SBC messengers denounce racism, white supremacy but confusion stirs concerns

June 21, 2017

By Jennifer Davis Rash

The Alabama Baptist

As Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders headed to Phoenix for the annual meeting, they expected a major emphasis on prayer, evangelism and new ways to help Southern Baptists grow in the area of stewardship.

They likely also expected the hallway discussions and meal-time meetings on the growing tension between traditional Baptists and those following reformed theology. But it became quickly apparent that none of them expected to land in a public relations firestorm over racism.

When the reality of what was brewing hit top leadership following the Tuesday afternoon session, SBC President Steve Gaines moved immediately to calm the waters.

“Before we leave Phoenix and before this convention meeting concludes, everyone will know that we as Southern Baptists not only love God but that we love people of every race,” he said at the opening of the Tuesday evening session. “God loves everyone and we love everyone. We decry, come against, every kind of racism there is.”

Original proposed resolution declined

The Resolutions Committee under the leadership of Montana Baptist State Convention Executive Director Barrett Duke had declined to work on a racism-focused resolution and the reason why didn’t satisfy the crowd.

Within 24 hours, the decision was reversed with high fives and sighs of relief all around but not before sparking a dialogue on the world stage about the sincerity of Southern Baptists’ previous acts taken against racism. There have been resolutions in years past, an official apology by the denomination in 1995 and ongoing intentional efforts to diversify the convention.

When Texas pastor Dwight McKissic proposed his resolution denouncing the alt-right white supremacy group for consideration by the 2017 Resolutions Committee, it was one of 12 submitted prior to the annual meeting.

Only four of the resolutions were submitted in proper form, Duke said. “The rest needed editing,” he said. “We poured over them word by word. We spent over 30 hours on the resolutions.”

But Duke had explained to messengers on the convention floor and reporters in the press conference minutes later that McKissic’s resolution was declined because it “was too open ended on interpreting who is actually identified as members of alt-right (a new designation of white supremacy gaining notoriety).”

He also said it had inflammatory statements such as ethnic cleansing and was not well written.

So if the committee chose to write, edit and/or rewrite the nine resolutions it reported out why would it decline to do the same on a resolution denouncing racism?

Duke said he believed the SBC had spoken clearly about its objection to racism and another resolution wasn’t needed.

Many messengers disagreed but twice failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority vote to bring the resolution out for discussion on the convention floor.

‘We do share your abhorrence’

Still by the next morning Duke was apologizing “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.”

“Please know it wasn’t because we don’t share your abhorrence of racism and especially, particularly the vicious form of racism that has manifested itself in the alt-right movement. We do share your abhorrence.”

The Resolutions Committee requested and was granted by the Order of Business Committee and convention messengers an opportunity to present a fresh resolution denouncing alt-right racism.

With nearly unanimous support the resolution on “the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy” passed and received a standing ovation. The resolution (see full text, below) decries “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Byron Day, president of the SBC National African American Fellowship of 4,000 churches, said the resolution is the “strongest statement to date” condemning racism, according to Baptist Press (BP).

“The confusion in getting the resolution to a vote caused an uproar in the African American community,” he said in the BP article. “[It] was perceived by many that Southern Baptists did not value this important issue not just for African Americans but for all those who claim to be followers of Christ.

“Nevertheless it was encouraging to see Southern Baptists demand a vote and pass overwhelmingly this strong statement against racism and those who advocate such ideologies,” Day said.

‘Moral leadership’

Nine other resolutions also were approved. The one that might have garnered more discussion if it had not been overshadowed deals with moral leadership.

Similar to a 1998 resolution dealing with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and passed by SBC messengers, the resolution On the Importance of Moral Leadership does not mention names but surfaced because of President Donald Trump.

Tennessee pastor Micah Fries told Religion News Service he proposed the resolution because it “was originally approved by the SBC during a democratic presidency and now we have an opportunity to remain clear and consistent in our convictions during a republican presidency.”

Neither the 1998 version nor the edited 2017 version mention either president by name. The latest version commends public officials “who have displayed consistent moral character and uncompromising commitment to biblical principles” and calls on leaders “to conduct themselves … according to the moral standards set forth by God’s revealed truth.” The resolution calls for a commitment to pray for the nation’s leaders and “to hold ourselves to the same high moral standards.”

Other resolutions approved focused on prayer, university ministries (urging a stronger connection with churches), affirming the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, commending efforts to defund and investigate Planned Parenthood, fighting gambling and appreciation for those who helped with the annual meeting in Phoenix. To read the full text of these resolutions, click here.

Resolution on the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy

(Approved June 14, 2017)

WHEREAS, Scripture teaches, “From one man [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” (Acts 17:26); and

WHEREAS, The Psalmist proclaimed, “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the LORD” (Psalm 24:1); and

WHEREAS, The Apostle Peter said, “God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34–35); and

WHEREAS, Our justification before God is based on faith in Christ Jesus alone and not in our ethnicity (Galatians 3:27–28); and

WHEREAS, Scripture proclaims that Jesus is purchasing by His blood believers “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9); and

WHEREAS, Throughout eternity we will gather with a “multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” in worship of our risen Savior (Revelation 7:9); and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message conveys that all Christians are obligated to make the will of Christ supreme in their 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, We know from our Southern Baptist history the effects of the horrific sins of racism and hatred; and

WHEREAS, In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention repudiated “historic acts of evil, such as slavery,” committed “to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry,” and “genuinely repent[ed] of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously”; and

WHEREAS, In recent years the Convention has nominated and elected individuals from a variety of ethnicities, including electing our first African-American president in 2012; and

WHEREAS, In recent resolutions the Southern Baptist Convention called on “all Christian men and women to pray and labor for the day when our Lord will set all things right and racial prejudice and injustice will be no more” (2014); expressed continued grief “over the presence of racism and the recent escalation of racial tension in our nation” (2015); and urged fellow Christians to discontinue using the Confederate battle flag, acknowledging that it is “used by some and perceived by many as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people” (2016); and

WHEREAS, More than 20 percent (nearly eleven thousand) of our cooperating Southern Baptist congregations identify as predominately non-Anglo and for the last three years more than 50 percent of Southern Baptist new church plants have been predominately non-Anglo; and

WHEREAS, B&H Academic recently published Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, highlighting our continuing need to root out vestiges of racism from our own hearts as Southern Baptists; and

WHEREAS, Racism and white supremacy are, sadly, not extinct but present all over the world in various white supremacist movements, sometimes known as “white nationalism” or “alt-right”; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, 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 language.