While opposing political camps are making last-minute plans to influence the outcome of the Mississippi state flag referendum on April 17, the Mississippi Baptist Convention has decided not to take a formal stand in the ongoing debate.
Voters will choose between the current standard, which features the controversial Confederate emblem in the upper-left corner, and a new flag that replaces the emblem with concentric circles of 20 stars on a blue background.
“There is such a wide range of opinions [throughout the Convention] that we have not issued a formal statement on its behalf,” William Perkins, editor of the Jackson, Miss.,-based Baptist Record, the state newspaper for the Mississippi Baptist Convention, told the Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE).
With over 600,000 Baptists in the state it was impossible to generate a unified opinion, said Perkins, who instead justified publishing three editorials backing both flag designs.
A poll taken earlier this year for the Clarion-Ledger, the Jackson daily newspaper, found 55 percent of the state population supported the current flag and 34 percent favored the new design. Sixty-five percent of blacks said they supported the new flag, while 73 percent of whites preferred the existing one, the poll revealed.
“We at the convention board do not criticize or look down upon anybody who honors the sacrifices that the Civil War dead have made,” Perkins told BCE in a phone interview. “I have a deep understanding and appreciation for the sacrifices. But I also understand those people who view [the current flag] differently.”
In a recent editorial Perkins wrote the Confederate flag should not be viewed in the same negative context as the Nazi swastika. Although the Cross of St. Andrew was used to “intimidate a significant segment of the American population,” it is still used to honor those who fought in the Civil War, he wrote.
In yet another editorial, Mississippians were encouraged to vote for the flag most meaningful for their state’s future. The proposed design is appealing and significant, “if we are a state that is inclusive of all people,” wrote Jim Futral, executive director and treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
“It’s a great opportunity for our people to make a tremendous statement about who we are and how important the future is to our state,” Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a first-term Democrat who set the Mississippi referendum in motion, said in an earlier public statement. “I want to remove every obstacle I can when it comes to attracting good jobs to our state, and this is a way to do it.”
The state’s two U. S. senators, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both Republicans, have not announced positions on the flag referendum, the New York Times reported last week.
Alex Smirnov is BCE’s research associate.