Southern Baptists Condemn 'Alt-Right White Supremacy'

The resolution was initially shot down, causing an uproar among younger evangelicals.

First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C.

The Southern Baptist Convention officially condemned "alt-right white supremacy" on Wednesday — a day after an original resolution was shot down.

"[We] decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the resolution states.

Further, members agreed that they "denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society."

The Southern Baptist Convention, which falls under the evangelical Christian umbrella, is the largest denomination of Protestants in the country, with more than 15 million members across the country.

The passage was met with a standing ovation and applause, media outlets reported. However, the group was not as eager to pass the resolution the day before.

The proposal came to life when Rev. Dwight McKissic of Arlington, Texas, penned a resolution titled "Resolution on The Condemnation of The 'Alt-Right' Movement and The Roots of White Supremacy."

"I saw people identifying themselves as Southern Baptist and members of the alt-right, so this is horrifying to me," McKissic said to the Washington Post. "I wanted the Southern Baptist Convention to make it very clear we have no relationship to them."

McKissic cites in his writing "a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities," saying the alt-right and white nationalism "must be opposed for the totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples."

The majority of Southern Baptists are white, according to Pew Research Center. The Convention is 85 percent white, 6 percent Black, 5 percent "other/mixed," 3 percent Latino and less than 1 percent Asian.

Barrett Duke, chairman of the Committee on Resolutions, told McKissic his proposal "was not well-written" and contained "inappropriate" language. Notably, the 10-member committee only has one Black member.

As word spread via social media that the Convention would not condemn white nationalism, younger evangelicals, particularly millennials and Gen-Xers, took to Twitter to express their frustration.

But it was arguably a tweet from Richard Spencer, often considered the face of the alt-right, that may have tipped the scale.

Pastors worked through the night on a revised version of the resolution, which passed the next day.

According to exit polls, 80 percent of people who identify as white evangelical Christians (just about a quarter of all national voters) voted for President Donald Trump in the presidential election. Fifty-nine percent of people who identify as protestants voted for Trump. Overall, people who attend religious services more frequently voted for Trump compared to those who said they do not often, if at all, attend religious services.

SBC members who did not initially vote to pass the resolution may very well not have known what they were voting on, either. A Pew Research Center study released in December found that 54 percent of American adults don't know what the alt-right is at all. Just 17 percent said they know "a lot" about it.

Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents (which evangelicals are much more likely to identify as) knew even less about the movement than Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents. When asked to give their impression of the alt-right, 39 percent of Republicans said they didn't know how to answer. Only 17 percent likened it to white supremacy/white nationalism, 12 percent described it as being extremely right-wing and 10 percent connected it to racism/prejudice.

The 18-24-, 25-29- and 30-39-year-old age blocs (which, in total, made up just 36 percent of voters in November) voted for Hillary Clinton. Every other age bloc voted for Trump. And many of the people who initially cried out against the decision not to condemn the alt-right were reportedly younger Southern Baptists.

The generational divide could symbolize the decline in followers Southern Baptism, a trend that has continued for the past nine years.

According to an analysis by Religious News Service (RNS), "Most of the decline is coming because SBC churches are not holding onto those who were raised in their congregations."

"Of those who were in an SBC church when they were 16, only 62 percent are in an SBC church today," RNS reported, adding, "The bottom-line is that the SBC's greatest losses stem from their inability to keep their youth, who are going to other evangelical churches or leaving religion altogether."

A Pew trends analysis found an increase among the religiously unaffiliated across all generations between 2007 and 2014, with millennials making the largest increase. A quarter of millennials in 2007 identified as religiously unaffiliated, compared to 34 percent in 2014.

Historical Ties to Racism

Pew ranked Southern Baptism at 3.4 for racial diversity using the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index.

"If a religious group had exactly equal shares of each of the five racial and ethnic groups (20% each), it would get a 10.0 on the index; a religious group made up entirely of one racial group would get a 0.0," Pew notes. "By comparison, U.S. adults overall rate at 6.6 on the scale. And indeed, the purpose of this scale is to compare groups to each other, not to point to any ideal standard of diversity."

(The most diverse group identified is the church of the Seventh-day Adventists, ranking at 9.1, whose makeup is 37 percent white, 32 percent Black, 15 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian and 8 percent other/mixed.)

The Southern Baptist Convention has historical ties to racism, which in recent years it has tried to rectify. The SBC came to be in 1845, at which time it split from northern Baptists, who did not support slavery. In 1995, the year of the its 150th anniversary, the Convention issued a resolution apologizing to and seeking forgiveness from African Americans for its historical support of slavery.

"… we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past," the statement reads in part.

Two decades later, the Convention issued another resolution, titled "On Racial Reconciliation," in which members urge for racial reconciliation "by seeking to increase racial and ethnic diversity" in their churches and leadership roles.

The SBC elected its first Black president in 2012, and its growth of nonwhite congregations appears to be on the rise. According to an RNS analysis of the SBC's 2015 annual meeting, the SBC saw a 116 percent increase in mostly nonwhite churches between 1998 and 2013. And, in 2014, nearly three-fifths of new churches were nonwhite.

However, diversity has not improved in other areas, RNS notes: "Reviewing the 249 individuals who've served on that committee since 1996, the report stated that 3.2 percent of members nominated and elected were from 'non-Anglo racial or ethnic groups.'"

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