Race 2 The SBC: Dr. Crawford Loritts

In preparation for the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention, Dhati Lewis will interview a variety of pastors, professors, and thought-leaders to discuss topics pertaining race and the church.

In this interview, Pastor Dhati Lewis interviews Dr. Crawford Loritts to discuss race and the SBC, biblical foundations for diversity, fatigue that comes for minorities working in predominantly white organizations, and more!

Pastor Dhati:
I am here today with the great Dr. Loritts. He is a personal mentor of mine, was a part of the church that planted Blueprint, has been very instrumental in our lives, and is one of the main reasons why I am in Atlanta, Georgia today. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Loritts:
It’s just really good to be with you, Dhati.

Pastor Dhati:
We are here because I am preparing for the Southern Baptist Convention. And obviously, historically, the SBC has been on the wrong side of slavery, on the wrong side of civil rights, and on the wrong side of a lot of things. And we’re going to be at the convention this year talking about the SBC and race.

Over the last few decades, there has been kind of a shift from the mass exodus of African Americans out of the Black church to now, according to the New York Times and others, there’s been a new exodus of minorities out of White evangelical spaces. And one of the things it brought to mind and one of the biggest tensions I see is that if we’re going to make disciples in North America, we have to address the issues of race.

Now, you’ve been working in these types of spaces for many, many years. Can you just kind of share a little bit about where you are with all that’s going on?

Dr. Loritts:
Yeah, let’s get back to the theological side though. We have been notorious in evangelical circles of privatizing the Great Commission, when really, the word for peoples [nations] in Matthew 28:18-20 is ethnos. And so, from the very beginning, there is a multi-ethnic component to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It’s not just geographic in terms of going to foreign lands, although that is in view. It has to do with peoples. So I would contend, inherent in the Great Commission is facing and overcoming racial resistance. This is not a hobby horse. It’s not just Black folks lobbying to get attention or Hispanic folks lobbying to say, “Pay attention to me.” Overcoming racial resistance is core to the gospel, and if that’s not on our hearts, then something’s wrong about our theology. So that’s baseline.

The other issue is that I think the pragmatism of evangelicalism has hurt us. We deal with responses. What works. Where we are. Money. Nickels. Noses. People coming in through the door. That kind of thing. And we have the wrong standard of success. Our standard of success is how fast we are growing numerically and how much money we have, rather than the transformation of lives and unreached peoples (no matter where they are), mobilizing all of us, and serving to be the visible model of our ultimate destination. And that’s clearly Pauline theology.

Pastor Dhati:
I would love to kind of dig deeper into the exhaustion aspect of it. I remember the first time that I connected with you was at the Impact Conference where you were speaking and I just remember that was what God used to change my life. As a new believer who wasn’t raised in the church, I felt like I was being culturally changed from who I was. But then I went to the Impact Conference and it just really revolutionized my life. What I didn’t know and realize then was that Impact was part of a larger organization called Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru). How has that, over these last years, if you can kind of briefly share a little bit about those struggles and the exhaustion that you’ve had from being a minority in a predominantly majority organization.

Dr. Loritts:
Well you know, Dhati, it begins even further back. A lot of it has to do with sovereign foundations in my life. I was born and raised in a working class, diverse community in north New Jersey in the fifties and sixties. I played ball and went to school with John SanGiovanni and Rocco Bonovich, as well as Gerald Adams and Lloyd Cotton. So I grew up with these sovereign foundations. I came of age during the sixties. I was eighteen years old when Dr. King was killed in Memphis. I grew up in a household where I knew who I was. I knew the stories of my great grandfather, Peter, who was a slave. I knew about my parents growing up in the south and all these things. So that was affirmed in my life. All that to say, part of my journey has been this: I never felt as if I had to choose who I should love and be friends with. Now that served as a foundation for what God has called me to do all these years.

Pastor Dhati:
Did you grow up in a believing home?

Dr. Loritts:
Yes, my parents were believers. So that all served as a foundation. I have no control over that. So people ask me, “You’re a pastor of a predominantly White church in the south?” as if I’ve done something unusual. But that’s all been a part of my makeup. Now, it’s been exhausting. But I’ve come to grips over these many, many years. And you know, I’ve been involved in ministry now, full-time ministry, for about forty-six years. It’s been with Campus Crusade all those years. I was on staff and in leadership there, several other organizations, our church, and these kinds of things. Has it been challenging? Yes. I remember particularly during the decade of my twenties and early thirties, I just got worn out. Worn out, you know, because you’re in a no man’s land. On one hand, your own people, African Americans, are saying, particularly during the seventies, “Why are you with these White folks? You’re selling out.” My ethnic authenticity was called into question. And on the other hand, White folks that you’re working with, they didn’t quite get it either. Black folks say, “So why are you there?” And the White folks that you’re with say, “Now, why are you here?” All of that was important on my journey because all of that drove me to a point where I had to value obedience and calling over strategy and affirmation. And that’s what you come back to. And so I say this, not in a Pollyanna way, but the thing that will keep you from losing your mind, from burning out, is a realization that God has His hand on you to do this. I think a lot of guys get burned out because we’re looking for something that they can’t give us.

You fulfill a calling because of the nobility of the calling and not because it’s something that’s convenient or it’s a career path or it’s a nice strategy to say that you’re involved in. That’s fundamental. Somewhere along the line, you have to understand that you’re ministering and working for a time that you cannot see. The payoff is not always down here. But you’ve got to be convinced that what you’re doing is right. Now paradoxically, what I’ve discovered is that will make you more fruitful and effective, far beyond anything you can imagine, because you’re not held hostage to fear or to rejection. But, you’re following your calling. I’ve learned that over time, gifts, talents, abilities, and responses, they’re typically, in the long haul, overrated. What’s underrated is obedience and faithfulness. And over time, God will produce the fruit. I’m tearing up here because I’m looking at you and I’m looking at these younger guys and I’m saying at this stage of my life, I’m glad I didn’t give up.

Pastor Dhati:
Yeah, I really appreciate your faithfulness. And that’s really my question: are we hopeful? Because I see the fatigue and the exhaustion, but do you see a difference? So on one end, are we hopeful? But on the other end, do we even know the picture of what we’re looking for to know if we’ve gotten there? You know, or to pass the baton or to get to the future you say that we may not be able to see.

Dr. Loritts:
I’m extraordinarily hopeful. Man. I see you, Dhati, and I see my sons and I see Eric Mason and I see Charlie Dates and I see this army. I am tremendously hopeful. I’m not discouraged. There have been seasons. But I am not discouraged. Now, you know, do I get frustrated because of the pace of change? You know you take a snapshot of the change and go, ”Oh man, you go three steps forward and four steps backwards” kind of thing. But when I see it in perspective, and I actually see the numbers and I actually see the leaders that are emerging right now, I’m hopeful. I’m very hopeful.

Pastor Dhati:
Let me ask you this final question. So I work with NAMB and I’m one of very few minorities in leadership. And sometimes I question, am I just the “new minority” for this generation? They had a couple of minorities in the past generation. What makes me any different than the past? Are these similar issues to what you were dealing with in your day? How are they the same and how are they different?

Dr. Loritts:
Yeah, they are very similar. Sometimes I feel as if, now this sounds crazy, but sometimes I feel as if, in a certain sense, you guys have a harder time. You’ve got to understand that what we typically forget about is that the decade of the seventies, at least in the sixties, with Dr. King and the marches and all this kind of stuff, the issue of race was right in our face. So coming out of that in the seventies, you had a lot of organizations and all of these parachurch organizations deciding to recruit Black folks and this kind of thing—because the issues were right there. Now, it’s interesting with Black Lives Matter and police shootings and these kinds of things, it’s interesting that the issues are coming back. But just prior to that. You know, I felt kind of bad because there was not a visible consciousness. It was, you know, “out of sight, out of mind.” And there was a re-entrenchment in some of these organizations with these issues around race.

Now I’m going to say something here that is counter-intuitive. For people like yourself and others who are working in predominantly White organizations, really the issue on the table in a certain sense is not them affirming whether or not you matter. You can’t focus on that. Your focus has got to be, “This is what God has called me to do, and I know it’s going to matter.” And so if you draw too much from the affirmation of others, I mean, you’ll quit tomorrow, because there’s always going to be somebody that says, “I don’t’ know why we’re doing this. I don’t understand this.”

There is a holy nobility and courage about what we do, realizing that the cause is right. And I, I don’t know how to say this but I’ll say it. I don’t need the affirmation of White folks for me to be obedient to God. And that’s where you have to end.

Pastor Dhati:
There’s so much more I wish we had time for. I really appreciate you. I’ve told you this oftentimes, but you have been a tremendous blessing to me and to our family and Blueprint Church.

Dr. Loritts:
It works both ways, man.

Pastor Dhati:
Thank you, and God bless.

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Dr. Crawford Loritts was ordained to the ministry in March 1972. He attended Cairn University in Philadelphia, PA graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible with an emphasis on pastoral studies. He and his wife, Karen, have four children.
Dr. Loritts has several doctoral degrees from Biola University, Cairn University, Moody Bible Institute, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Columbia International University.