On Wednesday (June 14), the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution formally distancing itself from the alt-right movement. The legislation condemns “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and “every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil.” Had this resolution passed a day earlier it wouldn’t be newsworthy, but it didn’t. The Southern Baptist Convention’s bumbling of this issue is another stain on a denomination that seems to take a step backward for every step forward it takes.
There are dozens of published statements from Evangelicals who were in attendance Tuesday supporting the first draft of the amendment, yet they lacked the sufficient will or power to push it through. It took public shaming to get the largest Protestant denomination in America to disavow white supremacy. All of the work the SBC did in the mid-’90s to address their support of slavery and Jim Crow is undermined by the constant stream of microaggressions committed by the convention. The SBC wants to distance itself from its past, but seems unwilling to make the move from words to actions.
What happened in Phoenix is another example of the disconnect between Black and White churches over racial issues. Too often, predominantly White churches take a navel-gazing approach to race. Instead of working to address and rectify any role they may play in propagating racism, too many seek absolution from the stigma associated with their actions. This resolution is meaningless if the church continues to remain silent about issues that affect people of color.
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave a philosophical treatment to the difference in naming a sin and working to correct the mindset that gives rise to its existence. In his seminal text The Cost of Discipleship he wrote:
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
This is the box Southern Baptists find themselves in. The double standards people of color see feed the distrust that ensures 11:00 a.m. on Sunday will continue being the most segregated hour of the week. As an ordained member of the clergy, and a man of color in the South, I’m invested in the SBC coming to grips with the racism that still permeates too many of the denomination’s congregations. Many of the same Southern Baptists who couldn’t find anything good in President Barack Obama continue to find ways to excuse Donald Trump’s decadence. This convention deserves no credit for doing the right thing after the fact. You shouldn’t have to think twice about condemning the Klan, Neo-Nazis or the alt-right movement.
Bonhoeffer was executed for his public stance against racism and nationalism. The consequences for offering a prophetic (and highly visible) witness against those evils are nowhere near as high today as they were in Nazi Germany during the Third Reich, yet too few seem willing to sacrifice their comfort and popularity to offer it.
I’m not giving up on the Southern Baptist Convention writ large. There are members and member churches trying to right the historical wrongs of the institution they inherited; sadly, their work is made harder by a political leadership that appears to be more influenced by Washington than Jerusalem. If Southern Baptists are truly interested in divorcing themselves from their past they have to match their words with tangible actions.
Danny Cardwell is a Deacon at Piney Grove Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Virginia. He has tutored, lectured and mentored at-risk youth in churches, group homes and inside the Virginia Department of Corrections. He blogs at Thought Wrestler.