A ROAD MAP ON RACE IN THE SBC IN LIGHT OF THE PHOENIX ’17 ALT-RIGHT RESOLUTION
By William Dwight McKissic, Sr.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s response in its Annual Session in Phoenix, June 2017, to the White Supremacy/Alt-Right Resolution that I submitted, may be recorded by historians as a defining moment in SBC history, particularly on the racial front. Phoenix may prove to have been a pivotal turning point and place in how racial matters are dealt with in the SBC for years to come. To reflect on the Resolution and to offer a road map to navigate through uncharted racial waters as an interracial Baptist Convention—are the twin topics of this article.
The major news story emanating from Phoenix should have been the historic election of Pastor H.B. Charles—arguably the best preacher in the history of the SBC—being elected as President of the Pastors’ Conference. Thirty-one full-time International Mission Board missionaries being appointed to serve is a phenomenal accomplishment worthy of celebratory heralding also. Passing the Alt-Right Resolution fulfilled the commandment of Jesus to “be the salt of the earth.” Salt keeps meat from decaying and the prophetic witness of the SBC on the Alt-Right issue makes it crystal clear that the SBC renounces that movement, and no one affiliated with the SBC should be in any wise connected to the Alt-Right. The passing of the Resolution will help keep American society from decaying. May The Lord bless the SBC for doing so! President Steve Gaines is to be commended for his leadership in this matter. Job well done!
Had the Resolution been approved smoothly, the Alt-Right Resolution would not have been the primary news from the Phoenix SBC and would not have garnered so much attention, of which I regret. The cumulative effect of the decision of the Resolutions Committee and subsequent votes by the messengers to affirm their decision to reject the White Supremacist/Alt-Right Resolution sent a stunning message to the Nation: The SBC may be complicit with the Alt-Right and White Supremacy. The majority of the messengers, twice, thankfully disagreed with the Resolutions Committee and wanted to bring this to the floor of the Convention for discussion, and I believe, ultimate approval. Unfortunately, it was not a two-thirds majority either time. Therefore, it appeared there was no other logical explanation as to why the SBC would deny thrice a resolution denouncing White Supremacy and the Alt-Right. The majority of the messengers were feeling like the majority of the folk on the outside. Is the SBC complicit with White Supremacy and the Alt-Right? Barett Duke, the Chairman of the Resolutions Committee, denied that the Committee’s inaction demonstrated in any capacity, complicity, or sympathy, toward White Supremacy or the Alt-Right. I tend to agree with Barett, but it begs the question: Why then did the Committee reject the initial Resolution? Duke’s answer was it was “poorly written” and “inflammatory.” What metrics did Duke use to determine that my resolution was “poorly written” and “inflammatory”?
It is unprecedented for a resolution, once voted down by the messengers, to be publicly discussed positively or negatively after the vote. I’ve never heard of a resolution publicly condemned by the Chairman or anyone else across the 34 years I’ve attended the SBC. This is an example of the majority culture mindset that rules the SBC. Who determined the Resolution was “poorly written” and “inflammatory”? Were those determinations factual? Did one Black person agree that it was poorly written and inflammatory? Why didn’t the Resolutions Committee reword the Resolution to their satisfaction, and then submit it to the messengers for approval, on the front end of the process, rather than on the back end? That is the normal course of action. Why was this Resolution handled so differently?
The National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention certainly registered their disagreement with the rejection of the original Resolution and their support of the original wording. They did not agree with the assessment that it was “poorly written and inflammatory.”
I do not believe Barrett Duke or any of the ten mainly White Resolutions Committee members are racist. I do believe that there is a systemic majority culture mindset that still dominates and rules the SBC, and often dictates policies, agendas, protocol, practices and resolutions. This will only change as committees become more diverse. The Resolutions Committee rejected my Resolution not because of a sympathy or support of White Supremacy or the Alt-Right. Their rejection was personal, directed toward me because of my outspokenness on race and other issues. The Committee subjected the entire Convention to a crisis-like situation, because of their personal rejection and failure to anticipate the backlash from the Convention floor. This is no longer your great grandfather’s convention.
Joseph Caldwell, “a white guy who has spent most of his life and ministry in SBC churches and institutions,” spoke the unadulterated truth from the perspective of many Black pastors who have volunteered their view with me on this matter, in an article entitled “Why Pastor McKissic’s Language Matters and the Southern Baptist Convention Should be Ashamed.” Caldwell is President at the Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies.
For any White SBC brother or sister who wants to know what it feels like to be Black and belong to the SBC, please listen to the Podcast by the Reformed African American Network (RAAN) (https://www.raanetwork.org/pass-mic-sbc-alt-right-condemning-white-supremacy/) concerning the Resolution. It is quite introspective, transparent, and eye opening about how most Blacks felt during the deliberations in Phoenix. Even after the vote, most Blacks still were not pleased…not even with the final wording of the Resolution. I attended a gathering of Black pastors in Fort Worth this morning. The pain behind the Resolution is still being felt among many. The exclusion of significant Black input on the final wording of the Resolution is considered the most egregious error in the entire process.
Because I’m of an older generation, I was pleased with the final wording of the Resolution that passed with the exception of the removal of the “curse of Ham” section. Many Black pastors were sorely displeased with the fact the original wording was rejected by the committee; but I assured them that by denouncing White Supremacy and specifically naming the Alt-Right, the two most important matters of the Resolution were dealt with. By ultimately passing the Resolution, the SBC avoided a mutiny with Black pastors and churches who I’m hearing daily were highly offended by how the Resolutions Committee and the Convention’s two votes to approve the Committee’s decision made them feel. There is still some mending work to be done, in my opinion.
Barett Duke expressed to me a non-specific apology regarding the Resolution—that I accepted for peace and unity sake. I believe it’s time to put this matter behind us (now that I’ve expressed myself) noting lessons that we’ve all learned something, and it’s time to move forward.
Therefore, I offer the following as a suggested road map for the SBC to consider regarding moving forward on racial matters in the days to come.
First of all, the SBC needs to lay the axe at the root of the tree and corporately confess and repent of their complicity in the teaching of the “curse of Ham” theory, in order to root out any vestiges of racial residue remaining from persons yet alive (which is most of us) when that doctrine was prominently taught. The reoccurring racial problems we face as a Convention may be directly connected to the lack of corporate repentance for this hideous sin of abusing the Bible in this manner.
Dr. Al Mohler in discussing the origin of the Southern Baptist Convention stated:
“Indeed, we cannot tell the story of the Southern Baptist Convention without starting with slavery. In fact, the SBC was not only founded by slaveholders; it was founded by men who held to an ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in scandalous theological argument. At times white superiority was defended by a putrid exegesis of the Bible that claimed a “curse of Ham” as the explanation of dark skin, an argument that reflects such ignorance of Scripture and such shameful exegesis that it could only be believed by those who were looking for an argument to satisfy their prejudices.”
This “putrid exegesis” concerning the “curse of Ham” continued to be taught into the ‘70’s, by select Southern Baptists, and in isolated places, reports are, it is still being taught. I purchased the Smith’s Bible Dictionary at a Lifeway Bookstore in 2000 where this doctrine was taught. Lifeway has since removed Smith’s Bible Dictionary. I listened to Mrs. Criswell teach this doctrine on a DFW radio station in the late ‘90’s. “You can’t get good fruit, from a bad root,” and therefore the place to begin, post-Phoenix, is to repent of the “curse of Ham” teaching in Dallas 2018 or Birmingham 2019. This would signify a new start for the SBC on the racial front; and as far as I’m concerned, I would join the chorus with David Brumbelow and others saying, there’s no more need for any other apology on race, unless new incidents occur—from either side—that determines such.
Slavery was the fruit. The curse of Ham was the root. The SBC has yet to repent of the root which is—“the curse of Ham”—that gave rise to White Supremacy—that gave rise to—Alt Right. Therefore, repentance for teaching “the curse of Ham” is necessary, in order for the Convention to be totally right in the sight of God.
Secondly, I want to boldly proffer that the SBC follows a biblical model in the future as it relates to appointing leaders and entity heads, by intentionally balancing qualified and called persons of all races appointed to serve throughout the life of our Convention.
When there was a complaint by the Grecian widows, with regard to the “daily distribution,” there were seven men with Greek names selected to meet the need, and all were pleased (Acts 6:5). That was a bold move, to have only Greek men responsible for the “daily distribution.”
When God established the first Gentile congregation in Antioch, He specified the geographic origin of the leadership: Barnabas (Acts 4:36, 13:1, “a native of Cyprus”); Cyprus was located in Southern Europe. “Simeon” who was called Niger (Acts 15:1); “Niger” is a Latin term meaning black and indicative that Simeon was darker than the Mediterranean norm; “Lucius of Cyrene” (Acts 13:1); Cyrene is located in North Africa (Libya). “Manaen, a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch”; Manaen is believed to have been from Rome; and Saul (Acts 13:1); Saul was from Damascus. My point is that, if the Lord intentionally selected leadership from Europe, Africa and Asia to lead the very first Gentile congregation He formed, shouldn’t the leadership of the SBC also in every area, and on every trustee board reflect a similar kind of racial makeup and balance? What if the Resolutions Committee had looked like the leadership team at Antioch?
When God sent wise men to honor the coming of His Messiah, as a babe in Bethlehem, He chose men of African, Asian, and European descent—or descendants of Ham, Shem and Japheth (Psalm 72:10, 15). An African, a Roman and a Jew showed up at the crucifixion and were changed. We can change the Nation following this model.
The biblical authors, including the gospel writers, were also men descended from Japheth (Europeans), Shem (Middle Eastern/Asian) and Ham (African). My point is, if the Lord intentionally called the early church leaders and biblical writers to be multi-racial, shouldn’t the SBC follow the same model? The SBC has an opportunity going forward to pattern after the biblical model.
If there are 100 persons on the Executive Committee, maybe the ethnic makeup should be more like a third of each people group. As entity vacancies occur, we should be intentional that they begin to reflect God’s will as revealed at Antioch. Your hesitancy may be the same as mine. Frank Page and Russell Moore, two of the relatively recent entity head appointments that I’m totally supportive of, may have been overlooked if we made race the priority. That’s possible. But who believe it was not intentional that all seven men selected in Acts 6 were Greek, and not Hebrew? My point again is to reach the diversity reflected in Scripture, going forward we must be intentional. I celebrate Jim Richards in leading our Convention to a 14% increase in minority appointments this year. Yet, the SBC has a 20% minority membership; and again, the biblical model looks more like one third of each race in leadership. The 14% increase is far greater than what it was in times past; so my heart rejoices.
Finally, our land needs to be healed racially. Only the church can do this. I believe only the SBC and her churches have the potential and racial constituencies to pull this off. But in order to do so, our churches must become interracial, and we must plant interracial churches. Going forward, if the SBC strategizes and prays as hard to plant interracial churches and to seek to allow God to remake existing churches into interracial churches, we will see our churches revived and our nation healed as never before. The Convention that’s currently “stained” and branded with racism will then become branded with racial healing and reconciliation. May the Lord help us to move pass the resolution rankle in Phoenix, appreciate the recovery and move to racial h