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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Damned If You Do: Why Southern Baptists Should Not Take the Bait On The Alt-Right

When the 2016 presidential election injected the term "alt[ernative] right" into the vein of mainstream political vernacular (spilling into countless frantic articles and status updates on my Facebook newsfeed) I easily dismissed it as simply one more ripple in a never-ending stream of manufactured causes for concern.

Would that we might have been so lucky.

Whatever life this loosely associated group of far-right, ultra-nationalists had in the years before most knew it even existed was given a new lease with the election of Donald Trump and the apparent vindication of his America First vision for the country.

Who or what exactly comprises the alt-right is a legitimate subject of debate.

What is not debatable are the many, many, many white supremacists who call it home.

They believe America is a white nation for people of Anglo-European ancestry, a heritage and inheritance threatened by the Big Satan of multiculturalism.

Hiding behind the thin and oh so tired veneer of preserving culture, the racists (a term I use without flippancy) at the heart of the movement aim to recover Anglo/Euro-American socio-political power and domination over the United States.

Where that would leave the rest of us, history gives us a hint or two, despite repeated claims from the racist alt-righters that they don't disparage people of color.

And while it's ostensibly true not every alt-right ideologue is a racist, parsing the racists from the non-racists is like cutting a beating heart down the middle.

Take racism out of the alt-right and you have the Tea Party with a Libertarian twist.

What makes the alt-right different from regular old far-right conservatism is its status as an identity movement centered on whiteness and European heritage.

And given its national rise to prominence, many public figures have risen to denounce it, including Southern Baptist pastor William Dwight McKissic, Sr. of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

McKissic, himself a bit of lightning rod among Southern Baptists, introduced a resolution "On The Condemnation of the “Alt-Right” Movement and the Roots of White Supremacy" to be adopted at the denomination's annual meeting.

It speaks in strong terms of  the "toxic menace" of the alt-right "self-identified among some of its chief proponents as “White Nationalism”, featuring "totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples" and asks that it and "every form of “nationalism” that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty" be denounced.

The resolution did not even make it off the table which was as unsurprising as the reaction of many Southern Baptists.

Speaker and poet Jackie Hill-Perry, who has spoken widely about the intersect of faith and same-sex attraction, wrote on Twitter, "The decision made at #SBC17 to not denounce white supremacy is hurtful."

Thabiti Anabywile a Southern Baptist pastor and The Gospel Coaltion regular also tweeted, "Any "church" that cannot denounce white supremacy without hesitancy and equivocation is a dead, Jesus denying assembly. No 2 ways about it."

Others such as Russell Moore (president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission public-policy arm of the SBC), Trillia Newbell (Director of the SBC'S Community Outreach for the Ethics and Religious Liberty), Ed Stetzer (Southern Baptist, missiologist, and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism), and Trevin Wax (Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and a Southern Baptist), and Beth Moore (internationally known Bible teacher and author) all spoke to the issue.

While this latest resolution did not pass, there was a unanimous vote to allow a new, revised resolution to be introduced June 14.

Yet, for a denomination formed in the mid-nineteenth century in opposition to ministry restrictions on slave-owners, the narrative of "Southern Baptists Cannot Get Their Act Together Long Enough To Condemn White Supremacy" seems to write itself in the minds of any watching the fray.

However, may I be the first to suggest that all is not what it appears.

I am not Southern Baptist, but my heart aches with my brothers and sisters in that fellowship who are reading the failure of the anti alt-right resolution as a severe waffling on racism.

However, refusing to support a resolution denouncing racism is not the same as refusing to denounce racism, especially if legitimate concerns exist surrounding the resolution.

The language resolution came packing with a Thesaurus worthy battery of insults like "toxic", "totalitarian", "xenophobic", "bigoted", "retrograde", and "perverse" that might have otherwise been swapped for a more measured tone.

And this is not petty or nitpicky.

Christians should not be alarmist or inflammatory even when reacting to racial supremacists, and talk of government subversion, societal destabilization, and the infection of the political system sounds more like the prologue to Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" than a Christian response to white nationalism.

But beyond the language, real reason exists to question the wisdom of reacting so quickly and so specifically to such a new and contested political phenomenon.

Yes, the alt-right exists.

Yes, evil needs to be named.

But the name of the evil is racist sin in all its incarnations always and everywhere.

Carefully defining the parameters of that sin with the measuring rod of Scripture and denouncing that carries far more strength than chasing after the latest political buzzword that will all but ensure the need for a new resolution once the racist sin of the alt-right dies and is reborn as something different.

Ultimately, Southern Baptists have to make this decision for themselves, but my fear is that the small steps being made toward racial reconciliation in the movement (such as the resolution on the Confederate flag, the election of their first African-American conference president, and the election of the first African-American president of the SBC Pastor's Conference)--actual concrete measures, not simply words--will be drowned out by the failure of a poorly written screed against a movement which does not itself even seem to characterize Southern Baptist support for Donald Trump.

And, at this point, even if the SBC does end up condemning the Alt-right on June 14th, the damage is done and the questions about why the resolution passed this time (love of neighbor or fear of outside condemnation?) will deaden much of its force.

In what could not have been more unfortunate of a shout-out for the Southern Baptists, the herald of the white supremacist core of the Alt-right, Richard Spencer, gleefully tweeted about the "interesting development" that was the failure of the anti-alt-right resolution.

I hope my brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention do not take the bait.

If they need to pass a resolution, pass one, but remember that Spencer and his ilk are part of this system of things which are passing away.

What Southern Baptists (and all Christians) need at this critical moment are Gospel-sized steps towards Galatians 3:28 love like have been taken by the SBC as of late.

Such may not spawn fawning articles from Vox or The Atlantic, but they will have a much more visible, eternal impact than any token resolution.