For more than 140 years, we have celebrated the rich history of this ministry and the tens of thousands of lives changed for eternity through Buckner International. Today, while we recognize the global impact of Buckner, we are also faced with a fact of history that has only recently come to our attention and we’re reminded that history is indeed painful at times.
We have been presented with evidence that according to a census of slaves recorded in 1860, R.C. Buckner did in fact own a 16-year-old Black female slave. While we do not know the context surrounding the document, it states that Dr. Buckner was a slaveowner in 1860 while serving as pastor of First Baptist Church in Paris, Texas.
Throughout his life and ministry, Dr. Buckner was known for his work with African Americans. He started the first Black high school in North Texas, along with the first orphanage in Texas for Black children. Dr. Buckner was the founder of the first Black Baptist association in the state. On his 86th birthday in 1919, the Dallas Express, the oldest and largest Black-owned newspaper in the South, reported that African American friends from across the southwest went to Buckner Orphans Home “to do honor to Father R.C. Buckner.”
We cannot vindicate history, nor can we vindicate those who lived it. Slavery in America was one of the vilest sins every perpetuated against humanity. It was wrong and those who owned other human beings cannot and should not be given a pass. We owe it to enslaved people of the past and their descendants to openly acknowledge this evil.
For many of us who have revered R.C. Buckner, it is a reminder that Jesus Christ is the only person in human history who lived a faultless life. Scripture tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Our Buckner mission statement admonishes us “to follow the example of Jesus in serving vulnerable children, families and senior adults.” And while we are disappointed with R.C. Buckner’s human failure, we nonetheless remember the impact of this ministry throughout 14 decades and we rejoice for those whose lives have been changed.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The Old Testament prophet Amos called upon God to “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” For more than 140 years, the ministry of Buckner has bent toward justice for the “least of these” – the vulnerable and disenfranchised.
Recently, the Buckner International Board of Trustees issued “A Call for Love, Justice and Racial Reconciliation.” That statement by our board denounces racism, injustice and racial inequality, while calling upon each of us who follow the example of Jesus to take actions that strengthen our commitment to be a vibrant and racially diverse organization.
Our commitment to this idea is real. Because of that commitment, our leadership is launching “A Plan of Action for Racial Equality” throughout Buckner. Under the theme Forward Together, this plan of action is a comprehensive organizational initiative to advance open conversations and actions in response to racial tensions in America and their impact on Buckner staff, our ministry and those we serve.
Today, our workforce is comprised of nearly 67% non-white staff. We serve an equally diverse population of children and families. And yet we must press on, knowing that numbers alone do not define equality.
As we move Forward Together with our Plan of Action for Racial Equality, we hear again the words of Dr. King: “If you can’t fly then run. If you can’t run then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl. But whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”