“Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” Acts 10:34 NRSV
“Our new government is founded… upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”–Alexander Stephens, Vice-President, Confederate States of America
An Arlington, Texas pastor, Dr. Dwight McKissic, is proposing a resolution for the SBC to consider at its 2016 annual meeting that would put the denomination on record as being opposed to the use of the confederate flag in public life. Dr. McKissic states that his proposal is “not a move toward political correctness”, but is, rather, ” a move toward biblical righteousness.” (https://dwightmckissic.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/response-to-requests-to-withdraw-the-confederate-flag-elimination-resolution-at-sbc-2016/)
If you know anything about the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, then you know that it came into existence because of the issue of slavery. Some Baptists in the south objected to the restriction on serving as missionaries that was placed on slave owners by the existing Baptist denomination, and in 1845, met in Augusta, Georgia, and formed a separate denominational body. Many of its churches, through the years, have practiced segregation by restricting membership only to Caucasians, and many of its institutions also did the same. In recent years, those practices and policies have been reversed, African Americans have been welcomed into the denomination and into individual churches, and in 2012, the convention elected Fred Luter, an African American pastor from New Orleans, as its President. As the churches have become increasingly diverse, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and others are being elected to, and serving on the Executive Board of the SBC, in state conventions, and in related institutions. In 1995, the convention passed a resolution that essentially apologized for its past segregation and actions that were considered racist. (http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/899/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention)
The discussion about the use of the Confederate flag has come to the forefront because of the murder of nine people attending a prayer meeting and Bible study inside a Charleston, South Carolina church. That prompted the state government there to finally remove the flag from the grounds of its state house. Since the SBC has lagged behind most other Christian denominations in racial reconciliation, this resolution will be something which will allow it to be a prophetic voice on this issue.
At the beginning of this article, I cited a quotation from Alexander Stephens, who served as Vice-president of the Confederacy. Stephens was not the only one who articulated this idea. Jefferson Davis, the President, echoed those sentiments, as did other legislators and leaders of the Confederacy, and there is plenty of supporting legislation to indicate that this is a founding, core principle of that particular nation. You cannot separate that from the symbolism of the Confederate flag. And why would the flag be the only symbol that represents the historic culture of the American South? The Confederacy lasted a mere four years, and was a relatively short period of time in its whole history. There is a lot more “Southern-ness” that is unique to the South, but not connected in any way to the Confederacy, than its brief, troubled history. Let the flag go, and use something that doesn’t have all of that baggage to be the symbols of history and culture.
If the Confederacy was, indeed, about states rights, as some of its historical apologists claim it was, then it turns out that such an approach was a failure when it comes to building a nation. The Confederacy abandoned the balance of powers between states and federal government in the United States in favor of a very weak central government, with states that almost functioned as independent countries. The military goal of the Confederacy was not to conquer and occupy the Union, but to fight long enough and hard enough to hold on to their territory, and make the Union quit, in order to preserve itself. But it was not able to achieve that goal because its central government was not able to function. It couldn’t levy enough taxes to provide adequate supplies. It had difficulty planning an organized military strategy because individual states could veto plans, or simply not provide the necessary troops. While Grant was marching on Vicksburg, and Sherman marched across Georgia, some states held their militias, and their supplies, back to protect their own territory, allowing the Union forces to concentrate on defeating the larger, more effective Confederate forces.
The primary right of the states that the Confederacy aimed to preserve was legislation which allowed whites to own negroes as slaves. Historically, there is no evidence that anything else rose to the level of inciting rebellion against the United States. Not all of the states that allowed slavery opted to rebel, by seceding, which makes the issue of what the Confederate flag stands for even less related to Southern culture than it should be. The flag represented a government in rebellion, with a perspective on humanity that was different from the “all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” of the Declaration of Independence, codified in the constitution’s Bill of Rights. It did take a while for Americans to come to a resolution of the application of that Biblical principle, at least from a government, legal perspective, though we still have a way to go socially.
I have ancestors who fought, and died for the Confederacy. I understand the historical context of the Civil War, and I understand what the Confederate flag stood for. Robert E. Lee signed the surrender at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865. The Confederacy ended, and its flag should be retired. And beyond a resolution which addresses its use in public life, the SBC should continue to renew its commitment to Biblical righteousness. It is a denomination which is recognized for its heart for global missions, and that heart needs to extend to reaching into the cultural diversity that is America.