This Dec. 7, 2011 file photo shows the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn. The Southern Baptists lost more than 200,000 members in 2015. It's the ninth straight year of decline for the nation's largest Protestant denomination, which also saw baptisms drop by more than 10,000 in 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

This Dec. 7, 2011 file photo shows the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn. The Southern Baptists lost more than 200,000 members in 2015. It’s the ninth straight year of decline for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which also saw baptisms drop by more than 10,000 in 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

The Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded as a pro-slavery denomination and is the largest Protestant church in the United States, recently passed a resolution renouncing the Confederate flag during its annual meeting held June 14-15 in St. Louis, Mo.

The resolution punctuated a focus on racial reconciliation during the convocation that included the election of a 2017 Committee on Nominations comprising 25 percent ethnic minorities groups and a panel discussion on “racial unity in America” featuring Jerry Young, president of the historically African American National Baptist Convention, USA. The meeting’s emphasis on this issue acknowledges the growing diversity in the church—more than 20 percent of the denomination’s congregations are now predominantly non-White and more than 50 percent of new Southern Baptist churches are mostly composed of minority members.

“We recognize that the Confederate battle flag is used by some and perceived by many as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people,” the resolution read.

William Dwight McKissic Sr and Confederate Flag

William Dwight McKissic Sr., a Black pastor out of Arlington, Texas (left), and Confederate Flag (right).

The resolution as originally proposed by William Dwight McKissic Sr., a Black pastor out of Arlington, Texas, included language acknowledging those who fly the Civil War rebel flag out of a sense of history and “heritage.” The Convention voted to strike that text, however, adopting stronger language in an amendment by former SBC President James Merritt, who said the church’s support of the divisive symbol hindered evangelism among African Americans.

“Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag,” he reportedly told convention delegates. “We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.”

The final measure cites the shooting of nine members of the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston a year ago and asks convention members “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.”

Russell Moore, who leads the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, praised the convention’s decision in a blog post following the vote. The flag, he said, had long been a symbol of “domestic terrorism” against Blacks and went against the moral underpinnings of Christianity.

It’s not often that I find myself wiping away tears in a denominational meeting, but I just did,” the acclaimed theologian, ethicist and author said of the vote. “Does this change the game as it applies to the crushing issues of racial injustice around us? Of course it does not. But at the same time, we cannot dismiss this as just about symbols. Symbols matter.”

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO