ST. LOUIS — In a historic vote punctuated by the words of a Georgia pastor who is also a descendant of Confederate soldiers, Southern Baptists voted June 14 to renounce the display of the Confederate flag.
Two messengers had spoken in opposition to the measure prior to James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, taking the microphone to speak in favor of the resolution. To not only support the resolution but strengthen its language, Merritt wanted to delete a paragraph that the flag “serves for some not as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, but as a memorial to their loved ones who died in the Civil War, and an emblem to honor their loved ones’ valor.”
The original resolution submitted by African American Texas pastor Dwight McKissic had been softened in its tone and language by the Resolutions Committee, supporters had claimed.
Referring to his ancestors, Merritt said, “I cannot undo what they fought for. But they cannot undo what I wish they had done and what I pray we will do today. Make no mistake. This is a seminal moment in our convention.
“I believe that God has brought the SBC to both the kingdom and our culture for such a time as this. What we do today with this issue will reverberate through this nation not just today, but, I believe, 100 years from now. This is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion.”
Racial reconciliation has been a focus of the annual meeting this year, with a group of pastors across ethnicities earlier in the day having conducted an open discussion on race. The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 at First Baptist Church in Augusta over slavery. In 1995, the Convention adopted a resolution renouncing its racist beginnings and past defense of slavery.
“Today, we can say loudly and clearly to a world filled with racial strife and division that Southern Baptists are not in the business of building barriers and burning bridges,” Merritt, a former SBC president, continued. “We’re about building bridges and tearing down barriers.
“… There is one thing no one can deny. This flag is a stumbling block to many African American souls to our witness. … All the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race,” Merritt said to a partial standing ovation.
Kevin Smith, the new executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and an African American, told Baptist Press he was “very thankful and very moved by his clarity brought to the issue today” in addition to being “pleasantly surprised” by the Convention’s adoption of Merritt’s stronger language.
Georgia Baptists responded to vote on social media.
“Today at the Southern Baptist Convention, we overwhelmingly voted to discontinue the display of the confederate flag. Wow! #solidarity,” tweeted Jesse Colbert, pastor of Sunnyside Baptist Church in Toccoa.
David Mills, pastor of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens, also posted on Twitter “The resolution re the Confederate battle flag was good. No need to fly anything unnecessary to the faith if it hurts African Americans.”
Ben Smith, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Waycross, called Merritt’s words “One of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced at an SBC.”
On Facebook, Middle Baptist Association director Bobby Braswell wrote, “Had a couple of powerful conversations with African American messengers at the SBC over supper following the approval of resolution #7 concerning the Confederate flag in the business session today. Bottom line: it REALLY mattered to them.”
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