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In dramatic turnabout, Southern Baptists condemn white supremacy

Messengers raise their ballots to approve a request by the Resolutions Committee to present a resolution on "anti-Gospel alt-right white supremacy” at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center. Photo courtesy of Baptist Press/Philip Bethancourt

PHOENIX (RNS) After a fierce backlash on social media, Southern Baptists reversed course and adopted a statement denouncing “alt-right white supremacy,” calling it “antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The unusual move on Wednesday (June 14) was a shift from the previous day, when the Southern Baptist Convention’s Resolutions Committee declined to bring to a vote a Texas pastor’s proposed resolution condemning the “alt-right” movement, whose members include white supremacists.

“(W)e denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil,” reads the one-page statement distributed just before the last session of the two-day meeting.

Passage of the resolution was met with thunderous applause.

Resolutions Committee chairman Barrett Duke said Tuesday the original proposal was “too open-ended” and could be misinterpreted.

A day later, he apologized.

“We regret and apologize for the pain and the confusion that we created for you and the watching world when we decided not to report out a resolution on ‘alt-right’ racism,” he told messengers, or delegates, adding that he shares their abhorrence of the “particularly vicious form of racism that has manifested itself in the ‘alt-right’ movement.”

He said the new version of the resolution speaks with “conviction but also with compassion” and repudiates racism “in a tone that honors all people, even those with whom we disagree.”

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, who authored a proposed resolution about the Confederate flag at last year’s convention that was rewritten and passed, didn’t understand why the resolution wasn’t dealt with in a less confusing way.

Barrett Duke, left, chair of the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2017 Resolutions Committee, listens to the Rev. Dwight McKissic, original drafter of a resolution criticizing the “alt-right” movement and white supremacy that was adopted on June 14, 2017. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“I’m very heartened by the statement,” he said in an interview about the new version of the resolution.

But he added, “I guess I’m disappointed because they could have done that all the time.”

The resolution’s failure on Tuesday prompted indignation and anger as younger evangelicals, including African-Americans, took to social media to vent their feelings.

But the social media backlash was just another episode in the Southern Baptist Convention’s fraught history on race.

“There’s obviously a discomfort with this subject matter,” said McKissic.

The SBC was founded in 1845 in defense of slave-holding missionaries. In recent decades, leaders of the denomination’s public policy wing, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, have pushed for stronger statements condemning that past.

Richard Land, the former commission head, was instrumental in the passage of a 1995 resolution in which Southern Baptists lamented slavery and apologized to African-Americans for condoning racism.

Two decades later, ERLC President Russell Moore called for the repudiation of the Confederate flag.

“When we stand together as a convention and speak clearly, we are saying that white supremacy and racist ideologies are dangerous because they oppress our brothers and sisters in Christ,” Moore said from a microphone before Wednesday’s resolution was overwhelmingly adopted.

There have been dozens of resolutions on race — at least 32, based on a new book, “Removing the Stain of Racism From the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the new resolution “tremendous” but said action is needed more than words.

Paige Patterson speaks at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix on June 14, 2017. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“You can talk about problems all you want to,” said Patterson, who offered 10 new scholarships for black students after a photo of white faculty members at his seminary posing as rappers caused a stir earlier this year. “They don’t get solved by talking about them. They get solved by doing something about them.”

In the end, it was grass-roots pressure aided by a social media storm that caused the Resolutions Committee to reconsider.

“Now suddenly you have this panic,” said Alan Cross, a white Southern Baptist minister from Alabama who has written a book on racism.

McKissic, who said he was receiving calls from black Southern Baptists threatening to leave the convention, said, “I think we’re back to a good place after a 24-hour roller-coaster ride.”

In the end, black Baptists and white Baptists agreed that the denomination had ultimately done the right thing.

Matt Bowman, a white Tennessee pastor, believed it was important to pass a resolution whose meaning wouldn’t be twisted by others.

“Just because someone is conservative doesn’t make them alt-right,” he said. “Just because someone has right-wing politics doesn’t make them alt-right, white supremacists, so we need to be clear about what we’re condemning.”

After influencing Southern Baptists to speak out on race-related matters two years in a row, McKissic said work on the issue is far from over. He welcomes the selection of Florida pastor H.B. Charles as the first black president of the SBC’s Pastors’ Conference earlier this week, and the continuing election of people of color to other one-year terms of leadership.

“Until minorities are included in the ownership of the convention — we’re a long way from there — we still got real problems here,” he said.

Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, said a 2011 report recommending steps to diversify leadership in the denomination’s seminaries and agencies has made a difference beyond the many resolutions that have been passed on the subjects of race and diversity.

“We’ve seen what we believe is a marked increase in the number of very highly qualified but perhaps previously unknown individuals from a number of racial and ethnic backgrounds,” he said.

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.

31 Comments

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  • Another example of the evil that comes from organized religion. I don’t suppose they will also condemn Black Supremacy movements.

  • Isn’t Pastor McKissic one of the pathetic bigots who blamed Hurricane Katrina on Gay people?

    If New Orleans had never been even close to a hurricane before, and that it wasn’t hurricane season, it might have been more impressive.

    Everyone with even a passing knowledge of Christian history knows that in the first couple of centuries, the pagan Romans would scapegoat Christians for every natural and man made disaster. Apparently, Pastor McKissic didn’t take that lesson to heart, what with the handiness of a Gay scapegoat to soundly beat, and encourage others to join in on the fun..

    The Rev. M apparently later apologized for the “insensitive” and “unnecessary” comment.

    Yes it was, and yes it was, and yet, the apology wasn’t enough. You had pretty much reviled a couple of hundred million oppressed minority people around the world.

  • “Every form of racism and ethnic hatred,” except for the racism and ethnic hatred of anti-Christ Israel, right? (1 John 2-22-23).

    Goyism “racism” = BAD

    Khazar racism = GOOD

    Typical.

  • You are correct, they most likely won’t. So wake me up when American Atheists does so, okay?

  • This does not alter my view of the SBC. IMHO it was created to support a sin (slavery) and others. It continues on that path despite all of its pronouncements. I’m more than a little tired of its desire to establish a theocracy in the US and controlling everyone with its gross misinterpretation of the KJV of the Bible.

  • This is actually a stunning turnaround. I grew up (Catholic) in a small southern town in the 1950s where the biggest church was the local Baptist Church, followed by the Methodist and then the Presbyterian. Segregation was the law and they all fully supported it. Desegregation and the Civil Rights movement was, well, traumatic for many of them.

    I am surprised because I thought it would take another generation for the Southern Baptists to get to this point. Good leadership makes a difference. So does social media.

  • This is like pulling teeth. It’s good that the DBC finally came out against the alt-right and racism, but at the same time why not address the alt-right and anti-Semitism, the #1 issue for neo-nazis? Maybe they need to work on their statement some more.

  • Spiritual rednecks in three-piece suits who hold a Bible in one hand and a noose in the other…

  • Mckissic plays the resolutions and race card every year at the annual SBC meetings. ”Tis a joke”.

  • Most newly planted SBC churches are non-white, Kevin, and many are in places like Pittsburgh or Boston or Vancouver. Stereotypes are convenient, though. By the way, the weirdo religionists you describe are not, and I don’t ever believe were, serious Christians, and certainly not commonplace.

  • “(W)e denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial
    and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil,” reads the one-page statement distributed just before the last session of the two-day meeting.”

    How about a one-sentence statement: “IT’S ABOUT TIME!”

  • I think the life changing Gospel had more to do with it but I appreciate your point and am not trying to nitpick. The SBC has some great leaders.

  • Thanks for bumping into this guy for an interview, sister Adelle M. Banks. You’re the best balancing act in this business with this convention news coverage and update, just as this guy is in nailing down the gist of the political re-positioning of the Southern Baptist Convention. Going way back, they’re still alright by me, even though I’ve told them many a time to stick with only God’s nation and forsake the New Babylon that is the Americans’ republic. This guy would’ve/could’ve been from my then circle of sweet southern fellowship – Praise Jesus! (for the memories).

    “Matt Bowman, a white Tennessee pastor” sums it best for them white Southern Baptists among The 81% who put Donald Trump in the White House and Hillary Clinton in the Out-House: “Just because someone is CONSERVATIVE doesn’t make them alt-right. Just because someone has RIGHT-WING POLITICS doesn’t make them alt-right, white supremacists, so we need to be clear about what we’re condemning.” (Adelle M. Banks, “In dramatic turnabout, Southern Baptists condemn white supremacy”, Religion News Service, June 15, 2017)

  • Are there any? I mean really. Can you cite some evidence? It would certainly make the conversation more interesting.

  • Does anyone know of a way I can block this arrogant/ignorant fool? Bottom line he’s just a troll and I certainly do not want to block RNS. Other forums to which I belong have this feature, why not here?

  • I agree. What is interesting is that it is the same Gospel that was once used to make segregation seem acceptable. We grow and learn with the help of the Holy Spirit. But, being so incredibly stubborn, it just takes centuries, millennia sometimes, for what God is trying to teach us to sink in. Good thing our God is patient.

  • Amen. And I think it is the SBC’s loyalty and faithfulness to Christ and His Gospel that has resulted in His blessings. God bless them.

  • You can paint stripes on a donkey to make it look like a zebra, but underneath, it’s still a jackass…

  • This is going to sound nitpicky, but it’s an important distinction: I don’t think the Gospel itself was ever used to make segregation seem acceptable. There were Gospel leaders who twisted Biblical passages to make them appear to support slavery and eventually segregation. There were lots of Gospel Churches that did the same.

    But, the Gospel itself (ie, the Good News), has always been unrelated to all of that. The Gospel is simply that God provided a way for man to be forgiven of his sins through the atoning death of His Son Jesus. Even Bob Jones (going from memory here) famous Easter day speech only mentioned one portion of the Bible — Acts 17:??. That was after the events that contain the narrative of the Gospel. Interesting note about that speech: It was done as a reaction to Billy Grahm’s very strong statements and actions against segregation of any kind.

    Segregation, slavery, etc were always evil. Using Biblical passages to justify them was always wrong. But the Gospel itself is beyond reproach.

    Thank you for your comments.

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