So recently the Southern Baptist Convention met in its annual meeting.
And there was some hubbub about the SBC’s position on what is commonly called the Alt-Right. As someone unenthusiastic about the the state of religious journalism in general I suspect all this sound and fury was created by uninformed religion writers from the few newspapers still staffing such positions but who really have no relationship to the subject matter they cover (here’s a pretty solid exception to my general skepticism if you want to read more on what went down).
But I digress.
Ultimately the messengers of the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention adopted this resolution condemning racism and, to whatever degree it appears within white nationalism and the Alt-Right, repudiating white nationalism and the Alt-Right as well.
Please read the whole resolution (link above) but here’s a relevant excerpt:
WHEREAS, Racism and white supremacy are, sadly, not extinct but present all over the world in various white supremacist movements, sometimes known as “white nationalism” or “alt-right”; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we 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 redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.
So there’s the SBC and the Alt-Right but the title of this post mentions Doug Wilson too. So what about him? Well, Wilson has some criticism to offer on the SBC’s adoption of this resolution.
Before we get started: Wilson has been, and remains, a major influence on me and I am very grateful for his work (one example from this very blog). In fact, I consider Wilson a top-shelf Christian thinker in this generation.
Wilson is regularly helpful in both dissecting a given issue in the church, culture, or their intersection. Even better, he’s helpful in charting the way forward in consideration of that issue. Rarely do I find him clearly taking the wrong heading.
It appears, in fact, that perhaps the one real chink in his analytical armor is the Southern Baptist Convention (which may also play into what I – and a few others, based on Wilson’s report at the beginning of this piece – see as an uncharitable reading of Dr. Russel Moore’s work).
I learned last year that Wilson grew up among us southern Dunkards and, while I bemoan Wilson’s apostasy, I understand the inclination to deal seriously with the folks back home. And, assuming the SBC is in need of scrutiny (which it is, being a human institution) I welcome it from a brother of Wilson’s ability.
Having said that, I think Doug has misunderstood the nature of the resolution under analysis and as a result, his critique has gone wide.
My understanding is that Wilson thinks the SBC is participating in (my words, not his) some kind of dragging-behind virtue signaling:
I have noticed for some decades that evangelical Christians are adept at adopting worldly fashions ten years after the world has done adopted them, and then doing it worse. This is true of fashion, music, diets, you name it. It is also true of political fads and fashions. As chronic late adapters, we are often climbing on board just as the carnal overreaction to the carnal stupidity is setting in. The world is about to throw off whatever it was as “dumb and stupid,” while we are all clamoring to be included. “May we join you on board?” we ask the disembarking passengers.
My response would be that the SBC certainly isn’t immune to that kind of failure but that kind of failure isn’t what is going on with this resolution. And I’ll illustrate that with another Wilson quote, this time on a part he got right.
But here is the problem. The SBC statement admirably denounces every form of racism in general, but specifically denounces only one kind of racism, the kind that has recently come bubbling to the surface in the alt-right movement. …
Here is a thought experiment. Suppose someone introduced another resolution, next time around, identical in theology to this one, and identical in theological expression to this one, but with the only difference being that the specific groups denounced were the Nation of Islam or Black Lives Matter. The same sin is rejected, and for the same reason—because of the denial of what the blood of Jesus Christ was intended to do. God intended to make one new man out of the two. Right?
Does anyone believe that such a resolution would sail through? I am afraid that it would not. There would be an uproar because, while the theology was righteous, there would be legitimate suspicion that there was a surreptitious (political) agenda in the selectivity of the identified villains. And so there would be.
And this is why, when representatives of Jesus Christ are denouncing hateful bigotries, and they take it upon themselves to repudiate what star-bellied sneetches have done to the non-star-bellied sneetches, they must also take care to address any problems that have run the other way. This must all be done at the same time.
So Wilson is very right: when racism raises its head – be it in Black Lives Matter, the Nation of Islam, the Alt-Right, or the Southern Baptist Convention – it is a good thing for Christians to denounce and repudiate it categorically and comprehensively. Rejecting sin is a life-giving general principle.
But it is also good to reject sin specifically. In the case of the Southern Baptist Convention specific confession is needed along with general. There is also a pressing moral proximity component involved here too (more on that in a moment). Finally, it is loving to one’s neighbor to communicate clearly, precisely, and in a way that attempts to accommodate their understanding – Christians take this principle from the Word who took on flesh and dwelt among us.
Now, what I mean by moral proximity is that while I have a moral obligation to end human suffering from hunger around the world I have an even more pressing and urgent obligation to the child starving to death in my own neighborhood. Or, more pointedly, in my own church.
So yes, Southern Baptist should reject racism. And they should also reject specific acts that are racist in nature. And they should clearly repent and reject racism in their own history. Thankfully, the denomination has taken steps to do so.
And here’s the moral proximity thing: our (our here being the SBC) neighbors may very well associate an overwhelmingly white denomination with racism. Right now the big name in white supremacy is the alt-right and thus it is loving to tell our neighbors that we, as a denomination, are not that, in case you were wondering – just as the SBC should have done in the era of Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and others. That we failed to do so then makes it even more urgent that we do so now.
So why not do the same with racism that crops up in Black Lives Matter, Nation of Islam, et cetera? Our neighbors aren’t nearly as likely, if at all, to wonder if the (again, largely white) SBC is a bastion of racism as found in BLM or NoI. Having said that, should the SBC ever shift where that is a question among those outside of the faith (or even our denomination) I would hope the SBC would reject those things as well and just as explicitly.
You may object: “This only plays into the hands of identity-politicking progressives who hate the church.”
My response: yeah, it may. But our frame of reference is the Kingdom of Christ. And it is consistent with that Kingdom to love your neighbors well in being clear about who you are and who you are not.
I want to be clear: I’m not talking in any way about removing the offense of the gospel. The gospel is necessarily offensive and that same Kingdom won’t allow for compromise, mitigation, or adjustment on its gospel.
What I am saying is that the specter of racism holds the potential to work as an additional, opacifying, offensive barrier to the legitimate and life-giving offense of the gospel. Christians are wise to remove all additional offenses that are not necessary to the gospel so our neighbors can deal only and entirely with the full force of that life-giving offense.
This last thing – removing these extra offenses alongside and through repenting and clarifying in both the general and specific senses – is what Southern Baptists are trying to do.
I’m glad they are.