Will Southern Baptists back Russell Moore’s call to remove Confederate flag?

Sheila DiCiorrio holds a sign asking for the Confederate battle flag that flies at the South Carolina State House to be removed in Columbia, S.C., on June 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jason Miczek
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CONFEDERATE-FLAG, originally transmitted on June 22, 2015.*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CONFEDERATE-FLAG, originally transmitted on June 22, 2015.
Sheila DiCiorrio holds a sign asking for the confederate battle flag that flies at the South Carolina State House to be removed in Columbia, SC on June 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jason Miczek *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CONFEDERATE-FLAG, originally transmitted on June 22, 2015.

Sheila DiCiorrio holds a sign asking for the Confederate battle flag that flies at the South Carolina State House to be removed in Columbia, S.C., on June 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jason Miczek
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CONFEDERATE-FLAG, originally transmitted on June 22, 2015.

(RNS) Does a Southern Baptist leader’s call for the Confederate battle flag to come down mark a sea change in the views of evangelicals about a symbol long wrapped in both support for slavery and regional pride?

Or will conservative white Christians in the South resist change even as a growing number of Republican leaders — including S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley — from the region call for the flag to go?

“The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in a widely noted blog post on Friday (June 19).

The column touched a chord because it landed in the midst of the national anguish, and debate, over racism in the U.S. following the massacre of nine parishioners by a white gunman inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently talked with Religion News Service about why adoption has become his personal cause and why more evangelicals should be joining him. RNS photo courtesy of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Russell Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. RNS photo courtesy of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, espoused white supremacist views and proudly displayed the Confederate flag, which continues to be flown full-mast on the South Carolina State House grounds.

“Let’s take down that flag,” Moore concluded.

Some say Moore’s call is a marker of a changing ethos within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination as conservative Christians join in mourning the “Emanuel Nine.” Others wonder if the divide over the flag remains.

“Russell Moore articulated publicly and brilliantly what many of us have been saying for many years,” said Alan Cross, a white Montgomery, Ala., Southern Baptist pastor, who last week successfully requested that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention report on its progress on racial reconciliation.

“That sentiment is just becoming more vocal and accepted now. Eyes are opening.”

Church historian Bill Leonard of Wake Forest University Divinity School agreed that Moore’s sentiments could “prevail given the pain of the current situation.”

But he said it’s doubtful all Southern Baptists will back him, despite the June 17 killings.

“I think that his constituency in the SBC will be divided, particularly in South Carolina and Georgia, where those flag issues still create energy,” Leonard said.

Moore said Monday that he has received an overwhelmingly positive response to his blog post.

“I’m surprised by how positive the reaction has been, probably 98 or 99 percent” in favor generally, he told Religion News Service.

“Southern Baptists have been overwhelmingly positive in their responses,” Moore said. “The Lord is doing amazing things in bringing Southern Baptists together across ethnic and racial divisions.”

Leaders from African-American clergy to Sikh officials have called for South Carolina legislators to halt the flying of the controversial flag, especially at South Carolina’s State House. Some SBC executives affirmed Moore’s call for taking down the Confederate flag.

“Gospel-minded Christians should support taking down the flag,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said in a statement to RNS. “Love of neighbor outweighs even love of region, and it certainly requires that we disassociate ourselves from any hint of racism, now or in the past.”

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., tweeted his thanks to Moore for his “very fine article.”

But Moore’s comments have received some criticism.

Blogger Douglas Wilson wrote that he has declined to join Moore’s call and instead thinks the response to the shootings at Emanuel AME should be on “issues that stand a chance of being far more relevant to the shooting than a flag at the state capitol.

“Is the point to help solve the problem or is the point to make a grand gesture?” Wilson wrote.

In a National Review column, evangelical writer David French differentiated between appropriate and inappropriate uses of the Confederate flag.

“Flying it as a symbol of white racial supremacy is undeniably vile, and any official use of the flag for that purpose should end, immediately,” he wrote. “Flying it over monuments to Confederate war dead is simply history.”

Southern Baptists’ sentiments about the flag and other racially charged issues could be shaped by what many have described as a moving prayer session on June 16 during their annual meeting, during which white Southern Baptists joined African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans onstage to pray for reconciliation and repentance for racism.

“Southern Baptists are finding their identity more in Christ than in Southern culture or racial identity,” said Cross, author of “When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus.”

“We still have a long way to go, but change is happening. Moore reflects that rather than being an outlier,” he said.

In the early days of the denomination, which has since repented for the role slavery played in its formation, such a statement about the Confederate flag would probably have been unthinkable.

An 1863 resolution by delegates of the Southern Baptist Convention said they “will render a hearty support to the Confederate Government in all constitutional measures to secure our independence.”

A century and a half later, Cross said that he has seen change beyond prayers from a convention stage and blog posts from a prominent denominational official.

“I do not know of very many Southern Baptists, if any, who fly the Confederate flag,” he said. “And I live in Montgomery, Alabama, the first capital of the Confederacy. We have some memorials around with the flag on it, but they are relics of the past and are not related to the active ministry of churches.”


About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • There isn’t a Southern Baptist alive today that had anything to do with slavery I the 1800’s.

    I just thought that I’d educate the hateful and dumbed down libs that cruise this place looking for nice Christians to bash and denigrate.

  • Yes, kudos to Moore for his bold, and beautifully-phrased, call to take down the flag. His stance does indeed mark a significant turn in SBC culture, an earlier generation of which equivocated or fall-out opposed the Civil Rights Movement that spurred racists to raise the flag again in South Carolina in 1962.

    That said…I don’t think the SBC’s new-found bravery in opposing racism can be completely understood without considering the ways SBC leaders also appropriate the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and the moral authority of MLK to bolster their opposition to rights for gays and lesbians. Like other SBC leaders and writers, Moore is fond of recalling MLK’s civil disobedience as a model for how evangelicals should respond to the likely legalization of same-sex marriage. That is, he sees the suffering experienced by those who worked to end racial discrimination as a reflection of the now failing struggle to perpetuate discrimination against another minority group.

  • Taking down the flag from a civil war memorial will not accomplish much. It is symbolism at best. The idea is to change hearts, and the only One who can change hearts is Jesus Christ. From the secular perspective, once the flag is down, problem solved, move on. Sadly that will not change a thing. The beautiful family members who forgave Dylann are leading by example; follow them if you want peace.

  • The SBC, as with all Christians that affirm biblical truth, have only dread to look forward to as the LGBT hordes will feel that they have some kind of right to harass and persecute Christians. Most people haven’t a clue that Nero was an LGBT activist but his maniacal ways included homosexual behavior, including same sex marriage. The antithetical nature of homosexual behavior when compared to Christian life make the two groups mutually incompatible and impossible to find compatibility. Christians should have never entered the debate on any gay issue. It has as much to do with Christian life as voodoo does. Hopefully if the S-C Justices unleash homosexual marriage on an unsuspecting and dumbed down populace, they will include protections for Christians, whose Churches, families and children will be the exclusive targets of fanatical and devoted gay activists. With of course, of course, the gleeful support of atheists, secular fanatics and heretical groups cheering them on.

  • Greg1,

    That flag is an offense to not only African-Americans, but to the United States of America as a whole. There is no good reason for it to be flying anywhere but over the land of a sick racist. Not only does it need to go into a museum, it should always have a sign reading the negative aspects of its treasonous image.

  • It gladdens my heart to see Southern Baptists and other conservative Christians like BeBrave calling for the confederate flag to be taken down. This just goes to show that it must have been those liberal athiests all along who were supporting the Confederate flags all over the place down South!

  • “This just goes to show that it must have been those liberal athiests all along who were supporting the Confederate flags all over the place down South!”

    This is the stupidest thing I’ve read all day, and I had the misfortune of reading a Rush Limbaugh post in my Face Book feed earlier. I mean, I get that you don’t know any real history. The fact that you don’t *care* to know it, though, and that you are proud to display your ignorance in a pathetic effort to smear a group of people you don’t like, is shameful.

  • Its effectively flying over a Confederate memorial. Many SC men died in that war, and it is flying in their memory. I’m not against taking it down, but the real question is did it have anything to do with this guy Dylann’s shooting spree?

  • Yes, Democrat Governor Fritz Hollings placed the flag above the South Carolina State House to commemorate the Civil War. And there it stayed until the year 2000, when it was removed, and subsequently placed above the Confederate Memorial.

  • “The SBC, as with all Christians that affirm biblical truth, have only dread to look forward to as the LGBT hordes will feel that they have some kind of right to harass and persecute Christians.”

    Please stop lying and stop smearing the LGBQT community. I realize you are simply afraid that what you would to do others will soon be done to you, that all of your hate and slander will be returned to you a hundred-fold, but it isn’t going to happen. You’ll just have to figure out some other way to deal with your boring, empty, middle-class American lives. No apocalypse. No persecution. No thrill to make your self-serving “faith” feel like it means something.

  • Dr Akin, do you believe that the flag coming down will change one racist? Do you believe Dylann Roof would not have killed if the flag was gone? Of course not to both. This is a gesture of kindness to those who find it offensive only. This changes nothing.
    Now what shall we do about the 60 million innocents slaughtered under the banner of the US flag with our governments protection (sounds like the Confederacy huh) what will history say about us piddling with a relic flag while children are slaughtered with the complete approval and we argue about a relic. Yes it was nothing but grandstanding by Dr Moore. But I’m sure neither you nor Dr Moore will address the atrocities done to the American Indian under the US banner nor do I hear much at all from SB leaders on the murder, slaughter of 60 million baby’s….except empty retoric that takes a flag down. Congratulations you all have made your grand and glorious and brave move that changed nothing

  • The answer to your question is an unequivocal yes. Just do a Google search on him, or even use the links at Wikipedia, and you’ll quickly come up with a dozen articles about his “manifesto” he posted on a racist website, along with multiple photos of him holding or posing with the Confederate battle flag. The flag clearly represented white supremacy to him, as did the flags of Rhodesia and Apartheid-era South Africa that he wore on a jacket in several of the photos.

    The men memorialized by the statue in Charleston died for a white supremacist nation. The flag above their statue is the flag they used to symbolize that nation and its war to be “free” to own other people as property. The flag was placed in Charleston 150 years later by another generation of white supremacists to symbolize their opposition to laws mandating racial desegregation. Like generations of white supremacists before him, the murderer used the flag to represent his racist hatred. The flag should come down…

  • “This is a gesture of kindness to those who find it offensive only. This changes nothing.”

    Wrong. Taking it down is as much a meaningful symbolic act as putting it up in the first place. Symbols matter. We use them, many of them, all the time to represent identity, to unify, to divide, to celebrate, to question, and more. Taking down the flag is not simply avoiding offense to vulnerable sensibilities. The flag isn’t (just) salt we can choose to pour or not pour in the victims’ wounds. The flag has always been used to symbolize and celebrate white supremacy and racism. Leaving it up is a sign the state still embraces and celebrates those ideas and the practices they endorse. In other words, to leave it up is to say that the state of South Carolina stands for the same twisted philosophies that the shooter embraced as reason to kill. Taking it down will not end racism. It will, however, be one act of rejecting racism, a step that can and should lead to other steps.

  • “But I’m sure neither you nor Dr Moore will address the atrocities done to the American Indian under the US banner nor do I hear much at all from SB leaders on the murder, slaughter of 60 million baby’s….except empty retoric that takes a flag down.”

    Wrong again. You are on quite the roll. Then again, I guess you have to keep moving lest you face the horrible tragedy with open eyes. Better to distract yourself and others with shouting and faux outrage and pretend concern. First of all, the US flag and the Confederate battle flag are different: while the US has often failed to live up to its noble ideals, the Confederate nation sought to live up to ideals that were entirely evil. So yes, the US has failed, miserably, to repent for its near genocide of native American peoples. But I’d bet a month’s pay you’d yell like hell if Moore proposed reparations for native Americans today. And the fact that you think Moore and his readers don’t oppose abortion is just silly.

  • Russell Moore is dead wrong on both his southern history and the symbolism of our flag. He does not represent Southern Baptists at all on this issue. The same crowd wanting to remove our flag is also trying to remove every cross in the country as well. Moore should be able to see through this charade. He is simply chasing good Christians out of SBC churches. He wasn’t hired to do that!

  • alan, my thoughts exactly. We have children being snuffed out in the womb on a daily basis, yet the flag of Planned Parenthood flies highly, and proudly, in our nation; people even vote for it over and over again. Will the Confederate flag being taken down solve the problem? I don’t see how myself. We need to get to the root of the problem, not peripheral nibbling. Was Democrat Governor Fritz Hollings a racist when in 1962 he placed the Confederate Flag high above the State House? Well according to people in our day, yes he was. What they don’t realize is that the Civil War was about more than just slavery; people should read and study history.

  • No surprise that Doug Wilson, the pseudo-Christian, Calvinist extremist who has praised the Confederacy as being a bastion of Biblical godliness and who called slavery ‘one of the best things to happen to native Africans’, has no desire to join Moore.
    Sadly, it’s also perhaps no surprise that Wilson has a loyal and passionate (albeit limited) following among neo-Calvinists in America.

  • Which is it easier to do–to call for the removal of a Confederate flag or actually work to create understanding between races? Removing the flag is simply treating a symptom and not dealing with the disease.

  • In a word…No.

    Russell More is more than welcome to grandstanding via an imitation of Ronald Reagan without my help.

  • Greg1 – two reasons this flag should not only be taken down but publicly burned: It symbolizes treason and racism. Whether they intended it to or not ( and I believe they wholeheartedly did), it is offensive to our nation today. As a military veteran, I know that I swore an oath to protect the constitution of the US against all enemies-foreign and domestic. The Confederacy was a domestic enemy of the constitution. Those who chose to live and fight under it’s flag were no longer Americans – they gave up that citizenship. They were traitors, no two ways about it. And all that malarkey about socialist Obama can take that away.

    It symbolizes racism because, by their own words, the instigators of that rebellion were reacting to efforts to get rid of slavery – an issue of national constitution (and Bill of Rights) over against states’ constitutions. If you want to be part of a federation, you’ve got to play by the same rules as everyone else, not just the ones you like. Racism…

  • I understand the “love” motive for removing historic imagery from public property. Sincerely appreciate the sentiment from a limited “Christian” perspective.that seems more bent on revising or “correcting” history than facing history and learning from it.

    What are we going to do with flags images and icons having their origins in non-anglo American cultures when they become “a problem” or “offensive” for another group of Americans for whatever reason?

    Take for example, the various sectarian flags of Islamic extremists or non-anglo militants. What if the flag of Mexico should become offensive to some Americans. They fought the US and lost as well….much overlooked historical fact is that human atrocity is part of every war.

    Right now, those quick to go after dyed cloth remind me of the character thatTarturo played in Anger Management.. When asked why he ran naked through a subway station, his reply was, “I didn’t really think that one through”.

  • Unbelievable.

    The same people who struggled, fought, died for equal civil rights across the board now want to deny that right to folks with whom they disagree or disapprove……right down to their icons and imagery.

  • Moore calls on all “Gospel-Minded” Christians to support him in efforts to remove the confederate flag.

    If the goal is to imitate the “Gospel-mindedness” of Moore, Perhaps Moore should start, not with “stars and bars” but with removing the names of former slavery advocates/seminary presidents from beautiful ornate buildings on the campus of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville….visited by black students on a daily basis.

    Oh…I forgot, Dr. Moore can’t do that because those particular names represent the icons and impetus of neo-calvinist leadership and trajectory in the Southern Baptist Convention. He’d lose his job.and man does not live on “gospel-mindedness” alone.

    Think I’ll hold off on being “gospel-minded” until it’s at least a little more consistent in its application.

    Why start with the state before you’ve got your own house in order?

  • You are correct about the strong symbolism in the both public acts of putting up and taking down.

    For many (including current Southern Baptists) who do not share Moore’s analogy of all the confederate flag symbolizes, his #take down this flag is symbolic of his rejection of them.

    Both as sincere Christians and as “Southern Baptists”.

    Bet he’ll still take their checks though.

  • The families, fellow church members and neighbors of the victims in this particular shooting are THE ONLY ONES who’ve demonstrated any “Gospel-Mindedness”

  • Sorry Jack:

    I’m not even close to being a neo-calvinist or even a five-pointer and thought Doug Wilson was spot on in his analysis of Moore et al and the confederate flag.

    Not familiar with his other writings.

    Maybe some “good Christians” NEED to be chased out of Southern Baptist Churches but the SBC is doing a better job of that itself last twenty years than Wilson ever could.

  • Don’t take it so hard. Ronald is a joke account. His posts are Poe’s law hyperbole. Meant to be so ridiculous that it can be indistinguishable from wingnuttery.

  • JUST FOR YOUR INFORMATION: “I think that his constituency in the SBC will be divided, particularly in South Carolina and Georgia, where those flag issues still create energy,” Leonard said. I like Bill Leonard, however, the Georgia State flag was changed in 1989. The stars and bars were removed to be replaced with the Georgia seal and stars for each of the 13 original states.

  • My mistake, Georgia Gov. Barnes started the discussion to change the flag in 1998, there was finally a new flag in 2001, then in a statewide referendum in 2004 when another redesigned flag was submitted and passed by 73%.
    Yes, it still has some elements such as the broad red and white stripes seen in Confederate flags of the area, but its a dang sight better than the stars and bars. Inch by inch, another generation dying out, and just maybe race relations will improve. Oh wait a minute, Roof was, what !, twenty-one years of age.

  • I wrote another comment correcting my mistake. I don’t know where it ended up. I was wrong a former governor, Barnes, worked to change the stars and bars flag in 1998.The debate when on for years. The GA flag was changed after many years in 1956 due to reaction to the Supreme Court decision on public schools a couple years earlier.
    There was finally a flag change in 2001 and then another slightly different design in 2004 was put forth to the voters and passed by 73%.
    The flag is not perfect but is beats the stars and bars.

  • Well then certainly Mark E you feel the same way about the national flag of Mexico…..which many of my friends here in Texas like to display.

    That flag with regard to “your constitutional oath” represents a former “foreign enemy” that butchered up some “citizens” in Texas.

    Why are you concentrating on removing the imagery of one flag when there’s so many potentially offensive pieces of cloth in this country to choose from?

  • Actually, from the nuance of Southern Baptist History, Ronald makes a logical if not valid point about the dynamic of the new “SBC” there Eric.

    By way of deduction (interpreted by me as constructive sarcasm):

    Ronald suggests It must have been the “liberal” and “moderate” predecessors of the new SBC quasi-baptists that kept the deception/racism going among baptists if we’re just now getting around to striking the confederate flag.

    By induction: Russell Moore has already publicly stated that the confederate flag is a contributing factor to “systemic racism” in this country.

    You like Moore’s logic but find Ronald’s similar logic “ignorant and pathetic”.

    Personally, I have to “like” Southern Baptists….. I’m still one of em.

    Seems to me like “ignorance” or least “intolerance” may very well be on the side of Eric here and a good dose of Limbaugh (regardless of how unpalatable for him) might be just what the doctor ordered.

    Might provide some…

  • Wow, someone is kinda sensitive, you complain before any has a chance to insult. Perhaps you are the one who should be educated.

  • Just what “LGTB” hordes are you talking about, Not so “Be Brave”? Are you one of those right wing whack jobs who hate gays? Gays have been persecuted by “Christians” more than they persecuted them. Christians have not been persecuted, except by each other, for over a thousand years. Try to be as charitable towards others as you would wish others to be to you. That’s what Jesus wants.

  • Please get the facts right. The legislature, NOT THE GOVERNOR, contols statehouse grounds in SC and it was the legislature, albeit a dem one, that put that battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia above our statehouse dome by a concurrent resolution. While Fritz Hollings served as Governor in the 60’s, he objected to the General Assembly raising that flag. Here is a bit of research 1998 on this exact issue:

    The actual first time the legislature raised the confederate battle flag of the army of Northern Virgina over the SC Statehouse was for a couple of weeks in 1961 (before the permanent concurrent resolution which Gov. Hollings couldn’t veto passed in 1962.) That was when newly-minted president JFK announced a federal observations of the 100th anniversary of the attack on Ft. Sumter, with one event to be at the Statehouse. When the legislative leaders learned civil rights leaders were invited to the events, they passed a resolution to raise the flag over the state capitol…

  • A flag will never change a person’s heart to do the right thing, but reading, studying and applying God’s principles, guidelines and commands in his Word, the Bible, will.

    Doing that can even turn a criminal’s life (and heart) around so that the person can repent, make the right decisions, and become acceptable to God; as well as care about his/her fellowman. That is what counts the most in life, and not a flag.

  • This is all just a cheap ploy to both appropriate the civil rights movement history as their own, despite the SBC being one of its chief opponents back in the day. Its also a way to pretend their current activities have no connection to tactics of Christian segregationists of old. The anti-gay crowd loves to take its cues from the segregationist playbook. Even adopting the same arguments.

    Phony revisionist nonsense done purely for PR purposes.

  • Hey, and, while you are at it, how about supporting gay marriage…its coming, and, my bible says its wonderful… is love is love. STOP marginalizing gay people.

  • Bryan Thompson- The Bible is clear in 1 Corinthiasn 6:9-12…..1 Corinthians 5
    and also 1 Corinthians 7 plus in Romans 1:18-32 also Luke 13 all sin is wrong!
    You are loved by Christ as we all are but Christ depsises our sin so that is why
    we all need to Repent/ask Christ to be Lord/change us and then we follow Him!
    Bible says Repent and believe the Gospel to be saved! We all must Repent!

  • No it isn’t. To say all sins are the same is to say no sins are significant. You take leave of common sense and moral authority when you equate crimes and harms to others with arbitrary sectarian rules.