I’ve been meaning to write about this for over a week, but life events have slowed me down. At least 8 state conventions issued resolutions condemning racism, white nationalism and white supremacy, and the Alt-Right and calling upon gospel unity at their annual meetings. With strong statements from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, the SBC went beyond the Alt-Right Resolution in Phoenix at the national convention and applied this sentiment on the state level as well. I wonder if local associations will continue to make these statements as well?
Baptist Press had a great article on the developments. Read it to get a summary of most of the state resolutions.
Their write-up on the Alabama resolution is of particular interest to me, as I minister and live in Alabama:
– The Alabama convention, meeting Nov. 14-15 in Huntsville, resolved to “condemn every form of racism, including and specifically alt-right white supremacy and white nationalism, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
It also said, “That as a witness to the sacrificial love of Christ for all people, we will oppose persecution and harassment of all racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, refugees, and anyone else targeted by these white supremacist/nationalist groups.”
The messengers called for Baptist churches to “seek racial reconciliation in our respective communities across Alabama to show the power of the Gospel and to give respect, honor and love to one another and thus make known that we are His disciples.”
In addition, the resolution urged opponents of the “alt-right” — a movement that advocates white nationalism and/or supremacy — to use only “peaceful, non-violent means” in their protests.
The Virginia resolution also drew my eye, especially considering the events in Charlottesville in August:
— The SBCV, meeting Nov. 12-14 in Colonial Heights, addressed the August rally organized by the “alt-right” in Charlottesville, Va. Opponents of “alt-right” ideology gathered to counter protest, and violence ensued between the groups. One woman died when an “alt-right” protester drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. The messengers extended their “love and compassion of those in Charlottesville devastated by these events.”
The messengers also denounced “every form of nationalism that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty.”
“[W]e will stand with ethnic minorities and anyone else targeted for intimidation so that the attempt to devalue our fellow image bearers results in a bold witness of the sacrificial love to which Christ calls us,” the SBCV said.
In addition, the resolution encouraged SBCV churches “to prayerfully consider increasing diversity among local church and denominational leadership.”
Tennessee Baptists recently took a strong stand against White Nationalists who gathered in Shelbyville, TN to protest immigrants and refugees who had come to the Middle Tennessee area. Their subsequent resolution should be deeply considered as well:
The resolution noted that:
— “God is bringing the nations to Tennessee and is making Tennessee home to more than 145 different global people groups” and that the TBC is “comprised of racially and ethnically diverse churches.”
— the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 affirms “Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”
— Tennessee Baptists “are categorically opposed to all ideologies and movements of any race that diminish the dignity of any human being” and that they believe “one cannot be a devoted follower of Christ and harbor racism of any kind in one’s heart.”
— Tennessee Baptists “embrace Tennessee as a diverse mission field that God has called to reach through the fervent preaching of the gospel and acts of service to others, regardless of race or ethnicity,” pledging to “intensify our efforts to pray, give, and advance the Great Commission across the street to our closest neighbors and to the ends of the earth.”
The resolution exhorted Tennessee Baptists “to pray for the salvation of our neighbors regardless of race or ethnicity” and to pray “for our leaders and all who are in authority” as they make policy decisions related to issues of race (1 Timothy 2:2).
And the resolution called for Tennessee Baptists “to 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 the redeemed fellowship in the kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”
These resolutions are not just about black/white racism. They also recognize that White Nationalists are opposing immigrants and refugees and are fostering hate and division to be stirred up against ethnic minorities across the country. The Tennessee resolution did a great job of connecting the denunciation of White Nationalists to the positive affirmation of taking the gospel to the nations among us.
Recently, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted the second annual Reaching the Nations in North America Conference. The focus was on how churches could reach immigrants and refugees who have come to live among us with the gospel. It was not lost on conference participants (I was there) that the same weekend that Tennessee Christians, including Southern Baptists, were standing against white supremacists who were marching against immigrants and refugees, in Shelbyville, TN, hundreds of other Southern Baptists were gathered at SEBTS to learn more about how to reach the nations who have come to dwell among us.
In addition, in October, the ERLC recently published a letter supporting the hundreds of thousands of Immigrant Dreamers whose DACA protection was revoked. The letter asks for legislation that would make a way for them to be able to earn legal status. They called this letter the Evangelical Leader Statement of Principles on Dreamers. One of the most powerful parts of the statement involves the concept of justice in regard to those brought here illegally as children and who have grown up here and have nowhere to go:
We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit. We recognize that Dreamers are a special category of immigrants because they broke no law and committed no offense. How we treat this category of immigrants is therefore not just a policy or political issue—it is a moral issue. Subjecting Dreamers to deportation or lives of perpetual insecurity in the shadows of our communities is an offense to the rule of law and to the purpose of government, which is for the good of people.
This is significant because it places the fate of Dreamers into the realm of a moral issue and a biblical justice issue and it declares that the rule of law is actually violated if these young people are deported or if they are not granted a pathway to citizenship. This is significant. The letter goes on to call for secure borders, for family stability, and for a pathway to legalized status and/or citizenship for Dreamers.
The letter is signed by a who’s who of Southern Baptist and Evangelical leaders. You can also sign your name to it, if you desire.
The issues of racism, white nationalism, white supremacy, the Alt-Right, and anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment are all connected to fear of the “other.” Across the country, a growing number of people are fearful of the future and fearful of people of different cultures and ethnicities affecting their “way of life.” For most of my life, I lived under the idea that race relations were getting better and that America is a place that welcomes the immigrant and refugee. In the past few years, that illusion has been shattered and we are seeing division, anger, and fear grow.
In a speech in October, former president George W. Bush said, “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism … Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.” All over America, people of goodwill are recognizing that racial strife is growing instead of getting better. But, this is also a prophetic moment where the church can lead and point the way to the Cross of Christ and sacrificial love for neighbor and even enemy, or we can shrink back and grasp at protecting our own “way of life” over and against others.
The opportunity for gospel witness to the reconciling power of the Cross and the incredible love of Christ is greater than it has been in my lifetime. Our country is trying to figure out how to live together and get along, in the midst of our differences. The church can show the way. I’m proud that Southern Baptists have been doing just that, as this post demonstrates. With our tragic and shameful past regarding slavery and race relations, what if God displayed His incredible grace and mercy and redemption by using the Southern Baptist Convention to point the way to racial and ethnic healing and gospel welcoming of the immigrant, refugee, and the stranger?
What if God is using Southern Baptists to tell a better story? I think that is happening and I am glad.
Alan Cross is a long-time SBC pastor in Alabama who now serves as a Missional Strategist with the Montgomery Baptist Association and an advocate for ministry to immigrants and refugees across the Southeast. He is the author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus (New South Books, 2014).