Southern Baptists reject Confederate flag displays

The Confederate flag flew above the South Carolina state capitol grounds from 1962 until July 10, 2015, when it was moved to a museum. (Photo / Jason Lander / https://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeliam/)

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ST. LOUIS (BP)—Messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention renounced display of the Confederate battle flag.

The convention adopted a resolution that urged “brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”

The Confederate battle flag resolution was another step in the convention’s effort to address its past actions regarding slavery and racism. The SBC—which began in 1845 in support of slaveholding missionaries—approved a resolution in 1995 repenting of racism and asking for forgiveness from African-American Christians.

The 2016 resolutions committee brought a proposal to the messengers calling for “sensitivity and unity” regarding display of the Confederate battle flag. Its resolution called for Christians who display the flag “to consider prayerfully whether to limit, or even more so, discontinue its display” because of the “undeniably painful impact of the flag’s symbolism on others.”

Merritt strengthens resolution

After two messengers spoke against the resolution, former SBC President James Merritt offered an amendment that went beyond the committee’s proposed language. His two-fold amendment deleted a paragraph that said the flag “serves for some not as a symbol of hatred, bigotry and racism, but as a memorial to their loved ones who died in the Civil War, and an emblem to honor their loved ones’ valor.” It also removed language about prayerful consideration and called for a halt to displaying the flag.

Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., said he offered the amendment not just as a pastor but as the great, great grandson of two men who fought in the Confederate Army.

“No one can deny” the Confederate battle flag is “a stumbling block” for many African-Americans to the witness of Southern Baptists, Merritt told messengers.

‘Not a matter of political correctness’

In a comment that produced a partial standing ovation, he said, “All the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”

“This is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion,” Merritt said. “We have a golden opportunity to say to every person of every race, ethnicity and nationality that Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.

“Today, we can say loudly and clearly to a world filled with racial strife and division that Southern Baptists are not in the business of building barriers and burning bridges,” he said. “We’re about building bridges and tearing down barriers.”

Messengers approved both the amendment and the amended resolution by wide margins.

SBC leaders applaud resolution

SBC leaders gratefully and warmly welcomed the convention’s latest action in support of racial reconciliation.

Kevin Smith, the new executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and an African-American, said he was “very thankful and very moved by his clarity (Merritt) brought to the issue today.”

He was “pleasantly surprised” by the convention’s adoption of Merritt’s stronger language and believes it will help the SBC in the future, said Smith, who has been assistant professor of church history and Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Smith expressed gratitude to the resolutions committee and Dwight McKissic, who submitted the original version of the resolution. McKissic, an African-American, is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington.

“We watched a denomination founded by slaveholders vote to repudiate the display of the Confederate battle flag in solidarity with our African- American brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“I can’t recall ever seeing anything like it. And my hope and prayer is that we will work together in our churches toward modeling for the rest of the world what it means to be brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God.”

After the vote, Paul Pressler, a messenger from Second Baptist Church in Houston, protested in a point of order he was unfairly prevented from addressing the resolution, apparently in opposition.

Chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty explained the electronic microphone ordering box for recognizing messengers is a “blind” system and Pressler had not been treated unjustly. He advised SBC President Ronnie Floyd to rule the point of order not well taken, which Floyd did.

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