JACKSON (BP) -- Offering a "voice of healing in the name of Jesus Christ," Mississippi Baptists asked the Legislature Tuesday to replace the state flag with a design that does not include the Confederate flag.
National racial tension and discussions regarding the flag in recent days prompted the move, Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB) Executive Director and Treasurer Shawn Parker said in a press conference today in Jackson.
"Our position on this is motivated by our understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ," Parker said, referencing the golden rule found in Matthew 7:12 to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, found in Matthew 22:39.
"We take these teachings quite seriously and believe that this is indeed a moral issue and a Gospel issue for our state, and therefore we want to be not a political player in the process," Parker said. "We want to be a prophetic voice, and our hope is that our stand and our conviction will bring healing to the racial tensions that are felt in Mississippi."
Parker read a statement signed by Mississippi Baptist Convention (MBC) President Ken Hester; Jim Futral, MBCB executive director-treasurer emeritus; Kenny Digby, executive director-treasurer of the Christian Action Commission, the full 15-member MBCB executive committee, and all living former MBC presidents, spanning 1984-2019.
"We encourage our governor and state legislature to take the necessary steps to adopt a new flag for the state of Mississippi that represents the dignity of every Mississippian and promotes unity rather than division," the statement reads in part. "We further encourage all Mississippi Baptists to make this a matter of prayer and to seek the Lord's guidance in standing for love instead of oppression, unity instead of division, and the Gospel of Christ instead of the power of this world."
Hester, one of four Mississippi Baptists who spoke at the conference, said he hopes the move sends a message of unity to African American Southern Baptists in Mississippi.
"But I also hope that this sends a message to the African American pastors that I have had conversations with, that are Mississippi Baptists," Hester said, "I hope it sends a message to them and to their congregations that we would rally together to win Mississippi, all of Mississippi and the world to Jesus Christ."
Hester said the current flag should be discontinued also in light of "the teachings of the apostle John who said let us not love in word or in tongue only, but also in deed and in truth."
Pastor Larry Young, the first African American elected as an MBC officer, was not present at the press conference. But he told Baptist Press he agrees that the flag should be removed. He served two terms as MBC second vice president in 2014 and 2015.
"My thought process is the Scripture clearly states that if it offends my brother to eat rice, I will not eat rice," said Young, pastor of Spangle Banner Missionary Baptist Church in Pace. "And the problem with the flag is it is offensive to some, and even though where you stand in regards to what the rebel portion represents, inasmuch as it is offensive to some, that makes it offensive to all. So I'm all for changing the design of it."
Adopted in 1984, the Mississippi flag is the only state flag that retains the Confederate battle flag in its design. The Confederate flag is the flag canton, in the upper left-hand corner, and is surrounded by three broad horizontal stripes in red, white and blue.
In making the request, Parker said he believed he was speaking for the majority of the nearly 2100 Southern Baptist churches in the state, which comprise nearly 600,000 members.
"We would be presumptuous theologically if we said this statement represents every Mississippi Baptist," Parker said, "but we do believe it represents the vast majority of Mississippi Baptists."
Futral and Clarence Cooper, MBCB executive committee president, also spoke at the event.