JACKSON, Miss. (WMC) - Calling it “the moral thing to do,” the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board announced its support for a new state flag.
It's a historic announcement from a heavily-influential group.
On Tuesday, the Mississippi Baptist Convention weighed in on the controversial debate over Mississippi’s state flag.
“While some may see the current flag as a celebration of heritage, a significant portion of the state sees it as a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred,” said Shawn Parker, executive director-treasurer for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
Parker says given that African Americans make up 38% of Mississippi’s population, what offends them, should offend everyone.
He says it's not a political issue, but a moral one, outlined in the Bible as the concept of loving thy neighbor as thyself.
“It is, therefore, apparent that the need to change the flag is a matter of discipleship for every follower of Jesus Christ,” said Parker.
Parker says the convention's 16-member executive committee debated the issue before voting unanimously to call for a change.
“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,” said Parker.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention represents more than 2,200 churches across the state.
WMC Political Analyst Mike Nelson says it carries a lot of influence.
“So you would think that this would have an effect on a lot of voters when the religious leaders that a lot of them look to every Sunday are saying, look this needs to change,” said Nelson.
Parker says those 2,200 churches they represent are "independent" but he says most of them agree that the state flag should be replaced.
The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, which has long called for the state's flag to be changed, says lawmakers should vote on removing the flag.
“The United States of America is in the midst of a progressive transformation, while Mississippi seemingly continues to trail behind,” said State Sen. Angela Turner Ford, D-West Point, the chair of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.
The last time it went to a vote of the people in 2001, 64% of Mississippians voted to keep the flag.
According to the Clarion Ledger, in predominately white and Republican DeSoto County, the vote was 6 to 1 in favor.
The newspaper reported the vote was 2 to1 to get rid of the flag in predominately Black and Democratic Hinds County.
Members of the Black caucus said the issue should not be decided by voters again.
“The right thing to do is take the flag down, retire the flag, place it in a museum,” said State Sen. Edward Blackmon, D-Canton.
Nelson says while it might be a closer vote this time, lawmakers can avoid it by deciding themselves.
“We elect representatives in our democracy to study these issues on our behalf and make these decisions on our behalf and I think this is one where the legislature definitely is capable,” said Nelson.
Walmart announced it would be removing the Mississippi state flag from its stores.
There are only a few days left in the legislative session for lawmakers to act on replacing the flag.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has said he thinks changing the flag should be a decision for voters to make.