By Lonnie Wilkey/TN Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN, TN(BP) — With white supremacist rallies scheduled for this weekend in the state, a mix of ethnically diverse Tennessee Baptists gathered in a display of unity in Franklin on Wednesday, Oct. 25, to publicly denounce the white supremacist movement and racism.
“We don’t call press conferences very often but we believe it is impossible to stand silently by while the white supremacy movement plans to invade our state and perpetrate its evil Saturday in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, during a press conference at the TBMB’s Church Support Center.
Earlier this month the Nationalist Front, a self-described “umbrella organization to bring unity and solidarity to the White Nationalist Movement in North America,” announced plans to hold anti-immigration rallies in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro.
“As Tennessee Baptists and as Southern Baptists, we are categorically opposed to the white supremacy movement and any movement that diminishes the dignity of any human,” Davis said.
An ‘evil’ movement contrary to the Gospel
The Saturday rallies, he said, are planned to oppose immigrants and refugees living in Middle Tennessee. “If history holds true, the intent of these groups gathering is to fear monger and fan the flames of racial hatred,” Davis noted.
“This bigotry has no place in our American society and it certainly has no place in the life of anyone who is a follower of Jesus,” he said.
Davis said the “movement is evil and is contrary to everything we are called to be as followers of Christ.”
He cautioned Christians to be on guard because “this movement preys upon people’s fears and the temptation is to buy into the rhetoric, especially since this group is targeting those who feel under-represented and disenfranchised.”
The Tennessee Baptist leader stressed that “we are not making a political statement today. That is not our intent. We are, however, prayerful that our governmental leaders will write laws that both offer security to America and are fair to all who seek shelter within her borders.”
The Saturday rallies also provide an opportunity to remind all Christians “that we are commanded to love our neighbors and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone, regardless of their race,” Davis said.
He countered the notion some people have that evangelical people are racists. “We are not. Our churches are full of compassionate, loving people who are quite the opposite of the hate-filled rhetoric dominating the public square. In fact, Tennessee Baptists are currently serving people of all races and ethnicities who were ravaged by hurricanes in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico.
“We also serve here in our own state through compassions ministries, children’s and adult homes, and a variety of other local church ministries aimed to serve all people.”
‘This is a spiritual battle’
Davis stressed that Tennessee is a mission field, not a mine field. “We believe God has brought the nations to Tennessee that they might hear the Gospel. It is our responsibility to share that Gospel with every man, woman, and child living in our state regardless of race or immigration status.”
Davis called on Christians to pray for the people of Shelbyville and Murfreesboro and that there will be peace during Saturday’s events. “Pray also for the heavy hand of conviction to fall on those who perpetrate evil. The Bible says we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities.
“We know this is a spiritual battle and we pray that the love of Christ will prevail in the hearts of men,” he said.
Jay Wells, pastor emeritus of Simeon Baptist Church, Antioch, TN and a director of the TBMB, observed that “America is a great country, with citizens from all over the world. I know there is no place I would rather live than here, particularly here in Tennessee.”
Wells said he rejoices in the diversity of Tennessee, with more than 145 different nationalities living within state borders. “Diversity is good … because it is God’s idea, not ours,” he said.
The African-American leader acknowledged that there are good and bad people in every race. “I am reminded that the Bible says that we all have sinned and fallen short of His glory. Because we have all sinned we all need to be liberated from the sinful nature that is in us,” he said.
“It is the sinful nature in us that makes us want to hurt each other and makes us want to devalue one another,” Wells noted.
He stressed the need for forgiveness. “I must develop the capacity to forgive, for if I can’t forgive my brother, than God cannot forgive me,” Wells said. “Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.’ ”
He also observed that “morals cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated.”
A message of forgiveness and hope for all
Wells joined with Davis in calling for prayer for governmental leaders to “write laws that will offer both security to our citizens and are fair and compassionate to all who seek shelter within our borders.”
Thi Mitsamphanh, pastor of International Community Church, Smyrna, TN came as a representative of one of many ethnic churches across Tennessee. “We are brothers and sisters in Christ who represent many nations, cultures, and languages from all parts of the world. We love the same Jesus and serve the same Lord,” he said.
Mitsamphanh said the white supremacist movement and the planned protests in Tennessee “stand in opposition to the message of Scripture. This movement spreads a message of hate, not love,” he stressed.
“The Gospel affirms that every person is created in the image of God, that the Good News of Jesus is for all nations, cultures, and languages, and that we should love all our neighbors. Now is the time for the church to stand in unity for the Gospel and against this evil and hateful agenda.”
The Smyrna pastor said he is indebted to Tennessee Baptists who welcomed his family from Laos more than 30 years ago. “Because Christians chose to welcome and love our family, our lives have been forever changed. May Tennessee Baptists continue to show love, compassion, and the gospel of Christ to the nations whom God is sending to us.”
Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, where this story originated.