Only one day after the Southern Baptist Convention unanimously elected the Reverend Fred Luter as their first Black president—described as an “historic move that strives to erase its legacy of racism”—the nation’s largest Protestant denomination passed a resolution denouncing same-sex marriage.
Thousands of delegates at the denomination’s annual convention in New Orleans “were nearly unanimous in their support for the resolution,’” reported the Associated Press. The resolution acknowledged that gays and lesbians experienced “unique struggles” but said they were not “entitled to special protections
“I believe in the Bible and God has spoken about marriage,” said Luter. “Marriage is between a man and a woman. No one can change that.”
The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, was one of the authors of the marriage resolution. It’s “an unfair comparison” to equate gay rights with civil rights, he claimed. “They’re equating their sin with my skin,” said McKissic, who is also Black.
Those are ironic quotes coming from Luter and McKissic. The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 following a regional split with northern Baptists … over slavery. Many Christian denominations of that time—including the Southern Baptists and, most notably, the Mormon Church—believed that Blacks were marked by their skin color as “cursed.” After the Civil War, many black Baptist churches started their own convention.
The denomination only officially denounced racism and apologized for “the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention” … in 1995. One hundred and 50 years after its founding—and after promoting segregation for much of its existence.
It comes as no surprise the group has pulled a “Michael Steele” —electing a Black man to lead their overwhelmingly White and social conservative denomination. Membership is declining across the denomination and its leadership is ramping up outreach to Black and Latino evangelicals,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “So eager is the SBC to attract nonwhites it is considering allowing member churches to drop the term ‘Southern Baptists’ because of its association with the Confederacy
Michael Steele’s election as the “go-to-Negro”—oops, “chairman”!—of the Republican National Committee did very little to change the party’s racist rhetoric toward the nation’s first Black president—as well as its antipathy toward Black America. And the Southern Baptist Convention’s election of Rev. Fred Luter, as its first Black president will likely do very little to change its cozy relationship with Republicans … or address its poor record on race relations.
The politically and theologically conservative denomination has been on the wrong side of every social issue on our nation’s collective radar. Opposing abolition in the 1850s. Opposing the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. More recently, in 2007, the Southern Baptists officially adopted a skeptical resolution on climate change and global warming. WWJD? “Drill, drill baby!”
The denomination opposed women’s suffrage at the turn of the last century—and the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. Women are still relegated to secondary status in the denomination. Women are not allowed to serve as clergy or laity in the Southern Baptist Church. In June 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention issued its famous “statement on the family” that decreed, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”
The SBC has also erected a wall of denial around its many well-documented cases of clergy abuse. The denomination rejected a proposal to create a database of staff and clergy who have been either “convicted or indicted” on charges of molesting minors, reported TIME magazine in 2008.
Predictably, the Southern Baptists new president has said that his was not a token appointment. “If we stop appointing African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics to leadership positions after this, we’ve failed,” said Luter.
Keep telling yourself that, Reverend. At the same time the nation’s first Black president is moving our nation forward on health care for everyone, a woman’s right to an equal paycheck, protecting the environment and granting equal rights to everyone—the Southern Baptists’ first Black president is a clear contrast. Fred Luter’s appointment was definitely historic …but his politics and message are more of the same.
Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and his writing has appeared in EBONY, The Advocate, Out.com, NPR and many others. Check out his award winning site Rod 2.0. Follow him on Twitter: @RodMcCullom.