(RNS) — On June 9, two Southern Baptist pastors, Tom Ascol of Florida and Tom Buck of Texas, called on the delegates to next week’s denominational meeting in Nashville to rescind Resolution 9, which lays out the SBC’s position on critical race theory (CRT), the academic framework behind many contemporary ideas about systemic racism.
Since Resolution 9 passed at the 2019 annual meeting, opposition to CRT has become the cause du jour among some Southern Baptists, who claim it is the next great threat to Christianity and America.
Resolution 9 said simply that while there might be some things we can learn from CRT as it analyzes how race has been constructed and worked in American history and culture, as Christians, we should always recognize that the Bible’s teachings are supreme.
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That approach made sense to the messengers who passed Resolution 9, but some of its opponents now see the specter of CRT everywhere that race and the historic effects of racism are discussed — even though not all critics have a clear understanding of the theories they oppose.
Apart from the CRT debate, however, Ascol and Buck’s stand against Resolution 9 caused me to wonder if Southern Baptists had ever before rescinded a resolution passed in a prior annual meeting?
The answer is no. SBC Resolutions aren’t church law, nor do they carry any real weight beyond being a report of a non-binding statement submitted to the appointed resolutions committee at each yearly denominational meeting. Resolutions only capture the feeling of those present and voting.
Which raises another question: How can another group, made up of different people in a different place, years later, rescind a statement made by a prior group?
Resolution 9 seems to be the only resolution that requires us to travel back in time to rescind it, instead of drafting another clarifying resolution, one that would build unity and move us forward together with consensus. Another SBC pastor (and friend of mine) from Oklahoma, Todd Littleton, has submitted a resolution this year attempting to do just that. He quotes from past resolutions and draws upon our confessional statement to address race, racism, white supremacy and justice issues.
As it turns out, Southern Baptists have said quite a bit on these topics over the years as we’ve tried to right past wrongs.
If we’re going to go back to rescind one resolution, in fact, there are others more egregious than Resolution 9 that we should examine. What about the 1861 resolution that tasked a committee with officially aligning the SBC with the Confederate States of America at the dawn of the Civil War, a war that would take the lives of over 700,000 people and maim and wound hundreds of thousands more?
Among the many words of the resolution drafted by the SBC committee on May 13, 1861, was a strong affirmation of the Confederate government and cause and call for Southern Baptists to align ourselves with that cause:
Resolved, 2. “That we most cordially approve of the formation of the government of the Confederate States of America, and admire and applaud the noble course of that government up to the present time.”
Resolved, 4. ”That we most cordially tender to the President of the Confederate States, to his Cabinet, and to the members of the Congress now convened at Montgomery, the assurances of our sympathy and entire confidence. With them are our hearts and our hearty co-operation.
An appeal to the Spirit of Jesus in the same resolution called on Baptists “to pledge our fortunes and lives in the good work of repelling an invasion designed to destroy whatever is dear in our heroic traditions — whatever is sweet in domestic hopes and enjoyments – whatever is essential to our institutions and our very manhood — whatever is worth living or dying for.”
What was essential to their institutions that was worth living or dying for according to the Confederate government in which they placed their entire confidence? According to Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, in what is known as The Cornerstone Speech given on March 21, 1861, in Savannah, Georgia, some of the issues worth fighting and living and dying for (among others listed) were white supremacy, the “positive good” of slavery, the declaration that Black people were inferior and that equality of races was a myth.
Vice President Stephens said, “Our new government is founded … its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
There is little doubt that the committee that drafted the May 1861 resolution, adopted as the war was already raging, would be unaware of the rationale of the Confederacy. Nor would they have been ignorant of the vice president’s Cornerstone Speech. One of the SBC committee members who drafted the resolution in question was Basil Manly Sr., then the pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, spiritual counselor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and soon to be known as the “Chaplain of the Confederacy.”
Southern Baptists never rescinded that heinous alignment with the Confederacy. Instead, in new statements such as the 1995 Resolution on Racial Reconciliation, we confessed earlier sins, repented, asked forgiveness from God and from our Black neighbors and fellow Christians and pledged to “eradicate racism in all its forms” from our lives, churches and ministries. We got specific about how past racism affects us even to this day when we said:
… we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and … we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27).
Would this landmark resolution of repentance be wrongly called “critical race theory” today? Would those making false accusations about CRT denounce faithful Southern Baptist pastors, professors and leaders simply for living out and teaching what our own statements and resolutions from a quarter-century ago called us to do?
Personally, I’m not in favor of rescinding any resolutions at all. I think we should live up to the repentance that we have called for in our history, and if certain things need to be addressed, let’s do so acknowledging past errors while receiving God’s grace for the future.
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But if we are going to break precedent and rescind a resolution for the first time, let’s address the 1861 abomination that aligned us with the cause and foundation of the Confederacy. The Bible says that our only cornerstone and foundation should be Jesus and the Scriptures that testify to him.
If we must rescind anything in Southern Baptist history, it should be that day back in May 1861 when we wrongly aligned with the cornerstone of white supremacy. Let’s take the opportunity first to restate that, though we are ethnically diverse, we are unified through the cross of Jesus where we die to ourselves, lay down our own power and love one another sacrificially.
Or, we can let the past speak and inform us of who we once were, continue to repent and then move forward to be who we are called to be.
(Alan Cross is a Southern Baptist pastor, writer and author of “When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)