"My sense is that a majority of Southern Baptists would approve of capital punishment.'' - C. Ben Mitchell, Southern Baptist minister.
The Southern Baptist Convention was held in Atlanta, Georgia recently. For those readers who do not know, Southern Baptists came into organisational being when the vast majority of their US counterparts came out vociferously against slavery before the Civil War. Combatively, as a separate entity, Southern Baptists organised by and large to condone and perpetuate slavery.
So when more than 20,000 Southern Baptists convened under Atlanta's Georgia Dome (5% of whom were African-American), and by a majority vote resolved to ask African-Americans to forgive them for their crime of slavery, it was a significant event. Here are some of the passages from the Southern Baptists' Resolution on Racial Reconciliation:
"Whereas, our relationship to African-Americans has been crippled from the beginning by the significant role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and
"Whereas, many of our Southern Baptist forbearers defended the `right' to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery; and
"Whereas, in later years Southern Baptists, though a dominant Christian denomination in the South, did not take bold initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-American people, and often tragically stood in the way of such initiatives taken by others; and ...
"Whereas, racism profoundly distorts our understanding of Christian morality, leading many Southern Baptists to believe the lie that racial prejudice and discrimination are compatible with the Gospel ...
"Be it therefore resolved, that we ... unwaveringly denounce racism, in all forms, as deplorable sin; and ...
"Be it further resolved, that we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery, from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest ... and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and
"Be it further resolved, that we repent of both conscious and unconscious racism ... and apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and ...
"Be it further resolved, that we hereby commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from the Southern Baptist Convention and its people ...''
I think, and I am sure there are many who would agree with me, that the resolution is an impressive document.
At the head of this article, the Reverend C. Ben Mitchell reminds us that the "majority of Southern Baptists ... approve of capital punishment''. African-Americans represent but 12% of the entire US population and about one fourth of Georgia's; yet in the state, African-American males represent more than 51% of the death row population.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the largely white juries that handed out those death sentences had more than a few Southern Baptists sitting on them, and that a good many of the decisions they made were coloured by racism. With that obvious truth acknowledged, how do the majority of Southern Baptists continue their support in good conscience for capital punishment?
The writer is a prisoner on death row in the United States. He is happy to
receive letters commenting on his columns. He can be written to at: Brandon
Astor Jones, EF-122216, G2-51, GD&CC, PO Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233, USA.
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