Lawrence Ware, a minister and co-director of the Center for Africana Studies at Oklahoma State University, is leaving the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest protestant church.
“Today I am officially renouncing my ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Ware wrote in a open letter published in the New York Times this morning. “My reasoning is simple: As a black scholar of race and a minister who is committed to social justice, I can no longer be part of an organization that is complicit in the disturbing rise of the so-called alt-right, whose members support the abhorrent policies of Donald Trump and whose troubling racial history and current actions reveal a deep commitment to white supremacy.”
Central to Ware’s departure is an incident in June of this year. What should have been a simple vote on a motion at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting turned into a circus.
Paster Dwight McKissic, a colleague of Ware’s, advanced a motion calling on the Convention to condemn the alt-right and “retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases and racial bigotries of the so-called alt-right,” the text of the motion read. That’s when all hell broke loose at the meeting.
“A contingent of predominantly white, old-guard members refused to take the resolution seriously,” Ware wrote, “even while many black and progressive clergy members advocated its adoption.”
“It was not until chaos ensued that a reworded resolution vowing to ‘decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” was adopted.
In other words, singling out the alt-right for condemnation was a bridge too far for the Southern Baptist Convention. They’d only support a denunciation of White on Black racism – problem both systemic and acute to our body politic – if it included language that could apply to other forms racism including Black on White.
“This is just the most recent example of the kind of retrograde thinking on race by convention members,” Ware describes the rift. “In April, the Pew Research Center reported that 78 percent of white evangelicals, many of whom are Southern Baptists, approve of President Trump’s job performance. Around that time, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University said on Fox News, “I think evangelicals have found their dream president.”
Ware isn’t surprised by these polls. The Southern Baptist Convention was founded, first and foremost, which it split from northern baptist churches over slavery. Guess which group wanted it abolished, which one didn’t? Southern Baptists also supported segregation unanimously during the Civil Rights movement, and only in 1995 did members formally denounce their racists past.
“But not enough has been done to address the institutional nature of white supremacy in the convention,” Ware writes. “Many churches are still hostile to the Black Lives Matter movement, and even more were silent during the rise of Mr. Trump and the so-called alt-right. For all of its talk about the love of Jesus Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention’s inaction on the issues of racism and homophobia has drowned out its words.”
“I love the church, but I love black people more,” Ware concludes. “Black lives matter to me. I am not confident that they matter to the Southern Baptist Convention.”
You can read his entire scathing letter here.