These articles were originally published on Mississippi Today.
The powerful Mississippi Baptist Convention on Tuesday called for state leaders to change the Mississippi flag, with its Confederate battle emblem in one corner.
“It has become apparent that the discussion about changing the flag of Mississippi is not merely a political issue,” Baptist leaders said in a statement. “… The racial overtones of the flag’s appearance make this discussion a moral issue. Since the principal teachings of Scripture are opposed to racism, a stand against such is a matter of biblical morality.”
The convention includes about 2,100 churches in Mississippi, and Baptists are the largest denomination in the state, with over 500,000 members. Leaders said their stance on the flag doesn’t represent every member church, but they believe it represents a majority and asked for “Mississippi Baptists to make this a matter of prayer and to seek the Lord’s guidance in standing for love instead of oppression, unity instead of division, and the gospel of Christ instead of the power of this world.”
The convention’s statement said: “Given the moral and spiritual nature of this issue, Mississippi Baptist leaders offer prayers for our state officials to have wisdom, courage and compassion to move forward. 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.”
Under growing pressure to change the flag after decades of bitter debate, Mississippi legislative leaders say they are discussing the issue, but lack votes to change it as their regular session draws to a close.
Mississippi business, church and community leaders have called for a change, and the state faces intensified national scrutiny amid calls for removal of relics of slavery and the Confederacy.
Late last week, the NCAA and Southeastern Conference applied pressure to lawmakers to change the flag as both groups threatened to remove postseason collegiate sporting events from being hosted in Mississippi until the flag changed. Dozens of current and former college athletes in the state pushed the NCAA to make that decision.
On Monday, Mississippi State’s star running back Kylin Hill tweeted that he would not play football until the flag changed.
The Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, has long called for new state flag. In a statement last week, MEC said the current flag “Is offensive to many, not representative of all Mississippians and perpetuates negative stereotypes of our state.”
“MEC feels strongly that adoption of a new flag is a timely and high profile action that would improve Mississippi’s image, advance a new narrative about our state, and set the stage to enhance economic opportunities and improve quality of life in a fair and inclusive manner for every Mississippian.”
Poll: For first time ever, most Mississippians support changing state flag
The state’s chamber of commerce has released a new poll that shows a seismic shift among Mississippi voters in favor of changing the state flag to remove its Confederate battle emblem.
The poll released by the Mississippi Economic Council shows voters favorable to changing the flag 55% to 41%, a flip from a 2019 poll that showed 54% of voters favored keeping the current flag. MEC says polling data supports its call for the Legislature to act this week to “change the flag now.”
The poll was conducted last week by the Tarrance Group, a company with extensive political polling experience in Mississippi that has polled voters on the flag issue for years. It also showed that support for changing the flag jumped to 72% when people were asked about changing to a “state seal flag” that includes the motto “In God We Trust.” The survey showed the state seal version has support from a majority of Black and white Mississippians.
That the poll was backed by MEC will likely carry weight with lawmakers, who often look to the influential chamber of commerce for economic development counsel.
“In the nearly 20 years we have held the position of changing the state flag, we have never seen voters so much in favor of change,” said Scott Waller, president of MEC. “These recent polling numbers show what people believe, and that the time has come for us to have a new flag that serves as a unifying symbol for our entire state.”
Waller continued: “The Mississippi Legislature is poised to do the right thing this week, and we wholeheartedly support their efforts. As we seek to recover from crippling economic losses from COVID-19, we must show Mississippi is open for business to everyone – and no person should feel left out. Our state flag must be the flag for all of our people, and I cannot think of a better change for our state than to include the national motto ‘In God We Trust,’ which was also recently added to our state’s seal.”
MEC also launched an “It’s Time” campaign today to lend support with the efforts to change the flag, with a full-page ad placed in newspapers across the state. The campaign is supported by more than 100 business and industry leaders and includes full-page ads in newspapers across the state.
Separately, the Mississippi Association of Realtors on Wednesday issued a statement calling for lawmakers to change the state flag.
“The current Mississippi flag serves as an unnecessary hindrance to progress and growth,” the statement said, “and the Mississippi Realtors support swift legislative action to retire the current flag and replace it with a flag that reflects the enduring and remarkable qualities that make Mississippi a wonderful state to call home.”
Lawmakers in both the Senate and House have engaged in conversations about changing the state flag the past two weeks as protests about racial equality have continued across the state and nation. Tens of thousands of protesters in Mississippi have focused their demands around the state flag.
Late last week, as pressure to change the flag continued to grow, lawmakers discussed two options: adopting a second official state flag or letting Mississippi voters decide the fate of the current flag. In a 2001 referendum, 64% of voters voted to keep Mississippi’s current flag. Leaders who support changing the flag today fear a similar outcome would stall efforts to change the flag for years to come.
On Tuesday afternoon, leaders in both the House and Senate did not feel they had the votes to change the flag or put the issue on the ballot. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, however, released a statement on Wednesday expressing his support for changing the flag in the Legislature without a ballot referendum. Lawmakers plan to end the 2020 legislative session on Friday.
“I trust our leadership to pass this critical legislation at this important moment for our state,” said Mississippi Power President and CEO Anthony Wilson, who serves as Chairman of MEC. “They can take comfort in knowing that many Mississippians stand behind them. MEC not only represents the interests of Mississippi employers but also their employees. Our business members’ long-standing position to see the state flag changed not only reflects their desire to foster a more open business climate in our state but also reflects the overwhelming sentiment of thousands of their Mississippi employees as well.”
The Tarrance poll was conducted from June 16-18, with a sample size of 500 likely voters and a margin of error of 4.5%.
A poll conducted earlier this month by Mississippi-based Chism Strategies found 46% support for retaining the old flag compared to 44.9% who support changing it. In terms of polling, the outcome would essentially be considered a statistical tie. That poll indicated momentum for changing the flag was growing. In September 2017, when Chism polled on the same question, the result was 49% to 41% in favor of the old flag.