The Southern Baptist Convention holds it annual meeting in June each year.
Many years, actions taken at the meeting are noticed throughout the nation. The 2016 meeting was no different.
On Tuesday, convention messengers adopted a resolution rejecting use of the Confederate flag.
It urged “brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters.
“And be it finally resolved, that we urge fellow Christians to exercise sensitivity so that nothing brings division or hinders the unity of the Body of Christ to be a bold witness to the transforming power of Jesus.”
News agency Baptist Press reports that after two messengers spoke against the resolution, former SBC President James Merritt offered an amendment that strengthened the resolution’s language.
He suggested deleting a paragraph that said the flag “serves for some not as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, but as a memorial to their loved ones who died in the Civil War, and an emblem to honor their loved ones’ valor.”
He also asked to remove language about prayerful consideration and called for a halt to displaying the flag.
Merritt said, “All the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”
What make this so special is that the Southern Baptist Convention started in a disagreement over slave ownership.
In May 1845, Baptists in Southern states met in Augusta, Georgia, to discuss problems with national Baptist groups. By the end of the meeting, the group had founded the SBC.
Several things, including theology, migration and missions, shaped early Baptist life in the South, but by the 1830s, slavery became an explosive issue with supporters on both sides.
Many things led to the split, but in 1844, Baptists in Alabama insisted that slave owners be treated as equals to non slave owners. The board of the Triennial Convention — the main Baptist denomination of the time — responded that if anyone wished to serve as a missionary, an important part of Baptist life, they could not own slaves.
This action led to the 1845 meeting where delegates of various churches, mission societies and other groups formed a more centralized convention that revolved around two ideas: foreign missions and missions in the United States.
While this new denomination structure was aimed at sharing the Gospel — organization and missions were both part of the disagreement with other Baptists — the group’s initial papers explained that the SBC formed in support of slavery and was the main issue in the division.
By the 1861 meeting, the group clearly supported Southern secession.
The SBC started with 351,951 members in 4,126 churches in the South. It eventually grew into the largest non-Catholic denomination, with congregations in all 50 states and other countries.
In the 1970s, the denomination started welcoming some joint efforts with black Baptist groups and in recent years has welcomed predominately black congregations into the fold.
To read the entire resolution, visit erlc.com . A link is on the home page or can be found in a search for Confederate flag.
SOURCES: Encyclopedia of the South, edited by Samuel S. Hill; The Baptist Heritage, Leon Mcbeth; sbcannualmeeting.org/sbc16/newsroom/newspage.asp?ID=100; erlc.com/resource-library/articles/resolution-7-on-sensitivity-and-unity-regarding-the- confederate-battle-flag