The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has over 15 million members. With over 46,000 churches, they are present in all 50 states (as well as several foreign countries). It is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Nonetheless, for nine straight years, the SBC has reported a net loss of membership.
Last summer, the SBC leadership sparked controversy within the church’s declining ranks by erecting a Golden Calf of political correctness.
At its convention meeting in June, the Southern Baptist leadership launched an all-out offensive against many of the church’s members by repudiating the Confederate Battle Flag. The attack was orchestrated by two of the SBC’s clergy.
Dr. James Merritt and Dr. William Dwight McKissic, Sr., are megachurch pastors and leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention. Merritt served as president of the SBC from 2000 to 2002. Merritt’s sprawling church is in his home state of Georgia, for which his Confederate ancestors courageously fought. Mc Kissic’s church, located in Texas, is one of the larger black churches within the SBC. Apparently, McKissic can speak in tongues, making him a Bapticostal. Both churches conduct services that are very theatrical, more reminiscent of Star Search than the small rural churches that are the backbone of the SBC.
I have no reason to doubt that these men truly love God; but they are lousy historians.
The SBC’s Resolution 7, “On Sensitivity and Unity Regarding the Confederate Battle Flag,” was the idea of McKissic, who thought it would be a way to commemorate the “Charleston Nine”—victims of the deranged psychopath Dylann Roof. Instead of having a moment of silence or performing an act of Christian charity (e.g., making a monetary donation to the families of the victims), he came to the conclusion that it would be better to insult tens of thousands of faithful members of the SBC. The connection between Resolution 7 and the murder of the Charleston Nine is this thin: Dylann Roof posed for a photograph with a Confederate flag. Of course, it is ridiculous to think that any SBC member, including those who honor their dead and the cause of Southern independence, would hesitate to condemn Roof’s actions in unequivocal terms.
I recently traveled through Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana, visiting family and national parks. Just about everywhere I traveled, there was some kind of hullabaloo to remove Confederate statues, flags, and even graves. In New Orleans, city leaders had filed a lawsuit to have statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee taken down. And in Mississippi, the state flag is constantly under attack. Even towns within Mississippi like Grenada have voted to take the state flag down from all city-owned property. I took my family to the Vicksburg National Military Park, and there I noticed that Confederate flags were missing from the gift shop. They were removed after the Charleston shooting.
The most disturbing part of my trip came when we stopped in Memphis, Tennessee. I have read several biographies of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, and I had an ancestor who served under him during the war; I wanted to visit his grave. Forrest and his wife are buried at the foot of a beautiful equestrian statue of the general in what used to be called Forrest Park. Now it is called Health Sciences Park. The first thing that I noticed in the park was that a mobile police camera had been mounted near the statue. There had been several acts of vandalism; “Black Lives Matter” had been spray-painted on the front of the base. Back in 2015, protesters even used shovels in an attempt to dig up Forrest and remove his remains. There are few crimes worse than the desecration of a grave. Memphis city leaders had voted to exhume the remains of Forrest and his wife, but their act of purgation was stopped by the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. Myron Lowery, a member of the city council at the time of the vote, said, “It is no longer politically correct to glorify someone who was a slave trader, someone who was a racist on public property.” Perhaps Mr. Lowery was not aware of the fact that, before his death, General Forrest made great strides toward racial reconciliation with black Southerners. Charlton Heston gave a speech at Brandeis University in 2000 in which he observed, “Political correctness is tyranny, just tyranny with manners.” I think if Mr. Heston were alive today, he would agree that the proponents of political correctness have lost their manners.
Traveling through the South, one line in Resolution 7 stood out to me: “We recognize the Confederate battle flag is used by some and perceived by many as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people.” It is sad but true that some racist groups have used the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of white supremacy—just as they have used the Cross and the American Flag as symbols of their disgusting movement. Unfortunately, the people who use the battle flag for nefarious purposes are just as clueless about the history of the flag as the people who hate it. I have five ancestors who fought for the Confederate States of America (CSA), and I have always been interested in military history. What is known today as the Confederate Battle Flag was never used as the national flag of the CSA; it was used for battlefield communication. I still hear some people refer to the flag as the “Stars and Bars,” but that is also incorrect. The “Stars and Bars” refers to the first national flag of the CSA, which looked similar to the federal American flag—the “Stars and Stripes.” The Confederate Battle Flag is actually called the “Southern Cross.” It was four feet square with a red field, covered by a dark blue St. Andrew’s Cross. The 13 stars represent the states of the Confederacy, plus Kentucky and Missouri. The flag was approved by the Confederate War Department in 1861, and was famously used by the Army of Northern Virginia. At the start of the war, soldiers on both sides had similar uniforms and flags, which led to many instances of friendly fire on the battlefield. Communication during a battle is key; thus, to make it easier to identify friendly units through the fog of war, the Southern Cross was employed. That is all. The Confederate Battle Flag did not fly above the Northern slave ships bound for Southern ports.
Present-day ideologues forget that the act of secession was peaceful. However, President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to invade the South was indeed an act of war—a hostile act that caused other states to secede. Yet the Fire-Eaters of South Carolina and the Abolitionists of Massachusetts made up a small minority of Americans on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Nearly all of the documentary evidence indicates that Southern men volunteered in order to fight a second American revolution against a tyrannical centralized power. And the average Union soldier fought to save the Union. In reviewing the evidence, even James M. McPherson, a prominent, mainstream Civil War historian, admitted that “the letters and diaries of many Confederate soldiers bristled with rhetoric of liberty and self-government and the expressions of a willingness to die for the cause.” Novelist and historian Shelby Foote was more direct: “No soldier on either side gave a damn about the slaves.”
While researching this article, I read many blogs written by SBC leaders and thinkers, as well as articles written by official SBC news sources. All of their authors were very busy patting themselves on the back for a job well done in drafting and passing Resolution 7. So you would think that the leaders of the SBC would be willing to give an interview and discuss the details of the resolution. I called many of them, but only one was willing to speak to me about the issue. He agreed to be interviewed only if he was granted anonymity. It was an interesting conversation, and he was very frank about the topic, which I appreciated.
The pastor described the SBC’s denominational hierarchy as a pyramid. At the very top is the local church, and below that is the local association, which can comprise one or several counties depending on the population density of the area. Next, there is the state association, and finally, at the bottom, is the national convention. Even though the SBC can pass resolutions, no resolution has to be followed by the local churches, so long as the resolution has nothing to do with theology. The resolutions are merely suggestions; in reality, they are pointless. The pastor I interviewed was at the SBC convention, and he knew that the vote on the Confederate flag was coming up, since the proposed resolutions had been shared before the convention. He told me that it was a “very touchy subject” for many people who attend SBC-affiliated churches. Although Resolution 7 passed with over 90 percent of the vote, the outcome is not popular with the laity. When I asked him what he personally thought of the resolution, he told me that he thought it was just a public-relations stunt, an attempt to get attention. Since the resolution was not binding on the churches, it amounted to nothing more.
Toward the end of the conversation we talked about other resolutions—those passed over the years, and those that may come up in the future. I asked him, half in jest, “Do you think that they will ever take the word Southern out of the SBC?”
“Oh, it has already been proposed before.”
I couldn’t believe it. He added that one of the alternative suggestions had been the “Great Commission Baptist Church.” No more reminders of heritage; no memory of the past.
If the SBC refuses to obey the commandment to “Honor thy father and thy mother,” in order to appease people who have no desire to understand the SBC’s living connection to the South, what other compromises will its leaders be willing to make? What sort of gesture would please anyone who would demand that Southern Baptists dishonor their ancestors?
Resolution 7 had nothing to do with upholding Baptist doctrine or obedience to Scripture, and everything to do with political correctness. People like me who place Confederate Battle Flags on the graves of our ancestors are not defending slavery. We only want to recognize the sacrifices of our family members who fought simply to defend their homes. For them and for us, the battle flag has been a symbol of rebellion against an overweening centralized government. It has nothing to do with racism.