Two weeks ago—after a surprising amount of drama—the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) passed a resolution condemning the Alt-right. This proposal was met with applause and joy from the minority communities within the SBC. In a perfect world, this would simply be the story of another successful step in the constant march against racism. Sadly, this world isn’t perfect.
Though the resolution eventually passed, it was only after significant backlash caused by refusing to consider the proposal on two separate occasions. This trivialization of an issue close to the heart of many members within the SBC illustrates how the church has often overlooked opportunities to seek reconciliation, choosing apathy over empathy.
The Alt-right serves as an umbrella term for white supremacist groups and other various pockets of racism. Before the convention began, Dwight McKissic, an African American pastor from Texas, submitted a proposal condemning the “toxic menace” of white supremacy and decried the Alt-right movement for its “totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies.”
McKissic’s resolution called on the SBC 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 committee in charge of approving resolutions for consideration during the convention—worried by the strength of the resolution’s language and the politically charged nature of the subject matter—rejected the proposal.
However, McKissic had a second opportunity to bring the resolution up for consideration. Even if a resolution is rejected, a member of the convention can still make a motion for consideration at the end of a day’s business. Towards the end of the first day of the convention, McKissic made that motion. This request was also rejected. Many of the minority members of the SBC took to social media to express their pain resulting from the SBC’s silence when presented with an opportunity to condemn the racism of the Alt-right.
This reaction grew so large that the leadership of the committee frantically called for the group to reconvene and around 9:00 pm they began working on the resolution. Some of the SBC’s largest names publicly stood behind the resolution. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted, “Racial unity and justice is a hill on which to die. If you’re at #SBC17, get in the convention hall and stay till last gavel.”
Eventually, the SBC agreed on a resolution which declared “that 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 a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society.”
In the end, the SBC did the right thing. They ultimately stood strong against racism and adopted the language needed to protect and comfort the minority members of the SBC community. The quick and virtually unanimous response to the backlash clearly illustrates that no one wanted to protect the Alt-right.
So the question remains, how did the Resolutions Committee overlook the sensitivity of this issue? Why did it take three attempts and a social media firestorm for the SBC to pass this resolution against the Alt-right?
The answer is something that needs to be considered not only by the SBC but by all of white evangelicalism and by the greater church.
Barrett Duke, the head of the resolutions committee, told reporters in an interview that the resolution was initially rejected because “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 commanded by Jesus to incorporate.” The rejection did not come from a hesitancy to denounce the Alt-right but from the inherent difficulties of passing a resolution of this nature. When faced with the difficulties associated with this resolution, the SBC decided to pass on the resolution rather than commit itself to the difficult task of phrasing the statement correctly. The committee was caught off guard by the reaction to the rejection because it did not understand the importance a statement like this held for the minority members of the body. This is not just a problem inside of the SBC, but inside the church generally.
The SBC itself has recently been elevating racial reconciliation as a focus of ministry and has been working to distance itself from a troubled past. In 1995, the denomination issued a formal apology for its pro-slavery history. In 2016, it asked congregants to stop flying the Confederate flag.. While the SBC is not blind or racist, it does occasionally suffer from the same lack of compassion and sensitivity towards minority communities that affects most of white evangelicalism, as was demonstrated by the initial rejection of the resolution.
Despite the growing push for racial reconciliation ministries in the U.S., the American church still fails to offer the proper compassion and love to our brothers and sisters in the black community. No matter how many ministries we start or the amount we talk about race, nothing can be fixed without actual compassion and understanding. In some ways, white Christians will never fully understand the experience of black Christians. This means that we need to strive for understanding and listen when they tell us we need to do more.
It is not surprising, for instance, that the SBC had not priorly considered drafting a resolution condemning white-supremacy. It becomes a problem, however, when a black pastor is ignored after requesting—on two occasions—that such a resolution be considered. By refusing to even consider the resolution, the SBC unintentionally trivialized an issue that was extremely important to McKissic and to the black members of the SBC. This trivialization of important issues can make the black community feel marginalized and unimportant. While the SBC never supported the Alt-right, the Resolutions Committee did send a message when they turned down the resolution because they feared it would be impossible to draft. By refusing to address a difficult issue, the SBC unintentionally stated that it wasn’t an important enough topic to address.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, moments will occur when we as the church fail to properly show compassion to others. Many SBC pastors seemed to believe that their condemnation of the Alt-right was already clear and didn’t require a resolution. But if this is an important issue to McKissic and the black community, then it should be important to their Christian brothers and sisters in the SBC.
The Church must approach the task of reconciliation with humility. We must understand that sometimes we simply don’t understand.
Therefore, we must humble ourselves and listen to those with whom we are working towards reconciliation. We need to listen to the issues raised by our brothers and sisters and work for their resolution. We should be an example to a struggling nation of how to patch a growing divide of hostility and apathy and truly love each other. This requires humility, a listening ear, and a willingness to do the hard work.