NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Orlando shooting, racial unrest and the tension between religious liberty and gay rights were all under discussion Tuesday at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting.
Convention President Ronnie Floyd, who has made racial unity a priority of his presidency, told an audience of thousands in St. Louis, “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.”
The nation’s largest Protestant denomination was founded in a split with northern Baptists over slavery, has a history of complicity with Jim Crow laws and is still 80-90 percent 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 pastors who were African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and white to discuss racial unity along with Jerry Young, the 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.
A proposed resolution by African-American Pastor Dwight McKissic to eliminate the Confederate battle flag from public life stirred debate and led to at least one call to withdraw it. A final version of the proposal, to be voted on later Tuesday, is not as strongly worded as the original. It calls for Christians to consider limiting or discontinuing the flag’s display.
Another resolution under consideration condemns the recent shooting in Orlando. At the same time, delegates will consider a resolution that seeks protection for religious liberty, especially with regard to Southern Baptist beliefs that God created marriage as a sacred bond between one man and one woman and that gender identity is determined by biological sex, not self-perception.
“We stand in solidarity with those whose jobs, professions, businesses, ministries, schools, and personal freedoms are threatened because their consciences will not allow them to recognize, promote, or participate in activities associated with unbiblical marriage,” the resolution states.
Other proposed resolutions include an expression of support for Israel, a call for not requiring women to register for military drafts and a resolution affirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto.
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