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Southern Baptist Convention urges Christians to stop displaying Confederate flag

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Southern Baptist Convention just approved a resolution urging Christians to stop displaying the Confederate battle flag, recognizing that it is perceived by many as a "symbol of hatred, bigotry and racism" that offends millions of people.

"I've been in prayer about this because it's very sad that you would alienate so many of your own members," said Virginia Flagger Barry Isenhour, who feels the nation's largest Protestant denomination may live to regret the move. "You may lose hundreds, thousands maybe millions of Southern Baptists who are southerners ... whose ancestors fought and died under this Christian flag."

Isenhour says he'll continue proudly displaying his flag.

"When Jesus Christ tells me that Christians shouldn't display it," said Isenhour. "I'll take it under consideration."

The nation's largest Protestant denomination was founded in a split with northern Baptists over slavery, has a history of complicity with Jim Crow laws and is still 80-90 percent white.

"This is not the Southern Baptist Convention of historic times," said Brandon Pickett, who is the associate executive director of the SBC of Virginia. "This is a new convention that cares more about people being unified and sharing the love of Christ with people. If anything is going to hinder that we're going to take that away."

Marty Jewell with the Richmond NAACP chapter says the move is long overdue.

"This is a huge breakthrough, and the Southern Baptists have finally seen the light," said Jewell. "Their leadership needs to be applauded. Now why are they just now waking up and taking a stand? I don't know, but the world is changing."

Church leaders say comes partly in response to the Charleston church massacre in June 2015. You may remember the shooter, Dylan Roof, was pictured waving a Confederate flag before killing nine black church members.

"We have to take a stand," said Pickett. "We have to show what is important to us, and a flag is not important. Nothing compares to the love of Christ."

Pickett says all Southern Baptist churches are independent. The resolutions are not binding on them, but resolutions are an expression of the opinions and concerns of the delegates who represent those churches.