When the largest Protestant denomination in the United States recently met in Nashville, it was notable what thousands of Southern Baptists did not think were major concerns.
An armed insurrection took place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, by supporters of former President Donald Trump. Several people died, including two law enforcement officers who worked for the U.S. Capitol Police. Many more people, including civilians and law enforcement officers, were injured. Some of the insurrectionists stormed the Senate chamber and offered prayers of thanks and invoked the name of Jesus in support of their effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of presidential power. Since then, Republican members of the U.S. Senate blocked efforts to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Southern Baptist messengers did not condemn the blasphemous illegality of that behavior.
Last month (May), the Israeli government led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enabled Israelis who terrorized Palestinians living in the Sheik Jarrah community of East Jerusalem to drive the Palestinians from their homes. In response, Hamas militants fired rockets into Israel from positions in Gaza. The Israeli Defense Force sent aircraft that bombed Gaza. Although a May 16, 2021, article in Al Jazeera News reported that 192 Palestinian civilians were killed in those bombing attacks — including more than 50 children — and 10 people were killed in Israel from Hamas rockets, the U.S. government vetoed a call for a ceasefire in the U.N. Security Council.
Southern Baptist messengers did not condemn and denounce Israeli bombings of civilian targets, including destruction of a building that housed offices of the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and several other media outlets.
Since the November 2020 U.S. presidential election that ended the Trump presidency, Republican legislators in states across the nation have passed legislation that restricts voting rights and makes it easier to overturn the results of elections. The U.S. Congress has not been able to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights bill, the For the People Voting Rights bill or legislation to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure because politicians seem afraid of the white religious nationalists, neo-fundamental capitalists and devotees of patriarchy and white supremacy who make up the Trump voting bloc.
Southern Baptist messengers and their leaders said and did nothing to condemn legislation passed with the aim to suppress voting by people of color.
“Southern Baptist messengers and their leaders said and did nothing to condemn legislation passed with the aim to suppress voting by people of color.”
A global pandemic has caused deaths across the world. More than 600,000 people have died in the United States. People in India, Africa and elsewhere are facing shortages of vaccines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections.
Southern Baptist messengers and their leaders did not condemn the false messages Donald Trump made about the risks associated with COVID-19. Neither did Southern Baptist messengers and their leaders condemn Trump’s repeated lies and bigoted statements that stirred resentment toward China and people from Asian-Pacific ancestry.
Over the past several months, legislators in several states have enacted laws targeting transgender persons for discrimination. Laws were passed to prohibit physicians from providing medical care sought by parents of transgender children. The laws were passed over strong objections from mental health experts and physicians who treat children and young adults.
Southern Baptist messengers and their leaders did not condemn that discriminatory legislation.
George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020, by police in Minneapolis. According to an article in Newsweek magazine published May 25, 2021, the first anniversary of Floyd’s murder, 229 other Black persons were killed by police during the 12-month period after George Floyd’s death.
Southern Baptist messengers and their leaders did not condemn the slayings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arberry, Rashard Brooks, Andrew Brown, Elijah McClain, Daniel Prude, Daunte Wright or any of the other victims of police violence.
Southern Baptists — who claim the Bible is inerrant — did not denounce Vice President Kamala Harris after she publicly told people desperate to seek asylum in the United States from violence, poverty and other dangers they face in Central America, “Don’t come.”
“Southern Baptists paid little or no attention to these glaring ethical and moral issues.”
Southern Baptists paid little or no attention to these glaring ethical and moral issues. Most media coverage and commentary about their annual meeting ignored that Southern Baptists seemed less concerned about them.
Instead, the coverage and commentary focused on who would be elected president of that denomination among four candidates. Coverage and commentary also focused on whether SBC messengers would adopt resolutions about Critical Race Theory and access to legal abortion procedures.
Southern Baptists elected Ed Litton, a white Baptist pastor who has been termed a religious “moderate,” as their president. They sang, preached, prayed, raised their hands and voted to support a resolution calling for the end of all abortions, including those involving rape, incest and medical conditions that threaten the lives of pregnant women.
They said and did nothing about the state-sanctioned killing of hundreds of Black people by police.
“They said and did nothing about the state-sanctioned killing of hundreds of Black people by police.”
They said and did nothing about the apartheid regime of Israel that is financed by U.S. tax dollars, cheered by U.S. white religious nationalists, and that is stealing land and water from Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank, and that has destroyed housing and other infrastructure in Gaza.
They said and did nothing to repent of SBC complicity in racism against people of color and complicity in misogyny despite the massacre of Asian-Pacific women in Atlanta three months earlier, allegedly by Robert Aaron Long, a white Southern Baptist man whose former youth pastor could not recall hearing a single sermon about the sin of racism during his tenure at the Southern Baptist church attended by Long and his family.
I suspect this is what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 23:23-25 when he denounced religious leaders who neglected “justice and mercy and faith” and strained “out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
Southern Baptist disregard for these and other social justice concerns not only speaks volumes about their shallow commitment to the religion of Jesus. That disregard (which I denounce as heresy) – and media inattention to it – explains how white religious nationalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and authoritarianism are not recognized as contributing to the acceptance of fascism in the United States.
When people disregard a violent insurrection aimed at preventing the peaceful transfer of power, disregard the role of their denomination in supporting regimes that practice apartheid and genocide, and spend their time and energy squabbling about who will preside over what I term the “Slaveholder Baptist Convention” rather than “justice and mercy and faith,” we are not far from becoming a doomed society.
That may signal that we are doomed, now.
Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
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