The Southern Baptist Convention is meeting in Phoenix this week for their annual convention. The event always includes a spate of resolutions that messengers (voting representatives of local churches) are meant to cast votes on. Half the fun of the run-up to the convention is hearing about the machinations of the resolutions committee as they contend with a remarkable combination of heartfelt, sincere, important, bizarre and insane proposed resolutions.
This year, one Baptist with a sense of humor and irony stripped the “Bill Clinton” language from a 1998 resolution wherein the SBC called on moral character from our elected leaders and offered it to the committee with nary a mention of Donald Trump’s name. The original resolution passed overwhelmingly–blowjobs from interns are, in the parlance of Catholic Christianity, at least, a cardinal or mortal sin. This new, cleaned up resolution passed after it had been severely watered down, by which I mean, it essentially said, “Hey, everyone ought to have moral character.”
On a more serious note, Dwight McKissic, an African American pastor from the Dallas area, submitted a proposed resolution condemning the alt-right. You can read his verbiage here. McKissic has long been a man of conscience in SBC circles. I have interviewed him a couple times on stories for a religion newswire, and while I disagree with his conservative evangelical ideas, I found him to be refreshingly direct, honest and sincere. He is that rare Christian these days–a person of unminced words and clear convictions that seem to cohere with his practices. In short, a real Christian.
Resolutions typically function like position papers for the Convention. They are not binding ecclesial legislation, but they do intend to communicate the current mood and ethical orientation of the SBC at a particular time. This is a critical year for such positioning, given the fact that a not-small percentage of the denomination voted last year for a man who would certainly have been condemned by the 1998 resolution mentioned above.
McKissic’s resolution did not make it out of committee, and I’ll have more to say on that below. A resolution that condemned gambling as a sin did make it out of committee and was approved by the messengers, though. If you’re new to reading me, you should know that I’m pretty sure conservatives of various stripes are tone deaf to irony; they simply can’t hear it, even when it emerges from their own mouths, or conventions.
Quick aside to illustrate: when former President George W. Bush was limiting stem-cell research, he actually said science should not be used for the destruction of human life. It played well to the pro-life crowd, but the science involved in bombs and cruise missiles and other forms of mass destruction clearly did not qualify as “science that is used to destroy human life.” There. Irony missed.
To be clear, a resolution that condemned gambling as a sin was passed by the SBC in a year in which the winner of last year’s election–an election the SBC helped secure–assumed the reigns of the Presidency, and much of this man’s fortune is built on casinos. Stacking ironies atop each other must be a Baptist parlor game. It gets worse, though. The victory of President Trump was assured by a coalition of evangelical Christians, like the SBC, and, you guessed it, members of the so-called alt-right. How then is the SBC supposed to condemn the men and women with whom they linked arms to elect a racist to the nation’s highest office? Better to call him naughty by calling gambling a sin than to call themselves guilty for abetting racists, or being racists.
The resolution could have been rewritten and resubmitted, or a floor vote of two-thirds of the messengers could have forced the resolution to the floor for a vote. That may have happened and been ignored by the chair, but we will know that answer tomorrow. After the events of tonight, Barrett Duke, the chairman of the SBC Committee on Resolutions (and the VP for Public Policy for the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), answered questions. The first question put to him by Adelle Banks of Religion News Service concerned why the committee chose not to rewrite this particular resolution. Before you read his answer, this is the pertinent part of the proposed resolution he will be dissembling about:
WHEREAS, 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…
I transcribed Duke’s answer from an audio made at the press conference tonight. I left the “ums” in at first, but there were so many, they eventually affected readability.
A good corporate question…um…there are elements, as I said, in that resolution that we agree with…um…the concern about racism…we agree with the language in the resolution about…when it expresses concern about racism and those who foment racism…uh…the Convention has spoken on the issue of racism a number of times, and in fact, just look at the Convention at this point, and you can see that…um…um…the Convention is addressing questions of racism. We’re reaching out to different ethnic groups, as well. Twenty percent of our churches in Southern Baptist life right now are non-Anglo churches. That’s a significant number…um…we just elected as a president of the Pastors’ Conference an African American man, a fine man, H. B. Charles, and I’m looking forward to his leadership this year.
And so we felt like some of the elements in that resolution had already been addressed (very) recently in Southern Baptist Life, and other elements of the resolution—as you heard me say—were just…the language was just inflammatory. To say that anyone associated or some people who might be associated with the alt-right are involved in and advocating ethnic cleansing? I mean that just seemed extreme to us, and part of the concern when you do rewrite a resolution is that you do still create the opportunity for someone to want to add language back into it. If you bring it out, then they want to add language back into it, and we just didn’t feel like the Convention needed that. We didn’t feel like the world…uh…needed that, as well. We tried to make sure the resolutions that we did (report) out showed the Convention in a very committed posture together and speaking very clearly on things we can speak confidently about and make sure that we weren’t misunderstood as well.
Part of the challenge of writing a resolution is making sure that people understand what you say, and they can’t misunderstand it as well. It was difficult to look at that resolution and think that it was not possible to be misunderstood by somebody.
Only a very white, very disconnected person could wring his hands over the “inflammatory” language of ethnic cleansing in a proposed resolution from an African American pastor. Does Mr. Duke not read the words of the alt-right? Has he not been on the websites, seen the tracts, heard the podcasts? Does he really believe there aren’t persons on the alt-right advocating ethnic cleansing for blacks and Jews and any immigrant browner than a Boston cracker?
It’s important to mention that the very short phrase was the only issue raised in the answer. Why not just take it out if it caused such consternation? Why not rewrite? Why not narrow the potential list of possible ethnic cleansers to “a few,” or whatever moral math the committee deemed appropriate?
The resolutions debates are revelatory moments in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. What they revealed this year was a denomination long on compromise where a racist, sexist, rapist, unhinged, white President is concerned, but short on moral courage and devoid of honesty. Mr. Duke used plenty of tokenism and obfuscation in his rambling answer. It’s a shame he didn’t try Christian virtue. The answer sounded more like someone trying to avoid the obvious conclusion that the SBC joined hands with violent racists to elect a man who embodies exactly zero Christian virtues.