The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) yesterday voted to condemn the white nationalist 'alt-right' movement, a day after failure to put a similar motion to the vote caused consternation and condemnation.
The eventual decision, which was met with a standing ovation as about 5,000 delegates or 'messengers' voted at their annual convention, exposed divisions within the SBC.
The resolution was introduced by Dwight McKissic, a black pastor from Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, who told the Washington Post: 'I saw people identifying themselves as Southern Baptist and members of the alt-right, so this is horrifying to me. I wanted the Southern Baptist Convention to make it very clear we have no relationship to them.'
The measure which passed states: '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 messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention...decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ.... We denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil.'
The original version of McKissic's resolution went into even more detail, stating: '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...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.'
Russell Moore, the president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission whom McKissic has in the past defended from internal attacks over Moore's occasional criticism of Donald Trump, said: 'There were a lot of people who just weren't familiar with what the alt-right is. And then there were others who assumed the alt-right was just a fringy group of people that they didn't want to dignify by even mentioning them. What I point out is just how dangerous and present the alt-right is.... When people recognize what it is that the alt-right believes, I haven't talked to anyone who doesn't immediately reject that.'
The development comes after the SBC adopted a statement earlier this week which both avoided pointed criticism of current holders of political office and delayed a proposal to condemn 'alt-right' movement which helped see Trump elected.
HB 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 that the rejected 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 event in Phoenix is the first Southern Baptist annual meeting since the presidential election, ahead of which, in late 2015, Moore called evangelical support for the then Republican candidate – who in the end won 80 per cent of white evangelical support in the presidential election – 'illogical'.
McKissic's proposal was part of an effort by the SBC, which is the largest Protestant group in the US, to continue to detoxify its origins in the 19th century in defence of slaveholders.
McKissic's move was initially rejected by the resolutions committee, whose chair Barrett Duke told reporters afterward the panel spent a number of hours considering the proposal 'before we finally said we just didn't see a way that we could speak to the multiple issues that were raised in that resolution in a way that we felt would be constructive'. According to Baptist Press, he said the committee agreed with the resolution's point on racism, but thought it and other 'elements [in the proposal] already had been addressed recently' in Southern Baptist life.
The original proposal exposed divisions among Southern Baptists, not least over Moore. In March, Christian Today reported on how McKissic launched an impassioned defence of the embattled president of the denomination's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and raised the spectre of racial division within the SBC.
McKissic wrote a blog post arguing that attacks on Moore for his trenchant criticisms of Trump and positions on religious liberty are led by white Southern Baptists who don't reflect the concerns of black people.
Moore's ERLC had been targeted by churches including Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, which has withheld $1 million in donations because of Moore's statements and positions. The SBC's Executive Committee has launched an investigation into why churches are refusing to support the ERLC. Furthermore, the Louisana Baptist Convention, part of the SBC, has called for Moore himself to be investigated.
McKissic said then: 'If Russell Moore cannot give a candid evaluation of Donald Trump without being publically humiliated and without white churches withdrawing and threatening to withdraw funds, and the Southern Baptist Convention and a state affiliate, launching an investigation, I pity the Black SBC officeholder who would dare whisper a word of disagreement on a Trump statement or action.'