I will always remember where I was and what I felt on June 14th, 2016 as I learned the denomination in which I pastor, the Southern Baptist Convention, voted overwhelmingly to repudiate the Confederate Battle Flag and to call all Southern Baptist to cease displaying this flag. A incredible mixture of shock and gratefulness and amazement and sheer determination swirled and is still swirling inside of me. I was glad to see this resolution being passed made national news, but let me tell you, unless you are a Southern Baptist, you will have a hard time grasping what this step means.
First, it reveals our unwavering commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As stated at our 2016 Annual Meeting, where this resolution was passed, the Confederate Battle Flag is viewed as a symbol of racism and worse, to African Americas, many other ethnicities, including whites, and by wide geography of peoples. Since this flag has such negative connotations to these people, we must remove it, so we can build relationships with these groups and share the gospel of Jesus Christ without hindrance. This vote proves that the Gospel going forth is vastly more important that so many of our Southern Baptist member’s and pastor’s heritage in the past.
Second, it shows that “they” have a priority over “us.” We told ourselves, we don’t care what that flag means or symbolizes to some of us. What matter is what it means to them because again we are trying to impact them. So get over yourself, take the flag down, and reach others with the gospel unhindered by a symbol that closes so many ears.
Third, we can swallow our pride. The Southern Baptist’s supported slavery. Voted twice in 1861 and 1863 on resolutions to support the Confederacy. In 1995, we passed a resolution that offered a public apology for our past stance on slavery, and yesterday, we cut ties with the flag of that failed nation that also supported slavery. I know, I know Southerner, the Civil War was about more than slavery, but slavery was a significant portion of the Civil War. We have now stood tall twice, stated to the world we were/are wrong, and pledged to be better as a denomination and as Christians.
Fourth, we were brutally honest with ourselves. The original resolution was soft asking to limit the display of the Confederate Flag and recognized the heritage aspect of the Civil War to so many Southern Baptists. Thank God for those who wrote an amendment to the resolution and Brother James Merritt for proposing the amendment that did not allow us to be soft on ourselves. The resolution repudiated the flag and called us to cease its display. Again so we can better share the gospel with those offended by the Confederate Flag.
Fifth, we opened our arms to our non-Anglo brother and sister Southern Baptists. Did you know that 11,000 Southern Baptist congregations are predominantly non-Anglo, and that 50% of new church plants within the denomination are to reach non-Anglos. The removal of this flag is an embrace to these brother and sisters in Christ.
Sixth, we are embracing the international reality of who we are, which has been an issue. The name Southern Baptist denotes we are a regional denomination, and in many ways, we have operated with a regional mindset focusing on the Southerners in the Southern Baptist. It is time we embraced we are more than regional. We have international concerns and need to set our eyes on a broader prize. This resolution has a broad prize in mind…it’s the world worshiping Christ by the way.
Seventh, we are not afraid to do the unpopular if it is for the gospel or to show compassion to others. In the Christian Index article about this resolution, Brother Bobby Braswell, after speaking to several African American messengers at the Annual Meeting, said, “Bottom line: it REALLY mattered to them.” This resolution will be unpopular to many in my denomination, and I’m glad our leadership and messengers at the Annual Meeting were undeterred to do something that really matters.
Eighth, we threw tradition out the window…and we love tradition. My favorite joke about us is how many Southern Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb?…What? Change? We are as steeped in tradition as any denomination. In 2010, a special commission made many recommendations during the Annual Meeting that year. Some were truly amazing. They proposed a complete change to how money was allocated throughout our demonization, the organization or our mission boards, and what had us up in arms? They wanted to emphasize the title, “Great Commission Giving” when offerings were given to the Convention. That money has been traditionally called the “Cooperative Program.” The radical ideas passed without much fuss, but the new title was shot down in favor of the traditional Cooperative Program, so for us to break from tradition is huge. I hope the people who the Confederate Flag offends will feel the amazing love and compassion the step away from this flag truly possesses.
I could go on and on, but I hope you are beginning to get the idea. This was like Methodists saying those Wesley boys were wrong, or Scottish Presbyterians repudiating John Knox, or Lutherans apologizing for Philip Melanchthon. It’s big news with a big heart. We will take the Apostle Paul’s advice and do all we can to remove any hindrance to the gospel of Jesus Christ transforming lives.
Lastly, I write this as a Southerner. When I was young boy, my mother stood me on the exact skirmish site where our ancestor was killed as a Confederate soldier in the Battle of Shiloh. She showed me the mass grave where he most likely was laid to rest. Do not think for one second that I do not grasp or understand what the Confederate Flag means to many in the South, but I, now along with my fellow Southern Baptists, stand upon the more important thing, the gospel going forth unhindered by a symbol.
I never thought I would see this day. I cannot wait to see what God will do through us Southern Baptist next. We might even drop our regional moniker to better describe who we are. We might even one day elect a Southern Baptist President who is a citizen of another country. Wow! And again I say wow! I’m grateful to be a part of a denomination so committed to evangelism. May our individual commitment match our denomination’s as a whole.