In Times of Upheaval, SBC Turns Its Back on “the Least of These”

Clinic defenders in front of a Tennessee Planned Parenthood

As a millennial who is heavily involved in church life and culture, I often have complex feelings when I see the church remain stuck in the past under the guise of tradition—even as many in the membership try to bring it into the 21st century. So I was saddened but not surprised to learn that Lawrence Ware, an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention for nearly a decade, renounced his ordination and announced his decision to leave the church due to the failure of the convention to issue a full-throated condemnation of white supremacy—a failure that’s only become all the more glaring in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

While the convention did—after an upheaval—pass a resolution denouncing the alt-right and white supremacy, it also passed a resolution endorsing the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Once again, the convention has stumbled trying to escape its problematic past and levied a senseless attack on reproductive healthcare. The Southern Baptist Convention must undergo serious reflection and reckoning from within, otherwise it will become less and less relevant to the lives of its 15 million members, many of whom are black women and young people.

During the annual meeting, Dwight McKissic, a black pastor from Arlington, Texas, initially introduced a resolution condemning white supremacy and the “retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases and racial bigotries of the so-called alt-right.” Lack of support from the majority of the convention led to division and chaos, and ultimately a much weaker version of the resolution was adopted.

This blundered attempt at social progressiveness was further exacerbated with a resolution that would seek to not only push for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, but for a criminal investigation into the trusted healthcare provider. The resolution failed to recognize Planned Parenthood’s role as a medical provider in the lives of the very black women, teens, and families who are also members of their congregations. Many members depend on the affordable access to life-saving and affirming healthcare that Planned Parenthood provides.

The hypocrisy is a mark of irresponsibility and shows the lack of cultural and spiritual competency of the Southern Baptist Convention. How can we possibly address ending white supremacy if we insist on supporting the tenets that make it possible? White supremacy ignores the human needs of the vulnerable groups we are tasked to minister to as faith leaders. White supremacy operates only in centering the lives it deems worthy. This is not the path of Christ as Christ’s path was one of compassion, inclusion, love and choice. White supremacy is the path of men—white men to be more specific—and the privilege it affords them while alienating others.

The Southern Baptist Convention has a dangerous track record of passing conservative resolutions that harm the most marginalized. In the 1980s, resolutions were passed that were antagonistic to individuals having full access to and information about their reproductive and sexual health. Particularly, from 1986-1988 and then again in 1992, a few of the resolutions passed were in favor of the removal of school-based health clinics and youth not having access to birth control and other contraceptives, while supporting an abstinence-only curriculum for sexual health education. These timeframes coincide with rises in sexually transmitted infections—including HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and alcohol use among black and brown youth and young adults.

Lack of information. Lack of choices. Lack of bodily autonomy. Lack of support from a built-in and trusted support system. Would Jesus of Nazareth support this? Would he be in support of the resolutions that have passed, limiting our community’s access to the information, services, and resources we need to make important decisions about our health and our lives?

People, who are also disproportionately people of faith, are dying from or contracting preventable infections, having unplanned pregnancies, and are victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. It’s time to stop stigmatizing Planned Parenthood for providing abortion—and ignoring the full spectrum of reproductive and general healthcare that they provide. Without Planned Parenthood, our church members and the communities where many of our churched are located—particularly those living in rural communities—would be without much-needed preventive and life-saving medical services.

As a clergywoman reared in the Baptist tradition, who is uninsured and living in Tennessee, and who believes that all people should have access to all reproductive healthcare needs, my heart breaks to see resolutions passed by the Southern Baptist Convention that claim to center family values while ignoring what families and their congregants truly need.

How does this represent Jesus of Nazareth, who lived among and cared about the marginalized?

It doesn’t represent a justice-centered Jesus, who was concerned more about people being and living well than the respectability politics of the religious leaders. Jesus constantly centered the lives of those who were considered the “least of these.” As followers of Jesus, we are called to love and treat our neighbors as ourselves—would we withhold from ourselves? We call upon the Southern Baptist Convention to begin centering the lives of those most oppressed. Now is the time to pass resolutions that promote equity, health and justice for all people.