Pastor Emeritus Jay Wells of Simeon Baptist Church in Antioch, Tenn., speaks during the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s press conference/ Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
A few days prior to planned “White Lives Matter” rallies in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Tennessee Baptists met at their headquarters in Franklin to condemn white supremacy.
“We don’t call press conferences very often,” Tennessee Baptist Mission Board President and Executive Director Randy Davis said. “In fact, in the seven years I’ve been in this position, this is the very first.
“As Tennessee Baptists, we are categorically opposed to the white supremacy movement and any movement that diminishes the dignity of any human.”
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, has 3,200 churches under its banner, communications director Chris Turner said.
According to a release from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Nationalist Front are planning a “White Lives Matter” rally on Saturday morning in Shelbyville, before moving later to Murfreesboro. It will be the Nationalist Front’s first appearance since the deadly “Unite the Right” rally members took part of in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.
Davis pointed out that the planned rallies Saturday are meant to make a statement against immigrants and refugees in Middle Tennessee. “If history holds true, the intent of these groups gathering is to fear monger and to fan the flames of racial hatred,” Davis said.
“This bigotry has no place in our American society, and it certainly has no place in the life of anyone who is a follower of Christ.”
During a recent episode of Southern Nationalist Radio, white supremacy group League of the South’s president and founder Michael Hill confirmed that immigration would play a major role in the purpose of the rally:
“We’re going back there to say ‘Look, you do need to do something about this [immigrant population]. Your lives as white people, the lives of your children and grandchildren matter. You need to get these people out of here,’” he said.
Davis said the group had not gathered to make a political statement. “We are, however, very prayerful that our government leaders will write laws that both offer security to America and are fair to all those who seek shelter within her borders,” he said.
Along with Davis stood ten pastors, two of whom spoke to the crowd.
As a four-year-old, Dr. Thi Mitsamphahn and eight family members emigrated as refugees from Laos to East Nashville.
Mitsamphahn said members of the Lighthouse Baptist Church came and helped his family members find jobs and assimilate into American culture, as they converted from Buddhism to Christianity.
Dr. Thi Mitsamphahn emigrated from Laos to Nashville during the conflict 30 yrs ago; he now leads a church where many are refugees pic.twitter.com/w4PCec5EHY
— Brooke Wanser (@Bwanser_writes) October 25, 2017
Now, he is the lead pastor of International Community Church in Smyrna where he helps refugees through his ministry.
“I watched with the rest of the nation what went down in Virginia,” Mitsamphahn said of the race rally, but, “I just never thought it was going to be here in our neck of the woods.”
Pastor Jay Wells of Simeon Baptist Church in Antioch said he rejoiced in the diversity of his community.
“It is good because it’s God’s idea, not ours,” he said. “God created it, God called his creation good. What God calls good, who am I to say that it’s bad?”
The theme of forgiveness rang clear through the message of all who spoke.
“All men, including those who gather Saturday to perpetrate hate, stand on equal ground before God and are in need of repentance and the forgiveness of sin that only comes through Christ,” Davis said.
Wells quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the topic. “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love,” he said.
Kevin Minchey, who worked at First Baptist Shelbyville for 8 years before becoming the director of missions for the Concord Baptist Association in Murfreesboro, said when he heard of the rallies, he was “not pleased that they were coming to our town, because we don’t feel like they do.”
Minchey said several churches in the areas would be hosting prayer gatherings on Friday night, including First Baptist Church on Main Street in Murfreesboro.
He will be attending the prayer meetings, and is “prayerful” that the rallies will be uneventful. “We’re just trusting in the Lord that they’ll come and do and say what they’ve got the freedom to do and say, and then they’ll just leave,” he said.
“Since I’m praying and hoping in that, that’s what I’m trusting will happen,” said Minchey.