Religion

Coast pastors discuss Southern Baptist vote on battle flag

BILOXI -- Two Coast pastors, whose churches are part of the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke with the Sun Herald Sunday about the SBC urging Christians to stop displaying the Confederate battle flag.

The vote came as thousands of delegates to the denomination's annual convention met in St. Louis last week and said the battle flag is perceived by many as a "symbol of hatred, bigotry and racism."

Neither Coast pastor attended the convention but were aware of the vote.

Danny Nance, senior pastor of Bay Vista Baptist in Biloxi, said he believes it will open conversation and help churches reach minorities.

"This is pretty historic for the SBC," he said

"It's not saying ignore Mississippi's role in the Civil War, but it's saying this has become, for many in our country, a symbol of hate and racism," he said. "The convention voted on the basis that if it causes another person pain, then we have to seriously consider not using it."

Nance said the largely white convention in recent years has realized the need and "started reaching minorities with more intent."

"I hope that, at the least, what this will do is allow conversation to take place," he said. "I think we have a long way to go in this country for equality -- racism is still a part of this country."

He said Christians should seriously consider whether they should embrace something that has caused such pain.

"I would challenge even those who have a very strong commitment to the flag, at the very least, to pray and seek God on this issue. And try not to make any decisions based on an emotional reaction."

He also said that while the SBC vote wasn't focused on Mississippi or it's flag, "there will probably be still more attempts to get a new flag for Mississippi and with this resolution passed, there will be some Southern Baptists that will be part of that."

Jay Cook, senior pastor with the First Baptist Church in Pascagoula, said he does not speak for his congregation, but "displaying the flag for many people brings a lot of hurt and pain and some bitterness."

He said that for some people that flag is a source of pride, but for others, "it brings up a lot of very, very bad memories -- from history." He said the idea behind the vote: "If we want all people to be part of the kingdom of God, we should not flaunt something that would turn people away."

The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination, founded in a split with northern Baptists over slavery and is 80-90 percent white.

Southern Baptists also passed a resolution condemning the recent shooting in Orlando.

Southern Baptist churches are independent and the resolutions are not binding, but resolutions are an expression of the opinions and concerns of the delegates who represent those churches.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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