my friend the enemy

After encountering black evangelical William Pannell in the archives, I picked up his 1968 book, My Friend, the Enemy. It’s a fascinating read. Deeply relevant and contemporary in parts, while also being a clear product of the peculiar 1968 moment. If you think American society is more divided than ever, you don’t remember 1968. Pannell’s book came out in a time of rioting and violence and bitterness. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse and people really didn’t know where the bottom was.

In that moment, Pannell wrote with righteous anger to the white evangelical community (refer back to the title!). Pannell was deeply embedded in evangelicalism. A longtime professor at Fuller, he also worked with the campus ministry Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, the black evangelist Tom Skinner, and had a hand in numerous other projects and organizations. He received his early education at Wayne Bible College, a white fundamentalist school in Indiana. He was straddling the often separate worlds of black and white evangelicalism.

According to a retrospective article from Fuller Studio, white colleagues who thought they knew Pannell were shocked when the book came out:

It came from some place so deep in Bill that longtime white friends said they did not believe he wrote it. One insisted it was written by an outside agitator, because “that’s just not the Bill Pannell that I knew.” Both had grown up in the same small Michigan town, so Bill’s reply was harsh but true: “That’s because you didn’t know Bill Pannell,” he said, “or the world I lived in.” It was possible for a white person to call Bill a “close friend” and still know little of a black man’s life in a white world. Often white colleagues would say, “We never thought of you as a negro.” That, he says, was supposed to have been a compliment.

Here are a few choice quotes from My Friend, The Enemy. On his Bible college days and indoctrination into white fundamentalism:

I sometimes shudder when I recall that upon registering at Bible College I signed up in the missions course. I didn’t dream that mission boards would not have accepted me anyhow. My involvement in white culture hadn’t prepared me for that eventuality. All I knew was that the blacker the person’s face, the more desperate his need of salvation…

On the kind of Christianity taught at many evangelical colleges:

Sadly for me, and conceivably for non-white students on similar campuses today, this conservative brand of Christianity perpetuates the myth of white supremacy. It tends also to associate Christianity with American patriotism (it’s called nationalism when we criticize it in Africa), free enterprise, and the Republican party. I hope this is not intentionally done although I have outgrown most of my naivete. It’s not brainwashing, of course, for this is not done systematically or calculatedly. But it is perversion and it is subversion, the former with reference to Christianity, the latter with reference to the minds of young Christians.

And finally, on his friends, his enemies:

Don’t preach love to me. Especially if you intend I do all the loving. Amazing how white people who have owned black people have a way of demanding that we love everybody. What right has the oppressor to demand that his victim be saved from sin? You may be scripturally and evangelistically correct, but you are ethically wrong. You have the right message, but your timing is off. You have forfeited the right to be heard. Physician, heal thyself.

Because you see, I know that the same conservative brother who refuses to link my social needs with his preaching of of the Gospel is the same man who lobbies against the Supreme Court, fluoride in the water, and pornographic literature. “Something,” he declares, “must be done about creeping socialism. We must speak out against the Communist menace, and by all means we must support the Dirksen Amendment on prayer in the public schools.”

But mention the inhumanity of a society which with unbelievable indifference imprisons the “souls of black folks,” and these crusaders begin mumbling about sin. All right. I’ll play the game, my brother. Whose sin shall we talk about?

From here it is easy to write the script, for these friends are conservative Northern Christians. Increasingly, these are the roughest people to understand. They are so elusive, so committed to being uncommitted. What amazing indignation is theirs when moral issues are far away! What profound silence when threatened by similar issues next door! How earnest are their discussion groups!

As if this wasn’t provocative enough, Pannell went on to defend black power. Despite being rooted in the circumstances of the late 60s, it’s hard to avoid the prophetic implications for our own time.

Back to the Archives

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I’m at the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville this week to explore the Southern Baptist archives. I’m especially interested in how Southern Baptists engaged with Church Growth Movement ideas. In a roundabout way, this has much to do with the civil rights movement.

To explore how white evangelicals grappled with race, you can’t just explore it as a political question. A denominational statement on Brown v. Board or the Civil Rights Act is interesting, but it doesn’t capture the more important activity occurring on the ground. Historians need to be more aware of the ways white evangelicals turn political questions into ecclesial ones. So if we want to know how they responded to the civil rights movement, their church planting strategies may have more to tell us than their explicit political or racial statements.

Anyway, I’m finding lots of good stuff today, but I’m way too fried to talk about it!

Rediscovering the History of African American Evangelicals

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For too long, the historiography of evangelicalism has reproduced the racial assumptions of its white subjects rather than challenging them. Black evangelicals have been written out of the story and whiteness has been treated as incidental rather than formative to fundamentalism and evangelicalism. That’s why Mary Beth Swetnam Matthews’ new book is so important.

Matthews shows that while white fundamentalists largely ignored African Americans, black Christians did not ignore white fundamentalists. Though they shared many of the social mores and theological claims of white fundamentalists, African Americans were unwilling (and unable) to join the racially exclusive white fundamentalist movement. So they created an evangelicalism of their own in the 1920s and 1930s.

Black evangelicals were keen observers of the fundamentalist-modernist debate. According to Matthews, they saw both modernism and fundamentalism as white phenomenons from which they stood apart. White fundamentalism presented American Protestants with a stark choice: “Are you with us or against us?” Black evangelicals heard the question and replied, “neither.” They deplored fundamentalism’s embrace of injustice, but they also decried the higher biblical criticism of the modernists. They forged a faith that was generally theologically and socially conservative, but progressive in its concern for social justice.

By simply shining a light on the voices of black evangelicals, Matthews has complicated the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The racial and racist character of the white fundamentalist movement becomes immediately obvious when we turn our attention to the people excluded from it. Yet generations of historians treated this as a minor feature of the movement. Take one example: how many historians have written that copies of The Fundamentals were mailed to every Protestant minister in the country? As Matthews shows, there is no good evidence that they were ever mailed to black pastors.

White fundamentalists usually ignored black Christians, except when they wanted to hear them sing, or when they wanted to portray themselves as guardians and spiritual superiors to childlike believers. Had white fundamentalists bothered to listen, they could have learned some valuable lessons. For instance: black evangelicals generally didn’t buy into a full-fledged dispensational premillenialism. Instead, they used eschatological language to dramatize the suffering of African Americans. In other words, black Christians were living through present catastrophe from which Christ would deliver them. Speculating about an end-of-the-world apocalypse was less urgent to people who were living an end of world experience already.

Matthews also draws attention to a fascinating feature of black evangelical rhetoric that  I need to think much more about. While white fundamentalists embraced white supremacy, black evangelicals sometimes used colorblind language to imagine the millennium and to attack segregationist theology. In their context, such language was a threat to the social order. But by the time the descendants of the white fundamentalists took up similar language decades later, it had become the language of the status quo. In the space of a few decades, colorblind Christianity shifted from a spur for reform to a tool of reaction. At least, that’s my early read on it. But I need to think more about this.

Doctrine and Race is flawed but important. One could wish for more context and analysis around the black evangelical voices Matthews has unearthed. Yet simply bringing them to the surface is a significant achievement. Historians of evangelicalism can no longer ignore this important part of the story.

The Fragmentation of Evangelicalism

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Sunday service at First Baptist Church, Dallas Texas. June 25, 2017.

Evangelicalism is splintering. And Trump’s presidency is hastening the process. John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College (and an evangelical himself) has a perceptive column in the Washington Post this week about the people he calls “court evangelicals” and how they’re changing evangelicalism:

If you want to understand white evangelicalism in the age of Trump, you need to know Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Jeffress is not a household name in the United States, known mainly in Southern Baptist circles. But he has recently gained national attention as a “court evangelical” — my term for a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations….

[Trump’s] campaign and presidency has shed light on a troubling wing of American evangelicalism willing to embrace nationalism, populism, fear of outsiders and anger. The leaders of this wing trade their evangelical witness for a mess of political pottage and a Supreme Court nomination.

Not all evangelicals are on board, of course. Most black evangelicals are horrified by Trump’s failure to understand their history and his willingness to serve as a hero of the alt-right movement.

The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.

Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.

Read the whole thing. Fea provides additional historical context for thinking about how we got here.

When I say that evangelicalism is splintering it’s not to say that evangelicalism ever was unified. But the Trump presidency is intensifying longstanding fault lines.  A huge swath of evangelicalism is increasingly acting as if it’s a state-established church here to give divine sanction to state policy (that is, when Republicans lead the state). The false gods of nation, prosperity, and safety are held up as proper objects of worship alongside Jesus Christ. Evangelicals who seek to turn their backs on these false gods are often accused of being less mature believers, or perhaps not even true Christians at all.

There is a divide between evangelicals who see “God and country” as comfortable bedfellows and those who see the same phrase as shorthand for heresy. In the age of Trump, as we see just how far God and country evangelicals are willing to go, the divide has become a chasm.

The deadly embrace of nationalist evangelicals and their president is likely to intensify a curious phenomenon:  there are growing numbers of people of color in historically evangelical denominations, but they do not claim the label and feel no affinity for its heritage. Then there are white evangelicals who do not embrace the cultural trappings of the movement and are tired of being treated as less-than because of it. They may seek a home elsewhere.

What all this means for the future of evangelicalism is not yet clear. These are fascinating and troubled times.

On Keeping Faith in God While Studying Human Beings

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Oregon Klan Meeting, 1920s. Oregon Historical Society

A fellow Christian recently asked me what my dissertation is about. After giving a brief account of my research on white evangelicals she responded, “That must be hard on your faith.” This was an unusual and perceptive response. It is hard.

The difficulty is layered. The outer layer is common to many people of faith in a variety of academic disciplines. The habits of mind that we learn in our work—the questioning, the skepticism of easy answers, the careful construction and deconstruction of meaning—are extremely productive. They help advance the boundaries of human knowledge and can even make us more humble. But if not embedded in a broader theology, ethic of service, and system of social support, they can breed cynicism that is corrosive to Christian eschatological hope. It’s hard.

The inner layer of difficulty is more specific to my particular subject and biography. I am a white evangelical studying white evangelicals. Even more pointedly, I’m studying the whiteness of my theological tradition. That means I spend a lot of time learning and thinking about exclusion and dehumanization practiced in the name of Christ, my savior. It’s hard.

Many people have traveled this path and have put up some road signs to help us along. But it’s a bit of a solitary path for each of us. I’m not here to offer proven strategies to a successful destination. I’m simply saying there’s a real spiritual and emotional challenge at the core of this academic project, and working that out will in some ways determine whether the project succeeds on the academic side.

You might think this shouldn’t be such a challenge. It’s not as if I’m studying the Holocaust or something. (I think doing so has left Timothy Snyder a bit overwrought. For that I don’t blame him.) And it’s not as if Christian theology doesn’t have something to say about the evil found in history. But it’s another thing to encounter the specificity of evil in the archives in the form of people claiming to follow Jesus.

I’m left wondering how and why it could be that so many people in so many times and places could claim Christ’s name to such little effect. Or, indeed, to use him to sanction their pathetic fears and hatreds. And then I see myself standing in that same tradition, with the same selfish bent, so that finally “Jesus Saves” reads as an indulgence of hatred instead of a claim of liberation.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all bleak. I enjoy my job. I have a fun love/hate relationship with writing (some of us don’t like to write but like to have written). It’s fascinating to encounter complex human beings in the past and get to know them. I love to teach. But make no mistake: it’s all hard!

Failed Marketing Campaigns

For some reason, a white evangelical college in the 1990s thought this photo made good sense in their recruitment brochure:

college ad

If you come to our school, you too can be surrounded by flowers and adorable black children. You will feel so good about yourself.

For those of us who are slow on the uptake, let me just spell out one way this is weird. This is an ad for college. Maybe there would be, you know, black college students there? Who is this little girl, and why is she in a field of flowers with this woman?

In all seriousness, white evangelicals have often found it easier to direct their ministries toward black children than to work collaboratively with black adults. The former allows paternalism to go unchecked, while the latter requires white evangelicals to be open to change.

The Joys of Research

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The Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, Illinois.

I’ve been at the Billy Graham Center Archives this week. It’s the first stop in what I am calling my midwestern tour. We’re in peak corporate suburbia. Alicia’s reaction when we arrived was priceless. She was genuinely disoriented by this world where “town center” is apparently a synonym for parking lots, and elaborate gardenscapes are not actually public spaces but are merely to be looked at from passing cars. Of course this wasn’t new to her, but we become accustomed to our normal lives and quickly lose touch with other worlds.

My advice to phd candidates with kids: if possible mix everything together and make memories while you’re researching. I thought this might be a disaster but so far we’ve had a great time, Alicia and I and the three boys. None of this is worth it anyway if it prevents you from enjoying your family.

Now, about the research.

Because my opportunities for travel are limited, I try to process as much material as I can as quickly as possible. Lots of jpegs. But you also have to take some time to enjoy it. I don’t want to give away the good stuff, but let’s just say there have been lots of “wow” moments this week in the archives. My dissertation is really going to put the “white” in “white evangelicalism.” Given the overwhelming importance of racial identity to the evangelical movement, it’s remarkable how little many historians of evangelicalism have paid attention to it.

Last night I woke up at 1am and couldn’t get back to sleep until 3am because my brain seemed determined to write the whole dissertation then and there. Information overload. But the multiplying questions, the dizzying expansion of understanding that the archives can bring, are a thrill. It’s especially fun when you come across those documents that you immediately know will be in the final product.

One example. I’ve been learning a lot more about Donald McGavran, the founder of the Church Growth Movement. My sense of who he was has continued to gather depth and nuance. But in the end, you need to deliver to readers some punchy descriptions. What was this person like? What was he all about? Then I came across a letter from a colleague of McGavran. He wanted McGavran to do a certain thing. But, as he wrote to a friend, “Actually, you and I both know we can’t control McGavran” (my paraphrase). Yes! That captured it perfectly. A man who was going to do what he wanted to do. With his church growth ideas he got the bit in his mouth in the 1930s and never let go for the better part of 60 years.

Tomorrow it’s on to my alma mater, and from there to Calvin College in Grand Rapids. It’s hard to believe we get paid to do this stuff.

Readings for Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth. Here’s a roundup of good stuff to read. First, what is Juneteenth and why is it important? Jemar Tisby explains:

Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. It is recognized on June 19th every year. In Texas, where it is a state holiday, slaves learned of the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the initial announcement…

Juneteenth matters because in the United States freedom  has always come with an asterisk. While the founding documents of the nation declare “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” not all people were free and not all people enjoyed their unalienable rights. White supremacy asserted its power through the institution of race-based chattel slavery. The legacy of this heinous practice continues into the present. America has still not fully gripped the devastation slavery caused for both the enslaved and the free.

Celebrating Juneteenth gives citizens the opportunity to remember the ways freedom has always been circumscribed for people of color and it serves as motivation to press for continual emancipation from all forms of slavery.

One way to celebrate Juneteenth is to make sure it becomes a day that all Americans commemorate. Sign the Color of Change petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday.”

Celebrating Juneteenth can be one piece of a broader effort to bury the Lost Cause and reclaim a more accurate history and life-giving memory. Westenley Alcenat explains:

Leon Trotsky once noted that “what has been written with the sword cannot be wiped out by the pen.” And yet, that is precisely what took place; the accomplishments of Reconstruction were in fact rewritten and its memory overthrown by white nationalists. Academic historians derided abolitionists, praised the Confederacy, and adorned their books with admiration for Confederate generals and slaveholders. For generations thereafter, the country buried the achievements of the pioneering abolitionists who also helped usher the women’s movement. Meanwhile, the African-American chronicle of slavery to freedom and citizenship was seen by many as a misbegotten adventure.

In place of slavery and Reconstruction, the so-called “Lost Cause” took precedence throughout the former Confederacy. In fact, today Tennessee has more monuments to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader and founder of the Klu Klux Klan, than to President Andrew Jackson, a native Tennessean…

To value African-American history is to validate a politics of knowledge and resistance. Black history, in particular, exposes the poverty of memory and the injustices of a past burdened by white identity politics — one that was predicated on epistemic violence. Like the architects of Confederate monuments, racist historians from the Dunning School used their pens as weapons for knowledge destruction. Hoping to redeem white supremacy, they deployed racial terrorism by omission. This violent erasure is a challenge for today’s historian: how to write the history of a paradox — American freedom as defined by slavery? How should historians reconcile the legacy of the American Revolution, which professed natural rights but overlooked women, and especially Black and Brown persons? For many decades before the Civil Rights Movement, many white academics as well as public historians refused to answer these questions.

But there were a number of countervailing Black voices that protested the silence. As historian Albert Raboteau explained, Black congregations “articulated a theology of history in which they lambasted American Christians for turning Christianity into a clan religion…[and] for worshipping Anglo-Saxonism.” That this criticism stems from the ranks of Black Christians is notable: no other people have been more abused by American history and yet insist more persistently on their rightful place in it…

At its core, the contribution of African-American history is to at once liberate and expand the national conscience, holding the nation to the litmus test of what it professes to value. The story of the strivings of Black souls ensures that America does not forget the nightmares that tormented Martin Luther King’s Dream. Indeed, this task is more urgent today as we are confronted by the Black Lives Matter movement and efforts of Native Americans for self-determination.”

Read the whole thing.

Many Americans still have no idea what Juneteenth is about. Ben Baxter takes a look at Alabama’s state calendar and sees a problem:

For many of us, we have lived through June 19 or Juneteenth year after year without any hint of its significance in American history.

At its essence, Juneteenth is a day set to commemorate the abolition of slavery. But that detail is not widely known despite Alabama being a former slave state.

If we want to know why we have maintained this oblivion, we should look no further than the State of Alabama’s official state holiday calendar.

A quick glance will show that Juneteenth is not listed as an official state holiday. That wouldn’t be so bad if three other holidays weren’t given top billing as paid off days for state employees in 2017–Robert E. Lee Day (January 16), Confederate Memorial Day (April 24), Jefferson Davis Day (June 5). See a predicament there?”

That’s grotesque. We don’t remember well without the aid of holidays, special events, and physical spaces. We need to change our calendars and our built environment. Ed Hooper reports on the challenges of preserving a special civil war fort in Nashville as redevelopment threatens the site:

This space contains the remnants of the largest inland stone fort built during the American Civil War. Mayor Barry’s administration has instead chosen to award a developer the right to build condominiums and office spaces on a 21-acre section of it – a move that’s stunned preservationists and park supporters. The Civil War fort is unlike any other. It was constructed by black hands, staffed with some of the nation’s first black soldiers, and evolved from a campsite into a historic African-American community in the city.

Following the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson in 1862, Confederate forces retreated south evacuating Nashville to Union troops. Because of the access to railroads and rivers, Nashville quickly became the second most fortified city outside of Washington, DC. Then military governor Andrew Johnson ordered the city be fortified to defend against a Confederate counter-attack.

More than 2,700 free black tradesmen, newly-freed slaves, both men and women, were pressed into service to assist. The 12th U.S. Colored Troops Regiment that later organized in Nashville contained many of the laborers who built the fort. Union Engineer Capt. James Morton chose a rise southeast of Nashville for the largest structure. A “contraband” camp was established at the construction site to house laborers. The result four months later was a star-shaped limestone fort. The four-acre structure was named after Nashville Post Commander General James Negley. It didn’t come without cost. Historians estimate that between 600-800 died building it and were buried nearby.”

Let us remember. Happy Juneteenth!

On Taking Action for Black Lives

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Protestors react after the killer of Philando Castile is found not guilty. Startribune.com

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Protestors block I-94. startribune.com

This post is not for people who wish to argue about Philando Castile’s death. It’s not for people who are scandalized by the radical notion that black people matter. It’s not for people who consistently impugn and insult black Christians so they can stay on the good side of white conservatives. This post is for white people who want to do the right thing, who want to be useful in the struggle for racial justice and human rights.

After the verdict, a black Christian woman challenged nonblack Christians with this question:

What are you doing (simply talking about it and having the conversation doesn’t count in the context of this question) to correct the systemic injustice and racism/white supremacy that allowed Philando Castile to be murdered in broad daylight and his murderer to be acquitted and freed?

I am challenged and convicted by this question.

In a way, Alicia and I have built our lives around providing an answer to a question similar to this. And yet…In all that we do there is a nagging sense that it is really more useful for us than for oppressed people. You don’t get points for living in a black neighborhood. You don’t get points for good intentions. Our usefulness is measured not by our self-image, but by oppressed people themselves. And by that measure, I wonder if I am failing. In itself, that’s a matter of little public interest. But it matters a great deal if we—the collective us, white people who want to be useful—are failing.

The scale, depth, and intractability of racial injustice in this country call for action on all fronts. White Christians of the left, we dare not call for redistribution in public policy without practicing redistribution in our personal lives. White Christians of the right, we dare not call for redistribution in our personal lives without demanding it of our public policies. If we are one-dimensional we are part of the problem.

If you’re not financially supporting organizations run by people of color, why not?

If you’re not a member of a black activist organization, why not?

If you don’t support reparations, why not?

If you’re not an advocate of life-giving policing policies, why not?

If you aren’t making a ruckus in your church, or starting a reading group, why not?

If you’re not deliberately supporting black businesses, why not?

If you live in a community zoned to keep out the poor, are you working to change the zoning laws? If not, why not?

I need to make this absolutely clear: some of these questions hit me in the gut. I am a convicted fellow traveler.

Are all your relationships with white people comfortable? I don’t believe that is possible if you resist white supremacy. Challenging white supremacy challenges white self-interest. People will protect their interests—including, above all, their self-image—at all costs. If all the white people in your life are comfortable with your views, you need to go back to the drawing board. You’re swimming in sewage and thinking it’s fresh water. Tune in to people of color. Listen, learn, and repent.

If your church, your neighborhood, your kids’ school—or all three—are white, stop pretending you haven’t used the wages whiteness gives you. Take responsibility for your racial decisions. It may be that you should stay in all those white places! Ignorant white people need you. But they certainly don’t need semi-woke white people more preoccupied with claiming innocence than taking responsibility.

And nobody needs guilty white people. Nobody needs White Christians who are suddenly anti-gospel when racism enters the conversation: “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!” It’s hard to top that as a statement of anti-Christian pride. Scripture tells us different:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

We don’t need guilty white Christians. We need committed white Christians who have enough confidence in the gospel to take responsibility for the sin in and around them.

SBC Passes Revised Resolution Against White Supremacy

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Barrett Duke and Dwight McKissic

Yesterday afternoon the Southern Baptist Convention passed a revised resolution denouncing white supremacy. Here’s the full text of the version that passed:

WHEREAS, Scripture teaches, “From one man [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” (Acts 17:26); and

WHEREAS, The Psalmist proclaimed, “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord” (Psalm 24:1); and

WHEREAS, The Apostle Peter said, “God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34–35); and

WHEREAS, Our justification before God is based on faith in Christ Jesus alone and not in our ethnicity (Galatians 3:27–28); and

WHEREAS, Scripture proclaims that Jesus is purchasing by His blood believers “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9); and

WHEREAS, Throughout eternity we will gather with a “multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” in worship of our risen Savior (Revelation 7:9); and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message conveys that all Christians are obligated to make the will of Christ supreme in their own lives and in human society, opposing all forms of racism, selfishness, and vice, and bringing government and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love; and

WHEREAS, We know from our Southern Baptist history the effects of the horrific sins of racism and hatred; and

WHEREAS, In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention repudiated “historic acts of evil, such as slavery,” committed “to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry,” and “genuinely repent[ed] of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously”; and

WHEREAS, In recent years the Convention has nominated and elected individuals from a variety of ethnicities, including electing our first African-American president in 2012; and

WHEREAS, In recent resolutions the Southern Baptist Convention called on “all Christian men and women to pray and labor for the day when our Lord will set all things right and racial prejudice and injustice will be no more” (2014); expressed continued grief “over the presence of racism and the recent escalation of racial tension in our nation” (2015); and urged fellow Christians to discontinue using the Confederate battle flag, acknowledging that it is “used by some and perceived by many as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people” (2016); and

WHEREAS, More than 20 percent (nearly eleven thousand) of our cooperating Southern Baptist congregations identify as predominately non-Anglo and for the last three years more than 50 percent of Southern Baptist new church plants have been predominately non-Anglo; and

WHEREAS, B&H Academic recently published Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, highlighting our continuing need to root out vestiges of racism from our own hearts as Southern Baptists; and

WHEREAS, Racism and white supremacy are, sadly, not extinct but present all over the world in various white supremacist movements, sometimes known as “white nationalism” or “alt-right”; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we 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 redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

You can compare it to the original resolution. Some are saying the revised text is stronger because it uses the phrase “white supremacy.” I read it differently. Both versions condemn the rebranded racism that has entered our politics in recent years, but the revised text reads more as a defense of Southern Baptist racial progress. Appearing defensive in this moment is not a good look for the SBC.

In the past 24 hours there has been a lot of good reporting about why and how the original resolution failed. See Nicola Menzie’s piece. And CNN has an excellent blow by blow account. The short version: not only did the Resolutions Committee decline to send the resolution to the floor, the full convention voted twice against reconsidering the decision. Why?

This is a telling detail:

Among the opponents, some were frustrated at the methods used to reintroduce the topic late last night; others balked at the idea of the SBC calling out a right-wing ideology in particular, knowing the alt-right’s affiliation with Trump. They argued the denomination had already made its stance clear against racism (a 1995 resolution apologized for its racist past; one last year repudiated the Confederate flag), and suggested liberal politics were behind the recent move.

One attendee tweeted the resolution committee did the right thing when they declined to bring the alt-right resolution before the group in the first place: “The res committee and their response is exactly right. It will only be criticized by race baiters and ppl pushing left-wing social issues.” …

“It is, in part, a concern that alt-right will be a label applied to non-racist conservatives who, for example, simply voted for Donald Trump,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, who blogged on the resolution for CT. “However, I think that concern is past its time—the alt-right is the klan without the robes, and Southern Baptists need to speak up on it.”

If people read the original resolution as an implicit critique against their team that tells you a lot about how politicized and white their “Christianity” is. More along this line:

Resolutions Committee chairman Barrett Duke said Tuesday the original proposal was “too open-ended” and could be misinterpreted.

A day later, he apologized.

“We regret and apologize for the pain and the confusion that we created for you and the watching world when we decided not to report out a resolution on ‘alt-right’ racism,” he told messengers, or delegates, adding that he shares their abhorrence of the “particularly vicious form of racism that has manifested itself in the ‘alt-right’ movement.”

He said the new version of the resolution speaks with “conviction but also with compassion” and repudiates racism “in a tone that honors all people, even those with whom we disagree.”

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, who authored a proposed resolution about the Confederate flag at last year’s convention that was rewritten and passed, didn’t understand why the resolution wasn’t dealt with in a less confusing way.

“I’m very heartened by the statement,” he said in an interview about the new version of the resolution.

But he added, “I guess I’m disappointed because they could have done that all the time.”…

Matt Bowman, a white Tennessee pastor, believed it was important to pass a resolution whose meaning wouldn’t be twisted by others.

“Just because someone is conservative doesn’t make them alt-right,” he said. “Just because someone has right-wing politics doesn’t make them alt-right, white supremacists, so we need to be clear about what we’re condemning.”

Again, the original resolution didn’t mention right-wing or conservative politics. If people saw themselves or things they care about implicated in that resolution it might say something about their own sense of guilt.

And finally, some more revealing details from Emma Green:

“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…

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.”…

The resolutions committee consulted with Russell Moore, the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, to draft new language, Duke told me, but they did not consult with McKissic, the original author. “This is the committee’s resolution,” he said. “This is not Brother McKissic’s resolution.”

On Wednesday, McKissic said he is okay not having been consulted “because I don’t think it’s customary. … Once that person has submitted, I don’t think you’re normally involved.” There is one African American member on the 10-person resolutions committee, Roland Slade.

After the revised resolution passed there was celebration and talk of the “bold” and “prophetic” stance of the SBC. Those aren’t the words I’d use.