When a black pastor submitted a statement condemning white supremacy to the Southern Baptist Convention for review this week, the resolutions committee swiftly denied it and moved on.
A revised version of the resolution ultimately passed, but only after considerable internal and outside pressure forced the denomination’s president to step in.
It’s not uncommon for the committee to turn down a resolution, said Rev. Dwight McKissic, the Texas pastor who submitted the proposal.
“When that happens, you can either accept it or challenge it by asking the convention in session to request that the resolutions committee bring your resolution to the floor to be voted on,” McKissic told HuffPost. “So I chose to challenge it.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, convened on Tuesday and Wednesday in Arizona for its annual meeting, during which church leaders discussed denominational issues, made budget decisions, and voted on resolutions outlining their theological and social stances on various issues.
Every year, a 10-person resolutions committee reviews proposals and determines which issues will be voted upon at the meeting. Just one of the committee’s members is black this year, McKissic said.
The pastor’s original resolution, a draft of which he posted on Southern Baptist blog site SBC Voices in May, denounced the alt-right movement ― the beliefs of which include white supremacist rhetoric ― as a “toxic menace.” It urged the convention to oppose its “totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples.”
It referenced the “curse of Ham” as the root of white supremacy in the “Christian context.” This once-touted theory was used in the justification of slavery and racial segregation and claimed that “God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos.”
The committee initially refused to consider the resolution. After McKissic challenged the committee’s decision, convention attendees voted on whether to instruct the panel to reconsider, which would require a two-thirds majority. The vote failed.
“After that I took my seat,” McKissic said. “I could live with that because everything had gone by the rules.”
Barrett Duke, the head of the resolutions committee, told The Atlantic that he was aware that “feelings rightly run high regarding alt-right ideology,” but didn’t clarify what those feelings were. “We share those feelings,” he said. “We just weren’t certain we could craft a resolution that would enable us to measure our strong convictions with the grace of love, which we’re also commended by Jesus to incorporate.”
But resolutions rarely go for a vote in their original forms, McKissic said. Duke confirmed to The Atlantic that the committee hadn’t reached out to McKissic to work on a revised version.
Duke did not immediately respond to a request from HuffPost for comment.
After internal debate and social media backlash, the convention decided to vote on whether to challenge the committee’s decision once again. And once again, the vote failed to reach a two-thirds majority.
“I just want clarity from the president of the Southern Baptist Convention about whether we condemn, as a convention, racism,” said Rev. Garrett Kell, a white pastor in Virginia, addressing SBC president Rev. Steve Gaines from the microphone Tuesday night.
Gaines responded, CNN reported, by saying: “I’ll speak for myself. I don’t know that I can speak for everyone in this room, but I believe God loves everyone. I believe there is only one race and that is the human race.”
The Southern Baptist Convention has long grappled with issues of racial equality. The denomination first apologized in 1995 for its role in upholding the practice of slavery. Since then, the denomination has passed resolutions supporting racial reconciliation and calling on Christians to stop displaying the Confederate flag.
Just when the denomination seemed poised to forgo an opportunity to categorically denounce white supremacy, a group of Southern Baptist leaders quickly got to work on a new draft of the resolution, which Gaines personally endorsed.
“The damage was done by taking three votes on something that was a no-brainer."”
The final resolution, unambiguously titled “On The Anti-Gospel Of Alt-Right White Supremacy,” finally went to the floor for a vote on Wednesday and passed.
The resolution condemned “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” It didn’t mention the curse of Ham, which Duke said would be “redundant.”
McKissic said he was satisfied with the final resolution and hoped it would be a stepping stone for further action on racial justice. But he added that “until the convention repents the curse of Ham by name,” the denomination will continue to be haunted by its racist past.
“The damage was done by taking three votes on something that was a no-brainer,” McKissic said. “What’s the reason they couldn’t so readily say that white supremacy is wrong and the alt-right is evil? Many of us are asking that question.”