Southern Baptist Convention Expels Church Over Pastor’s Blackface Incident

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In an unprecedented decision, the Southern Baptist Convention stripped a rural Oklahoma church of its membership privileges this Tuesday. The resolution followed a disconcerting incident in which pictorial and video evidence revealed an unsettling performance by its pastor at a talent show. The Pastor was seen undertaking a heedless representation of the late, revered Black musician Ray Charles, clad in blackface.

The Southern Baptist Convention, which ranks as the country’s largest Protestant denomination, proceeded to ratify the lower committee’s recommendation regarding the Matoaka Baptist Church of Ochelata, Oklahoma. The church was deemed as no longer maintaining a ‘friendly cooperation’ with the convention, subsequent to its refusal to cooperate towards addressing concerns pertaining to discriminatory behavior encompassing ethnicity, as per an official spokesperson.

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Three years ago, Pastor Sherman Jaquess posted a video on his social network platform: he was the central figure impersonating the legendary Ray Charles during a talent show, his visage and hands veiled in dark makeup and he was donned in a wig.

Blackface, a distasteful historical practice exceeding two centuries in age, engaged White performers in parodying Black individuals through the application of polish and cork to darken their skin, donning ragged costumes, and exaggerating their features. This practice is now globally perceived as a racist and offensive gesture.

The aforementioned incident was brought to public attention in the month of April by Marq Lewis, a local activist. Lewis shared several images captured during the talent spectacle that were initially posted on the Matoaka Baptist’s social media page back in 2017.

In the wake of this incident, the church stands stripped of its privileges to assign voting delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention and forward donations via the organization’s cooperative program.

While Pastor Jaquess refrained from commenting on his controversial performance or the subsequent convention decision, he did express his perspective in conversation with The Baptist Press – a well-known Southern Baptists news platform. The pastor refuted claims of his act being ‘derogatory’ or constituting any form of racism, stating, “My whole life’s work, I’ve worked with multiple different types of racial people. I don’t have a racial bone in my body.”

Jaquess contended that the color of his face was more brown than black, attributing the stark darkness of his skin to the flash on the camera. He concluded his statement voicing his contempt for any defaming act, yet claiming his innocence regarding his impersonation of Charles.

Activist Lewis, who triggered the debate, welcomed the Southern Baptist Convention’s decision. He applauded their action through a social media post expressing gratitude to the supporters who kept the pressure intact on the concerned case.

While the final decision has been ruled, the Matoaka Baptist Church holds the right to appeal the expulsion verdict. This decision coincides with the convention’s annual meeting in June, where delegates voted against appeals made by three expelled churches, including the southern California congregation of Saddleback Church.