leaders could be more actively involved.

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