The Confederate battle flag is a symbol of racism that should not be used, Southern Baptists declared in a resolution approved Tuesday at their annual meeting.
“I believe the issue of racism is from Satan and his demonic forces of hell. It is an assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd told thousands in St. Louis.
He has made racial unity a priority of his presidency.
A resolution to eliminate the Confederate battle flag from public life was proposed Tuesday by Pastor Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, stirring debate and prompting at least one call to withdraw his proposal.
The final version, proposed by former Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt of Georgia, is not as strongly worded as the original and calls for Christians to “discontinue” the flag’s display.
“Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God,” Merritt said, adding that displaying the Confederate flag hurts evangelism efforts among black communities.
“All the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race,” he said.
The nation’s largest Protestant denomination, founded in a split with northern Baptists over slavery, has a history of complicity with Jim Crow laws. Eighty to 90 percent of its members are white. But with 15.3 million members, that translates to at least 1.5 million non-white members in the Nashville-based denomination. And while membership at white churches is decreasing, membership at churches that Southern Baptists identify as predominantly “non-Anglo” is on the rise.
That emergent diversity was on display as Floyd convened a group of black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and white pastors to discuss racial unity along with Jerry Young, president of the largest historically black denomination, the National Baptist Convention U.S.A.
The audience cheered the panel’s denunciations of racism, but Southern Baptists are not always united on what fits that label.