Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and his wife, Donna, pray at the denomination’s 2017 annual meeting. Matt York / AP

At its annual meeting, the evangelical denomination initially declined to consider a statement of its opposition to the alt-right.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting turned chaotic in Phoenix this week over a resolution that condemned white supremacy and the alt-right. On Tuesday, leaders initially declined to consider the proposal submitted by a prominent black pastor in Texas, Dwight McKissic, and only changed course after a significant backlash. On Wednesday afternoon, the body passed a revised statement against the alt-right. But the drama over the resolution revealed deep tension lines within a denomination that was explicitly founded to support slavery.

A few weeks before the meeting was slated to start, McKissic published his draft resolution on a popular Southern Baptist blog called SBC Voices. The language was strong and pointed.

It affirmed that “there has arisen in the United States a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in race relations, divide our people, and foment hatred, classism, and ethnic cleansing.” It identified this “toxic menace” as white nationalism and the alt-right, and urged the denomination to oppose its “totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples.” It claimed that the origin of white supremacy in Christian communities is a once-popular theory known as the “curse of Ham,” which taught that “God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos” and was used as justification for slavery and segregation. The resolution called on the denomination to denounce nationalism and “reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called ‘alt-right’ that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system.”

Submitting the proposal was just the first step, though. Every resolution up for consideration has to pass through a committee, which chooses whether or not proposals will be heard by the full meeting body. And the resolutions committee decided not to move McKissic’s proposal forward.

“We were very aware that on this issue, feelings rightly run high regarding alt-right ideology,” said Barrett Duke, the head of the resolutions committee, in an interview on Wednesday morning. “We share those feelings … 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.” The resolutions committee did not reach out to McKissic ahead of the meeting to work on a revised version of the resolution, Duke said.

Southern Baptist leaders sat through a long series of meetings on Tuesday afternoon. They affirmed a number of standard proposals about their beliefs and practices, and even approved a resolution calling for moral character in public officials—a nearly exact replica of a resolution passed during the Clinton years at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The not-so-veiled jab at President Trump went through quietly, despite conflicts in the denomination over the election. The peace was short-lived, though: Chaos soon broke out over McKissic’s resolution.

If the resolutions committee decides not to hear a proposal, delegates can introduce a motion for reconsideration from the floor. Late on Tuesday afternoon, McKissic went to the mic and moved for additional time to be allotted for the resolution to be heard. Standing among a chatting body of tired pastors, many of whom were already checked out for the day and didn’t realize what was happening, his motion failed—once again, the resolution would not be heard.

All hell broke loose. “The amount of work left to do in ‘evangelical’ (who knows that means any more?) church is staggering,” tweeted Thabiti Anyabwile, a black Southern Baptist pastor who was not at the meeting. “Here’s the largest failing publicly.” He went on:

We must be clear: We live in a time when equivocating on these matters furthers the sin of racism even to violence and death. …

Any “church” that cannot denounce white supremacy without hesitancy and equivocation is a dead, Jesus denying assembly. No 2 ways about it. …

I’m done. With this Twitter spiel. With “evangelicalism.” With all the racist and indifferent nonsense that passes as “Christian.”

Jackie Hill Perry, a black artist and teacher who has frequently spoken at Southern Baptist events, tweeted that “the decision made at #SBC17 to not denounce white supremacy is hurtful.” Trillia Newbell, a black staffer at the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Commission in Washington, replied, “I’m seriously in tears. What’s going on?!”

“I certainly understand that hurt and anger, because to most people, this would be a no-brainer,” said McKissic in an interview on Wednesday. “Several of the resolutions they endorsed yesterday were just carte blanche things Southern Baptists believe. And so, it becomes a mystery how you can so easily affirm standard beliefs about other things, but we get to white supremacy … and all of a sudden, we’ve got a problem here.”

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SOURCE: The Atlantic – Emma Green

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