Senior officers of the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirmed the denomination’s repudiation of white supremacy as a “scheme of the devil” Wednesday after a controversial call by President Donald Trump to far-right activists to “stand back and stand by” during the presidential debate on Tuesday.
“When asked to condemn white supremacy, every single one of us should be ready to do so. Racism is, sadly, not extinct, and we know from our Southern Baptist history the effects of the horrific sins of racism and hatred,” SBC President J.D. Greear said on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.
“We denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society. We re-affirm what Southern Baptists said to this in 2017.”
In addition to Greear, the statement was also endorsed by SBC senior officers: Marshal Ausberry, first vice president and president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC; Noe Garcia, second vice president; Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC’s executive committee; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention; and Alabama Baptist Kathy Litton, director of planter spouse development at the North American Mission Board.
The SBC statement came as prominent black Christian leaders reacted strongly to the president’s failure to clearly denounce the activists during his first presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and urged evangelicals to speak up.
During Tuesday's debate, moderator and "Fox News Sunday" anchor Chris Wallace asked Trump if he was "willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and we've seen in Portland?"
Trump said "sure" he was "willing to do that," but noted that "almost everything I see is from the left-wing."
Biden then mentioned the Proud Boys, a far-right group led by Enrique Tarrio who's half black and half Cuban, while Wallace said white supremacists.
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"The Proud Boys," Trump replied. "Stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem."
E. Dewey Smith Jr., senior pastor of The House of Hope Atlanta (Greater Travelers Rest) church in Decatur, Georgia, was one of the first prominent black Christian leaders to react when he pleaded with evangelicals on Twitter Tuesday night to “say something.”
“To my white ‘evangelical’ family..... what do you think about Trump’s ABSOLUTE REFUSAL to denounce white supremacy???!!! PLEASE Say Something!!” he wrote.
Hours later, on Wednesday morning, prominent black SBC Pastor Dwight McKissic echoed Smith’s call.
“I plead with White Evangelical leaders to make it clear today(even if you plan to vote for President Trump), please make it clear that you denounce White Supremacy & your support for Trump in no wise connected to his unwillingness to denounce White Supremacy. Please, my brethren!” he wrote.
Kyle Howard, a preacher, theologian and Christian counselor, noted on Twitter: “Y’all have absolutely no idea what it feels like to watch your president tell white supremacists to ‘stand back & stand by.’ Y’all have no idea how terrifying that is, especially in this time.”
The Rev. Mika Edmondson, planting and lead pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in greater Nashville, said the president’s failure to “clearly denounce white supremacy” during the debate made his family “less safe.”
“However you feel about the President, his policies, and his intentions, his staunch refusal to clearly denounce white supremacy is deeply disturbing. His words last night made my family and many others less safe today,” he noted on Twitter.
In his analysis of the debate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler called the president’s response to the question on white supremacy his “lowest moment” during the debate and said it was a “failed opportunity.”
“The lowest moment for the incumbent president, Donald Trump, was when he did not give a clear answer when it came to the threat from the political right, from white supremacists and others in the United States. When called to condemn them, the President didn't exactly not answer the question, but he did answer the question in such a way that it was not very specific or comprehensive. I would score that as a failed opportunity,” Mohler noted on his podcast, The Briefing.
In his first comment on the debate Wednesday, Trump said he did not know anything about the Proud Boys.
Trump has denounced the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists on several previous occasions, including in 2017, after a self-identified white supremacist drove his car into counter-protesters, killing one and injuring others, at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.