Southern Baptists Issue Resolution Condemning The Alt-Right…But Why Did They Have To?

On Wednesday, 5,000 members of the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution condemning the alt-right, a measure that wasn’t as easy as it sounds on the surface.

After the convention passed resolutions condemning Planned Parenthood, denouncing gambling, and advocating “consistent moral character” (including “those leaders who choose not to meet privately with members of the opposite sex who are not their spouse”), Dwight McKissic, a black Baptist pastor from Texas, introduced a resolution against the alt-right.

Seems like it would be an easy resolution to adopt, right? Not so fast, as the Washington Post reports:

…when the resolution on the alt-right failed to move forward because of objections to some of the wording, many younger members and evangelicals of color became upset. “I thought it would be a slam dunk, but I misread Southern Baptists apparently,” McKissic said.

Barrett Duke, chairman of the SBC’s resolutions committee, told Religion News Service that the committee’s decision to not bring the resolution forward for a vote on Tuesday was “not an endorsement of the alt-right.” He said the initial resolution did not clearly define who the alt-right is.

And then, on Wednesday:

Just before the proposal was passed, one member asked Southern Baptist leaders whether a study of the “alt right and the alt left” could be done this year. But then several Southern Baptists stood before the convention urging the convention to adopt the resolution before it passed.

In the end, the resolution did pass:

“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,’ ” the resolution states. Southern Baptists “decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and “we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil.”

But I can’t help but wonder something: if so many prominent Southern Baptists (and other evangelicals, to be perfectly honest) hadn’t gone all in for Donald Trump throughout the election season, would a resolution condemning the alt-right be necessary? Or would it at least have been a no-brainer the first time around?

To be fair, the alt-right was but a tiny fringe of Trump’s supporters, but his candidacy brought them to light. And – fairly or not – the Trump candidacy wound up walking around with the stink of white nationalism stuck to its shoes because of the alt-right’s . Unfortunately, that odor haunts Christians who hopped on the “Trump Train” to some extent.

Let’s face it: would it have been necessary to go on record condemning an execrable philosophy that so few people adhere to had men like Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell, Jr. not supported Trump so vocally? The American church has dealt with the specter of racism for generations – often admirably – but this fight could’ve been unnecessary had Christians approached the 2016 election a little differently.

Southern Baptists Risk Moving From Jerusalem to Bethel

When the united kingdom of Israel split in two, Judah remained tied to Jerusalem as its capital with worship at the temple of Solomon. The northern kingdom, which continued to be called Israel, had to do something different. Jeroboam did not want his people going down to Jerusalem, though scripture commanded worship at the temple. Instead, he set up two golden calves, one at Dan and one at Bethel. The latter became a central religious area.

Throughout scripture in the Old Testament, one of the chief indictments against Israel by the prophets was that it played at religion, but was not really religious. Their treatment of widows, orphans, refugees, and the poor in general proved that though they played at religion, they were not serious. They did not have hearts of godly people, but of people turned over to their sins. They bowed to idols and before golden calves. They taught the commandments, but did not honor them.

The prophet Amos declared that “Bethel will be reduced to nothing,” and I wonder sometimes about the Southern Baptist Convention these days.

I grew up in the SBC. I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church. My wife was too. In fact, we would still be in a Southern Baptist church if, when I went to college, I had discovered a decent one. But I did not and my SBC affiliated pastor suggested I find a PCA, Presbyterian, church. I still have a lot of fondness and kinship with the SBC and most of my and my wife’s families are in churches of the SBC still. My first time preaching was to an SBC group.

But there is trouble there. Some of the largest churches in the SBC are, like those at Bethel, playing at religion, but their actions show they do not really practice what they preach. They have conformed their religion to their politics and not the other way around. Let me just say as one in seminary who is engaged in politics for a living, if your faith and politics align perfectly, you’ve probably made politics your idol. Not a day goes by that I don’t think I have some area that needs improvement as I engage in the political process.

Within the SBC, however, that does not seem to be the case for some churches. During the election, they rallied to Donald Trump and some of them went beyond “he’s not Hillary,” to “he’s another Cyrus.” They touted Trump and ignored, papered over, or excused his sins. In the process, they harmed their witness and abused their fellowship with the growing number of black congregants in an increasing multiracial SBC. Instead of relying on God to save them, they decided Trump would save them.

One of the few voices in the Southern Baptist Convention leadership who maintained his integrity was Russell Moore. He refused to get on the Trump train. He refused to join some pastors in the SBC with rhetoric hostile toward refugees and immigrants. He called on Donald Trump to repent. After the election, Moore has been unwilling to water down the gospel call or the need for repentance and it is putting him at odds with some SBC pastors who went all in for Trump.

Moore’s refusal to surrender his integrity acted as a harsh spotlight on the lack of integrity others showed and in revenge, those others are seeking to punish Moore by withholding funds from the SBC. Others are calling for a formal investigation into Russell Moore’s actions as they seek his ouster.

These pastors got what they wanted. Donald Trump became President. But now they are working to push out the voices of integrity who are not willing to sacrifice their religion to accommodate the politics of the age. It is very much like Bethel. They are making great shows of religiosity. Their temples are full on Sundays and their cups overflow. Their shirts are starched just so and their cufflinks shine.

But they are not only seeking vengeance — and let’s not beat around the bush here, this is all about retribution — they are going after one of the few voices loudly standing up for traditional marriage, racial reconciliation between Christians, and support for the poor, widows, orphans, and refugees. They are doing it all because… well … their side won the election.

Like the man they supported, they are willing to sacrifice grace and common decency to purge from within any whose integrity shows how much they lack. And in the process, they are increasingly putting strains on race relations within the SBC. Many black congregations looked to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as a calming voice in the election season. Chasing after Dr. Moore looks like chasing after these churches.

Like the northern kingdom, the Louisiana Baptist Convention, Prestonwood Baptist, etc. are all playing at religion, but they’re worshipping a golden calf, or more aptly a golden haired politician, not the God of all creation. Their actions now show that clearly and if they do not repent, like Bethel, they too will be reduced to nothing.

Additional information added after publication

Let me come back here and add one more “grievance” against Russell Moore. Some, notably out of the Louisiana Baptist Convention but not exclusively there, are upset because Dr. Moore and several other SBC leaders supported a mosque’s right to build in New York. As Dr. Moore, David Platt, and others noted, at a time when secular leftists demand Christians get out of the public square, it would be self-defeating for Baptists to not defend other religions’ rights to be in the public square. If Christians surrender the idea of free exercise for all, they will be surrendering it for themselves as well. But some, in comfy confines where they think the gay rights activist will not soon show up on the doorstep of the Christian baker, would rather ignore or actively oppose the religious liberty of others thinking they will somehow escape the coming persecution. They will not.

The objection to Dr. Moore and David Platt for supporting a religion’s right to build a house of worship is cutting off the SBC’s nose to spite its face.

Additionally, some object to Moore’s support for allowing refugees into the United States. I would say again that the Old and New Testaments are both insistent that we will be judged on how we treat widows, orphans, and refugees. One of the great indictments against Israel, an indictment that demanded its destruction, was that it did not treat widows, orphans, or refugees well. The demand for good treatment of those groups carries over into the New Testament. If you deny that statement, you are denying scripture itself. If you expect a leader in any Christian denomination to ignore the plight of the refugee, you are expecting that leader to ignore his God.

Please Don’t Muddy the Moral Clarity

“[T]he new Jerusalem will have a wall. It’s gates may never shut, but gates and wall there will remain.”

Russell D. Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and Ronnie Floyd, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, have added some much needed moral clarity to the crisis at the border.

They have gone and served as eye witnesses to what is not just a national security problem, but a humanitarian crisis. Ronnie Floyd notes that the Southern Baptist National Disaster Relief Ministry is no longer permitted to assist those who have come over the border. The Department of Health and Human Services has “assumed custody of unaccompanied children, permitting only federal authorities and federal contractors to be in contact with them.” I hope these kids fair better with HHS than the millions of Americans trying to navigate Obamacare.

SBC President Floyd and Dr. Moore have seen up close and personal the kids “as young as seven years of age” streaming across the border. Dr. Moore has made clear that

As Christians, we don’t have to agree on all the details of public policy to agree that our response ought to be, first, one of compassion for those penned up in detention centers on the border. . . . The Gospel doesn’t fill in for us on the details on how we can simultaneously balance border security and respect for human life in this case. But the Gospel does tell us that our instinct ought to be one of compassion toward those in need, not disgust or anger.

I agree with him. I am reminded of Hebrews 13:2. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (ESV) Christians, indeed all Americans, should show compassion to these children who have been put in this situation by their parents often out of a desire for the children’s safety or well being.

I appreciate the moral clarity of leaders like Ronnie Floyd and Russell Moore. I am sympathetic to and want to provide private Christian charity to these children. I am somewhat shocked by the very hostile reaction some Christians are having to folks to Russell Moore and Ronnie Floyd, along with Glenn Beck, Dana Loesch, and others. They’re being accused of helping criminals. The Good Samaritan never asked for papers before rendering assistance. Chuck Colson started a prison ministry to minister to law breakers. Christianity does not stop at the border. Christian charity should not start with a passport check.

Concurrently, I hope the many evangelicals who are providing assistance at the border do not rush forward and muddy the moral clarity with opposition to proposals to close our border, ensure the expeditious reunion with families south of us, end the DACA program, and bring this crisis to closure. A number of mainline denominations are attempting to do that even now with requests that Congress and the Administration not deport and not take the steps needed to ensure this crisis starts.

I am reminded of Romans 13:1. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (ESV). We are a nation of laws. But first, we are a nation. That nation has borders. Those borders must be respected. Those crossing over show no respect for our borders. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” Peter wrote at 1 Peter 2:13 (ESV).

This border crisis highlights a longing for what our nation represents for many, but also, for others not featured in the sympathetic press, an opportunity for crime and other issues. Christians should show compassion, but we should also respect the law and want others to respect the law and our institutions.

Christians should provide for those in need. Christians should comfort the poor and the refugee. As a nation, we should be ending incentives[1] for the perpetuation of this crisis through both rapid repatriation and rapid closing of the border. Jesus said in Matthew 19:13-14, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” I agree with that. Let us also agree that America is not Jesus. Even upon the arrival of the new Heaven, the new Jerusalem will have a wall. It’s gates may never shut, but gates and wall there will remain.

  1. A Christian, in private charity, providing a teddy bear to a seven year old abandoned by his parents or a warm meal to a teenager coming to find his family does not provide an incentive for the perpetuation of the crisis. If you think it does, you are not a serious person.

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