SBC State Conventions and Leaders Denounce Racism, White Nationalism, and the Alt-Right and Promote Gospel Ministry to All Peoples, Including Immigrants/Refugees

I’ve been meaning to write about this for over a week, but life events have slowed me down. At least 8 state conventions issued resolutions condemning racism, white nationalism and white supremacy, and the Alt-Right and calling upon gospel unity at their annual meetings. With strong statements from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, the SBC went beyond the Alt-Right Resolution in Phoenix at the national convention and applied this sentiment on the state level as well. I wonder if local associations will continue to make these statements as well?

Baptist Press had a great article on the developments. Read it to get a summary of most of the state resolutions.

Their write-up on the Alabama resolution is of particular interest to me, as I minister and live in Alabama:

– The Alabama convention, meeting Nov. 14-15 in Huntsville, resolved to “condemn every form of racism, including and specifically alt-right white supremacy and white nationalism, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

It also said, “That as a witness to the sacrificial love of Christ for all people, we will oppose persecution and harassment of all racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, refugees, and anyone else targeted by these white supremacist/nationalist groups.”

The messengers called for Baptist churches to “seek racial reconciliation in our respective communities across Alabama to show the power of the Gospel and to give respect, honor and love to one another and thus make known that we are His disciples.”

In addition, the resolution urged opponents of the “alt-right” — a movement that advocates white nationalism and/or supremacy — to use only “peaceful, non-violent means” in their protests.

The Virginia resolution also drew my eye, especially considering the events in Charlottesville in August:

— The SBCV, meeting Nov. 12-14 in Colonial Heights, addressed the August rally organized by the “alt-right” in Charlottesville, Va. Opponents of “alt-right” ideology gathered to counter protest, and violence ensued between the groups. One woman died when an “alt-right” protester drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. The messengers extended their “love and compassion of those in Charlottesville devastated by these events.”

The messengers also denounced “every form of nationalism that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty.”

“[W]e will stand with ethnic minorities and anyone else targeted for intimidation so that the attempt to devalue our fellow image bearers results in a bold witness of the sacrificial love to which Christ calls us,” the SBCV said.

In addition, the resolution encouraged SBCV churches “to prayerfully consider increasing diversity among local church and denominational leadership.”

Tennessee Baptists recently took a strong stand against White Nationalists who gathered in Shelbyville, TN to protest immigrants and refugees who had come to the Middle Tennessee area. Their subsequent resolution should be deeply considered as well:

The resolution noted that:

— “God is bringing the nations to Tennessee and is making Tennessee home to more than 145 different global people groups” and that the TBC is “comprised of racially and ethnically diverse churches.”

— the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 affirms “Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”

— Tennessee Baptists “are categorically opposed to all ideologies and movements of any race that diminish the dignity of any human being” and that they believe “one cannot be a devoted follower of Christ and harbor racism of any kind in one’s heart.”

— Tennessee Baptists “embrace Tennessee as a diverse mission field that God has called to reach through the fervent preaching of the gospel and acts of service to others, regardless of race or ethnicity,” pledging to “intensify our efforts to pray, give, and advance the Great Commission across the street to our closest neighbors and to the ends of the earth.”

The resolution exhorted Tennessee Baptists “to pray for the salvation of our neighbors regardless of race or ethnicity” and to pray “for our leaders and all who are in authority” as they make policy decisions related to issues of race (1 Timothy 2:2).

And the resolution called for Tennessee Baptists “to earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through the redeemed fellowship in the kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”

These resolutions are not just about black/white racism. They also recognize that White Nationalists are opposing immigrants and refugees and are fostering hate and division to be stirred up against ethnic minorities across the country. The Tennessee resolution did a great job of connecting the denunciation of White Nationalists to the positive affirmation of taking the gospel to the nations among us.

Recently, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted the second annual Reaching the Nations in North America Conference. The focus was on how churches could reach immigrants and refugees who have come to live among us with the gospel. It was not lost on conference participants (I was there) that the same weekend that Tennessee Christians, including Southern Baptists, were standing against white supremacists who were marching against immigrants and refugees, in Shelbyville, TN, hundreds of other Southern Baptists were gathered at SEBTS to learn more about how to reach the nations who have come to dwell among us.

In addition, in October, the ERLC recently published a letter supporting the hundreds of thousands of  Immigrant Dreamers whose DACA protection was revoked. The letter asks for legislation that would make a way for them to be able to earn legal status. They called this letter the Evangelical Leader Statement of Principles on Dreamers. One of the most powerful parts of the statement involves the concept of justice in regard to those brought here illegally as children and who have grown up here and have nowhere to go:

We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit. We recognize that Dreamers are a special category of immigrants because they broke no law and committed no offense. How we treat this category of immigrants is therefore not just a policy or political issue—it is a moral issue. Subjecting Dreamers to deportation or lives of perpetual insecurity in the shadows of our communities is an offense to the rule of law and to the purpose of government, which is for the good of people.

This is significant because it places the fate of Dreamers into the realm of a moral issue and a biblical justice issue and it declares that the rule of law is actually violated if these young people are deported or if they are not granted a pathway to citizenship. This is significant. The letter goes on to call for secure borders, for family stability, and for a pathway to legalized status and/or citizenship for Dreamers.

The letter is signed by a who’s who of Southern Baptist and Evangelical leaders. You can also sign your name to it, if you desire.

The issues of racism, white nationalism, white supremacy, the Alt-Right, and anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment are all connected to fear of the “other.” Across the country, a growing number of people are fearful of the future and fearful of people of different cultures and ethnicities affecting their “way of life.” For most of my life, I lived under the idea that race relations were getting better and that America is a place that welcomes the immigrant and refugee. In the past few years, that illusion has been shattered and we are seeing division, anger, and fear grow.

In a speech in October, former president George W. Bush said, “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism … Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.” All over America, people of goodwill are recognizing that racial strife is growing instead of getting better. But, this is also a prophetic moment where the church can lead and point the way to the Cross of Christ and sacrificial love for neighbor and even enemy, or we can shrink back and grasp at protecting our own “way of life” over and against others.

The opportunity for gospel witness to the reconciling power of the Cross and the incredible love of Christ is greater than it has been in my lifetime. Our country is trying to figure out how to live together and get along, in the midst of our differences. The church can show the way. I’m proud that Southern Baptists have been doing just that, as this post demonstrates. With our tragic and shameful past regarding slavery and race relations, what if God displayed His incredible grace and mercy and redemption by using the Southern Baptist Convention to point the way to racial and ethnic healing and gospel welcoming of the immigrant, refugee, and the stranger?

What if God is using Southern Baptists to tell a better story? I think that is happening and I am glad.

 

Alan Cross is a long-time SBC pastor in Alabama who now serves as a Missional Strategist with the Montgomery Baptist Association and an advocate for ministry to immigrants and refugees across the Southeast. He is the author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus (New South Books, 2014). 

 

 

 

Southern Baptists Oppose Racism, Pray for Peace in Tennessee This Weekend

Tennessee Baptists have drawn their line in the sand and have taken their stand against rallies scheduled for Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, Tennessee tomorrow, October 28th. From the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector:

FRANKLIN – A mix of ethnically diverse Tennessee Baptists gathered in a display of unity at the Church Support Center in Franklin Oct. 25 to publicly denounce the white supremacist movement and racism during a press conference called by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.

“We don’t call press conferences very often but we believe it is impossible to stand silently by while the white supremacy movement plans to invade our state and perpetrate its evil Saturday (Oct. 28) in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.

Earlier this month the Nationalist Front, a self-described “umbrella organization to bring unity and solidarity to the White Nationalist Movement in North America,” announced plans to hold anti-immigration rallies in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro.

“As Tennessee Baptists and as Southern Baptists, we are categorically opposed to the white supremacy movement and any movement that diminishes the dignity of any human,” Davis said.

He observed that the Saturday rallies are planned to oppose immigrants and refugees living in Middle Tennessee. “If history holds true, the intent of these groups gathering is to fear monger and fan the flames of racial hatred,” Davis said.

“This bigotry has no place in our American society and it certainly has no place in the life of anyone who is a follower of Jesus,” he continued.

Davis said the “movement is evil and is contrary to everything we are called to be as followers of Christ.”

This is a full blown assault on the Imago Dei and the Mission of God by the church. These White Supremacists/Nationalists are marching to oppose immigrants and refugees and our welcome of them. Their stance against racial minorities and Jews is already clear. These are some of the same groups that marched in Charlottesville. The anti-immigrant and anti-refugee movement in America over the past few years has been fueled by the Alt-Right, by websites like Breitbart, and other extremist groups who do not want to see these people come to the United States. The links between the extreme anti-immigrant fear mongering propaganda and racism are clear and will be on full display over the weekend in Tennessee.

Dr. Russell Moore responded with an OpEd in the Tennesseean:

If the horror in Charlottesville taught us anything, it’s that white nationalism cannot be ignored but must be exposed explicitly. In the aftermath of the event, which resulted in the death of a young woman who chose to stand in the face of evil, I argued that it was of utmost importance for the church to speak, bringing a word of moral witness against these noxious displays of white supremacy and racial demagoguery. And many have.

The truth, though, is that the church must oppose this by, first, knowing that it will not go away on its own. We should also recognize where this comes from. White supremacy is not just backward but devilish. And it thrives, in part, due to the fact that people lacking a sense of transcendent belonging are clinging to the idolatries of “blood and soil.”

To combat this, we must call it what it is. In June, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution stating that racism in any form is “antithetical to the gospel.” Indeed it is.

Racism does what as a Christian I believe the devil exists to do: to kill and to destroy and to exalt the idolatry of self. If we cannot call this what it is, we will sow in cowardice what we will reap in violence.

This means we should, as citizens, work to address structural and systemic inequalities that hinder full participation in the American promise by people of color. American of many different religions, and of no religion at all, should stand together on at least this: that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

Randy Davis, Tennessee Baptist ExDir, in his press conference “cautioned Christians to be on guard because ‘this movement preys upon people’s fears and the temptation is to buy into the rhetoric, especially since this group is targeting those who feel under-represented and disenfranchised.'”

America is facing an existential crisis. Will we be one people, or will we tear each other apart? Can the church provide leadership in helping us work together and live together in peace and brotherly love? Or, are we destined to come apart at the place of old wounds and new injuries? The Southern Baptist Convention was correct to condemn the Alt-Right at our Annual Meeting in Phoenix this past year. Thank God this happened. I’m thankful to Rev. Dwight McKissic for his foresight and prophetic urgency in calling us to make that statement. Likewise, the letter orchestrated by McKissic and Dr. Keith Whitfield of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and signed by many Evangelical leaders calling upon President Trump to fully and unequivocally denounce the Alt-Right Movement and to thank him for agreeing with Congress to denounce White Supremacy was also very much needed.

But, we must do more. Tennessee Baptists are leading the way this weekend. They are treating this like Southern Baptists treat Disaster Response. Churches are mobilizing and praying. People are on guard. They recognize that danger is growing and we should join with them in prayer and support. But, we should not just oppose the blatant “Alt-Right” and those who march with Nazi and Confederate flags. We cannot take the assumption that the only danger comes from those who have white hoods and robes in the closet or Nazi armbands. Like everything else, the danger is within each of us when we turn away from our neighbor, fail to listen to cries for justice, ignore people in need, and work to promote, protect, and defend our “way of life” over and above others. It is easy to denounce blatant racism and extreme images of grotesque hatred and violence. But, will we denounce the anger in our own hearts and the feeling that we have been somehow offended and disregarded by those different from us? Will we reach out to others in our communities in a posture of sacrificial love, which always means that our hands are stretched out and nailed to our own cross, going where we would not choose to go? What can we do to be peacemakers and bring the gospel of peace everywhere we go? How can we follow Jesus into this fire?

This weekend, simultaneously, hundreds of Southern Baptists and Evangelical leaders will gather to “tell a better story” at SEBTS for the Reaching the Nations in North America Conference. The topic will be how we can reach and love the nations who have come to us – immigrants and refugees from all over the world. While White Nationalists march against immigrants and refugees in Tennessee and the Church there courageously responds by taking a righteous stand against this hate, hundreds more will gather in North Carolina to pray and discuss how we can better love, serve, and reach our immigrant and refugee neighbors with the gospel of Christ. The contrast could not be more clear. Jesus makes a difference.

God is working and there is opposition. Are we promised it will ever be any other way?

 

DACA Revoked, DREAMers Face Deportation. Will Southern Baptist Pastors/Churches Speak On Their Behalf?

DACA has been revoked with a 6 month hiatus. Congress can address this if they want to. It is their job to address this legislatively. So, here’s the deal:

  1. Evangelicals can speak on behalf of Immigrant DREAMers (those brought here illegally as children) and ask Congress to pass legislation to allow them to stay legally, or,
  2. We can do nothing, sit back, say it isn’t our problem, and whatever happens happens. If we do that, then DREAMers will lose their protection, lose their jobs, not be able to go to school, and will be eventually deported.

Those are the choices before us.

Dr. Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and I lay out why Evangelicals should now advocate for Immigrant DREAMers here.

You can join your voice with around 1000 Evangelical pastors and church leaders asking Congress to act on legislatively on behalf of DREAMers by signing on this letter here. This is the letter created by the ERLC and other Evangelical organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition, Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities, and others. I’m glad that the ERLC spoke clearly on this. But, as I’ve heard many times here and elsewhere. Russell Moore and the ERLC can’t speak for every Southern Baptist. Each Southern Baptist pastor and church is responsible to speak on their own.

You can speak and act on behalf of young immigrant DREAMers who were brought here illegally as children. I meet with Congressional and Senate Republican offices regularly. They tell me that if Evangelical pastors and churches would speak, then they would have cover to act on behalf of DREAMers. If they don’t, there isn’t much they can do. Now, we have 6 months to fix this or almost a million young people who grew up here will be deported. Most of the Congressmen who will make this decision are in districts with heavy Evangelical populations, including Southern Baptists, often with massive churches. If we speak and advocate Biblically, they will listen. If we don’t speak, they will hear that too and act accordingly. Time to get off the fence. Saying nothing is saying everything. Silence is agreement with deportation. The clock is now ticking. 6 months.

Now this goes to Congress. What will you do? This will all be decided soon. What role will the church play? It’s up to us.

Natural Disasters, God’s Judgment, and Our Response

My heart has been breaking over the scenes that have come out of Houston and the surrounding areas in Southeast Texas from Hurricane Harvey. I’ve kept up with friends there on social media and have prayed as flood waters have risen around their neighborhoods. I praise God for the thousands of rescuers, volunteers, and regular citizens who are helping their neighbors. And, I am incredibly grateful for those who responded quickly to people in need and didn’t pontificate over whether or not Hurricane Harvey was God’s judgment on Texas.

I remember standing in front of a crowd of tired, hot, utterly discouraged people in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti in late January, 2010. The massive earthquake hit two weeks before leaving hundreds of thousands dead, wounded, and displaced. I watched with horror on television as bodies were pulled out of the rubble, and through tears, felt that I needed to go. An opportunity arose for me to go with a medical relief team, and after making the journey across the mountains from the Dominican Republic, we made our way to the main part of the Port-Au-Prince where approximately 600,000 people lived in a tent city under bed sheets and hastily stretched tarps to protect themselves from the sun. The whole nation was afraid to go back into buildings until they were proven structurally sound again. Too many had died.

The crowd surrounding us that day was several hundred strong. We were giving away medical supplies and water in the midst of the rubble and I was walking the lines and praying for people. We began talking to the people about Jesus and the gospel with an interpreter in Creole and from the crowd, a man shouts out, “Did God do this to us because of our sins? Did God destroy our country because of the sins of Haiti?” The crowd grew silent and I looked at hundreds of eyes staring at me waiting for the answer.

My mind could have gone to some of the remarks I’d heard in America about this earthquake being God’s judgment because of the sins of the people. But, instead I thought of a story from the gospels where Jesus faced a similar question in Luke 13:

Luke 13:1-5  Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

When I thought of Jesus, I told them that we are all sinners and that we all need to repent. I told them that when these things happen because creation groans because of sin (Romans 8:18-25), we are to wait upon the Lord for salvation. I told them that the message from God through these things is that life is very short, that death waits for all of us, that we are all guilty of sin, and that unless we repent and turn to Christ, we too will all perish. I told them that the message for America through this earthquake was the same as the message for Haiti. Repent and turn to Christ alone for salvation! The crowd was very serious, asked me many questions, and they were very somber. We explained the gospel and called upon the crowd to turn to Jesus. A large number from that crowd did. Altogether, we saw over 300 people cry out to Jesus for salvation that week.

I had to work through these things several years before as a young pastor in Montgomery, Alabama when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I am from New Orleans and grew up near the Gulf Coast and my hometown was devastated. I was reeling emotionally and knew I had to help people. My family and friends were there. While many Christians were supportive, I immediately began to hear Christians in Alabama and other parts of the country that were unaffected say that Katrina flooded New Orleans because it was such a sinful city. Lots of pronouncements were made that this hurricane was God’s judgment on sin. I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just told people that I didn’t know the mind of God on these things and yes, He can do what He deems just, but as for me, I was going to help people because God commands us to do that. The people pronouncing sure judgment on the sins of others tended to get quiet at that point.

The massive response from Southern Baptists in Alabama and across America as well as from other Christians during Katrina demonstrated that no matter what anyone thought about the cause of the disaster (if they thought about that at all), they were motivated by love to help those in need. The response was incredible. That is how it should be. Many of those being critical of New Orleans during and after Katrina, who blamed the people stranded on the roofs and overpasses for not evacuating, who turned their nose up against those suffering, who blasted the opposing political party, who sat around complaining about what they saw – those people often did little to help and ended up having hard hearts. The ones proclaiming God’s judgment on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast for its sins, seemed to feel justified in doing little to help, as though they didn’t want to get in the way of God. I didn’t have much time for that perspective, nor did the thousands of volunteers who flooded down to that area to help. I think we chose the better way.

One of the best things about Southern Baptists are that, organizationally, we respond to people in need in amazing ways as an expression of love from God. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief through NAMB and through state conventions like Southern Baptists of Texas are some of the best things we do. Right now, yellow hats and feeding teams are on site in disaster areas working with the Red Cross and helping those in need because of Hurricane Harvey. Christians and other people of good will from all over are assisting, neighbor is helping neighbor, and the love of God is being shown. Mercy is triumphing in the midst of disaster. And, that is how it should be as hope, help, and order are being restored out of the chaos.

I don’t claim to know the mind of God and I am beyond reluctant to pronounce judgment on a city or region because nature groaned in their path. As I’ve volunteered in disaster after disaster, I’ve seen the pain and the loss, heard the cries, and helped wipe the tears. I’ve cried a lot of tears myself. When people are in great need and have suffered much, the response should be mercy to them, sacrificial love and service, prayer, and the call of repentance to all of us – that we would ALL turn to Christ in repentance and entrust ourselves to Him because time is short and our need is great. The judgment from these disasters is revealed more through the hardness of heart of those who refuse to help, who sit back in scorn, or who go on in indifference as though nothing happened. If judgment is poured out, it is perhaps poured out not through loss of material possessions, but on those who sit in comfort and plenty and ignore those in need right before them and do nothing to help when they can. Indifference and hardness of heart is what we should fear more than a flood, earthquake, tornado, or fire.

As so many Southern Baptists and other people of good will respond to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, let’s not just sit back and watch. Let’s not make sport of it all and criticize others for not doing what we think they should. Let’s not stare into the face of great human need and let our hearts be hardened by indifference, thus incurring God’s judgment upon ourselves resulting in a hardened heart and bitterness. Rather, let’s see this as an opportunity to receive from God, to give of our own resources, to love, and to join with others in their suffering by serving them so that Christ is exalted and people are blessed in their time of need. We’ll be blessed to.

Judgment always begins with the House of God. This is our test. How will we respond? In mercy or indifference?