The Southern Poverty Law Center questioned Southern Baptist Convention leadership for naming to a resolutions committee at the upcoming SBC annual meeting representatives of organizations the civil rights organization identifies as hate groups.
The nonprofit legal advocacy organization — which began during the civil rights movement to counter white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan — said March 25 that appointments by SBC President Ronnie Floyd contradict claims by some that the nation’s second-largest faith group is softening its approach to homosexuality.
This year’s resolutions committee includes individuals and organizations making headlines during the last year in skirmishes pitting LGBT rights against religious liberty. They include:
• Liberty Counsel director Mat Staver, who recently represented Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of the June 2015 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
• Mark Harris, a North Carolina pastor who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2014 active in lobbying for an amendment banning same-sex marriage to the state constitution and against an ordinance in Charlotte barring LGBT discrimination.
• Former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, who lost his job in a dispute with city officials after he gave employees copies of a book he wrote condemning homosexuality.
• Shannon Royce, a former staff member of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and current chief of staff and chief operating officer at the Family Research Council, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist group.
• Jim Smith, former Florida Baptist Witness editor who recently left a post at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to become vice president of communications at the National Religious Broadcasters, an international Christian media network increasingly flexing its muscles politically under leadership of current president and CEO Jerry Johnson.
Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas, said naming a resolutions committee is a “major task” for the SBC president and predicted his group “will represent our convention in the highest manner.”
Amy Whitfield, co-host of the weekly news roundup podcast SBC This Week, said while it’s hard to predict what might come out of the resolutions committee, the makeup of the personnel might hold some clues.
“We know religious liberty is going to be a huge issue that I would assume we are going to want to make a statement about this year,” said Whitfield, director of communications at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, citing last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, and the upcoming ruling on mandated contraceptive coverage under Obamacare and various issues raised during the ongoing presidential campaign.
“I think it’s very clear that Dr. Floyd looked at that — looked at what’s going on, the importance of some of the statements we’re going to make externally — and we really needed to have people with some experience and some expertise in some of these areas,” she said
The Southern Poverty Law Center said “it remains to be seen” what resolutions the new committee will recommend with regard to LGBT issues, “but given the makeup of nearly half the membership, don’t expect a ‘softer approach.’”
The Southern Poverty Law Center currently lists 892 hate groups in the United States, identified by “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”