THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION AND THE CONFEDERATE FLAG
BY WILLIAM DWIGHT MCKISSIC, SR.
I love the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has had a direct or indirect impact upon me, all of my life. What was then called The Baptist Student Union on college campuses—particularly in the South—greatly impacted my older siblings, providing discipling, ministry and mission opportunities. In Arkansas, Camp Paron (SBC affiliated) always had a week set aside for the National Baptist Churches’ young people to attend. Dr. Robert Ferguson, who led the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, National Baptist work (SBC affiliated) made sure Black Seminarians and college students at SBC affiliated schools, received scholarships. Two members of my family were blessed to have their college and seminary training subsidized with Cooperative Program (SBC) dollars. In my formative years we would occasionally hold joint services with SBC churches. There were at least two gatherings comprised of Southern and National Baptists held at War Memorial Park, Little Rock, and at Immanuel Baptist Church, Little Rock. Those are fond memories. There was a special dynamic present in those joint services that was radically different and unique. God would kiss those services with His presence.
When I planted the church that I continue to serve as pastor, it was an SBC congregation, Tate Springs Baptist Church of Arlington that sponsored our plant. Over a course of a three-year period, CP dollars and TSBC dollars combined, provided our church plant with approximately $200,000 to help us get started. Additionally, TSBC (SBC affiliated church) co-signed for a $330,000 building loan to finance our first church building. When we outgrew that facility, after 14 years, the Baptist Church Loan Corporation (SBTC/BGCT affiliated) provided my congregation with a $3 million loan, enabling us to relocate and to more than triple our membership. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you that the first 10 months of our church’s existence, we met rent-free in the Chapel of the Tate Springs Baptist Church, Arlington. We were ill-equipped to handle our own Sunday School at the outset; so they provided the Sunday School to our children and youth. Without the SBC and her affiliates, including predominately White churches, Cornerstone Church, where I pastor, simply would not be where we are today. I would be an ingrate, to not honor and give God praise, and express appreciation to the SBC in my heart and to anyone who would listen. I thank God for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Even when the SBC has disappointed me, I’ve watched them make course corrections. In the ‘70’s, the SBC adopted—by way of resolution—a liberal view of abortion. But, God be praised! A few short years later, they reversed their course. In 2005, the SBC/IMB adopted Landmark-like baptism policies, and exegetically indefensible cessationist/praying in tongues in private policies. However, in 2015, under the able and affable leadership of Dr. David Platt, the SBC made a course correction and reversed those indefensible policies that simply could not stand in a Convention that prides itself on doctrinal truth/orthodoxy, and the inerrancy of Scripture. William Cullen Bryant was right: “Truth crushed to the ground will rise again.” Those controversial policies at the IMB had to eventually fail, because as the late Rev. John H. Nolen would say, “The universe was built on truth…therefore, a lie ultimately cannot stand.”
Our church increased our CP giving when these baptismal/tongues policies at the IMB were changed to line-up with the Scripture, as opposed to lining up with a certain ilk of Baptist traditions. When the SBC employs Blacks or other minorities as an entity head, our church will increase our CP giving again, because at that point the SBC will actually model the racial inclusion and empowerment that they preach. This brings me to the elephant in the room whenever the SBC meets—and that’s racial division and disparity.
Tremendous progress has been made on the racial front in SBC life, perhaps more so than any other mainline denomination in America. I applaud and appreciate the progress made in SBC life when it comes to racial matters. The SBC is probably better poised for revival to come to our denomination, more so than any other, because of the widespread racial and ethnic diversity that exists among SBC affiliate churches.
What we have not seen historically or currently in SBC life is the Convention entity heads and elected leadership reflecting consistently, the racial and ethnic diversity of the SBC membership. Could it be that the SBC is having a difficult time escaping the racial and racist vice-grip in which she was birth?
In Savannah, Georgia, 1861, the SBC adopted a resolution that stated, “RESOLVED, That a committee be appointed to recommend such vital changes in the Constitution and Minutes as may be necessary, growing out of the recent formation of the Southern Confederacy., “
In Augusta, Georgia, 1863, almost two years before the Civil War ended, the SBC passed a resolution declaring “hearty support to the Confederate Government in all constitutional measures to secure our independence.” This resolution also “acknowledge[d] the hand of God in the preservation of our government [Confederate Government] against the power and rage of our enemies…we confidently anticipate ultimate success…we justify ourselves in this conflict with our enemies.”
Clearly, the SBC supported the Confederacy and was emotionally and philosophically attached to the Confederacy. The SBC, to this day, has never corporately repented for her allegiance to the Confederacy. The Dylan Root love affair with The Confederate Flag (CF) and his murdering of nine innocent Black Kingdom-citizens (Christians) has brought this matter back to the forefront. The SBC has an opportunity to get it right this time. Blanket apologies, and broad, generic repudiation of racism does not suffice for specific declarations of support for the Confederacy (racism) unrepentant of. Especially, when there is an element in SBC life that yet justifies and supports the CF, as they did in 1861 and 1863.
“As a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, part of my obligations and duty is to place Confederate flags on graves of Confederate soldiers every April. If this resolution is passed, SBC churches whose cemeteries include Confederate graves will forbid this sacred honor to American Veterans.”
Edward H. Sebesta, in a letter to Dr. Ronnie Floyd (dated October 27, 2014), stated:
“Dear Dr. Floyd:
I regret to report that the Ashley River Baptist Church, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, hosted an event for the 2014 National Reunion of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). It is reported in the July 30, 2014 issue of the Times Examiner. I enclose a copy, and the article can be read online athttp://www.timesexaminer.com/historical/1914-2014-national-reunion-of-sons-of-confederate-veterans.
“I did not write any organizations of Southern Baptists in South Carolina since I thought Southern Baptists wouldn’t do such a thing. The Southern Baptist church had seemed to be moving forward on the issue of race with such notable actions as the 1995 apology for slavery. It had seemed that the Southern Baptists comprehended that Christianity was a global effort with no one race or nation privileged over another. Yet this doesn’t seem to be the situation.
“The Southern Baptists may have apologized over slavery in 1995 but in 2014 it is aiding and abetting an organization that is promoting pro-slavery theology and a neo-Confederate ideology that condemns the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The spirit of the Confederacy is not dead in the SBC. Alexander Stephens delivered his “Cornerstone Speech” which would be the Confederate States of America equivalent of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” This speech was delivered by Stephens in Savannah, Georgia, in March 1861. Stephens served in the cabinet of the Confederate government:
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.”
You would think repudiating the blatant racist’s ideology and symbolism of the CF would be a “no brainer.” Yet, some in the SBC, yet support the unrestricted usage of the CF. Others proudly display the CF. Whoever reads Alexander Stephens’ quote above and still maintains that the Civil War was not about slavery, and the Confederacy was not organically racist, that person is a very dishonest person. And a Convention who denies it is also very dishonest. So how then can the CF be innocent?
The blood of the Charleston Nine, are crying out for racial healing and unity. The survivors, in the Spirit of Christ, readily forgave their transgressor. The least that we can do is to repudiate the symbolism (the CF) of the spirit that drove his diabolical actions. I’m confident that the majority of the SBC messengers will side on the right side of history, truth and the Bible. But, just as the SBC has made wrong decisions before (previously mentioned) they are capable of making a wrong decision again. It’s my prayer though, that just as the SBC is on record supporting the Confederacy, and they will now go on record disavowing the CF. What a great honor that would be for the Charleston Nine!!!
Regardless to the outcome though, I’m encouraged. Russell Moore has been a jewel of a champion in taking stands on the right side of racial issues during his tenure at the ERLC. I have much respect and appreciation for him. Dr. Fred Luter addressed the Trayvon Martin tragedy with compassion, balance, and prophetic truth in a way that I thought I’d never live to see an SBC President speak to a racial issue in the manner Dr. Luter did. Much love, much respect, much appreciation for Dr. Luter. Dr. Ronnie Floyd is charting new and needed ground in the dialogue he has opened up with the National Baptist Convention and her President, Dr. Jerry Young. I’m thrilled and excited about the racial progress I see in the SBC. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. I am praying for Dr. Floyd, Dr. Young and the SBC as they have the courage and character to tackle this issue head on. May God bless the SBC!
The way Ronnie Floyd, Russell Moore and Fred Luter have addressed the race issue, makes me proud to be SBC. May their tribe increase! The way Dr. Platt led the IMB to move toward adopting a biblical position on those IMB policies makes me proud to be a Southern Baptist. To not repudiate the CF, though, would be extremely difficult for many Americans to comprehend.