Recently, I met with Charles Hedman, the Associate Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a Washington, D.C. congregation known nation-wide for its reformed teaching and affiliation with the ministry 9Marks. I wanted to discuss last month’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution confronting the alt-right, which Hedman worked to pass at the annual convention in June. We talked openly about racial prejudices in the United States and about how the Church should work towards reconciliation and fellowship today. Mark Tooley wrote a wonderful article summarizing the resolution, which officially disaffiliated the SBC from the alt-right movement that has grown in the United States.
As one can find a range of definitions of the alt-right, I first asked Hedman for his. He considers the definition by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) the fairest. The SPLC defines the alternative right as:
“A set of far-right ideologies, groups, and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization. Characterized by the heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew ‘establishment’ conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.”
Hedman recognizes that he “absolutely runs the risk” of estranging or hurting Christians who affiliated with the alt-right but rejected racism. To him, however, it does not compare to the possibility of the movement hurting African-American Christians if the SBC did not take action to officially stand with them. The SBC was founded when the Baptist church split between north and south in 1845, remaining in favor of slavery.
“It took us nearly 80 years to repent of slavery, [and at] any opportunity to affirm that racism is wrong we need to take advantage of that,” he asserted. The resolution was intended as a confrontation to the “curse of Ham” theory to which the SBC adhered as a justification for slavery in its early years.
Hedman added that he wants the Church to send one message loud and clear: that the Church is “not only for [black people] but that we are actively trying to help them.”
“Is reverse racism a problem in our country? Heavens, yes,” Hedman stated. He acknowledged the difficulty of not estranging one group while trying to reach the other. The American Church should be especially careful to consider the needs of African-Americans, according to Hedman, “in a majority culture because we have a long history and with particularly systemic oppression.” “The resolution was tied to the platform of the alt-right, not the [individual] people,” he stated, explaining that it was aimed particularly at the alt-right of Richard Spencer, who has become synonymous with the movement.
Yet this resolution, in particular, hit an especially sensitive political nerve for many. Pastor Hedman emphasized that the SBC regularly passes resolutions that unify the congregation around conclusions, both specific and broad in nature. His point is reminiscent of an interview in June by National Public Radio with Pastor Dwight McKissick of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, who rallied the committee to submit the resolution confronting the alt-right. McKissick told The Atlantic last month that:
“[Resolutions passed at the convention just the day before] were just carte blanche things Southern Baptists believe. And so, it becomes a mystery how you can so easily affirm standard beliefs about other things, but we get to white supremacy…and all of a sudden, we’ve got a problem here.”
McKissick said in his interview with NPR that he felt the method in which the resolution was passed was itself hurtful and that the panel that adopted the SBC resolution should have consisted of more than one black person. He said that there was “white supremacy that was uncovered in the process that yet needs to be covered.” On this, Hedman said that he “definitely” agrees with McKissick. “50 percent of SBC church plants today are African American,” he said, citing the North American Missions Board. “If there were more minorities on the board it wouldn’t have gone down like it did,” Hedman contended, even submitting that perhaps more Asian minorities, such as those representing Korean churches, should perhaps be on the board.
Hedman says he lays most of the blame for the non-vote on the initial resolution on the convention as a body as it should have known about the resolution and forced it out of committee with the needed 2/3 vote. “Two times the convention took pleading by the committee,” Hedman stated. Of those at the SBC who failed to realize the importance of the resolution Hedman stated, “It was their fault for not understanding what the alt-right was, for not caring about our African-American brothers and sisters.”
Indeed, according to The Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans do not know what the alt-right is. According to a 2016 survey, 54 percent of U.S. adults say they have heard “nothing at all” about the “alt-right” movement, and just 17 percent say they have heard “a lot” about the movement. On the other hand, Hedman stated, “I can assure you, 99 percent of our African-American brothers and sisters know what it is.”
Hedman says that his own justification for supporting the resolution was based on the third section since he felt it qualified the first and second sections. While the first two parts of the resolution focus on denouncing all “nationalism” that violates the biblical teachings and rejecting “the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called ‘Alt-Right,’” the third part focuses on the gospel. It seeks to bring truth to those deceived by the alt-right movement. It also emphasizes the necessity for earnest prayer for them and that they “come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God….”
While Hedman saw the gospel emphasis as mandatory, he said he would have supported the first, more strongly-worded resolution as he felt it was also fair. The first version’s rhetoric, however, was seen by many SBC leaders as more harsh and political in nature, which is likely why the pre-amended version did not pass.
Meanwhile, Hedman does not consider himself political. In fact, he hesitates to join any group he believes could hinder the spread of the gospel whatsoever—down to his political party. “You run the risk [of endangering the gospel message] anytime you ascribe yourself to a movement or ideology,” he explained with conviction. “The minute you get into politics, you’ve created an obstacle for the gospel.”
Let’s lay down our preferences,” he stated. “One thing we do well here [at Capitol Hill Baptist Church] is that we make preaching the Word the main thing.”
I asked Hedman about next steps he envisions the Church can take towards racial reconciliation. He pointed to a need for SBC leaders to first recognize that more work needs to be done. He also maintained that the Church would better know how to address this issue “if we were to ask our African American brothers and sisters, ‘What’s hurting you?’ ‘What’s on your heart?” Hedman thinks public discussions that demonstrate how we can ask African-Americans these questions would be helpful.
Hedman and McKissick’s answers differ slightly at this point. McKissick told NPR that he thought it was important for white people to “recognize what white privilege is, to bear that name and live it out.” Additionally, McKissick said that had he been President of the Southern Baptist Convention, the conversation would have been: “let’s stop fighting and talk about how to blend black and white congregations.”
“We’ll never solve these problems as long as we’re separate in worship. A majority-white Baptist church just gave their church to a Black Baptist congregation, which was beautiful,” McKissick stated. “What would have been better is if they had stayed and worshiped.” When asked about this idea, Hedman says that is not a bad idea and that he could see mixed worship styles as one possible solution for welcoming African-Americans.
Hedman, however, emphasized the need for important conversations in the Church. He thinks many Christians would be “shocked to learn of the different ways we inadvertently harm our brothers and sisters…. Often we will say that the Church needs to go back to the way it used to be. Our African American brothers and sisters don’t see it that way.” Hedman sees phrases like “Make America Great Again” as hurtful to these groups.
“We have a long history that we can’t ignore,” he stated. “To erase the board doesn’t take account of the present situation [of racial hurt].”Google+