JACKSON, Miss. (BP)—Offering a “voice of healing in the name of Jesus Christ,” Mississippi Baptists asked the state legislature to replace the state flag with a design that does not include the Confederate flag.
National racial tension and discussions regarding the flag in recent days prompted the move, Mississippi Baptist Convention Board Executive Director and Treasurer Shawn Parker said in a June 23 press conference in Jackson.
“Our position on this is motivated by our understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ,” Parker said
He specifically referenced the Golden Rule found in Matthew 7:12 to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, found in Matthew 22:39.
“We take these teachings quite seriously and believe that this is indeed a moral issue and a gospel issue for our state, and therefore we want to be not a political player in the process,” Parker said. “We want to be a prophetic voice, and our hope is that our stand and our conviction will bring healing to the racial tensions that are felt in Mississippi.”
Promote ‘unity rather than division’
Parker read a statement signed by Mississippi Baptist Convention President Ken Hester; Jim Futral, Mississippi Baptist executive director-treasurer emeritus; Kenny Digby, executive director-treasurer of the Christian Action Commission, the full 15-member Mississippi Baptist Convention Board’s executive committee, and all living former Mississippi Baptist Convention presidents, spanning 1984-2019.
“We encourage our governor and state legislature to take the necessary steps to adopt a new flag for the state of Mississippi that represents the dignity of every Mississippian and promotes unity rather than division,” the statement reads in part.
“We further encourage all Mississippi Baptists to make this a matter of prayer and to seek the Lord’s guidance in standing for love instead of oppression, unity instead of division, and the gospel of Christ instead of the power of this world.”
Hester, one of four Mississippi Baptists who spoke at the conference, said he hopes the move sends a message of unity to Black Southern Baptists in Mississippi.
“But I also hope that this sends a message to the African American pastors that I have had conversations with, that are Mississippi Baptists,” Hester said, “I hope it sends a message to them and to their congregations that we would rally together to win Mississippi, all of Mississippi and the world to Jesus Christ.”
Love ‘in deed and in truth’
Hester said the current flag should be discontinued also in light of “the teachings of the Apostle John who said let us not love in word or in tongue only, but also in deed and in truth.”
Pastor Larry Young, the first African American elected as a Mississippi Baptist Convention officer, was not present at the press conference. However, he told Baptist Press he agrees the flag should be removed. He served two terms as the convention’s second vice president in 2014 and 2015.
Adopted in 1894, the Mississippi flag is the only state flag that retains the Confederate battle flag in its design. The Southern Baptist Convention repudiated the display of the Confederate flag in a 2016 resolution called “On Sensitivity And Unity Regarding The Confederate Battle Flag.”
In making the request, Parker said he believed he was speaking for the majority of the nearly 2,100 Southern Baptist churches in the state, which comprise nearly 600,000 members.
“We would be presumptuous theologically if we said this statement represents every Mississippi Baptist,” Parker said. “But we do believe it represents the vast majority of Mississippi Baptists.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: On June 28, the Mississippi Senate voted 37-14 to retire the state flag with the Confederate battle emblem, just hours after the state’s House of Representatives voted 91-23 to do the same. See the complete story here.