On Wednesday, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) issued a scathing declaration against “the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy.” The resolution condemned every form of racism as incompatible with the Christian gospel and attacked the alt-right movement in no uncertain terms.
“RESOLVED, That 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,” the messengers declared.
“Racism and white supremacy attack the Gospel itself and the person of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), declared after the resolution’s passage. “Southern Baptists were right to speak clearly and definitely that ‘alt-right white nationalism is not just a sociological movement but a work of the devil.”
Indeed, the messengers also passed a resolution saying that they “denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil.”
Dwight McKissic, the African-American pastor who submitted the original version of the resolution, expressed gratitude for the approval of the final version, but lamented that fact that it took nearly 24 hours to pass it.
McKissic lamented, “It’s painful to watch people who tout biblical inerrancy and who tout the centrality of the Gospel have to debate over denouncing white supremacy.” But the African-American pastor also said he was encouraged “to see so many Southern Baptists take a stand,” even after a long debate.
The document rooted opposition to racism in many Bible passages. The SBC noted that “our justification before God is based on faith in Christ Jesus alone and not in our ethnicity,” referencing Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This popular verse declares that the differences of nationality, socioeconomic status, and even gender cannot interfere with the gospel and Christian unity in Jesus.
The SBC also quoted Acts 10:34—35, “God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him,” and two verses in Revelation (Revelation 5:9, 7:9), which proclaim that Jesus purchased believers “from every tribe and language and people and nation” and that eternal worship will include “a multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”
Importantly, the denomination admitted and repented of the racism in its own history, and acknowledged “that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst.”
The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845, splitting from the Northern Baptists over the issue of slavery. After the Civil War, many freedmen broke off to form their own separate churches.
The SBC acknowledged this history, writing, “We know from our Southern Baptist history the effects of the horrific sins of racism and hatred.” Nevertheless, the statement noted that in 1995, the SBC repudiated “historic acts of evil, such as slavery” and committed “to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry.”
Crucially, the SBC elected its first African-American president in 2012, Fred Luter, Jr.
Most Americans are not familiar with the alt-right movement condemned in this statement. A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 54 percent of U.S. adults reported having heard “nothing at all” about it, while 28 percent have heard only “a little” about it.
“There were a lot of people [at the SBC annual meeting] who just weren’t familiar with what the alt-right is,” Russell Moore told Christianity Today. “And then there were others who assumed the alt-right was just a fringy group of people that they didn’t want to dignify by even mentioning them.”
The Gospel Coalition’s Joe Carter created a helpful Q&A post about the alt-right which is worth reading in its entirety. Suffice it to say that Richard Spencer, who claims to have coined the term in its modern usage (as an abbreviation of “Alternative Right”) and serves as president and director of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, is its foremost champion, but has received more than a little help from Steve Bannon.
Contrary to its self-presentation, the alt-right is neither conservative nor Christian. At CPAC, American Conservative Union (ACU) Executive Director Dan Schneider denounced the movement as “this hate-filled left-wing fascist group.”
The alt-right as represented by Richard Spencer supports white identity politics and supports official government recognition and benefits for white people. As Carter pointed out, these activists hold views associated with progressivism, such as support for abortion and LGBT rights, and opposition to free market economics.
The alt-right is not Christian, either, despite some claiming that Christianity is a “foundational pillar” of their movement. “But what they mean by Christianity is often a heretical form, a radicalized version of the faith, or ‘religion as culture,'” Carter argued. “The true religion of the alt-right is white identitarianism, which is why the SBC accurately considers it an ‘anti-gospel’ movement.”
While the SBC emphatically denounced the alt-right and all forms of racism, its resolutions also included a call to pray for people in these movements.
“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,” the document concluded.
This declaration against racism and the alt-right was an important step for the SBC, and the call to pray for such people emphasized the convention’s belief that God’s gift of salvation is indeed extended to everyone, so long as they repent and believe the true gospel.