Southern Baptists in Mississippi are asking their state legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the corner of the Mississippi state flag. Calling the issue a “moral” one, the religious leaders believe standing against a symbol such as the Confederate flag, which many see as a symbol of racism, “is a matter of biblical morality.” Given the current conversations around race and the systemic racism that still exists in the United States, the group believes the time to remove the symbol is now.
“While some may see the current flag as a celebration of heritage, a significant portion of our state sees it as a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred,” a statement by the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB) reads.
“We want to be a prophetic voice, and our hope is that our stand and our conviction will bring healing to the racial tensions that are felt in Mississippi,” MBCB Executive Director and Treasurer Shawn Parker said during a press conference on Tuesday, June 23rd in Jackson, Mississippi.
The Mississippi State Flag and Jesus
Offering a “voice of healing in the name of Jesus Christ,” Parker described Jesus as the greatest ethical teacher “who ever taught.” Parker then made a case for Jesus being anti-racist and for Scripture instructing believers to be anti-racist. Reading from the statement, Parker said:
Jesus’ ethical teaching calls us to rise above the precepts of this world to demonstrate a higher treatment of others. In Matthew 7:12, he taught us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. In Matthew 22:39, He identified the second greatest commandment as loving your neighbor as yourself. It is therefore apparent that the need to change the flag is a matter of discipleship for every follower of Jesus Christ. Currently, 38 percent of Mississippi is black and many of those Mississippians are hurt and shamed by the historical symbolism of the current flag. For those who follow Christ to stand indifferently and allow this to exist is inconsistent with both of these clear teachings of Christ. This reality calls those of us who follow the Lord to stand up to help our hurting neighbor. The application of this stance calls for a change to the current flag in order to mitigate the hurt its symbolism entails.
The statement goes on to encourage officials to begin the process to adopt a new flag for the state that “represents the dignity of every Mississippian and promotes unity rather than division.” The group is also calling on its members to “make this a matter of prayer” and to “seek the Lord’s guidance in standing for love instead of oppression, unity instead of division, and the gospel of Christ instead of the power of this world.”
The statement was signed by all the current members of MBC’s Executive Committee, the current President of the convention, the three Executive Director-Treasurers, as well as all the past MBC Presidents, those who are still living, that is.
Parker reiterated during the press conference that MBCB’s stance on the flag was “not motivated by politics, it is not motivated by economics” or even athletics, he said with a smile. It is motivated, he emphasized, by the convention’s understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ.
“I also hope that this sends a message to the African American pastors that I have had conversations with that are Mississippi Baptists…that we would rally together to win Mississippi—all of Mississippi and the world—to Jesus Christ,” MBCB President Ken Hester said.
“If there’s anything that is causing people to feel an offense to the preaching of the Gospel—even if it be our state flag—then it is time for a change,” former MBCB President Clarence Cooper said.
Jim Futral, one of the three current Executive Director-Treasurers, said the Confederate symbol on the flag is “the living, lasting, symbol of tyranny, of oppression, of slavery.” Futral mentioned that Mississippi is the last state to still display the Confederate symbol. “For some people that’s a mark of excellence. For others we recognize that is a mark of unfairness.”