NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and other Christian leaders in Tennessee declared their opposition to “White Lives Matter” rallies in the state in a joint statement issued today (Oct. 27).
Release of the statement — titled “Gospel opposition to white supremacy” — came on the eve of rallies sponsored by white nationalists in the Middle Tennessee cities of Murfreesboro and Shelbyville. Those scheduled events prompted Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and the other signers to say, “[W]e declare ourselves in resolute opposition to this expression of racism and white supremacy. We denounce and repudiate white supremacy as a work of the devil, designed to dehumanize and divide.”
While Southern Baptists and fellow Christians decried the white nationalism and supremacy of the rallies in Tennessee, the Reaching the Nations in North America Summit opened at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. The two-day, Southern Baptist-sponsored event is designed to help churches take the Gospel of Jesus to the people from around the world who have migrated to North America and now number about 45 million. See related Baptist Press story.
White nationalists plan to hold anti-immigration rallies Oct. 28, first in the morning in Shelbyville, then 26 miles away in Murfreesboro in the afternoon, according to The Daily News Journal, a Murfreesboro newspaper. Groups participating in the rallies as part of the umbrella organization Nationalist Front are the League of the South, National Socialist Movement, Traditionalist Worker Party and Vanguard America. Among the invited speakers is Richard Spencer, leader of the “alt-right” movement, the newspaper reported.
The ERLC issued the Oct. 27 statement opposing the rallies two days after Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, and a group of ethnically diverse Baptists in the state held a news conference to repudiate the ideology behind the rallies. “As Tennessee Baptists and as Southern Baptists, we are categorically opposed to the white supremacy movement and any movement that diminishes the dignity of any human,” Davis said.
In their statement, Moore and the other signers say, “Ideologies that declare the white race as superior are an assault against the Word of God, which declares that every human being is created in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect…. These ideologies stand in opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which reconciles, in Christ’s body, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
“History shows that indifference, by the church, allows such evil to flourish,” according to the statement. “We must not only declare racism to be wrong, we must oppose specific acts and movements that would degrade and dehumanize our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The statement calls on every Christian in the state “to speak out against white supremacy, in all of its forms, and to pray and work for racial unity in our communities.” The signers also commit to pray for the salvation of advocates of racist ideologies.
In addition to Moore and Davis, the signers include Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis-area Cordova; Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee; Dub Oliver, president of Union University in Jackson; Scott Sauls, senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville; Rufus Smith, senior pastor of Hope Church in Memphis; George Robertson, senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis; Matt Pinson, president of Welch College in Gallatin; and Trevor Atwood, lead pastor of City Church in Murfreesboro.
In an Oct. 25 op-ed in The Nashville Tennessean, Moore said the church must oppose “these noxious displays of white supremacy and racial demagoguery.”
“Racism does what as a Christian I believe the devils exists to do: to kill and to destroy and to exalt the idolatry of self,” Moore wrote. “If we cannot call this what it is, we will sow in cowardice what we will reap in violence.”
Churches must learn to love and listen to one another, he said. “The church should be a signpost for what it means for people to be united not by the blood of their ancestors but by the blood of their Savior.”
The rallies in Tennessee follow by two-and-a-half months the protests in Charlottesville, Va., by the “alt-right” and other white nationalists and white supremacists that were met by counter-protesters. Violence ensued, and one counter-protester was killed when a car apparently driven by a white nationalist struck her and others.
While Southeastern Seminary is hosting the Reaching the Nations in North America Summit, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and Baptist State Convention of North Carolina are partners in sponsoring the event.
The Oct. 27 statement is the latest in Southern Baptists’ official and unofficial efforts to speak against racism and to seek racial reconciliation. Among other efforts:
— In late September, a letter drafted by Southern Baptists and others urged President Trump to go beyond his previous comments and actions to rebuke the “alt-right” movement. It told the president the country “needs your voice and your convictions to defeat racist ideologies and movements in every form that they present themselves.” Gaines; Moore; Fred Luter, the SBC’s first African-American president; and other Southern Baptist pastors and leaders were among the signers.
— In June, messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting adopted a resolution condemning “alt-right white supremacy” in a nearly unanimous vote. In the resolution, messengers said they: “[D]ecry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ;
— In April 2018, the ERLC and The Gospel Coalition will sponsor “MLK50: Gospel Reflections From the Mountaintop,” a conference in Memphis to consider the state of racial unity in the church and culture and to examine what is needed in its pursuit. The event will be held on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.
The Oct. 27 statement and the list of signers is available at https://erlc.com/resource-library/statements/gospel-opposition-to-white-supremacy.