The Southern Baptist Convention Leaps Forward Into the 1960s

The SBC Annual Meeting took place in mid-June at the Phoenix Convention Center (photo by Gage Skidmore)

Write up a list of evil things in this world, from one to however many evils you can think of (off the top of my head I was able to come up with at least twelve). I imagine that for most of us, Planned Parenthood is nowhere on that list. However, if we were to examine a list the Southern Baptist Convention came up with, I’m quite sure we’d find PP at the very top.

At their recent meeting in Phoenix, the SBC passed a resolution—“On Defunding and Investigating Planned Parenthood”—that condemns the “immoral agenda and practices of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates, especially their role in the unjust killing each year of more than 300,000 precious unborn babies, its use of particularly gruesome illegal abortion methods, and its profiteering from harvesting unborn babies tissues and organs.” The resolution also encourages “the United States Congress to defund Planned Parenthood immediately and completely of all federal government support.” No matter that there is no evidence found to support the claims of this supposed profiteering.

Another habit the SBC seemed unable to kick at the meeting was racism. This became apparent when Rev. Dwight McKissic’s resolution condemning the alt-right was dismissed by the SBC leadership over concerns that it could alienate some of their congregants (if it were me, I wouldn’t lose sleep over alienating the alt-right). The SBC faced enough outrage over this decision that it was forced to create and pass a more anodyne version of the resolution—one that does still mention the alt-right specifically. However, what’s concerning is that it only took a great deal of public pressure for the SBC to pass the resolution condemning white supremacy and racism.

While Rev. McKissic introduced the original resolution denouncing racism, he has made some unfortunate comments about non-biblical (or in a sense, very biblical) sexual orientations, in 2005 suggesting it was possible that Hurricane Katrina was God punishing New Orleans for its tolerant attitudes towards homosexuality. Seven years later, at the SBC convention in that same city, he helped author a resolution rejecting homosexuality (“RESOLVED, That we deny that the effort to legalize “same-sex marriage” qualifies as a civil rights issue since homosexuality does not qualify as a class meriting special protections, like race and gender”), and objected to homosexuals “equating their sin with my skin.”

McKissic’s denunciation of racism on the one hand and his homophobia on the other offers interesting insight into the root of the issues (racism, for starters, but others as well) that plague the Southern Baptist Convention. In a nutshell, the SBC seems to be proving that à la carte progress is not a functional model. That is, one should not really be surprised to see that an organization that views itself as engaged in “spiritual warfare” with an entire class of people struggles to acknowledge and endorse the rights of a different group of people. After all, this is the denomination that was formed in 1845 using biblical references to condone slavery and establish the inferior status of black people. Though their stance on racism has advanced since then, they seem blind to the absurdity of repudiating previous attempts at biblical justification for discrimination against one group, while happily continuing to use biblical justification for discrimination against another.

In the 2013 resolution that rejected the idea of same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue, the SBC did also condemn “gay-bashing” and “disrespectful attitudes, hateful rhetoric, or hate-incited actions toward persons who engage in acts of homosexuality.” Commendable, except that it also recommended “redemptive ministry to those who struggle with homosexuality,” which sounds suspiciously euphemistic for conversion therapy. Backing this up is an SBC position statement that says “Homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’ The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgivable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals. They, too, may become new creations in Christ.”

The parallels between black civil rights and homosexual civil rights may not be perfect, but they’re close, and it should be obvious enough that one cannot be championed without championing the other. That the SBC recently saw so much contention surrounding support of the former is a direct result of their steadfast opposition to the latter. The chaos surrounding McKissic’s resolution can be understood as the symptom of a denomination that, while in this case forced by individual members to consider a specific issue of social justice, remains encumbered by dogma that normalizes and promotes the oppression of entire groups of people.

To be fair to the many Southern Baptists who oppose racism, the passage of the eventual anti-alt-right resolution (“On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy”) was a direct result of their refusal to let the issue be swept under the rug; it was their determination to see the issue through that forced the SBC leadership to schedule a vote on the revised resolution. That being said, the easiest way for them to avoid such a struggle in the future would be to acknowledge the need for truly inclusive progress, rather than attempting to lift up one community while simultaneously assailing another.