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SBC17 and the Myth of Progress

Jeremy Odekerken

Two nights ago, there was a buzz over the news that a resolution to condemn white supremacy and the alt-right movement was declined. This resolution was held at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, where votes on bylaws and standards are made for those in the denomination. At first, attendees were unwilling to denounce racism and white supremacy.

Many said the reasoning behind the rejection was due to imprecise language within the resolution. Despite their reasons, the damage was done, and many, rightfully so, condemned this act in their networks. There was shock and outrage from many white Christians, both in and outside of the SBC. And for African-Americans, it’s the same old thing on repeat.

The failure of this resolution to pass at the SBC’s national convention in Phoenix highlights once again how pervasive and powerful racism and white supremacy are within predominately white denominations. But it may be the shock and indignation by many white members of these denominations that shows the most. Many white Christians have bought into the myth of progress regarding racial reconciliation. However, this most recent event begs the question, has any significant or lasting progress really been made?

Within recent years, there has been an influx of talk regarding the explicit racist foundation and history of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the desire of some in the denomination to push past this and strive for racial unity. In a resolution regarding racial reconciliation in the 1995 meeting in Atlanta, it was acknowledged that the convention’s history is one which chattel slavery was practiced and defended, Jim Crow segregation was supported and the civil rights movement was opposed. African Americans were also denied the right to worship alongside white members, and hold places of leadership and authority. The resolution went on to say that the convention “unwaveringly denounces racism in all forms.”

More recently, a resolution passed last year denouncing the confederate flag as a symbol of racism, and many have lauded Russell Moore for his resistance to Donald Trump during the 2016 election, and for his continued push to focus racial issues and issues of injustice within the denomination. H.B. Charles Jr. was elected to be the president of this year’s pastor’s convention, the first black president in the SBC’s history. To many white Christians, it looked as though progress was being made against racism in the SBC, and in other predominately white denominations who adopted similar resolutions and taken similar steps.

However, in failing to denounce white supremacy and a movement which unashamedly espouses white supremacy, this “progress” was shown for what it really is, a myth. To not address the root sin that manifests itself in so many evil ways ensure attempts at justice and racial reconciliation may fail. While addressing racial reconciliation is good, doing so without confronting and dismantling white supremacy is a fruitless endeavor.

On Tuesday night, the deep and unwavering hold that white supremacy has on white evangelicalism was once again brought to light. It raises the question as to whether predominantly white denominations have made any progress since the passionate plea of Rev. Dr. Martín Luther King Jr. in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

While a second, revised resolution condemning white supremacy and the Alt-tight movement was passed a day later, I believe the truth was told on Tuesday night. The convention praised themselves and patted themselves on the back for doing the bare minimum of what the Christian life requires. This symbolic gesture itself buys into the myth that “progress” has been made. While I am not claiming to know the motives of each individual member involved with this vote and the revised resolution, the circumstances surrounding this situation cause suspicion and hesitancy. That will only be eased after actionable steps are taken to dismantle racism in our churches.

If we cannot repent of, and dismantle white supremacy, all attempts at racial reconciliation will fail at an institutional and systemic level. If we cannot rid ourselves of the racist, rotten root of white American Christianity, it will be impossible to move towards racial unity. If white evangelicalism is not willing to stop worshiping at the altar of whiteness, and turn in repentance to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the question is going to need to be answered, is white evangelicalism truly Christian?

18 thoughts on “SBC17 and the Myth of Progress

  1. Eriick

    I have an EXTREMELY negative view of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. And there is little doubt that there is radical anti-law enforcement and anti-White sentiment(racism) in that group. However, I actually go to Church with people who are sympathetic to the BLM groups — people that I know DON’T hate white folks OR police. Can you, with absolute assuredness, say that every person who identifies as a member of the ‘alt-right’ is a racist? Abortion is infanticide, and is an American holocaust. Does that make every person who votes for Democrats the equivalent of an SS guard? One of the biggest faces of the alt-right, Milo Yiannapolis, is slandered as being racist all the time – it’s simply not true. Having a position against ‘affirmative action’ and pointing out the glaring crime epidemic in the black community per capita vs other racial groups is not racist. Truth should be motivation to enact change – not be meant with faux accusations of racism. Unfortunately for Milo, he has no concept or understanding of the Gospel, a Gospel which CAN and DOES cure racism. Despite this, can we honestly say he is WRONG on all of his assessments? On the other hand, Richard Spencer and his ilk, however, is ANOTHER story altogether – I would agree that Spencer is racist based on his stated positions and rhetoric. I am for the marketplace of ideas being exchanged, but because I am a Christian, I must look through the lenses of a Christ centered view. It all boils down to this — What would Jesus do? WHat does Jesus say? What did Jesus do? What does he want US to do? Because the Alt-Right, Black Lives Matter, the DNC, the GOP, and the other political groups have not publicly declared that the Gospel is the cure for all of society’s ills, I can never fully endorse any of them.

  2. Judy

    The alt right is a disgusting, racist and sexist movement. I can forgive your ignorance about it to a point, but they harass anyone who doesn’t agree with them in the most vile and cowardly ways online.

    That being said, I too was dismayed at the tone of this article. Just because things are not as they should be does not mean that no progress has been made.

  3. Erick

    As a member of an SBC and Acts 29 church that has strived fervantly for diversity in the church, I am dismayed at any hint of racism within the SBC. But I am also dismayed at the wide brush that people on the fringes of Conservatism are painted with as well. Yes – Richard Spencer is a racist. Yes – Milo is a provocateur. But do they speak for everyone that considers themselves alt-right? What is alt-right anyways? If so, then I guess Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton speak for everyone who is in the civil rights movement…… so tired of the double standards. There will be racists until Jesus returns because Satan will use all tools T his disposal to divide the church and cause general strife in society. All we can do as Christians is pray God opens the eyes and hearts of the hateful. But let us not stereotype others as well in the process of being self righteous. In
    My home , make it a specific point to teach our children about God loving all people,
    And teach about racial injustice b big unacceptable and sinful. My church does the same. And while great strives must still be made, I reject the notion that SBC churches are somehow collectively propagating a culture of racism. I simply do not see it – and seeing the integrated church all around me every Sunday shows enormous strides are being made. As a lifelong SBC Baptist, I can’t help but feel slighted here.

  4. george canady

    Hi Jon.

    I think you may have mistaken me for an educated man and a Bible scholar. I am just a simple man who has a desire to know what Gods’ word means by what it says.

    I do however assume that even the “little ones” know how the sin of James chapter 2 is the ongoing sin manifest at SBC17.

    That is the subject even though many in majority of the white church would like to change the subject or ignore it.

    Time is up for the segregated conservative church. God has spoken through many of His leading white conservative evangelical servants including John Piper, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Russell Moore….

    We can’t call this a liberal issue any more nor blame the ” tongues ” for speaking up, for then you will contend with these men.

    White conservative Christians will in the future have black Pastors, Elders, Deacons, sons, daughters, grandchildren, bosses,
    and all forms of leadership.

    May God Help us do that.

    This is not the fire of destruction we are feeling, this is the heat of purification.

  5. Jon Dansby

    Thanks George,
    I DO abhor the sin in the founding of the SBC. I know that it was shamefully formed so that white slave owners could be sent as missionaries because other denominations refused to send them. I am not trying to defend the white church. But you are not making any sense in your objections to my rebuke of this article. I am commenting on the content of THIS TERRIBLE ARTICLE and you keep changing the subject. Please help me understand.
    I’m sorry, but just because partiality in James 2 comes before James 3 doesn’t mean James can’t discuss something else. He is addressing overall division and problems in the church. One of them is partiality, one of them is controlling the tongue, one of them is worldliness, one of them is boasting about tomorrow. James’s concerns have a thread, yes, but they can also be profitably read and obeyed in sections. Otherwise you could never correct someone who has ever experienced partiality. By bringing up James 2, you are just changing the subject.
    So, let’s stay focused like a laser beam here. PLEASE answer the questions I asked in my last post:
    “Do you think it’s OK to employ untruth (as racists have done) in the righteous fight against racism? Do you believe it’s worth using cynicism, pessimism, and false narratives “to get more exposure”? Do you think it’s Jeremy’s business to burn bridges that he didn’t build by assuming, passing on, and enlarging things he doesn’t know?”
    Perhaps you are too emotional or hurt to be able to stay focused on the topic at hand: this article. If so, let me know and I’ll understand. Or just change the subject again and I’ll get the hint.
    I pray that your energy for this cause bears much fruit, brother.

  6. george canady

    HI Jon,
    My interest is, as it sounds like yours is, the purity of the Bride of Christ.

    I don’t down play your history with this issue. I am sure you have legitimate concerns from the white church prospective. If I knew you think I might empathizes with some.

    However, to give James chapter 3 context I would back up one chapter in James and study chapter two, Then ask the question: have we been partial in the historical practices of the SBC?

    I think It may then be probable to see in a different light who “set on fire the entire course of life.”

    John MacArthur wrote a book some years ago about how when one is a genuine Christian the evidence will show. I think that same can be applied to us in the SBC. When the SBC is truly Christian to every ethnicity the evidence will show.

    All one has to do is look at the evidence. I think we will have a time explaining the obvious segregation of the Bride to Jesus when he returns.

  7. Jon Dansby

    I appreciate your goals and intentions, brother. But the problem is that this particular article is TMZ-worthy gossip IF it turns out that Jeremy is passing on a wrong and hasty report. Untruthfulness will damage the cause! And Charles Holmes called it cynicism, pessimism, and creating false narratives. Does that carry no weight with you, no matter what you smell?
    There are black and white brothers and sisters who are working hard on a bridge in this sbc17 resolution. The language had to be adjusted. That’s all you know. Since you weren’t there, and were not involved, you and Jeremy should consider being circumspect, unless you might have reason to think Charles Holmes is lying or trying to aid racists.
    So, do you think it’s OK to employ untruth (as racists have done) in the righteous fight against racism? Do you believe it’s worth using cynicism, pessimism, and false narratives “to get more exposure”? Do you think it’s Jeremy’s business to burn bridges that he didn’t build by assuming, passing on, and enlarging things he doesn’t know?
    I do not.
    We all, including myself, should be spending time in James 3 before we do anything that could “set on fire the entire course of life.” And I think we should follow Charles Holmes’s biblical advice to hope all things and rejoice over repentance in order to encourage more.

  8. george canady

    Hi Jon.

    It is my hope to correct what biblical hope, grace, and love are in this and other quotes I see often used or reused out of their context with regard to how the white Church, and the SBC in particularly, treats white brothers and sisters at the expense of black brothers and sisters .

    If in repentance it is others who have died and suffered under our hand we are to think of, then we, a majority of the white SBC got caught again at SBC17 thinking of how to hide or ignore more exposure and therefore impede repentance, healing and reconciliation.

    At least we got Moore exposure.

    But I doubt the watching world or a discerning Christian is convinced that the SBC Leadership changed its’ behavior 99% over night.

    It smells more like compliance than submissive repentance.

    I’m now convinced, because of the resistance, the biblical sanctification of an historic centuries old sin like this will be more painful and lengthy for all of us. It is possible, as is God’s character, to eventually make an example in our time of us and our children who have treated the elect as poorly as we have.

    I assume some in the SBC are still unaware that it is unlikely to get away with the same kind of historically open partiality anymore with the light of social media shining in our darkness to expose us for who we used to ignore and the hateful attitude of the words we used to get away with in the dark.

    Jon, I just wanted to point out that we in the SBC are going to have to deal with why historically we haven’t cared as much about what biblical hope means for black Christians too in the SBC and how that rejection of the elect by the elect has affected the whole black community and how seriously Jesus hates this sin because of what it does to His Bride.

  9. Jon Dansby

    Charles Holmes, not I, authored the statement to which you’re objecting. His comment was made in the specific context of the sbc17 issue. Copy paste your rebuke to him and let us know what he says.

  10. george canady

    Hello Jon Dansby

    “What happen to “love hopes all things?” Perhaps it is best seen in those black brothers and sisters who’s relatives died under the historically chronicled boot of the SBC unbiblical oppression, yet who still are willing to biblicaly forgive us and our relatives and even consider a relationship with us.

    It seems it is best seen in the white brother and sister who are not as concerned as to whether or not they are directly responsible for this historic unwillingness to allow black brothers and sisters full membership and leadership in the American Bride of Christ, but more interested in asking for forgiveness and making up for any direct or indirect aid we give those who hate or hated in the name of God anyone made in the image of God.

    maybe in that kind of display of love I think is what Jesus had in mind as for us in our continuing SBC pattern of sin.

  11. Jon Dansby

    Was Jeremy, the author, there? And does he know that it all went down in a way that illustrates the point he’s making? Or is he going off of internet hot takes and creating more gossip? I’m not concerned about the main point of the article IF it is premised off of sinfully spreading gossip. Neither should you be.
    Charles Holmes tweeted this: “Social media is great, but the cynicism, pessimism, and false narratives that are being thrown around about the #sbc #sbc17 is sickening.” “What happen to “love hopes all things?” Rejoicing over repentance? Like you can’t just assume people’s motives over the internet.”
    It sounds like we would have been much more edified by hearing from someone who was there and more vitally involved in the process. I KNOW RAAN has those connections.
    I’m not judging Jeremy by his motives. I’m talking to him about his actions.
    If it turns out that Jeremy is passing on and enlarging a (graceless and truthless) wrong report, then what has he accomplished? In that case, brothers and sisters have been slandered and people of color have been rushed and pushed into despising their Christian family, who actually have goodwill towards them. According to Charles Holmes, people have been baited with “cynicism, pessimism, and false narratives.”
    So, white folks and people of color have both been burned by the cynics, pessimists, and the pushers of false narratives/assumers of motives. White folks, people of color, and a BUNCH of bridges have been unnecessarily burned that will take a long time to heal. Even worse, Jeremy will have burned OTHER PEOPLE’S bridges with his article.
    I hold no personal animosity to Jeremy. I pray that he has a long, rich, and fruitful ministry, but this is a big deal.

  12. Christina

    I think it’s great a white man wrote this article. Too often victims of racism are the only ones advocating against it. But if we all agree it’s wrong does it matter who says it is?

    Please don’t confuse frustration with lack of grace. Too often we use grace as an excuse to avoid truth and we need both. The truth is the hesitation by the SBC to condemn such hate was hurtful and wrong to your African-American brothers and sisters in Christ. We can hurt, we can be frustrated, and upset with the injustices we face, even in the Church. Especially in the Church. It does not mean there is no grace and it certainly doesn’t mean anyone is burning bridges. The issue is not calling out the problem, it’s white Christianity’s habit of ignoring it and acting like it doesn’t exist.

    The main point of the article was to show that there has not been much progress when it comes to racial reconciliation within the Church as white Christians would like to believe. Which points out one of the major issues within the Church: when it comes to racial issues too many white Christians want grace with no truth.

  13. Jon Dansby

    So, Jeremy. You were there? Do you know why things actually happened because you watched them unfold? Or are you cobbling this article together from a flurry of hot takes, articles, and mind reading?
    If you weren’t there and are having to assume motivations, how is that different from gossip? How is this not just a violation of, well, all of James 3? If your assumptions all turn out to be wrong, “how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire.” You, brother, will turn out to have been the burner of bridges.
    Why isn’t this being written by an African American brother or sister who was actually there, who may have been more vitally involved in the process? Does RAAN have NO such contacts who could have written this?

  14. Jeremy Towry

    “At first, attendees were unwilling to denounce racism and white supremacy.”
    I think it would be responsible to make it clear that it’s not as though it actually came to a vote that everyone voted down. Like they don’t mind white supremacists in the SBC. At first the committee deciding what my motions to bring forward declined to bring this one forward. Yes there was a miserable failure in community that may have been the result of racial bias, but let’s make sure it’s clear what actually happened.

  15. Brad

    According to a Pew Research survey last year over 80% of voting adults had little to no knowledge about what the Alt-right movement was–that’s a very important fact. While I agree that simply passing “resolutions” truly changes little in SBC life, the lack of grace that was shown towards many of those in the convention room who just didn’t understand what was going on is shocking to me (I’m not talking about those who agree with the white supremacy movement, they rightfully need to repent). I realize you could say that those who don’t know what’s going on need to work harder on their media intake and social awareness, fine. But to call their lack of knowledge and desire to know what they are voting on before they vote on it a form of racism is itself a form intellectual prejudice. The idea that “You don’t know what I know about the current political view of the alt-right, therefore you’re a racist.” is itself wicked. It’s a shame that so many in the room who were only guilty of being uninformed are branded as racist. May we show more grace to those who aren’t as smart as we are-–just as God shows us grace despite our lack of wisdom and knowledge.

  16. george canady

    If compliance” 99.9% of the vote” were counted as biblical submission the SBC in the main would not be struggling so. After all who would want to be seen as “alt right” right now when called out for the history of the SBC.

    No, the Bible says they have “crept in unnoticed”. They are not so obvious to call themself the “alt right” but they are among us.

    Listen to their attitude under pressure. Some give themselves away in the singling out of blacks as more biblically and statistically prone to sin. Some justify the use of the “n” word, and many justify and all white leadership of their church as if that is all God has “raised up”. Of course they have black friends though.

    Many give the darker church members lip service because they are compelled to. But in these hearts are far from Biblical love.

  17. Adam Shields

    This was more than a procedural fumble. Procedure may have played a part. But it was not the whole story. The procedural fumble only makes sense if you ignore the original refusal to bring the resolution to a vote by the committee. And the complete lack of communication between the committee and the original drafter of the resolution.

    Also I believe that there is a lack of understanding about the alt right that did play into lack of passage on Tuesday. But that again is another sign of a lack of relationship between many in the SBC and those that are aware of racial issues.

    Procedure did play a part. But that part, was less than several other issues which this article highlights.

  18. Andrew

    Just to add an edit to this. HB was just elected the first Black President of the S.B.C. Pastors Conference. The first Black president of the Convention was Fred Luter in 2012.

    Also, while I was totally dismayed at the events of Tuesday night there was quite a bit more nuance to it then you described in this article. There was a procedural fumble, not a theological, doctrinal, or cultural one and the resulting resolution was passed with about 99.9% of the vote.

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