Will The Southern Baptists Honor Election Of Obama?

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The Southern Baptist Convention holds its annual meeting next week, where worshippers will consider a resolution recognizing President Barack Obama's election as an important step on the path to racial reconciliation. The religious denomination, which represents more than 16 million members, has long been at odds with much of the Democratic Party's ideology. The Rev. Dwight McKissic, a black Baptist pastor, and the Rev. Hershael York, a white Baptist pastor and theology professor, discuss the issue.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: And we're now back with Reverend Dwight McKissic who introduced a resolution expected to be debated at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting next week in Louisville, Kentucky. The resolution would celebrate the historic election of Barack Obama as president and Reverend McKissic introduced the resolution saying that it would be an important step toward racial reconciliation in this country.

Reverend McKissic I apologize for the technical disruption. Thank you for staying with us. And I want to play now a short clip from Fox Radio this week. It features a Southern Baptist minister in California, the Reverend Wiley Drake, and saying he was praying - he is praying for President Obama's death, and here it is. He is speaking to Alan Colmes, the talk show host.

Mr. ALAN COLMES (Fox radio talk show host): President Obama, are you praying for his death?

Reverend WILEY DRAKE: Yes.

Mr. COLMES: So you're praying for the death of the president of the United States?

Rev. DRAKE: Yes.

Mr. COLMES: Are you concerned that by saying that you might find yourself on some kind of a Secret Service call or FBI wanted list? Do you think it's appropriate to say something like that or even pray for something like that?

Rev. DRAKE: I think it's appropriate to pray the word of God. I'm not saying anything. What I am doing is repeating what God is saying, and if that puts me on somebody's list, then I'll just have to be on their list.

MARTIN: Reverend McKissic, I understand that denominations condemned these comments, but I did want to ask you: Has it ever been hard for you to remain a part of the convention? As you had discussed earlier, the history of the convention is such that it was born in slavery and has, through a lot of its history, promoted or enabled, supported segregation. It apologized for that formally in 1995, but has it ever been hard for you to reconcile your particular community with the larger convention?

Rev. McKISSIC: It is a challenge. I think that's why the vast majority of black Baptists who would share a doctrine and beliefs identical to Southern Baptists, most of them will embrace the '63 statement of faith or even the 2000 statement of faith without any differences in views of doctrine. But they have grown to believe that Southern Baptists are racially insensitive and view blacks as a project rather than as partners in ministry. And find it very difficult at times, especially when you hear comments like - from Wiley Drake that should be widely denounced as despicable, deplorable and detestable, and the convention need to address these comments strongly next week in Louisville because there are people who believe that Wiley Drake was representing the mindset of Southern Baptists, and so the Southern Baptist Convention itself, in conference, need to rebuke and address those comments.

But even today at the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention -seven floors, close to 40 employees, there are no African-Americans in any significant position. The head custodian is an African-American. There's not one black person in Southern Baptist life that you can go and ask a question to that can give you a definitive answer without him having to go ask a white man for the definitive answer. That's deplorable. In 2009, we're still dealing with that kind of a systemic absence of empowerment, inclusion and diversity in Southern Baptist life.

Having said that, I still believe it's the greatest missionary, evangelistic enterprise on the face of the earth, greatest theological training available on this face of the earth. And so I decided I want to remain Southern Baptist and help to improve Southern Baptists, and therefore, I stay in it because I want to see reconciliation come, healing come, inclusion come, diversity come, empowerment come. And I'm excited about the great commission resurgence document produced by Dr. Johnny Hunt and Dr. Akin because this is one of the few times in Southern Baptist life I think it intentionally included a person like myself and addresses diversity. It addresses empowerment, the need of the holy spirit to touch churches and pastors once again to produce evangelism and discipleship in a meaningful way in the lives of our churches. And so I do believe with the current leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention, we're moving in a new direction.

MARTIN: Let us bring Reverend York back in. Unfortunately, I think we've lost him again, and I apologize for that. I apologize to him and to our listeners for these disruptions.

So Reverend McKissic, we mentioned earlier, I was asking you whether it can sometimes be hard for you as an African-American to stay within the convention, but I also understand that you didn't vote for Barack Obama yourself. Why is that?

Rev. McKISSIC: I did not. I looked at John McCain. He was against the Martin Luther King holiday, and I couldn't make myself vote for a person who could even think like that. I don't share Barack Obama's views on gay civil unions, don't share his views on abortion. I don't know that I embrace his economic policies, though I'm willing to wait to see what happen four years from now.

If the economy's kicking on all cylinders, we'll call him a genius. If the economy's in the tank, he'll probably have a difficult time getting re-elected, but…

MARTIN: I'm sorry, but you had some problems with Senator McCain, but you had bigger problems with Senator Obama. So in the end of the day, you voted for McCain-Palin.

Rev. McKISSIC: Well no, at the end of the day, let me tell you, I may be the only black man in America, but when I studied Sarah and her views, her belief system, her values, she reminds me a lot of my mother. I believe she's a multi-tasker. I think she's a leader. I am a huge Sarah Palin fan, and that was what convinced me to finally vote by default for John McCain because I wanted - I thought Sarah Palin had the executive experience, and she was the person…

MARTIN: She was the person for you.

Rev. McKISSIC: …of all the people, she was the one I liked the most.

MARTIN: I got it. And Reverend York, I do apologize for the technical difficulties. I did want to give you a final word. There are some who have been concerned over the years that a Republican, rather that the evangelical community, the Southern Baptist Convention as part of that evangelical community, has become too closely aligned with the Republican Party. I wondered if you share that concern and if you feel that this resolution is, in part, a way to distance itself from that sort of perception that the convention has become sort of part of an arm of the Republican Party, as opposed to kind of a voice on matters of faith.

Rev. YORK: Yes, it's a legitimate…

Rev. McKISSIC: Yes, I said that. I said that…

MARTIN: I'm sorry, I was talking to Reverend York. Forgive me. I wanted to give Reverend York a chance to get back in.

Rev. McKISSIC: I apologize.

Rev. YORK: I do think that's a legitimate concern, because I would hope that Southern Baptists could always speak to power, even in this resolution that Brother Dwight has presented. We are applauding the election of an African-American while we are saying we do not agree with his policies.

We need to be able to have that same kind of frankness and honesty if there's a Republican in the White House, that we might be comfortable with his position on, say for instance abortion, but don't believe that he does enough for religious freedom around the world.

We need to be able to always speak with a prophetic voice. And I believe that this resolution enables us to do that, and we need to do that regardless of who is in the White House.

MARTIN: Reverend York, what is your view of what the chances are for the resolution? What's your take on that - asking you to prophecy just a tiny bit.

Rev. YORK: I think that there's, first of all, that the committee will bring a resolution out that is much like what Reverend McKissic has presented and that it will be overwhelmingly passed by the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention.

MARTIN: Reverend Hershael York is pastor of Buckram Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. He's a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was kind enough to join us from Louisville.

We were also joined by the Reverend Dwight McKissic, pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. He joined us from Dallas. Pastors, I thank you both so much for joining us.

Rev. YORK: Thank you.

Rev. McKISSIC: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Still to come, the Los Angeles Lakers took home the NBA's top prize. So what's all this about a double victory for Kobe Bryant?

Unidentified Man: What's really important about this win is that Kobe's the first player in the modern era, other than Hakeem Olajuwon, to win a championship without a top-50 player with him.

MARTIN: The Barbershop guys are next. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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