A prominent African-American Southern Baptist pastor hopes messengers at next week’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention will pass a resolution condemning Mormonism as racist.
The move by Dwight McKissic, a pastor in Arlington, Texas, comes as some Southern Baptist leaders attempt to rally support for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, whose Mormonism makes some conservative evangelicals weary.
McKissic posted the full text of his proposed resolution, which he sent to the SBC’s Resolution Committee for consideration, earlier this month on his blog. McKissic also submitted a resolution condemning President Barack Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage and one attempting to recognize Baptist George Liele as the United States’ first missionary.
However, McKissic’s resolution on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints could spark the most controversy as it places him at odds with claims made by other Southern Baptist leaders in the midst of a heated presidential campaign.
In the resolution, McKissic claims “growing awareness, acceptance and influence [of Mormonism] in contemporary American culture” will lead “some to study or accept the Mormon Religion as valid.” Thus, he urges Southern Baptists to speak out on the racial problems of the faith.
In addition to critiquing the Mormon adoption of authoritative books other than “the King James Holy Bible,” McKissic’s resolution claims that while “in 1978, the Mormon Church has denied and denounced racism and agreed to permit Blacks to the priesthood, they are yet to denounce the racist teachings.”
McKissic ends his resolution by having Southern Baptists declare that “we repudiate the racist teachings recorded in The Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price that described ‘skin of blackness’ people as being filthy (‘because of their filthiness’), ‘cursed,’ ‘loathsome,’ ‘despised’ justifiably and derived the ‘blackness’ of their skin color as a result of a Divine curse.”
Before posting the text of his proposed resolution, McKissic offered introductory comments in his blog post to explain the importance of the resolution.
“This issue must be dealt with if Southern Baptists are to be consistent with what they have historically taught about Mormonism;” McKissic wrote, “and if they are to be viewed by Black Baptists as simply finding Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and the racist views of his Bible more tolerable than President Obama’s skin color; this is how this discussion is being played out in Black barber shops, Black beauty salons and Black churches. If Southern Baptists support this resolution, it will say to the Black Community that they find Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and the racist views of his Bible abhorrent; but if they vote for him, it will be strictly because of philosophical and policy issues and positions, and not a vote against President Obama’s complexion.”
Southern Baptists will not learn if McKissic’s resolution – or a version thereof – will be submitted by the Resolutions Committee for approval by messengers until the annual meeting next week, but some Southern Baptists are already attempting to distance the SBC from the resolution.
The Baptist Press contacted Tal Davis, a former interfaith witness consultant for the SBC’s North American Mission Board, to rebut McKissic’s claims about lingering racism in Mormon doctrine.
“It is certainly true that the extra-biblical scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) contain divine curses as indicated by dark skin,” Davis responded. “In 1978 then-LDS President Spencer Kimball supposedly was told by God that the curses were no longer in effect and that ‘all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.’ I fear the proposed resolution will be perceived as casting undeserved aspersions on LDS members and hinder Baptists reaching Mormons with the true Gospel.”
McKissic quickly responded to the criticism on his blog, questioning if Kimball ever said “curses against Black people are no longer in effect.”
“If stating disagreements with Mormonism is a hindrance to Mormon evangelism,” McKissic added in a comment on his blog post to further critique Davis, “wouldn’t the SBC and NAMB have applied that logic to all the other statements and documents issued by the SBC that do not reflect Mormonism in a positive light?”
While meeting in Salt Lake City in 1998, SBC messengers passed a resolution clearly aimed at challenging Mormon beliefs, although the resolution did not explicitly mention the church that is headquartered in that city. The resolution dealt with basic beliefs of “The True Christian Gospel” to differentiate Southern Baptists from Mormons.
McKissic previously addressed the issue of Mormonism and racism in a May 20 sermon at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, where he serves as pastor. In the sermon, he critiqued Romney for being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Obama for endorsing same-sex marriage.
“I am equally as concerned about Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith and what the Mormon ‘Bible’ teaches about race,” McKissic declared. “If Mitt Romney is elected President of the United States of America, for the first time in American history, we will have elected a President that ascribes to a ‘Bible’ that teaches that ‘blackness of skin’ is a curse. That is a huge obstacle that he will have to overcome, if he expects ‘blackness’ of skin people to take him serious as a Presidential candidate. The media made a big-to-do out of Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s views on race, while they completely ignore Mitt Romney’s ‘Bible’ view on race. This is the height of duplicity and hypocrisy.”
In addition to comparing Romney’s church with the controversial former pastor of Obama’s former church in Chicago, which created a political firestorm during the 2008 campaign, McKissic also quoted from several passages from Mormon texts to justify his critique.
“The view of Mitt Romney’s Bible on race leaves me most uncomfortable with him occupying the Office of President of the United States,” McKissic added. “I question how the evangelical White community can support a man whose ‘Bible’ contains these racist, wrong and unbiblical views.”
McKissic added that unless Romney changes his position on race or Obama changes his position on marriage, he will not vote for anyone for president in November.
Other prominent Southern Baptists, however, have instead offered Romney their support.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, sparked controversy last year when he endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry and attacked Romney as a member of “a cult.” However, after Romney garnered the nomination, Jeffress endorsed Romney despite believing Romney is not a Christian.
Similarly, the SBC’s top politico, Richard Land, started preaching on behalf of Romney once the nomination result seemed obvious.
After months of praising other Republican candidates and even joining an evangelical summit to stop Romney’s march to the nomination, Land in early April urged Romney’s strongest opponent, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, to exit the race. Once Santorum suspended his campaign, Land quickly asserted conservative evangelicals would easily support Romney despite concerns about his Mormonism.
“I don’t think Romney will have any kind of a problem – unless he picks a non-social conservative running mate – he should be OK,” Land claimed. “[The Media] are going to trot out every exotic belief of Mormonism you can find. Baptism of the dead, etc., in the hopes that the strangeness of it will drive independents away from Romney.”
“[Conservative evangelicals] believe that Mormonism is another religion,” Land stated on another occasion. “But they also don’t think that should disqualify Mitt Romney from running for president or being president.”
Land even went further to claim Romney’s problem was not his Mormon faith but that Romney did not follow the Mormon Church more.
“Romney’s biggest problem with evangelicals has been that he hasn’t been Mormon enough,” Land asserted. “If he had always held his positions on abortion [and] on marriage that his faith holds, there would be far fewer doubts about him.”
Land promises that conservative evangelicals will not be hesitant to support a Mormon, but he holds a poor record of political punditry. McKissic’s complaints suggest Romney might still struggle with some conservative evangelicals.
During the recent turmoil over Land’s controversial and plagiarized racial remarks, McKissic condemned Land and urged Southern Baptists to repudiate Land’s comments in a resolution at the SBC annual meeting.
However, once Land apologized, McKissic quickly argued it was time for Southern Baptists to move on and work on racial healing.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.