By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Another annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention has come and gone. By all accounts it was historic and for the most part Southern Baptists left with a good feeling. Tennessee Baptists should be extremely proud as one of our own — Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, was elected president in an unusual and historic election (see also column by Chris Turner).
There was an emphasis on prayer, soul winning, racial reconciliation, and revival/spiritual awakening. Those are desperately needed in our world today. It’s not a matter of Southern Baptists not knowing what to do. It’s a matter of getting the job done.
Southern Baptists dealt with a number of resolutions ranging from gratitude to supporting the nation of Israel to freedom of the press. Perhaps the resolution that drew the most interest and debate from the floor dealt with the Confederate flag.
The original resolution called on believers “to consider prayerfully whether to limit, or even more so, discontinue its display,” while noting that for some people the Confederate battle flag is not “a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism.”
Former SBC President James Merritt offered an amendment that made the resolution stronger. He moved that the reference to the flag’s not being a racist symbol for some be removed and that the convention call believers to “discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity with the whole Body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters.”
Merritt made a statement that resonated with messengers. “Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.” Can’t argue or disagree with that. He basically said that we cannot let anything hinder us from sharing the gospel of Christ with people of every race and nationality.
The amendment and then the motion passed by an overwhelming majority.
In the aftermath of the convention, the resolution has received negative reaction in Facebook posts and in media reports. Some people are really upset. There are Christians who do not see the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate. They see the flag as a symbol of their heritage.
And, as usually happens with resolutions that are non-binding, the secular media has had a field day. Sadly, their reports aren’t always accurate and they tend to portray Southern Baptists in a bad light.
Because resolutions have no authority on anyone, there’s no reason to get upset. If you choose, you can display a Confederate flag. There are people who do not see the flag as a racist symbol. The issue is not so much the Confederate flag as it may or may not relate to racism. The real issue is this. Does racism exist in your heart?
If we truly want to “fix” the racial problems in our country today, it is going to take every Christian, regardless of race and color, examining his or her own heart. It boils down to individual choices. I have to repent if I have racism in my heart. You have to repent if it’s in your heart. When enough people start repenting we will begin to see progress.
Read the SBC wrap-up which begins on page 1. It contains a section on racial reconciliation. The SBC is making huge strides in this area. Outgoing president Ronnie Floyd made this a priority. He addressed it during his presidency and during his president’s address at the convention, calling racism “an assault on the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He included Jerry Young of the National Baptist Convention on the program of the SBC and introduced Lynn Jackson, great great granddaughter of Dred and Harriet Scott to messengers.
Floyd told messengers, “Any form of racism defies the dignity of human life. Regardless of the color of one’s skin, God has put His divine imprint on each one of us.”
In addition, 25 percent of those members named to the 2016-17 Committee on Nominations came from ethnic minority groups. That is amazing and encouraging at the same time.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention also is blessed in this area. We have made amazing strides in race relations over the past decade. Just last year we elected our first African American president. This year our second vice president is African American. We have people of all races serving on our state convention’s boards and committees.
My prayer is that everyone will want to see racial conditions improve in our nation. I am convinced it must start with Christians. We can’t change the past, but we can make the present and future much better.