Anti-racist resolution gets some Baptists hot under the collar

Members attending the Southern Baptist Convention vote to formally condemn the political movement known as the “alt-right.”
Photo: Ross D. Franklin | Associated Press.

Is there a language that’s too strong to use when condemning white supremacy?

The Southern Baptists thought so this week until yesterday when they formally condemned “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil.”

The decision came a day after the Baptists, meeting at an annual convention in Phoenix, was heavily criticized for deciding not to issue a condemnation, NPR reported. Leaders said the language was too strong.

“We regret and apologize for the pain and the confusion that we created for you and a watching world when we decided not to report out a resolution on alt-right racism,” Barrett Duke, the resolutions committee chairman, told the gathered crowd of about 5,000. “Please know it wasn’t because we don’t share your abhorrence of racism and especially the particularly vicious form of racism that has manifested itself in the alt-right movement. We do share your abhorrence.”

It was just that….. what, exactly? Duke and other leaders had no hesitation when passing resolutions condemning gambling and Planned Parenthood.

“We share those feelings … We just weren’t certain we could craft a resolution that would enable us to measure our strong convictions with the grace of love, which we’re also commended by Jesus to incorporate,” Duke said.

Love thy racist?

Condemning racism would seem like a slam dunk. But it caused “chaos” at the convention, The Atlantic says.

What’s a good indicator you’re doing something wrong? When white supremacist Richard Spencer says you’re doing something right.

Once media attention focused on the Baptists choosing not to denounce racism, the leaders went into crisis mode, huddling again with Dwight McKissic, a black pastor from Texas who authored this original resolution:

WHEREAS, Scripture teaches that from one man God made every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation (Acts 17:26); and

WHEREAS, the prophet Isaiah foresaw the day when the Lord would judge between the nations and render decisions for many people (Isaiah 2:4); and

WHEREAS, the Psalmist proclaims the Kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations; and

WHEREAS, the promise of heaven includes the eternal blessings of the Tree of Life for God’s people, which includes the healing of the nations that comes from the leaves of that tree; and

WHEREAS, the supreme need of the world is the acceptance of God’s teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love; and

WHEREAS, all Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society, opposing all forms of racism, selfishness, and vice, and bringing government and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love; and

WHEREAS, just societies will order themselves as free men and women and organize at various times and for various purposes to establish political order and give consent to legitimate government; and

WHEREAS, the liberty of all nations to authorize such governments will, at times, allow for the rise of political parties and factions whose principles and ends are in irreconcilable conflict with the principles of liberty and justice for all; and

WHEREAS, there has arisen in the United States a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in race relations, divide our people, and foment hatred, classism, and ethnic cleansing; and

WHEREAS, this toxic menace, self-identified among some of its chief proponents as “White Nationalism” and the “Alt-Right,” must be opposed for the totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples; and

WHEREAS, the roots of White Supremacy within a “Christian context” is based on the so-called “curse of Ham” theory once prominently taught by the SBC in the early years—echoing the belief that God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos—which provided the theological justification for slavery and segregation. The SBC officially renounces the “curse of Ham” theory in this Resolution; now be it therefore

RESOLVED, that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, AZ, June 13-14, 2017, denounces every form of “nationalism” that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called “Alt-Right” that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system; and be finally

RESOLVED, that we earnestly pray, both for those who lead and advocate this movement and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of their perverse nationalism, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people and tongue.

That isn’t the one that eventually got passed on Wednesday, however.

Writing in Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer, a former Southern Baptist Convention employee, said there wasn’t anyone arguing “the other side” of the resolution. It was simply poorly worded.

And Southern Baptists need to speak to that for several reasons, not the least of which is that too many Southern Baptists were on the wrong side of the fire hoses in Birmingham. They need to get on the correct side, against the rising tide of racism, often associated (rightly or wrongly) with where many Southern Baptists live.

Yet, nobody here in Phoenix is saying, “I don’t want this resolution to offend my alt-right friends.” If they did, every Southern Baptist I know would encourage them to call their alt-right friends to repentance, get some new friends, and grow a backbone.

I’ve seen the tweets and comments from people so quick to bear false witness that Southern Baptists are trying to decide if they are in favor of the alt-right or White Nationalism, and that’s simply lying about the discussion that is taking place.

I’m not saying that such people are not out there—they are—but it would be very unlikely that many are here, in Phoenix.

When the resolution was rewritten, gone were the words “toxic menace,” for example.

“Southern Baptists then did not object to using inflammatory language regarding a divisive issue,” Washington Post religion writer Jonathan Merritt says of the earlier Planned Parenthood resolution. “So why are they hesitant when it comes to white nationalism?”

“African American leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention are totally disheartened at this point,” McKissic told me. “I had to encourage others not to jump ship yesterday, reminding them that things are a lot better than they were in the 1950s when the first black churches began joining the denomination.”

When it comes to racial justice, the 1950s is a pretty low bar. Southern Baptists need a quantum leap into the 21st century if they hope to thrive in an era where racial tensions are strained and social awareness of such issues is high. If they don’t make this jump quickly, they’ll find themselves wrestling as much with race as their own irrelevance in the years to come.

Dallas Morning News editorial writer Sharon Grigsby doesn’t buy the notion that this was all just a procedural snafu.

“That ‘procedural snafu’ line is hard to swallow given that it was a conscious decision by committee chair Duke to dump McKissic’s work,” she writes. “And as best I can tell, convention leadership only decided to revive the effort — and seek a middle ground — after social media blew up.

“Sounds a bit too much like that old adage: ‘They aren’t sorry for what they did, just sorry they got caught.'”