Editors note: Dan is the vice president for communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Last week, during their annual gathering in Phoenix, the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the alt-right movement. The alt-right is a self-styled white nationalist movement that sees diversity as a form of “cultural Marxism.” Their leaders are notoriously vulgar and use social media to troll, with hate, minorities and anyone championing racial unity.
The key paragraphs in the SBC resolution:
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.
Before the resolution passed, there was some lamentable parliamentary drama. Why was the passing of this resolution so important? Here are a few reasons:
White Christians must speak forcefully against racism and for our Black brothers and sisters.
Those of us who live in the majority culture are often blind to the burdens born by our minority brothers and sisters in Christ. We are tempted toward indifference because the vitriol of the alt-right white supremacists doesn’t often affect us. But if we are to fully live out the gospel in community, if we are to embody the new man of Ephesians 2, then we must be willing to feel the weight of racism and work hard to fight against it. I’ve learned much after long conversations with my colleague Trillia Newbell, who has shared her struggles as an African-American woman in an interracial marriage. I still have much to learn. I still have many sins for which I must repent. As Russell Moore has said, “If one part of the body is affected, the whole body is affected.” White pastors and white evangelical leaders must speak prophetically about racism and help intentionally build church communities that more closely resemble the kingdom of God of Revelation 5 and 7.
The SBC has a “stain of racism.”
Organized initially to protect white slave-owning missionaries, the Southern Baptist Convention, many in the SBC were also on the wrong side of Jim Crow segregation during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and ’70s. In 1995, the SBC formally apologized for its role in dehumanizing minorities. Since then, the SBC has made progress—50 percent of SBC church plants are churches of color—but has a long way to go. Many resolutions since have acknowledged this, but it is important, given our history, for us to speak clearly and strongly against modern-day white supremacy. This resolution is an acknowledgement that although we are not yet who we should be, we are not who we were.
Though the SBC has previously spoken, in recent years, condemning racism, it was important to condemn, with this specific language, this specific movement.
It is not enough to rest on previous resolutions and statements. Similarly, the SBC this year condemned Planned Parenthood, given the fresh evidence of this organization’s predatory infanticide. A good pastor doesn’t preach once on sin. He reminds his church, week after week, of the need for repentance and the opportunity for grace. New resolutions can act as a rallying cry for further work on racial justice and racial unity, allowing SBC entities, churches and organizations to point to this resolution as a reason for continuing to preach, teach and speak out.
It was good for the world to hear the moral urgency of SBC leaders in working behind the scenes, urging publicly, and speaking out online against the alt-right movement.
Some questioned SBC’s motivation, given the way in which the parliamentary drama unfolded. But while we “fumbled the ball” (to quote newly elected Pastor’s Conference President, H.B. Charles), it was important to see, on that final vote to approve the resolution, a sea of green ballot cards high in the air in overwhelming approval. It was also heartening to see, on display, the anguished humility of leaders like. Barrett Duke, chair of the Resolutions Committee, who apologized for the declining of the initial resolution against the alt-right, submitted by Dallas pastor, Dwight McKissic.
It was good to see this resolution passed in context.
Some wondered why the original resolution, authored by McKissic, was rewritten. But this rewriting is a common practice at SBC conventions. The committee typically rewrites resolutions before sending them to the floor. This new version is, in my view, much stronger, appealing both to Biblical texts and SBC precedents. Including other SBC actions against racism was important here, not to laud our own progress, but to let messengers know that this current action is important and consistent with what we say we believe. This is similar to the way Supreme Court decisions are often written, appealing to previous decisions as a legal basis for current rulings.
Of course, this action, to condemn the alt-right, is just a small part of much work to be done on racial unity. The stain of racism, both in our country and in our denomination, will not be wiped away with one resolution. But these strong statements let the world know we are serious. And in case anyone doubted the need for this, not long after the SBC adjourned, many leaders were inundated with vile racist responses on social media.