By Todd Brady
Vice President for University Ministries, Union University
As a Christian, I want to be known for what I’m for rather than what I’m against. However, there comes a time when silence about what we are against is so confusing to others that we are compelled to speak. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Southern Baptists meeting in Phoenix recently at the annual Southern Baptist Convention may have received bad press for seeming hesitant to speak against the alt-right movement, but in the end we were not silent. The Atlantic stated that a resolution condemning white supremacy was causing “chaos.” Fox News reported that the SBC condemned the ‘alt-right’ movement after an “uproar.” While “uproar” is an overstatement, it seemed to me that the media focused more on what they considered a preliminary uproar rather than the point Southern Baptists were making. I returned from Phoenix realizing that whatever concern about our hesitancy to speak as a denomination was actually rooted in a matter of procedure, not principle.
Southern Baptists voted on a resolution decrying “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ” and denouncing and repudiating “white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil.” I’m thankful that in this matter, we did as Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission encouraged us. He said “If we’re a Jesus people, let us stand where Jesus stands.”
The SBC Resolutions Committee originally declined to move on a resolution condemning the alt-right and White Supremacy because it did not “clearly define who the alt-right is” and because some of its language was broad and inflammatory. Also, some thought that the resolution potentially implicated political and religious conservatives who do not support the alt-right movement. Speaking of the Resolutions Committee, Dave Gass, pastor of Grace Family Fellowship in Pleasant Hill, Mo., said it well. “It wasn’t that they didn’t like the resolution. It’s that they didn’t like the wording of the resolution.”
Realizing that the rejected resolution wouldn’t fly, most of us wanted to ensure that the Southern Baptist Convention speak unequivocally about our abhorrence of racism and the un-Christ-like, anti-gospel, alt-right, white supremacist movement. In an unprecedented procedural move, the Resolutions Committee requested to move a revised resolution on racism and the alt-right to the Convention.
We were going to speak out on this, but because of Robert’s Rules of Order we would have to wait until the next day for it to happen. What seemed like hesitancy or a lack of integrity on our part to the outside world was really a desire to get our words right so that our statement would not wrongly implicate others and so that we would be both clear and direct about what we believe about racism, the alt-right, and White Supremacy.
When you consider the history of America, you realize that the road to reconciliation is long and circuitous. The train of racial reconciliation often moves slowly and is often bumpy.
In 1995, Southern Baptists apologized for our historical role in slavery. In 2015, the SBC passed a resolution supporting racial reconciliation. Last year, the SBC rightly encouraged Christians to stop displaying the Confederate flag. This year, we have spoken again. Concerning race, Southern Baptists have come a ways, and while I join with others in wishing that the train might move faster, there has been movement. Even so, there is much more progress to make.
Words matter. That’s why there was such a deliberation in Phoenix. Now the world knows where the Southern Baptist Convention stands concerning the alt-right and the White National Movement. However, merely getting our words right and our arguments tight will not accomplish progress. Words are essential, but they are not enough.
It is not enough to be committed to the idea of reconciliation. We must all be committed to the daily work of reconciliation. The gospel demands it. Occasional documents will never do it. There must be ongoing actions which impact personal relationships and society’s structures and systems.
In speaking of the deliberations this week in Phoenix, Emma Green of The Atlantic, said “All hell broke loose.” Well, I was there. Things were bumpy along the way in the convention hall, but all hell did not break loose.
Racism is a sin from hell, and I for one am hoping that the hell of racism indeed breaks loose in my lifetime.
As I think about the fact that all people are created in the image of God, (Genesis 1:27) I look forward to that day when all hell does break loose and racism is no more.
And as Christians look forward to that day when a great multitude “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand in Heaven together, (Revelation 7:9) we will have realized that all hell has indeed broken loose and that racism is no more.