By Bob Allen
A year after targeting the Boy Scouts for dropping their ban on openly gay youth, Southern Baptists meeting June 10-11 in Baltimore may have found a new cause célèbre in a reality TV show star suspended by his network for criticizing homosexuality.
“If no one else will, I will submit a resolution at the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore encouraging all believers to boycott watching the A&E Network and to boycott their sponsors if they don’t retract their position,” Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, posted on his blog Dec. 19.
McKissic, who is black, also criticized the NAACP for taking “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson’s “innocent racial remarks regarding relationship that he had with blacks on the bayous of Louisiana during his earlier years and spinning it into some kind of racial animus or insensitivity toward blacks during the Jim Crow era.”
A&E put Robertson on hiatus after gay-rights groups denounced comments he made on homosexuality and sin in a magazine interview. The second-day story turned to another part of the GQ interview, where the self-professed Bible thumper reflected on growing up in Louisiana prior to the Civil Rights Movement.
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person,” Robertson said. “Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
The NAACP joined the Human Rights campaign in a letter to the network denouncing Robertson’s remarks as “inaccurate” and “dangerous.”
“Mr. Robertson claims that, from what he saw, African-Americans were happier under Jim Crow,” said a portion of the letter quoted by media. “What he didn’t see were lynching and beatings of black men and women for attempting to vote or simply walking down the street.”
The letter said the remarks “go beyond being outlandishly inaccurate and offensive” to the point of being “dangerous and revisionist, appealing to those in our society who wish to repeat patterns of discrimination.”
McKissic, who in the past has chided his own denomination for lacking leadership diversity and piling on against America’s first African-American president, disagreed. He said Robertson was “simply expressing his personal observations and relationships with blacks that he knew in the Louisiana swamps and farmland” and shamed the NAACP “for this exploitation of such a sensitive and volatile topic.”
“In many ways morally, spiritually, family oriented and self-reliant were blacks better off in the ‘pre-entitlement, pre-welfare’ era? Absolutely!” McKissic wrote. “The facts would support such a conclusion. Are Robertson’s remarks racists, wrong, or insensitive or untrue? Absolutely not!”
“Robertson was not addressing the over-all obvious racism that existed in the South during that era,” McKissic said. “He was simply commenting on the general daily disposition of blacks in his circle of acquaintances and relationships. It is tragic that the media, NAACP and others are unfairly using race in a twisted and shameful manner, because they simply disagree with his righteous and biblical stand on homosexuality.”
Joe Carter, director of communications for the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Robertson’s fond memory of his own experience is “woefully naïve,” but he thinks it was an attempt to steer the interview back in the direction of his larger theme that the black people he knew were happy because of their godliness.
“Does that noble intent excuse his insensitive remarks about the segregated South?” Carter wrote in a blog for the Gospel Coalition. “Not at all. Robertson is a public figure and when he gives interviews in the media, he must take responsibility for how his words are perceived. While I believe he was attempting to pay tribute to the African-American Christians who preceded him in the faith, he has inadvertently offended many of his African-American brothers and sisters.”
McKissic said if a black man who grew up in the South had made a similar remark, it would not have been viewed as controversial and racist, and that if an African-American man were fired for saying it the civil rights community would be marching in the street. “Therefore, Robertson’s racial comment should be a non-issue,” McKissic said.
While SBC leaders including seminary president Albert Mohler and ERLC head Russell Moore have been vocal in their support for Robertson, the main way Southern Baptists speak to current events is resolutions, non-binding statements expressing the consensus view of messengers attending the annual convention meeting.
Last summer, the SBC made headlines with a resolution voicing “opposition to and disappointment in” the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to change membership policies to accommodate Scouts who self-identify as gay. The resolution stopped short of calling for an SBC-wide boycott but expressed support for Southern Baptist congregations that stop sponsoring Scout units as a matter of conscience.
McKissic successfully lobbied Southern Baptists to pass a resolution in 2009 celebrating the election of President Obama as a step toward racial reconciliation in America. In 2012, McKissic proposed a resolution on racist statements in Mormon source documents that died in committee.
Recently the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement acknowledging racial discrimination in the past.
“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else,” said the statement posted on the LDS website. “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
The “Duck Dynasty” controversy comes on the heels of another recent skirmish among evangelicals about a panel discussion from a conference sponsored by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches dismissing Christian rap music as ungodly.
The group’s president issued an apology, while one blogger commented that “some in the white Reformed community continue to seemingly use every opportunity to alienate black Christians and keep them at arm’s length.”
“While I don’t think their remarks were meant to be racially aggravating, they should have been aware that to speak of the culture out of which Christian hip-hop and rap arises is to speak of a culture predominantly populated by black artists and advocates,” observed Anthony Carter, lead pastor of East Point Church near Atlanta. “Therefore, to speak so disparagingly and dismissively concerning hip-hop is also to project that disparaging and dismissive tone toward your black brothers and sisters involved and supportive of Christian hip-hop.”