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Pastor defends white nationalist parishioner James Edwards amid racial divisions within the Southern Baptist Convention

James Edwards, host of “The Political Cesspool,” a white nationalist AM radio broadcast, is the latest source of controversy over racism the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is facing.

Edwards’s congregation, Lighthouse Baptist Church of Bartlett, Tennessee, is no longer a member of the Mid-South Baptist Association (MSBA) according to an official with the group. The split is a result of mounting pressure from pastors of other Baptist congregations urging Edward’s “personal minister and lifelong friend,” Pastor David Rogers, to expel Edwards from his congregation.

Rogers appears to have dissociated his small congregation from the larger Southern Baptist Convention, a possibility the pastor raised while defending Edwards on the June 2, 2018, “Cesspool” broadcast.

“I learned several weeks ago that there are some pastors from out of state who have decided that James is a racist. We’re not going to wade into whether James is a racist because he is not a racist,” Rogers told listeners.

“They called me and asked me if I would dismiss him from our church or if our church would dismiss him. I said there’s no basis to dismiss him from our church… As a result of that my understanding is that these folks intend to bring a motion to the Southern Baptist Convention next month that our church be removed from the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Rogers appeared on “Cesspool” numerous times over the years. Other alumni include white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, former Klansman and Holocaust denier David Duke, former head of the British Nationalist Party Nick Griffin and League of the South president Michael Hill, in addition to a laundry list of prominent radical right figures.

Edwards’ associations have cost him. He lost a 2017 defamation suit against the Detroit News, who referred to him as a Klan leader. The appeals judge in the case reminded Edwards in a written opinion that “a man is known by the company that he keeps.”

Edwards’ connections to hate groups extend well beyond his radio program. He served as a board member for the Council of Conservative Citizens, the organization responsible for propaganda that radicalized Dylann Roof, the young man who killed nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015.

In his most recent appearance on the show on June 2, 2018, Rogers challenged Edwards’ critics to “tell [him] what James says” that is racist.

Edwards has been careful in recent years to avoid using inflammatory language and racial slurs on his show, preferring instead to allow his guests to voice their own extreme beliefs. Nonetheless, the mask has slipped repeatedly with his frequent usage of demonizing stereotypes, racist canards and antisemitic tropes.

During the March 21, 2015, “Cesspool” episode, Edwards told listeners, “I am firmly of the belief that race relations were better during Jim Crow, and even better in the antebellum south, than they are now.”

Eight years prior, Edwards appeared on an April 4, 2007, broadcast of CNN where he told viewers that, “crime and violence follow African Americans wherever they go.”

Rogers refused to comment and hung up the phone when contacted by Hatewatch to discuss Edwards’ lengthy history of racism and the controversy surrounding his membership in the Lighthouse Baptist Church congregation.

Rogers’ refusal to remove Edwards from the congregation comes in the face of increased pressure from within SBC to directly address the racism that runs to the very founding of the denomination as well as the recent reinvigoration of the racist right across the United States.

The SBC issued a proclamation against racism in 1995 and over the last two decades has put forth various proclamations and resolutions affirming its commitment to combating racism as an integral component of the Baptist Faith and message.

At the group’s 2016 meeting a resolution was approved condemning the Confederate Battle Flag. Last summer, controversy erupted over leadership’s refusal to address a proclamation denouncing the racist “alt-right.” The proclamation, “On The Anti-Gospel Of Alt-Right White Supremacy,” was ultimately voted on and approved at the end of the session. But the fiasco laid bare lingering divisions among the faithful.

Speculating during his recent appearance, Rogers told “Political Cesspool” listeners that he didn’t believe his “small home church” could be dissociated from the SBC over its refusal to address Edwards’ views unless they believed Rogers himself was a racist.

Lighthouse Baptist Church and Rogers were listed in the MSBA’s 2018 directory. When contacted by Hatewatch last week, an official with the MSBA confirmed the split despite being unaware of the rupture’s origins.

In March 2018 an Albany, Georgia, congregation was the first in the history of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s history to be ousted due to its “racial animosity.” Rogers obliquely references this and other incidents during the June 2nd broadcast — apparently unaware or unwilling to admit that his congregation was no longer a member of the SBC.

These recent calls for Edwards’ removal from Lighthouse or Lighthouse’s separation from the SBC came amidst a push for an amendment to the SBC constitution by an African American Southern Baptist leader. Dwight McKissic — who also proposed the resolution denouncing the alt-right — tweeted in March 2018 that, “alt-right persons shouldn’t be welcomed as members in SBC Churches. Need constitutional amendment exclude churches who openly embraces racists & racism.”

Rogers has not been alone in defending Edwards, although his deflection of accusations of racism is less straightforward than a piece published in Faith and Heritage by “Adam Grey,” whose other works include “I’m Alt-Right and You Should Be Too”

The post at Faith and Heritage compares Dwight McKissic to Satan, urges Southern Baptists to “stand up to their non-white accusers and their spineless white collaborators.”

Edwards has in the past been critical of the SBC and took swings at McKissic and other church leaders in a racist satire shared to The post depicts McKissick speaking in gibberish.

Edwards did not return a call for comment.

The Southern Baptist Convention will convene for its annual convention on June 12 and 13 in Dallas, Texas.

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