Such a simple gesture shouldn’t have been remarkable in the least: When Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, heard that Dr. Jerry Young would be the next president of the National Baptist Convention USA, the head of the nation’s largest evangelical denomination wrote his new counterpart in the nation’s largest historically black denomination a brief congratulatory note.
The aftermath of that note was resounding, echoing with the fraught racial history of the Southern Baptist Convention. And on Tuesday, Floyd and Young will share the stage — the first time the leader of the black Baptists has been invited to address the Southern Baptists’ annual meeting in at least 35 years, the Southern Baptists say.
At the same annual meeting, attendees may have the chance to vote on whether the Southern Baptists should take an official stance against the Confederate battle flag, which has been coming down from statehouses as well as churchyards in the contentious year since nine black churchgoers were killed in Charleston, S.C., last June by a white man, Dylann Roof.
“We’re gonna dialogue,” Floyd said on Monday night, “about the whole racial issues of the country and how we come together. Because we believe the answer is in the church. We believe government can only do so much. We want it doing all it can, but the ultimate answer is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest faith group in America behind only the Catholic church, is meeting in St. Louis on Tuesday and Wednesday. There, attendees will consider a slate of resolutions which will be announced Tuesday morning.
One option submitted to the committee that determines which resolutions make it to the floor: the statement calling for the removal of all Confederate battle flags.
The Southern Baptist Convention is linked from its origin with the history of the Confederacy and of race in America, as Dwight McKissic, the black Texas pastor who proposed the Confederate flag resolution, pointed out in blog posts. The denomination was founded in Georgia in 1845 by Baptists who split from the northern Baptist church because they disagreed with its anti-slavery positions.
The church has acknowledged its ugly past and apologized to African-Americans in previous resolutions, and it elected a black president in 2012.
Still, McKissic wrote, rejecting the Confederate flag would help mend the still-raw wounds of the denomination’s history.
“The SBC supported the Confederacy and was emotionally and philosophically attached to the Confederacy,” McKissic wrote. “The Dylan Roof love affair with the Confederate [flag] and his murdering of nine innocent Black Kingdom-citizens (Christians) has brought this matter back to the forefront. The SBC has an opportunity to get it right this time. Blanket apologies, and broad, generic repudiation of racism does not suffice.”