By Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP) — A letter drafted by a group of Southern Baptists and others has called on President Trump to denounce clearly the racism of the "alt-right."
The letter – titled a "Call for Unifying Leadership" and first reported by CNN Sept. 29 – urges Trump to go beyond his previous comments and actions to rebuke a movement that "gained public prominence" during his presidential campaign. It commends the president for signing a joint congressional resolution Sept. 14 rejecting white nationalism and supremacy, but it tells him the country "needs your voice and your convictions to defeat racist ideologies and movements in every form that they present themselves."
SBC President Steve Gaines was among those invited to be an original signer of the letter. Joining him were Fred Luter, the convention's first African American president, and former SBC President James Merritt. Other Southern Baptist signers included entity heads Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The letter was a collaborative effort of a group of individuals led by Southern Baptist pastor Dwight McKissic and Southeastern Seminary faculty and staff member Keith Whitfield. McKissic is senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, TX. Whitfield is dean of graduate studies and assistant professor of theology at Southeastern.
Messengers to the SBC annual meeting in June adopted a resolution condemning "alt-right white supremacy" in a nearly unanimous vote after declining to address the issue earlier in the proceedings. McKissic submitted the original resolution on the "alt-right."
The appeal to the president comes after an election campaign and early administration that have included comments and actions by Trump that have brought criticism for their apparent insensitivity to minorities and racial injustice. He received widespread censure for remarks during an August news conference in which he said the "alt-right" protesters in Charlottesville, VA, included "some very fine people."
After the letter thanks Trump for signing the congressional resolution and speaking in support of racial equality, it calls on him to follow up by speaking against the "alt-right."
"This movement has escaped your disapproval," the letter says. "We believe it is important for this movement to be addressed, for at its core it is a white identity movement and the majority of its members are white nationalists or white supremacists.
"Supporters of the movement have claimed that you share their vision for our country," according to the letter. "These same supporters have sought to use the political and cultural concerns of people of goodwill for their prejudiced political agendas. It concerned many of us when three people associated with the alt-right movement were given jobs in the White House."
The signers ask Trump "to join with many other political and religious leaders to proclaim with one voice that the 'alt-right' is racist, evil, and antithetical to a well-ordered, peaceful society."
"Our country desperately needs unifying leadership again," the letter says. "We need you, President Trump, to lead us in such an effort.
"America is profoundly fractured and divided. We can envision the change that could emerge if you would provide the moral leadership we so desperately need for racial healing. Our polarized nation could unite around your leadership on this critical issue."
The letter also calls for churches "to come together for the sake of the nation and the Kingdom of God." It cites comments from the leaders of two Baptist conventions to demonstrate Christian unity in response to bigotry and racial injustice. The letter quotes Gaines and Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, in their denunciation of the "alt-right."
A conversation began about a statement after the "alt-right" protest Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, VA – which was met by a counter-protest – demonstrated what many individuals believed was a need for "moral clarity and leadership," Whitfield told Baptist Press in an email interview.
"We released our appeal publically to (1) keep this urgent issue in front of the moral conscience of the American people, (2) declare our convictions in a united way, and (3) call upon the president to provide desperately needed moral leadership on the racial tensions spurred on by the 'alt-right,'" Whitfield said.
"The 'alt-right' movement has been an instigator in the racial tension over the past two years," he told BP. "They have worked to mainstream their message and have attracted the attention of conservative minded people who are afraid of progressive political ideologies. They have effectively co-opted the concerns of others for their ethno-European centric agenda. They are a dangerous group, fostering societal unrest by manipulating others. We believe that the cause of justice demands moral clarity and leadership and speaking truthfully against prejudice thinking."
Other original signers of the letter included Young; Dallas pastor Tony Evans; prosperity Gospel preacher T.D. Jakes; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College; and Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African American Network.
Southern Baptists invited as original signers also included Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Seminary; Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University; J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Walter Strickland, associate vice president of kingdom diversity at Southeastern Seminary; and K. Marshall Williams, Philadelphia, PA, pastor and former president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC.
In the June resolution on "alt-right white supremacy," SBC messengers said they:
The text of the letter is available at https://www.unifyingleadership.org, where others may add their names as signers.
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