Just when you think the Southern Baptist Convention will convene without controversy, the nature of Baptist life kicks in and creates some. Social media went into overdrive to fuel the fires of controversy, and unfortunately, many if not most were either well-intentioned people who were not at the convention, Christian people who do not understand the processes of the Southern Baptist Convention, or trolls who just look to create controversy from behind an anonymous avatar. Even our own Lake City Reporter ran an AP article that was printed prematurely leaving interested people wondering whether or not Southern Baptists as a convention of churches would really fail to denounce racism.
Every year Southern Baptists Churches gather for their annual Convention to hear reports from the agencies that receive their funding from member churches. The agencies that the churches support and govern include the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Lifeway Christian Resources, and six seminaries. These entities are accountable to the churches that support them.
Southern Baptist Churches when convened also make statements called resolutions that are designed to unify our churches around a certain theological or ethical position from a biblical or gospel-centered perspective. Resolutions are submitted to a committee before the convention convenes. The committee decides which resolutions to bring forward and which resolutions to not bring forward. Sometimes resolutions are written with vitriolic and potentially dis-unifying wording or are too narrow in scope to really represent the majority view of over 45,000 churches. If the committee thinks that the resolution is in the best interests of the churches and advances the gospel they will bring it to the convention floor. If not, they will decline to do so.
It is in this process that the controversy occurred. A resolution condemning alt-right ideology was declined by the committee because the committee felt that the wording was both vague and venomous. They felt that because it did not adequately define the alt-right (something that is even now very difficult to do) that some people might think that the resolution was attacking conservatism, Republicanism, and Trump-ism. The ideas for resolutions sometimes come from the prevailing political climate, but even if their roots are in politics, they are usually worded in a way that addresses not the political issues of the day but the moral issues and the gospel issues that our culture makes political. In this case the committee (in my opinion) felt that the resolution may be perceived as not only having its roots in politics but also the potential to be viewed solely in terms of the political climate established by the last election cycle, alienating churches whose politically ideology can be found on both sides of the aisle. The bottom line is that the committee declined to bring this resolution forward.
The resolution committee was stuck. To bring it forward would appear to attack its base and to decline to bring it forward would appear to endorse the racist ideology of this thing called the alt-right. SBC processes allow the author of the resolution to address the committee from the floor and ask the Convention to force them to do so. It takes a two-thirds majority vote to bring a declined resolution forward. The resolution failed to garner two-thirds support, not because the Southern Baptist Convention endorses racism or because it is hesitant to speak to important social justice issues, but because representatives from the churches were doing what they have always done; they were trusting their committee.
At no time was anyone at the Convention ever meaning to endorse racism of any kind. In fact, the committee met to find a way to reintroduce a resolution without violating Convention parliamentary procedure. On Tuesday night, they and a group of SBC leaders met and wrote a new resolution that they would bring to the floor of the Convention during the scheduled business time on Wednesday. When time came to present the new resolution, the chairman of the committee, Barret Duke, issued an apology.
"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. 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." Resolution Ten was then brought to the floor of the convention for discussion and a vote. Here is the resolution in its entirety:
PROPOSED RESOLUTION #10
ON THE ANTI-GOSPEL OF ALT-RIGHT WHITE SUPREMACY
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 of the devil; 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.
The Convention still needed to process this resolution like any other, with discussion and a vote because whenever a statement is made that represents a group of people, that group should have the right to speak to it and approve it as a group. This process differentiates the SBC from other denominations in that ultimately the resolution is approved or disapproved by church members, not denominational leaders. When this resolution was brought to the floor for discussion, not a single Southern Baptist stood to oppose it. Several spoke in favor of the resolution to a crowd that did not need convincing. Granted the language of the resolution included some self-aggrandizing, but the authors of the resolution wanted to make sure that people knew the SBC was not just responding in shame to social media uproar but was in fact continuing its pattern of speaking against racism in any form. When leadership called for a vote, it appeared that everyone raised their ballots affirming the resolution with the intention of renouncing alt-right racist ideology. While it appeared unanimous, official reports say 99+% because in a venue of 4,000+ attendees, a single no vote could easily be overlooked.
Convention leadership and processes failed on Tuesday, but recovered well on Wednesday and Southern Baptist churches were able to speak again to the fact that racism is a symptom of the fall and a reminder that we live in a broken and sinful world. Racism stands in opposition to everything Jesus stood for and it stands in opposition to the gospel. We are not just all created equal. We are all created in the image of God and the restoration of that image is available to anyone who will place his or her trust in Jesus regardless of color.