The Southern Baptist Convention finally had its Appomattox, surrendering the flag of its ancestors at its annual meeting of messengers (representative delegates) held in mid-June in St. Louis. Reportedly, an overwhelming majority of messengers voted in favor of Resolution 7, in which they determined to “call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters . . . ”
Unlike Appomattox, however, at St. Louis there was no dress uniform, no gallant handing over of the sword, no respectful nod from the slouching victorious general, no ideological quarter for dissenters. There was only a demand for shame for the past mixed with tears of joy and a wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous bit of self-congratulation. The national media added a slow clap.
The resolution initially submitted to the convention was the work of a “Bapticostal” black megachurch pastor from Texas, William Dwight McKissic, Sr., who, although pilloried by the left for condemning homosexuality, regularly identifies with the left’s interpretation of race problems in the United States. A floor committee had toned down his language, in order to expedite the resolution’s passage. But the revised version was not strong enough for Dr. James Merritt, a former president of the SBC and current pastor of a largely white megachurch in Georgia, who moved to strike language (which had the disadvantage of being true) acknowledging that the Confederate Battle Flag is, for many Southerners, not a symbol of hate or racism but of Southern heritage and “an emblem to honor our loved ones’ valor.” “I cannot undo what they fought for,” Merritt said, referring to his great-great-grandfathers, who both begat his great-grandparents and fought to defend the state in which he resides, “but they cannot undo what I wish they had done, and what I pray we will do today.” He was right: His long-dead ancestors were not allowed a vote, and the amended resolution passed.
Given the progressive ejaculations of Russell Moore, media maven and president of the SBC’s powerful Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (“we are more committed to the gospel than we are to a flag and more committed to the future than we are to the past”), it is safe to assume that neither he nor Merritt owns a Battle Flag that he will no longer display. That is likely true of the majority of cheering messengers. And those members of SBC churches who do possess such flags will not likely be convinced by the resolution’s scolding, unwinsome language. Thus, the nonbinding plebiscite was really aimed at conveying a message to people who are not currently Southern Baptists.
McKissic’s rationale in promoting the resolution made the grand gesture more about the “Charleston Nine,” those black parishioners who were cravenly and brutally gunned down by the racist whackjob Dylann Roof last year. But the SBC leadership seemed more intent on declaring to all blacks in the universe that the left-liberal narrative of the causes and consequences of the War Between the States is the only acceptable one, in confident assurance that such a declaration would “tear down the barriers” that keep blacks out of America’s second-largest denomination and the kingdom of God. (It has been said that there are more Southern Baptists in the United States than there are Jews in the world.)
Merritt’s assertion, given to great applause on the convention floor, damning imaginary Baptists who would value a thousand flags over one black soul is condescending and racist. It assumes that all blacks everywhere are incapable of understanding that there was a complex mixture of motives and goals (none of which included the equality of the races) on both sides of the Late Unpleasantness, or that today’s white Southerners could at once repudiate racism and wish to honor their ancestors who fought for independence from an overweening federal government. In the guilty white calculus, all black people assume that every single Southerner who has a Confederate Battle Flag on his belt buckle is a Dylann Roof sympathizer who either wants them dead or couldn’t care less either way.
This condescending view of Southern whites and blacks is two steps behind the view of the liberal elites and the mainstream media, which, with puritanical righteousness, condemns the paternalism of the Old South and a war that ended 151 years ago while, at the present moment, treating blacks like farm animals. The left panders to the monolithic “black community” by encouraging welfarism, abortion (read Freakonomics), “affirmative” action, and ghettoization. Behind this is the assumption that blacks are incapable of survival in the United States apart from the left’s degrading, pandering generosity. But the effect of their liberal largesse is the maintenance and growth of a black underclass that lives hopelessly amid the flying bullets of genuine homegrown terror. The left, and not the dwindling number of proud descendants of Southern patriots, is their enemy, and middle-class African-Americans who know the score are not likely to be impressed by an empty gesture made by white middle-class Southerners who hate their own history, and whose churches are only welcoming to those acculturated by rootless, suburban banality, TED Talks, and horrible lite-rock music.
Neither those middle-class blacks nor Southern whites who are unashamed of Jackson and Lee will feel at home in this self-loathing SBC.