Opinion

A media firestorm elevates a false narrative of Southern Baptist racism

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, speaks with reporters after a resolution similar to one he submitted June 13 on racism was unanimously approved June 14, 2017. Messengers adopted a resolution "on the anti-Gospel of alt-right white supremacy." Photo courtesy of Baptist Press/Van Payne

(RNS) What happens when frenzied news cycles, a culture of perpetual outrage, social media and political intrigue infect a religious event?

We get a mess: Truth is distorted, intentions are impugned, and energy is wasted — all in the pursuit of self-reinforcing narratives that bolster our unhealthy tribalisms.

Predictably, this sad spectacle repeated itself at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, which ended Wednesday (June 14) in Phoenix.


READ: In dramatic turnabout, Southern Baptists condemn white supremacy


Endless articles and op-eds spewed forth on the question of how the nation’s largest Protestant denomination will engage politically in the Age of Trump.

Since the proceedings of denominational meetings are so boring, we in the media ignore reports about growth and decline, missions and evangelism in order to find controversial items that will feed an insatiable hunger for political news.

We usually accomplish this by over-hyping denominations’ resolutions, brief statements often about current affairs that are voted on, reported on and summarily forgotten.

This year, the Southern Baptists approved a resolution “On the Importance of Moral Leadership,” repackaging language from a 1998 resolution condemning President Clinton.

Cecil Cunigan, a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix, holds up his ballot to vote for a new resolution condemning the racism of the “alt-right” movement on June 14, 2017. Photo courtesy of Matt Jones

The resolution targeting President Trump, aside from being true and important, was likely satisfying for the subset of Southern Baptists who declined to vote for the obnoxious, unqualified demagogue.

Trump’s Baptist disciples could not vote against the resolution, and maybe felt a tinge of cognitive dissonance as they pondered their support for the New York billionaire.

But there was to be more resolution intrigue and drama: A resolution condemning the racial prejudices and white nationalism that undergirded Trumpism failed in committee.

Suddenly, a media narrative emerged that Southern Baptist Convention delegates (called messengers) had declined to condemn the “alt-right.”

This was very exciting for a group of mostly anonymous internet racists.

It also animated many well-intentioned clergy and laypeople within and beyond the SBC who lament the strands of white supremacy and blindness to racial inequity that still persist in churches.

But there’s just one problem: “Southern Baptists do not vote to deplore white nationalism” is neither fair nor accurate.

It is, to use one of the president’s favorite terms, “fake news.”

The truth is that no one spoke in defense of conservatism’s racist faction. Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist missiologist, announced: “No one has come to the mic to defend white nationalism, white supremacy, or the alt-right. Not a one.”

As it turns out, the Resolutions Committee, an appointed body that considers hundreds of resolutions and sends a handful to the floor each year, did not like the provocative resolution’s strong but perhaps imprecise wording.

One function of the committee is to avoid redundancy, and the SBC overwhelmingly approved resolutions deploring racism as part of its continuing emphasis on racial reconciliation.

Maybe the committee underestimated the degree to which the 2016 election and some prominent SBC leaders’ roles in it disappointed nonwhite Baptists and their white brethren who support racial justice.

In any case, a flurry of procedure on the convention floor and a flood of social-media posts Tuesday and Wednesday elevated the resolution into a national story.

It must be said, however, that the committee’s chairman, Barrett Duke of Montana, is one of the denomination’s best statesmen. Duke, who worked for the SBC’s public-policy arm in Washington for two decades until his retirement last year, was personally involved in many of the convention’s efforts on racial equity.

Duke apologized to the resolution’s author, the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Arlington, Texas, for his committee’s misread.

Here’s the truth: Baptists, like every faith tradition, have their fair share of racists. The resolution condemning white nationalism passed easily in the convention’s closing session, to thunderous applause from the floor.

The SBC, its entities and its leaders actively speak out against racism, even as they struggle with how much of their cultural clout or political successes they owe to racially aggrieved whites who propelled Trump to power.

In my view, they have said enough but there is still work to be done.

Actions speak louder than words. Or, as Bible-believing Baptists might prefer, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).

By fast-tracking a strong resolution after a procedural failure, Southern Baptists have done something important.

They need to do more.

(Jacob Lupfer is a contributing editor at RNS and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University)

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Jacob Lupfer

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  • Thanks, Jacob. This is the most precise and accurate portrayal of the back story that I have read. Useful, and instructive for all who write about such things.

  • “But there’s just one problem: “Southern Baptists do not vote to deplore white nationalism” is neither fair nor accurate.”

    I fully disagree with this statement. The SBC has a long history of supporting white nationalism including its current practices. It supported the South in the Civil War declaring “God is on our side”, supported the Vietnam War, opposed the passage of Civil Rights, opposed the ERA, etc. The list could go on & on.

    It has been on the wrong side of morals, ethics and Christ’s teachings since its beginning.

  • It appears the kerfuffle was the failure of the Resolutions Committee to reach out to Pastor McKissic to say they did not like the wording before the Convention. The language of his resolution was clear that white nationalism was an important issue to be addressed for black and other minority members of the SBC. Had Pastor McKissic not reintroduced it himself, there would have been no resolution. Note that in 2016 he presented a resolution to support the removal of the Confederate Flag from public life. Did the 2016 resolution have an influence with the actions of the Resolutions Committee?

  • I’ve had a recent discussion with a close Christian friend about the question of nationalism. If we can separate the “white” part of the equation from the question for a moment, should we then ask; Is nationalism itself a bad thing? Globally minded people would aver, “Absolutely, yes!” I would argue otherwise.
    Granted, that nationalism (tribalism) has been the impetus for many costly wars and ravaging’s, but globalism is no alternative, and this is why: In Genesis, with the account of the Tower of Babel, “The Lord said, ‘Behold the people is one, and they all have one language, and this they begin to do: AND NOW NOTHING WILL BE RESTRAINED FROM THEM, WHICH THEY HAVE IMAGINED TO DO (emphasis mine). Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” The premise of the Lord’s rhetorical question is clearly that humanity, if united in language and intent, would be much more inclined and effective with respect to evil intent.
    Divided, in the global sense, we are weaker as a (human) race, and less able to dominate and persecute one another. United (under a unified command, as it were) our propensity for evil would only become more efficient and manifest.
    This is why many Christians have historically resisted the concept of the United Nations. Thankfully, that body is utterly feckless, but a truly global unitary government would sound the death knell for human aspiration….and yet, such is ultimately inevitable in a modified sense. The Book of Revelation describes just such a government, and assigns it the place of final human government before the Return of Christ.

  • If the argument here — that the SBC action was complex and reported incorrectly so it’s the media’s fault — was in any way true then there would not have been such a speedy correction. This is a good effort to muddy the waters, but the reality is that the SBC delegates changed their minds when what they did became both public and indefensible. As journalism this piece is also indefensible and gets an F. Sorry.

  • Condemning white nationalism: the beginning of a big decine for this denomination. Sad fact.

  • Dwight Mckissic will be back with MOORE resolutions next year. Never let photo op go to waste …..praise his name.

  • Always knew there was a paranoid wingnut hiding underneath that cool exterior. New World Order rambling is so passe.

  • “Suddenly, a media narrative emerged that Southern Baptist Convention delegates (called messengers) had declined to condemn the “alt-right.”” The author went on to call this narrative “fake news.” It’s not fake news.

    The resolutions committee declined to put this resolution to a vote thereby declining to condemn. It was brought to the floor circumventing the committee and was passed over a 2nd time. Not fake news. The fact that it became news at all was the reason the vote was forced on the uninterested messengers.

    The author also suggests that a resolution calling for Morality in Leadership was a “repackaging” of a 1998 resolution and then explains the reason for the committee’s ambivalence to the alt-right resolution in its original form was that they while they didn’t like the imprecise language, part of their job was to “avoid redundancy.” You mean, like “repackaging” a 1998 resolution?

    This story’s biggest exercise in missing the point is the author acknowledging: “Baptists, like every faith tradition, have their fair share of racists.” While this is true, it minimalizes the broader issue that this organization was founded as a result of racial bias, and a belief that the curse of Ham allowed for blacks to be enslaved. They opposed segregation and until 2016 thought it okay to fly the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of their facilities.

    SBCs leaders want racial reconciliation but in word only. They neglect the passionate concerns of their African American brethren yet call on them to reject bitterness as I personally witnessed at the ERLC Conference in 2016.

    Without considering socioeconomic ramifications in urban neighborhoods, Baptist Churches have been the first to move from downtown to suburbia following the white flight. With little care about the the overwhelming racial imbalance in our nations prisons, few Baptist Churches even have prison ministries, and they continue to uphold their belief in the death penalty as an act of justice. Both are issues and social priorities in African American communities. The SBC wants racial reconciliation only if it benefits them and costs them little to none.

    This is a pattern, not an isolated incident. Diminishing the pain this caused and calling this fake news does disservice to the men and women of the SBC that are striving to lead this sad denomination in a new direction.

  • Neither were you. But if I am wrong here and you were, can you explain why the resolution concerning neo nazis died in committee so ignominiously? As an eyewitness.

    As for bigotry, the SBC was founded on it and continues advocating it. To make such categorical denials is to blind yourself to their past and present.

  • You sound like a 1ying apologist. If it is incorrect and you have knowledge as to what happened, please do tell. If you do not, your statement is worthless interjection.

  • You are a dishonest apologist. If you knew what you were talking about, you would be able to provide actual facts concerning the events in rebuttal. You would not have made such a blanket nonsense statement.

  • I would argue that that speaking in tongues at Pentecost is the divine rebuttal to the Tower of Babel.

  • You are correct that I was not there this year. However, I am aware of the process as a past messenger and former employee of the denomination’s publishing house.

  • That’s because Kingdom of Heaven citizenship transcends national citizenship. The fallen world itself is the same as it ever was.

  • A explanation was given that the, resolution committee, was concerned that the resolution was giving the appearance they were hating there enemies.

    Hey don’t laugh. As a Southern Baptist I believe that explanation, and if you would only take the time to get to know us you would understand. You would understand that we are not racist, we’re just perfect. Perfect right down to our genes.

    I will say this as a Southern Baptist. I attend a church with a lot of decent people, and when decent people get better they become more decent people. As a Southern Baptist I’ve known my share of perfect people too, and when they get better, they become decent people.
    When they don’t get better, they usually end up serving on some committee…fix’n stuff…like reslution word’n.

  • Does the SBC have it’s own account of the process?

    You understand there is a world of difference in credibility from saying, “fake news” and “this story is inaccurate because…. is what really happened”.

  • Yes, 4900 messengers took a stand. And for that I am grateful. The process, procedure and the back room politicking it took to get it to that point was shameful.

  • The media is lying about the SBC almost as much as the SBC lied about the Alt-Right.

    Sympathies from this Southern Baptist: none.

  • Blestou did share they Blestou was there. Blestou then shared what happened. Please see Blestou’s statement above.

  • See my more recent comment. The cretinous habit of people to say “you lie” or “fake news” is not a credible retort. But explaining ones position is. He did to some degree. Fair enough.

  • There you go. Fair enough. That sort of thing is far more useful in the initial complaint than simply interjecting, “you lie” or “fake news”

  • I’m apparently not any good at this – as you made my point succinctly. The press did not lie – there was nothing fake about their reporting. Context matters. And – knowing the institution as I do – I don’t take the reporting of the Baptist press to be unbiased either. Nor would I call them liars or fake news outlets.

  • I’ve been around long enough to have seen rules, procedures, and bylaws be used numerous times to a shameful end. They are not in and of themselves shameful – only when they are used to distract, to justify, or to diminish are they so.

    In this case they were used to distract from the underlying race issue – which is that many Bapists are not willing to face the racial theology behind the ‘curse of Ham.’

    As a way of apology – I often misspeak, I often make mistakes, and acknowledge that I sin daily. My post was not intended to present anything that was fake or to lie, but rather to offer perspective and context which I believe was missing in this article. I understand that you took personal offense to my perspective and for that I am truly sorry.

  • Jesus was a dark-complected Semite surrounded by his fellow dark-complected Semites.
    A white-skinned visitor would have been the one complaining of racism in that part of the world.

  • I’m fully prepared to wait and see…if I should live so long. Hey, if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. Apart from NWO theorizing, one can’t really get around the scattering at the Tower of Babel, or the Book of Revelation…if one is a Christian. Paranoid I’m not. I merely speculate. It makes for satisfying mental chewing gum.

  • Lol. It’s what you call an orgy of spite. Reminds me of SNL’s old Roseanna Roseanna Danna skits.

  • The alt Right rising in the last year and resonating in ways we thought impossible in the modern era, infecting breitbart which often acts as our president’s mouthpiece and who’s leader sits at Trumps right hand….

    For this not to make it out of committee for any reason is at best utterly tone deaf.

    For a group like the SBC with its history, the tone deaf option isn’t available. The article doesn’t answer why the committee didn’t respond to the resolutions author at all. The best case here is that the SBC might not have intended it, but they look like they are giving the new racism a pass whether they meant it or not. This was real news no matter what the details were.

  • See me raising and waving my hand, Professor Jacob Lupfer. I know, I know that one.

    “What happens when frenzied news cycles, a culture of perpetual outrage, social media and political intrigue infect a religious event” at this week’s Southern Baptist Convention?

    ANSWER: These more important resolutions got ignored and unpublished (except by the exceptional Adelle M. Banks) – isn’t that what you’re getting at? That these white conservative Christians have resolved to (1) lift up “those leaders who choose not to meet privately with members of the opposite sex who are not their spouse'”; (2) re-affirm “the sufficiency of Scripture” and, as sister Adelle puts it, (3) “the biblical doctrine … that Jesus took the place of sinners on the cross”.

    (Source: Adelle M. Banks, “Southern Baptists grapple with morality, white nationalism in the Trump age”, Religion News Service, June 13, 2017)

  • Sorry that I missed your response and while my response really just popped out of my head, when I googled the two, I actually got 770,000 responses. So I am guessing there are many way better responses than what I will give you.

    The premise which you asserted as to God’s reasoning was replaced by the need to be able to communicate to a diversity of languages/peoples and subsequently necessary to evangelize to spread the Gospel message. Babel also translates as Gate of God so then from a Christian perspective, Christ is necessary. But it is also a story to explain why there wasn’t a single race/people in a single location which was the intent of God originally following the Flood. . And to be perfectly honest, perhaps a recent look at chiasm (or chiasmic patterns) in the story of Abraham and being told scholars have found literally thousands (including the Babel story) in Scripture is likely what the the thought about Pentecost pop for me.

  • I suspect that the decision to reach out to Black Baptists was made solely to help reverse the spiraliing decline in membership in white Baptist congregations. But perhaps, cynical though the original decision was, the inclusion of Black Baptists may actually liberalize the convention. Maybe the convention will reconsider not only their historical racism, but also in the future the pain they have caused LGBT people.

  • Bless their pea pickin’ lil’ hearts. Here’s to the day when people can behave morally of their own volition and not by prostrating to man made deities.

  • It is a fairly common assertion among biblical scholars (conservative and otherwise). A couple good commentaries should detail the line of thought (even going back to early Church “fathers”)

  • Sorry for an extremely late reply, some how I missed this, but your reply, which makes sense to me for the most part, raises a new question in my mind: What is the evidence that God intended a single people in a single place, surely He was more foresighted than that?

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