Over 90 percent of messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention repudiated the Confederate flag in a vote Tuesday that calls on all Christians and member churches to remove the divisive symbol from public display.
Stephen Rummage, senior pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Florida, and chairman of the SBC Committee on Resolutions, spoke in favor of the resolution, saying, “We ask you to join us in calling Southern Baptists to take a further step in the right direction concerning racial unity for the sake of our witness to Jesus Christ.”
Resolution 7 states: “With full respect of the autonomy of the local church, we call brothers and sisters in Christ who display the Confederate battle flag as a memorial … to consider prayerfully whether to limit, or even more so, discontinue its display. We urge fellow Christians to exercise sensitivity so that nothing brings division or hinders the unity of the Body of Christ to be a bold witness to the transforming power of Jesus.”
Messengers spoke both in favor and against the resolution. One critic who spoke against the resolution argued that it would lead to a slippery slope of censorship.
“To incorrectly link a historic symbol based on the Saint Andrews cross would raise further questions. Number one, would we further challenge United States symbols?” he asked. “For instance, the United States flag that flew over slave ships. Or George Washington, who owned slaves. I would hope we wouldn’t make that move to political correctness.”
James Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church who said he was descended from two Confederate veterans, explained that he supported Resolution 7 for the sake of the Gospel.
“This is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion,” said Merritt. “Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the Cross of Jesus and the Grace of God.
“This flag is a stumbling block to many African-American souls to our witness. And I rise to say that all the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”
For several years, periodic debates have surfaced over Confederate flags, monuments, and other imagery made to commemorate ancestors who fought for Southern secession.
Debate over Confederate flag displays became especially contentious in the summer of 2015 when Dylann Roof committed a racially-charged massacre at a historic African-American church.
On June 17, 2015, Roof entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and shot nine people dead with the expressed intention of starting a race war.
Roof’s highly publicized flying of the Confederate flag in personal photos contributed to South Carolina voting to remove a Confederate battle flag from their capitol grounds.