Last Wednesday, at its annual gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning all forms of racism in America, targeting specifically what has become known over the past year as the “alt-right” white nationalist movement.
This was undoubtedly a significant moment for a body that was- tragically, but truthfully- born and built in the 19th century on an expressly pro-slavery position, and has a checkered history on issues of racial equality and justice. At the same time, for those who have been paying attention not just to the SBC’s past but to its recent present and seeming future, the move shouldn’t be all that surprising. Last week’s resolution marked the third consecutive year that the body has taken up the cause of racial reconciliation in its gathering, immediately following last June’s condemnation of the Confederate battle flag. The convention is growing more diverse in more ways than one, and rising SBC leaders- while maintaining a steadfast commitment to biblical authority and traditionally held convictions- have proven increasingly eager to speak out prophetically on a broader range of social and moral issues, with none more prominent than race.
So why are we talking about this anyway? Two reasons…
1- Southern Baptists represent America’s second largest organized Christian body, surpassed only by Roman Catholics, and are therefore a leading voice of influence among American Christians, especially in the Southeastern US.
2- Fellowship Church is affiliated with the SBC, meaning that we voluntarily hold to the convention’s statement of belief (Baptist Faith & Message 2000) and that we voluntarily contribute financially to the convention’s collective missions and ministry efforts across North America and around the world.
That being the case, I think it is vitally important that we (a) understand what happened last week in Phoenix, (b) identify why it matters, and (c) consider what it means for us as followers of Jesus gathered together in this community. First, take a few moments to read the full text of the resolution for yourself…
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 a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; 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.
It is critical to note that despite some initial procedural difficulties getting the resolution to a floor vote, support for this statement and the convictions it expresses was, by all accounts, unanimous among the near-5,000 voters present. In other words, this is no “fringe segment” of the convention, but rather a solidly representative group of Baptist leaders and laypeople from across the entire nation.
This is obviously a significant statement saturated with Gospel truth and anchored deeply in God’s Word. Before delving into why the “alt-right” movement is described above as not only racist, but also “anti-Gospel,” let me clarify what a convention resolution is and is not. Given that all Baptist churches exist autonmously- that is, outside of any formal hierarchy- resolutions are non-binding on individual congregations such as Fellowship. They are position statements, not orders.
In Baptist life, it is our opportunity- and let it be noted, our responsibility- to examine all such statements through a biblical lens and respond to them accordingly. That being the case, how should we think about- and even more importantly, what should we do about- this strongly worded, much talked about resolution at an individual and local level? Let’s consider this together…
- Most significant (in my view) is the resolution’s incisive identification of “alt-right white supremacy” as not only inherently and thoroughly racist, but “anti-Gospel.” That’s a pretty serious charge, wouldn’t you say? So does it hold up to biblical scrutiny, based on our understanding what the “Gospel” is? I would answer, without hesitation, yes. Here’s why…
- The Bible teaches that all men and women were created in God’s image. This places all racial and ethnic groups of equal value before God. None are inherently superior- or inferior- to any other.
- The Bible teaches that the fundamental problem of our lives is sin– not the absence of a particular racial or ethnic identity, be it white or any other. All have sinned.
- The Bible teaches God’s solution to our sin problem is seen in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Even setting aside the fact that Jesus Himself was not white, it is critical to recognize the racial and ethnic universality of His saving work. His sinless life is credited to all who believe, regardless of race; His sacrificial death is sufficient for all who trust, regardless of ethnicity; His victorious resurrection is a triumph for all who surrender, regardless of national identity.
- The Bible teaches start to finish that God is deliberately building a church and a Kingdom that is global in scope, encompassing “every tribe, language, people, and nation.” His Kingdom transcends all earthly kingdoms and overcomes all earthly barriers. Such a beautifully diverse Kingdom magnifies His glory supremely.
- Thinking practically, it is not difficult to see how racist or nationalistic ideologies undermine the local church’s ability to faithfully fulfill her mission, or (in the positive) how potentially powerful it is when a local church commits to reflect and pursue the far-reaching, God-glorifying diversity which our Creator intended. Particularly in the tense, divisive days in which we live today not only in our nation, but across the globe, it is a phenomenal “counter cultural” witness to the watching world when the church is a leading voice and example of what racial healing, unity, and cooperation can look like through the power of the biblical Gospel.
That said, how can you put into practice individually- and how can we put into practice corporately as a church- the convictions expressed in this resolution? This is admittedly a long haul conversation, not something that will be solved with a quick fix of any kind. But here are a few ideas of stir our thinking today…
- We must first recognize and repent of any racial or ethnic prejudice that exists within our own hearts and minds. So often, especially on hot button issues such as this one, we all too quickly look to point the finger at others without “keeping it real” about our own struggles. I get that it can be incredibly uncomfortable to own up to your sin, but we simply cannot move forward with any integrity or influence without first getting our own house in order before God and before others.
- We must also become- much as the SBC has done nationally- become a prophetic voice in our community as to the “anti-Gospel” of all racism, and in this cultural, specifically of “alt-right white supremacy.” Where we encounter it- be it within our own congregation, or in the community at large- we must be bold in confronting it as a grievous sin and pointing to the Bible’s clear teaching on the universality of the image of God, the problem of sin, and the solution of the Gospel.
- We must work hard to understand- and empathize with- the unique challenges and struggles experienced by minority groups. I believe this happens through the intentional cultivation of relationships with those of diverse backgrounds, as well as a willingness to ask questions that may not have particularly easy or comfortable answers. We simply must have the humility to listen to those who are different than us, and seek genuine understanding before self-justification.
- We must always, always, always anchor our words and actions firmly in God’s Word, not our own opinions or the sway of surrounding culture. It is easy to get swept up in the emotional frenzy of a social media driven world, but our convictions as Christians ought to run much deeper than simply the controversy of the week. As the SBC resolution demonstrates with tremendous clarity, this is without question a Gospel issue, and one that is undoubtedly worth fighting for. But to do that faithfully, we must do the work necessary to understand why that is so- not just because it makes us feel good, or feel like we “fit in” to our cultural surroundings.
- Most of all, we must maintain a steadfast commitment to our God-given mission- “to make disciples of all nations.” Racism and nationalism simply can’t be harbored in our hearts if that mission is going to be pursued and completed. To reach all, we must love and value all- just as God does. To teach all, we must come eye to eye with Bible’s clear teaching on these issues- and be prepared to be “doers of the Word, not hearers only,” while calling others who identify as Jesus followers to do the same. Further, we must commit ourselves to making the most of every opportunity for cross-cultural partnerships in this global mission, not viewing or treating our minority brothers and sisters as mission projects, but rather as mission partners.
It is a massive task to attempt to take on such a weighty issue in a limited space like this one, but my hope and prayer is that what you’ve read here today will spark in you a response of repentance (where it is needed), compassion (because it is always needed), and a humble, passionate commitment to engage this issue through a Gospel framework. I encourage and challenge you to take some time this week to dig into the biblical teaching on this issue on your own. Allow God’s Word to speak for itself, and be ready to receive it and put it into practice as it does!
If you have additional questions, or would like to engage in further conversation on this issue, I encourage you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.