Chaos unfolded at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., this weekend after religious leaders refused to hear an African-American pastor’s resolution denouncing the white nationalist and alt-right movements.
Leaders at the annual convention were split over the proposal submitted by Texas pastor Dwight McKissic Sr. asking the denomination to affirm its opposition to white supremacy. They initially declined to consider the document on Tuesday, June 13, but swiftly changed course after severe backlash from fellow members of the denomination, according to The Atlantic. By Wednesday evening, leaders had passed a revised statement disavowing the racist ideologies.
Barrett Duke, who heads the group’s resolutions committee, said committee members initially rejected McKissic’s resolution because it was riddled with broad and incendiary language that could potentially implicate conservatives who do not support the alt-right and white nationalist movements. Duke apologized “for the pain and confusion that we created” but said the committee was concerned about giving the appearance that they hated their enemies, which isn’t Christ-like.
“We were very aware that, on this issue, feelings rightly run high regarding alt-right ideology,” he said. “We share those feelings … We just weren’t certain we could craft a resolution that would enable us to measure our strong convictions with the grace of love, which we’re also commended by Jesus to incorporate.”
McKissic first published a draft of his resolution on May 28, just weeks before the religious meeting was set to take place. In it, the Texas pastor professed, “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.”
He goes on to say that the “toxic menace” that is the alt-right and white nationalism must be condemned “for the totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples.”
McKissic then took aim at the ‘curse of Ham’ theory, which was taught by the SBC in its early years and sprouted the belief that God, through Noah, ordained the descendants of Africa to be inferior to whites, thus providing religious justification for the institutions of slavery and racial segregation. Some might argue the Southern Baptists’ racist roots are still present today, as the SBC and its nearly 15 million members were a portion of the 80 percent of white evangelicals who backed President Donald Trump.
McKissic submitted his proposal to the SBC’s Committee on Resolutions earlier this week, however, it failed to garner the two-thirds majority approval needed to pass. The Arizona Republic reported that the nearly 5,000-person convention on Tuesday was invited to vote on whether they wanted the resolution to be heard at a meeting later that day. Once again, McKissic’s statement failed to gain enough support, sparking outrage.
Charles Hedman of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, told ABC News that far-right groups had been passing out racist material outside the convention hall Tuesday night. He said some pastors even threatened to leave the denomination if the convention refused to denounce white supremacy by Wednesday.
The outrage spurred convention leaders to draft and pass a modified version of Mckissic’s statement that excluded the pastor’s denunciation of the ‘curse of Ham’ theory and added in details of all the “good” Southern Baptists had done for Black people and nonwhites.
That didn’t help quell the backlash, however. The damage had already been done.
“We must be clear: We live in a time when equivocating on these matters furthers the sin of racism even to violence and death,” Thabiti Anyabwile, a Black Southern Baptist pastor who did not attend the SBC meeting, tweeted. “Any ‘church’ that cannot denounce white supremacy without hesitancy and equivocation is a dead, Jesus-denying assembly. No 2 ways about it.”
Several others took to social media to express similar outrage at the SBC’s initial refusal to renounce the racist ideology in the name of Christianity. Members within the denomination also expressed worry that silence on the issue would be misinterpreted as support for white nationalism.
The decision made at #SBC17 to not denounce white supremacy is hurtful.
— Jackie Hill Perry (@JackieHillPerry) June 14, 2017
Denouncing white supremacy is not a gospel distraction; it’s a gospel application. It’s not an advanced class; it’s Christianity 101. #SBC17
— Matt Smethurst (@MattSmethurst) June 14, 2017
Duke said the SBC committee didn’t reach out to McKissic before it started working on a revised version of his proposal. Yet still, McKissic said he was grateful for the outcry from both Black and white Christians who thought it important that the SBC publicly denounce white supremacy.
“We’re turning the corner,” McKissic told reporters. “I see the heart of the majority.”