St. Louis, Mo.—Messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention renounced display of the Confederate battle flag in a historic, overwhelming vote.
The convention adopted a resolution that urged “brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters.”
The Confederate flag resolution was another step in the convention’s effort to address its past actions regarding slavery and racism. The SBC, which began in 1845 in part in support of slaveholding missionaries, approved a resolution in 1995 repenting of racism and asking for forgiveness from African American Christians.
It also has acted in a variety of ways in an attempt to bring about racial reconciliation and involve African Americans and other minorities in leadership roles in the convention.
In calling for “sensitivity and unity,” the resolution urged Christians who display the flag “to consider prayerfully whether to limit, or even more so, discontinue its display” because of the “undeniably painful impact of the flag’s symbolism on others.”
After two messengers spoke against the resolution, former SBC President James Merritt offered an amendment that deleted a paragraph that said the flag “serves for some not as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, but as a memorial to their loved ones who died in the Civil War, and an emblem to honor their loved ones’ valor.”
His amendment also removed language requesting prayerful consideration and, instead, called for a halt to displaying the flag.
Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., said he offered the amendment not just as a pastor but as the great, great grandson of two men who fought in the Confederate Army.
“(N)o one can deny” the Confederate battle flag is “a stumbling block” for many African Americans to the witness of Southern Baptists, Merritt told messengers.
In a comment that produced a partial standing ovation, he said, “(A)ll the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”
Calling it “a seminal moment in our convention,” Merritt said, “This is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion. We have a golden opportunity to say to every person of every race, ethnicity and nationality that Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.
“Today, we can say loudly and clearly to a world filled with racial strife and division that Southern Baptists are not in the business of building barriers and burning bridges,” he said. “We’re about building bridges and tearing down barriers.”
Messengers approved the amended resolution by a wide margin.
SBC leaders welcomed the convention’s latest action in support of racial reconciliation.
Kevin Smith, former president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and newly elected executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, told Baptist Press he was “very thankful and very moved by his (Merritt’s) clarity brought to the issue today.”
He was “pleasantly surprised” by the adoption of Merritt’s stronger language and believes it will help the SBC in the future, said Smith, who had been assistant professor of church history and Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Smith expressed gratitude to the Resolutions Committee and Dwight McKissic, who submitted the original version of the resolution. McKissic, an African American, is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.
Calling it “an extraordinary moment,” ethics leader Russell Moore told BP, “We watched a denomination founded by slaveholders vote to repudiate the display of the Confederate battle flag in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters in Christ.
“I can’t recall ever seeing anything like it,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “And my hope and prayer is that we will work together in our churches toward modeling for the rest of the world what it means to be brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God.” (BP)
On Sensitivity and Unity Regarding the Confederate Battle Flag
WHEREAS, SBC President Ronnie Floyd has rallied Southern Baptists to “rise up and cry out against racism that still exists in our nation and in our churches,” recognizing we are in a “desperate hour” that calls us to “replace these evils with the beauty of grace and love”; and
WHEREAS, In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention repudiated “historic acts of evil, such as slavery,” and committed “to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry”; and
WHEREAS, In more recent resolutions the Southern Baptist Convention called “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) and expressed continued grief “over the presence of racism and the recent escalation of racial tension in our nation” (2015); and
WHEREAS, More than 20 percent (nearly eleven thousand) of our cooperating Southern Baptist congregations identify as predominately non-Anglo and for the last two years more than 50 percent of Southern Baptist new church plants are predominately non-Anglo; and
WHEREAS, We recognize that the Confederate battle flag is used by some and perceived by many as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people; and
WHEREAS, We recognize that, while the removal of the Confederate battle flag from public display is not going to solve the most severe racial tensions that plague our nation and churches, those professing Christ are called to extend grace and put the consciences of others ahead of their own interests and actions (1 Corinthians 8:9–13; 10:23; Philippians 2:3–4); and
WHEREAS, The state of South Carolina, with the support of state Baptist leaders, responded to the tragic slayings on June 17, 2015, of nine precious believers at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston by removing the Confederate battle flag from their Capitol grounds and placing it in preservation at a military museum in Columbia; and
WHEREAS, Oklahoma Baptist University recently removed an image of the Confederate battle flag from its campus chapel; now, therefore, be it
RESOVLED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, June 14–15, 2016, commend the governmental officials of South Carolina, Baptist leaders in that state, and the Oklahoma Baptist University administration for their sensitivity and for fostering unity; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we acknowledge both the importance of remembering family heritage and sacrifice, as well as the urgency of pursuing a unified Body of Christ and racial healing in America; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we urge fellow Christians to exercise sensitivity so that nothing brings division or hinders the unity of the Body of Christ to be a bold witness to the transforming power of Jesus.