Southern Baptists still think of white supremacy as a ‘stain’

The Southern Baptist Convention has passed an official resolution on racism. I’m happy to report that they’re against it.

This is good news. And there’s additional good news surrounding it in that several prominent Southern Baptists fought hard to pass this resolution, speaking out publicly in favor of it in firm, forthright language.

But this good news is qualified — blunted, muted, nerfed — by the implied bit of less-than-good news there, which is that passing this resolution required a fight. And also by the unfortunate fact that the final form of the resolution is a bit underwhelming.

The original resolution was proposed by a black pastor, Wm. Dwight McKissic Sr., who leads a large, predominantly black congregation in Arlington, Texas. McKissic’s resolution was specific and unambiguous, addressing “the Condemnation of the ‘Alt-Right’ Movement and the Roots of White Supremacy.” McKissic is a preacher and he wanted to pass a resolution that would preach:

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.

McKissic says he expected his resolution to receive a fair hearing and to pass easily:

“I thought it would be a no-brainer, I thought it would be a slam-dunk,” the Rev. Dwight McKissic told Roland Martin on Friday’s episode of One News Now. “I thought they had turned a corner, at least in the sense of being able to intellectually, theoretically, biblically, affirm what the Bible says, that one God created all men equally.”

I suspect McKissic wasn’t quite as surprised as he suggests there. But still, despite its lively pulpit rhetoric, his draft was relatively modest in its scope and ambition, so he probably wasn’t expecting any effective resistance. Despite its language about the theological “roots of white supremacy,” McKissic’s draft mainly addresses only the indefensible “curse of Ham” nonsense. That garbage theology was hugely influential for centuries — playing a big role in the founding of the SBC in 1845. But very few white Southern Baptists would attempt to defend today. And McKissic wasn’t asking his fellow Southern Baptists to reject white supremacy in its broader, more systemic forms, but only in the most explicit and extreme manifestations of the so-called “alt-right” — the Neo-Nazis who embrace that identity, the 4chan frogboys, and the various 21st-century incarnations of the Klan.

And what was McKissic calling on the SBC to do about those groups? Not much. To “pray … that they may see their error.”

Passing such a resolution seemed like literally the very least that Southern Baptists could do.

But when the SBC gathered for its annual meeting last week in Phoenix, its leaders managed, somehow, to find a way to do even less.

The SBC’s resolution committee initially shelved McKissic’s proposal, citing vague concerns about its language. That was, Ed Stetzer writes, “a mistake.” That’s what prompted Stetzer and several other prominent Southern Baptist leaders and writers to demand that the committee present a new resolution along the same lines, and to bring it to a vote.

That’s what ultimately happened. The (mostly white) resolutions committee rewrote McKissic’s resolution more to their liking — removing its bite and most of its bark — and then made a big show of bringing that resolution to the floor for a unanimous vote in the hopes that this would produce some nice positive headlines stating that “Southern Baptists Condemn Racism.”

That worked. The photo below by Adam Covington was widely republished with some variation of the SBC pressroom’s suggested cutline: “Southern Baptists overwhelmingly pass a resolution June 14 condemning the racism of the alt-right movement.” It’s one of many such photos the SBC made available from its annual meeting. (See? Look at all those raised hands voting “Yes.” See? We did it! Now please please please stop talking about how it took us two tries …)

"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will," the scripture says. "Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will,” the scripture says. “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

That photo — and its circulation — illustrates what the SBC wants to be said about what happened in Phoenix last week. They want people talking about the resolution they ultimately passed rather than about the uncertain trumpet they initially sounded when they balked and flinched at McKissic’s draft — earning not just widespread criticism, but unwanted praise from alt-right Nazi trolls.

The SBC’s preferred narrative has been reinforced by Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today* and by Jacob Lupfer for Religion News Service. But it doesn’t fly.

It fudges what was lost in the shift from McKissic’s original resolution to the more officially palatable one that eventually got voted on. McKissic began by accurately describing what it was he saw in the nation that his religious community needed to condemn: “a growing … toxic menace” that was fostering “totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies.” That language and that analysis disappears, replaced by a self-congratulatory litany of how golly gee terrific the Southern Baptist Convention itself has been in recent years.

This is not an exaggeration. McKissic wrote about the evils of the white nationalism he sought to condemn. The final resolution is all about the awesome virtues of the SBC:

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” …

That’s less a resolution condemning racism than one pleading for cookies and gold stars in recognition of its sincere desire to be recognized for seeking recognition.

And it’s fundamentally dishonest. Just consider the slippery evasiveness of that first “WHEREAS”: “We know from our Southern Baptist history the effects of the horrific sins of racism and hatred.” You know, the past 172 years of slavery, lynching, terror, Jim Crow, segregation, sundown towns, redlining, police brutality and mass incarceration haven’t been easy for any of us. Both sides have suffered. All lives matter. Etc.

Or ponder the title of that Broadman & Holman book they’re so eager to remind everyone of: Removing the Stain of Racism. Contrast that image of a “stain” with McKissic’s language about the roots of white supremacy. Or contrast it with Jesus’ parable about the foundations of a house built on sand.

This is the essence of the gap between the SBC’s defenders and the critics those defenders perceive as being unfair. “We said it was bad,” the defenders say, “It’s a stain and stain’s are bad.”

What’s more, they earnestly acknowledge that the exterior, aesthetic marring of this stain endures, despite their best recent efforts to scrub it away. “Southern Baptists have a long way to go,” Stetzer writes. “There is still work to be done,” adds Lupfer.

But that work cannot and will not ever be done if Southern Baptists continue to misidentify this problem as a mere “stain” besmirching the purity of an otherwise fundamentally sound structure. That amounts to painting over the mold without ever addressing the leaking cracks in the association’s foundation.

The work to be done doesn’t involve a scrub-brush or a can of whitewash. It will require a backhoe, rebar and concrete, and a whole new set of blueprints.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Christianity Today is a publication that believes gay and lesbian couples are “destructive to society.”

 

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