A Southern Baptist Convention proposal to condemn a white nationalist group drew some backlash during the convention’s annual meeting on Tuesday when a committee first declined to bring a proposed resolution to a vote.
But Southern Baptist leaders worked on the language late last night, and the convention will vote Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. EST on the resolution condemning the alt-right movement — a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.
The debate over the resolution highlights the many divisions within the denomination around the election of President Trump, which put the spotlight on white supremacists among his supporters. While several Southern Baptist leaders have served on Trump’s evangelical advisory board, many younger Southern Baptists — including the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty president Russell Moore — vocally opposed his candidacy.
Many evangelicals of color have said they feel alienated by such high white evangelical support for Trump and have asked leaders to condemn those who support him who are racist. The Southern Baptist resolution was written by Dwight McKissic, a black pastor from Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Tex., who said he wanted the denomination to make it clear they had no sympathy for the alt-right.
“I saw people identifying themselves as Southern Baptist and members of the alt-right, so this is horrifying to me,” McKissic said. “I wanted the Southern Baptist Convention to make it very clear we have no relationship to them. I thought it would be a slam dunk, but I misread Southern Baptists apparently.”
Meeting in Phoenix this week, Southern Baptists voted on Tuesday to condemn gambling and Planned Parenthood, and they adopted a statement on the importance of public officials who display “consistent moral character.” That resolution also commended “those leaders who choose not to meet privately with members of the opposite sex who are not their spouse,” referring to Vice President Pence, who drew attention when he said he doesn’t eat alone with a woman other than his wife.
Discussion broke out Tuesday over the alt-right resolution after a committee that brings resolutions to a vote declined to do so, a move that drew attention from alt-right leader Richard Spencer.
Last night, Moore and Steve Gaines, the president of the SBC, worked with the committee to shape the language of the proposal so it could be voted on today. Moore and Gaines declined to comment on the resolution before it came to a vote.
Moore said, however, that he was encouraged by Tuesday’s decision to revisit the resolution. “They recognize that white supremacy in this alt-right guise is dangerous and devilish and we need to say something,” Moore said.
The initial text of the resolution called on Southern Baptists to “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.”
The new text of the proposal noted some of the convention’s previous actions on race, including how Southern Baptists voted in 1995 to apologize for the role that slavery played in the convention’s creation and racism. It noted how in 2012 it elected its first black president. More than 20 percent of Southern Baptist congregations, it says, identifies as predominantly nonwhite.
“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,’” the resolution states. Southern Baptists “decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and “we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and ever form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil.”
On Tuesday, resolutions committee chairman Barrett Duke told Southern Baptists gathered there that the resolution contained language that was “inappropriate” for an official SBC statement and did not define precisely who is a member of the alt-right, according to the Baptist Press.
A call to Barrett Duke, chairman of the SBC’s resolutions committee, was not immediately returned. Duke told Religion News Service that the committee’s decision to not to bring the resolution forward for a vote on Tuesday was “not an endorsement of the alt-right.” “There are aspects of people who identify as the alt-right, certainly, a lot of their views and their intentions, we would adamantly, aggressively oppose,” Duke said.
McKissic, who wrote the original resolution, declined to speculate over the motives for why the committee didn’t bring his proposal forward, but he said he was offended by Duke’s remarks and he felt his proposal was treated differently than the others the committee considered. He said black Southern Baptists were disappointed by how it was handled, but it became clear on Tuesday that a large number of white Southern Baptists wanted to vote on the resolution. There was a vote, but it needed a two-thirds majority and received a 57.53 percent. Then the committee decided to revisit the resolution.
“I don’t think they anticipated how white people would get upset about this and demanded something be done. I’m encouraged and heartened by this,” McKissic said. “It was the white people who said, no we will not take this sitting down. We don’t want this association with the convention.”
The Southern Baptist Convention has a long and complicated history on race, one that has recently gotten wrapped up in many Southern Baptists’ support for Trump. Some of the committee members are affiliated with National Religious Broadcasters and First Baptist Church in Dallas, institutions that are seen as friendly to Trump.
In April, five white Southern Baptist seminary leaders posted a racially insensitive photo on Twitter with many of them dressed in hoodies and pointing as though they were holding guns. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Barry McCarty, who is chief parliamentarian of the SBC, was shown holding a gun.
H.B. Charles, who was just elected the first black pastor to serve as the president of the next Southern Baptist pastor’s conference in Dallas in June 2018, said Tuesday’s resolution was another example of how the convention still has a long way to go on race.
“If we had fumbled the ball and kept going without addressing this, it would have been damaging for those from the outside looking in, who could’ve concluded that the SBC does not care about matters of race,” Charles said. “I’m glad we picked up the fumble and are trying to address this before we leave. It could have had a really bad effect on our witness.”
The Southern Baptist Convention of 15.2 million members is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, but its membership is on the decline. Attendance was down nearly 7 percent from the year before and baptisms were down 5 percent.