The Cross and the Confederacy

On June 14th, something monumental occurred at the annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in St. Louis. James Merritt made a motion that the flight of the Confederate battle flag be discontinued by any Southern Baptists. His reasoning: that though for some, the Confederate flag is a way to honor Southern ancestors who fought in the Civil War, for many others it is a sign of racism and a possible stumbling block to the gospel.

Merritt ended his motion by exclaiming, “We are not a people of any flag, but we are a people who march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God … All the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”

This motion passed.

This is an extremely significant ruling for the SBC. It may seem odd that a group would bother repudiating the flag of a culture that ended 150 years ago. But even in 2016, this was extremely significant for the SBC to do. In case you didn't know, the SBC began because of slavery. Northern Baptists believed that it was not acceptable for slave owners to become missionaries; Southern Baptists didn't think that should prevent someone from sharing the gospel overseas.

This isn’t really a proud moment in Baptist history, but it is our history nonetheless. For this reason, the SBC will forever have to be proactive in demonstrating repentance for the events of the past if they are going to demonstrate that the gospel is more important. In this June decision, the convention that was developed and named for their perspective on slavery is showing active repentance for the sins of the past. The SBC has repudiated slavery and racism for a long time, even electing African-Americans into its highest leadership positions; but this was a definitive statement that racism has no place in Southern Baptist life.

You may be wondering why this matters for Soma. One reason is that we're actually partnered with the SBC; they have a fantastic heart for planting churches in the U.S. and overseas, and were major supporters of Soma from the beginning.

But maybe a bigger reason is that Soma is dedicated to bringing about racial reconciliation in the body of Christ. In the new creation, God's final people won't have one skin color, one culture, or one language: it contains every tribe, tongue and nation. This resolution was a fresh commitment from the SBC to see God's people on this side of the new creation look more like the future.

Regardless of your feelings of the SBC, the passing of this motion is reason for jubilation. We should rejoice that this convention made the decision to make where they are going more important than where they have been. We should rejoice that the church here on earth has a desire to ensure that our Sunday morning gatherings look a little more like the church in heaven.

Shortly after the motion was passed, Christians on social media were sharing the video of Dr. James Merritt standing up to propose his amendment. I have never felt more proud to call myself a Southern Baptist than when watching this group of brothers and sisters in Christ cast off the associations of the past to ensure that some would not be hindered from the gospel. A denomination that has often been falsely made synonymous with racism took an active stand to demonstrate that the gospel of Jesus Christ is most important.

The cross and the Confederacy preach two very different messages. Both messages are equally polarizing: the cross is polarizing to the sinner, the Confederacy to those who were in the north and the south. The message of the Confederacy sought to alienate people because of their skin color; the message of the cross restores man to God, and unites man with one another. The message of the Confederacy died 150 years ago; the message of the cross will endure until Jesus returns.

These two messages cannot coexist. What the SBC showed is that no symbol should get in the way of any one person knowing the joy found in Christ. This motion demonstrates that caring for the souls of the lost should and will always be more significant than a symbol.

Photo: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press