A Movement to Condemn the Alt-Right Turned the Southern Baptist Convention Upside Down

So there’s been a lot of chatter on Twitter—maybe you’ve seen some of it—but what exactly went down with the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday?

There’s been a lot of drama—something not usually associated with a Southern Baptist Resolution Committee—and things are still getting sorted out, but here’s the general gist of things so far.

A Proposed Resolution Called Southern Baptists to Reject the Alt-Right

A resolution to condemn white supremacy at large and the alt-right’s emboldening of it in particular was presented to the Southern Baptist Resolution Committee.

The resolution was written by a popular black pastor in Texas named Dwight McKissic. You can read the whole resolution here, but it stated in part that, “there has arisen in the United States a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in race relations, divide our people, and foment hatred, classism, and ethnic cleansing.”

McKissic called Southern Baptists to “reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called ‘alt-right’ that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system.”

Notably, the resolution made reference to “the curse of Ham” —a Genesis passage often used by white supremacists to justify racism on biblical grounds. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

The Resolution Didn’t Make It Out of Committee

So, here it’s important to understand how things work in the SBC: A committee makes the decision about whether or not a resolution will be brought to the floor for a vote.

In this case, the committee decided against the resolution, meaning the full body didn’t have an opportunity to vote on it. At that point, delegates can introduce a motion to get a two-thirds majority on the resolution to pass it. McKissic reportedly tried to get just such a majority, but most of the pastors were tired, checking out and may not have even realized he was doing so.

There are various reports as to why the committee chose not to move the resolution forward. Some reported that the specific wording struck committee members as too narrow, since they didn’t want to condemn the alt-right wholesale. Some people said there was a concern about how the media would interpret such a resolution.

Various other resolutions that did make it out of committee include standard affirmations of Southern Baptist doctrine and even a somewhat controversial resolution calling for moral character in office that many delegates interpreted as a jab at President Donald Trump. Nevertheless, McKissic’s proposed resolution died … or so it seemed.

Twitter Exploded

The goings-on of a long, boring Southern Baptist Resolution Committee aren’t exactly the sort of thing you expect to grab Twitter’s attention, but that’s what happened. A long list of Christian leaders resoundingly condemned the SBC’s decision.

https://twitter.com/edstetzer/status/874808841854009344

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On the flip side, at least one guy seemed encouraged by the resolution: Richard Spencer, prominent alt-right figurehead and unapologetic Nazi sympathizer. He called it an “interesting development” and “exciting!”

The Committee Decided to Reconsider

“A group of us gathered around McKissic, and resolved that we were going to see what we could do with this,” Pastor Dave Gass told The Atlantic.

The committee had said that their concerns regarded the specific wording, so a group of delegates got together in an attempt to make a few edits that might help the resolution go down easier. The Convention’s leaders, scrambling after the negative press, were only too happy to have a chance to make things right.

A special, late session was convened, with pastors desperately tweeting their colleagues to come back to the meeting hall and take a look at the edited resolution. There’s no word on exactly how many people made it back for the second round of conversations, but the resolution passed this time.

It will be brought to the floor this afternoon for an official vote.

The New Resolution Will Be Voted on Wednesday

You can read the new resolution here.

It contains a few, notable differences from the original. It removed references to the curse of Ham. The reasoning behind that isn’t entirely clear, but that does seem to shy away from condemning a particularly ugly and dehumanizing interpretation of Genesis that has been used far too often to stoke white Christian hatred against their black brothers and sisters. 

The new resolution is called “On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy” instead of the original title: “On the Condemnation of the “Alt-Right” Movement and the Roots of White Supremacy.” This would seem narrow the focus of the resolution to condemning racism with the alt-right movement instead of condemning the alt-right movement at large.

The Southern Baptists Continue to Face a Reckoning

The Southern Baptist Convention has said they want to make “racial reconciliation” a priority. In 1995, the denomination formally apologized for slavery, which played an ugly, key role in its founding. Just last year, it actually called on members to stop flying the Confederate flag.

But the subject remains divisive within the denomination. Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s public-policy arm, has spoken up about racism and condemned what some view as President Trump’s emboldening of the alt-right’s nationalism, and those actions have put his job in the crosshairs and lost funding. The SBC is bleeding adherents (they have one million fewer members than they did a decade ago) and while Wednesday’s vote may well prove that the SBC will listen when other Christians call it out on mistakes, the incident highlighted a rift that won’t be easily forgotten.

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