What was hottest story in Phoenix? Southern Baptist confusion or final vote slamming alt-right? (updated)

So in the end, what was the big news story at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix?

Was it the resolution slamming the alt-right that "messengers" from churches in America's largest Protestant flock passed or the strange timing of the action to pass it?

Was it the painful chaos after SBC leaders decided not to send the original resolution to the floor for debate, a decision raising myriad issues about Southern Baptist tensions linked to race and politics in the age of Donald Trump? Or was it the successful protests from many younger pastors -- white and black -- demanding a chance to speak to America about this issue?

The answer, of course, is all of the above.

As always, journalists faced the challenge of crunching that complex reality into as few words as possible, in a form that average readers could understand. Clearly, it helped to have a veteran religion reporter on hand to do this work (or someone who spoke fluent Southern Baptist).

Here is the good news: The Associated Press produced a punchy, highly accurate report from Phoenix, which means that your average newspaper reader had a chance to get the basic facts. Note the sequence of news elements at the top of this report (produced by an AP reporter on the scene, and veteran religion-beat pro Rachel Zoll in New York):

PHOENIX (AP) -- Southern Baptists on Wednesday formally condemned the political movement known as the "alt-right," in a national meeting that was thrown into turmoil after leaders initially refused to take up the issue.
The denomination's annual convention in Phoenix voted to "decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and "denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil."
Tuesday night, Southern Baptist officials who oversaw the resolutions had refused to introduce a different repudiation of the "alt-right," which emerged dramatically during the U.S. presidential election, mixing racism, white nationalism and populism.
Barrett Duke, who leads the resolutions committee, had said the original document contained inflammatory and broad language "potentially implicating" conservatives who do not support the "alt-right" movement.
Introducing the new statement Wednesday, Duke apologized "for the pain and confusion that we created," but said the committee had been concerned about potentially giving the appearance of hating their enemies. Duke said the committee members "share your abhorrence of racism" and were grateful for the chance to "speak on 'alt-right' racism in particular and all racism in general."

The AP report, as a whole, was very strong.

It's interesting to note that the SBC's own wire service, Baptist Press, took a very similar approach -- candidly mentioning the fact that a handful of people opposed the revised resolution. 

PHOENIX (BP) -- Messengers to the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting denounced "alt-right white supremacy" in a nearly unanimous vote Wednesday (June 14) after a tumultuous day of refusing to address the issue.
It appeared maybe fewer than 10 messengers in the Phoenix Convention Center hall voted in the afternoon session against a resolution on "the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy." The "alt-right," a movement that advocates white nationalism, has gained increasing attention in the last 18 months.
The action came after a wave of protests on social media from black and white Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians greeted the failure Tuesday of the Resolutions Committee and messengers to bring an "alt-right" resolution to the floor.

For those interested, here is the core of Duke's apology:

"We regret and apologize for the pain and the confusion that we created for you and a watching world when we decided not to report out a resolution on alt-right racism," he said. "Please know it wasn't because we don't share your abhorrence of racism and especially, particularly the vicious form of racism that has manifested itself in the alt-right movement. We do share your abhorrence."

In many cases, even in the AP story, the actual language of the final resolution did not make it into news reports or was strangely edited. I also noted that several news organizations didn't catch the fact that only amendment approved from the convention floor made the statement stronger, in terms of linking the alt-right directly to the work of Satan.

In this final resolution text, this amendment is in bold type. The SBC resolved to:

* "[D]ecry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ;
* "[D]enounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society;
* "[A]cknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst;
* "[E]arnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language."

As best I could tell, there were two television reports about this action by the SBC. The CNN report at the top of this post was, obviously, reported at the scene by political specialist Chris Moody (a former student of mine, as I have stated before, who knows SBC life inside out).

Also, WFAA in Dallas used a combination of streaming video, local reporting and SBC footage to produce a strong report focusing on the local angle of the story -- the central role played by the Rev. William D. McKissic, a local pastor who wrote the original resolution.

A few other final comments, in conclusion:

* To be honest, I gave up trying to read the Gannett report from The Arizona Republic because I could not stand wading through the constant barrage of auto-cue videos and other forms of advertising that appear to have been crafted to prevent consumption of the text.

* National Public Radio offered a pretty solid report, which I assumed was based on the AP report. However, I also noted that this report inaccurately reported the final wording of the resolution, a detail that AP got right. As in:

The Southern Baptist Convention voted to formally "denounce and repudiate" white nationalism and the alt-right movement at the church's annual meeting Wednesday, but only after the denomination's leadership was criticized for initially bypassing the proposal.
The resolution decries "every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil."

* Finally, I continue to watch for an update of the strong Atlantic analysis piece that played a crucial role in calling this debate to national attention. In social media, some SBC readers were angered by the minor editing change in the current story, which changed the time element == but that was all it changed. The current lede:

Leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention were divided over a resolution affirming the denomination’s opposition to white supremacy and the alt-right during their annual meeting in Phoenix this week. On Tuesday, they initially declined to consider the proposal submitted by a prominent black pastor in Texas, Dwight McKissic, and only changed course after a significant backlash. On Wednesday afternoon, the body passed a revised statement condemning the alt-right. But the drama over the resolution revealed deep tension lines within a denomination that was explicitly founded to support slavery.

In this case, the story suggests that the convention -- with a 99 percent or better positive vote on the new resolution -- was still divided on the issue of white supremacy and the alt-right.

In other words, in this analysis there was no need to report the final result, only the earlier chaos.

Strange. Why not do an update with the whole story, especially one noting the power of the SBC coalition -- marking the sharp rise of black and ethnic churches in the national convention -- that yanked this painful topic back out into the open?

Just asking.

UPDATE: An interesting Religion News Service commentary by Jacob Lupfer about some of the media and church dynamics behind this event. Read it all.

FIRST IMAGE: A Baptist Press photo just after the vote on the resolution condemning the alt-right.

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