ARLINGTON, Texas — A prominent African-American pastor is urging the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to adopt a resolution celebrating the election of President Obama when the denomination meets June 23-24 in Louisville, Ky.
A resolution submitted for consideration by Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, acknowledges policy differences with Obama, but terms election of America’s first African-American president “a tremendous moment in our nation’s history.”
McKissic’s resolution, referred to a committee that will decide whether to bring any or all of it to the convention floor, “celebrates the historic nature of the election of President Barack Hussein Obama as a significant contribution to the ongoing cause of racial reconciliation in the United States.”
It asks Southern Baptists to pray the president “will use the constitutional authority assigned to his office to promote liberty and justice for all people, including the unborn” and pledges to join hands with Obama to “advance causes of racial justice insofar as those efforts are consistent with biblical principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“I certainly want Southern Baptists to have an opportunity to affirm and celebrate, along with the rest of America, this major milestone in our history,” McKissic said in a telephone interview June 4.
McKissic said he doesn’t expect any major opposition to the resolution. “Believing that Southern Baptists are good people at heart, I can’t think of a good reason that the vast majority would have a problem with this resolution,” he said.
Southern Baptists as a group were among the staunchest supporters of President George W. Bush during his two terms in the White House. Before that, the SBC was one of the harshest critics of President Clinton, despite the fact that he, unlike Bush, was a member of a Southern Baptist church.
McKissic, who said on his blog in 2008 that he was supporting fellow Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee for president, said his proposed resolution has nothing to do with politics. He said it is consistent with a 1995 SBC resolution pledging to “eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life.”
Formed in 1845 to defend the rights of missionaries to hold slaves, the SBC marked its 150th anniversary with a resolution apologizing to African Americans for perpetuating racist structures and repenting of “any racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Acknowledging “that our own healing is at stake” the 1995 resolution sought forgiveness from African Americans and pledged to pursue “racial reconciliation in all our relationships, especially with our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
McKissic knows from experience that promoting understanding between races can be easier said than done. Soon after his election as a trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2006, McKissic said in a sermon in the seminary’s chapel that he disagreed with a policy adopted by the SBC International Mission Board to no longer appoint missionaries using a “private prayer language” in their devotional life.
McKissic said in fact that he follows the practice, viewed by some as a form of speaking in tongues, and the first time he experienced it was while he was a student at Southwestern Seminary in 1981.
That sparked months of controversy, during which the seminary’s board of trustees adopted a statement, over McKissic’s lone dissent, putting the school on record against use of a private prayer language. McKissic wound up resigning from the board, comparing the ordeal to “a 21st-century lynching.”
McKissic later apologized for the choice of words, explaining that he was trying to say that the practice is much less controversial and more common in African-American than in conservative white churches, and he did not mean to imply that trustees opposed him because of his race.
McKissic told Associated Baptist Press he views all that as history, but he added he does find it “extremely problematic” that some leaders in the same denomination that did not question whether slaveholders were Christians would today be skeptical about the validity of Barack Obama’s profession of faith.
McKissic said a prayer for Obama’s salvation was spoken at Southwestern Seminary, and it “was very insulting to the black students.”
McKissic’s resolution faults Obama for “numerous social, political and economic policies that are in fundamental opposition to the values for which our convention and our churches have stood.” It commends the president, however, for including the perspective of Southern Baptists by naming former SBC President Frank Page to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Community Partnerships.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)