Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Jim's picture

http://www.sbts.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Racism-and-the-Legacy-of-...

From p 6:

The history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is intertwined with the history of American slavery and the commitment to white supremacy which supported it. Slavery left its mark on the seminary just as it did upon the American nation as a whole. The denomination that established it spoke distinctly in support of the morality of slaveholding and the justness of the Confederate effort to preserve it. The seminary’s donors and trustees advanced the interests of slavery from positions of leadership in society and in the church. The seminary’s leaders held to the contradictory commitments enshrined in the nation’s foundational commitments. In 1776 Americans declared that all men were created equal and were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. In the United States Constitution, however, Americans effectively consigned black slaves to inequality as non-persons whose inalienable rights to life and liberty were indeed alienated. The contradiction went far deeper. As Christians, the seminary’s leaders regarded blacks as equal in human nature and dignity because God created all humanity from one person. They therefore labored to save the eternal souls of blacks no less than of whites. They urged them to repent of their sins and entrust themselves to God’s mercy through faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered for the sins of blacks and whites alike, and rose again from the dead to give eternal life to all who believed in him, to both blacks and whites, in order to make them one body. They contradicted these commitments however by asserting white superiority and defending racial inequality. The racism that was fundamental to the defense of slavery in America endured long after the end of legal slavery. The belief in white supremacy that undergirded slavery also undergirded new forms of racial oppression. The seminary’s leaders long shared that belief and therefore failed to combat effectively the injustices stemming from it.

WallyMorris's picture

Interesting that this posted today. I have been reading Thomas Nettles' biography of James Boyce. Nettles writes about the slavery issue and the Seminary's founders views about it. I found myself trying to put myself in the shoes of those men and what they struggled with, I think we need to be careful of having an attitude of moral superiority about ourselves compared to those like Boyce and Broadus who supported slavery. Just because we don't believe in slavery doesn't make us morally superior to them. In fact, their service to Christ and sacrifices for the Lord were significant. Don't let their beliefs about slavery obscure that. The SBC seems preoccupied with this issue. How much self-introspection and criticism is enough? How many times do they have to say "I'm sorry"? I am skeptical of the huge emphasis in the SBC (and other groups) on this issue.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

We could see this as an exercise in moral posturing, as Wally and C.D. point out, but I think what is going on here is that the Southern Baptists are looking at their demographics vs. the demographics of their communities, and they are realizing that ~ 250 years of support for slavery and ~ 100 years of support for Jim Crow (support which continues in certain pockets) has created a cultural divide which makes it difficult to impossible to reach their own communities.

Since no sane person will argue that past history is irrelevant, their only recourse is to "own" that history--admit what happened, what their part was in it, what they've learned about the matter, and then they can move forward applying what they've learned.

My guess is that this process is going to go on for quite a bit longer, and if they do it right, it's going to be one of the most blessed things they do.  Lot of layers of the onion to peel back, sad to say.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

Most communities that have SBC churches also have Baptist churches of other associations. ALL of us are having difficulty reaching people with the gospel, and I don't think it has anything to do with the slavery issue or anything about our past.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Paul Henebury's picture

Al Mohler holds the Joseph Emerson Brown Chair of Theology at Southern.  Brown was a slave owner and unabashed racist all his life.  Mohler might want to look closer to home if he's got a conscience about this stuff.

As for me, I fear that what we're seeing with the discussions on racism (real and unreal), and women and 'Revoice' does not augur well for evangelicalism at all.  It will dilute the Gospel.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Did Wally or CD or Paul even read this document before commenting? For instance, "The Report on slavery and racism in the history of SBTS" deals with Brown from pages 33-38, so I think Mohler actually is looking closer to home.  

Also, In Mohler's introduction, he mentions that they were "like Luther, creatures of their own time and imagination."  He also states that "this report is not the shattering of images. Boyce, Broadus, Manly, and Williams would be first to make that clear. As Christians, we know no total sanctification or perfection in this life. We await something better, our future glorification by Christ."  It doesn't sound like any moral posturing or moral superiority.  

Wally, as one who has spent the past 27+ years discipling hundreds of mostly young urban African-American men, I can attest that racism, and perceptions of racism within white churches (whether true or not) is the biggest or one of the biggest barriers for reaching them with the gospel. It was one of the main reasons that I left the 2nd oldest GARBC church in my city to help start a multi-ethnic gospel coalition church.    By the way, the biggest barrier among black churches for reaching young urban black men is the health and wealth gospel.  Most of the young black men that I connect with (several hundred) perceive  black churches in their neighborhoods as hustling money from the poor (they also see it with TV preachers such as Joel Olsteen).   

The young men that I am actively discipling would see a document like this as very positive.  They are so used to much of American culture sweeping racism under the rug and pretending it never happened or that it only happened a long time ago, even when they've faced multiple racist situations throughout their life times, within institutions such as law enforcement, schools, stores/businesses, or housing/landlords (the list goes on).    They would see this document as owning up to one's racist history (as part or repentance) in order for there to be true reconciliation.  

Paul, why did you bring Revoice and Women into a discussion about SBTS owning up to their racist past?     

WallyMorris's picture

How many times must someone "own up" to past sins before the situation is settled? What is "true reconciliation", who specifically must be reconciled, how many people must be involved, and how do you know when everyone has been "reconciled"? I grew up in the deep South, went to school during desegregation, rode buses for 45 minutes to achieve integration, experienced & saw racism from people of ALL races, and yet had many friends from other races. My point is very simple: Certain people in the SBC are preoccupied with this issue. When will it end? Where is the ending point?

OK, in certain areas evangelism can be difficult because of actual or perceived (or convenient accusations of) racism. But this can't keep going on forever. At some point, people have to grow up and move beyond the past. I am not guilty for the racist sins of my race. Neither is anyone else for the racist sins of their race. I am accountable for my sins only. But according to modern racist theory, because I am a certain race, I will always be guilty and there's nothing I can do to atone for it. In fact, denying I am racist proves I am racist, according to modern racist theory.

I am very skeptical of this "racial sin" ideology, even though I know some people have legitimate concerns and have been the objects of racist behavior. But like any sin done to me, deal with it, get over it, and move on in grace.

I sometimes wonder if the SBC is focusing on this issue because they see the numerical decline in their denomination and the attitudes of their young people, and are trying to use the racial issue as a way to stop this decline. I may be wrong about that, but I wonder. The document is long and has some good history in it. But I wonder where all of this is headed.

Oh, and by the way: The fact that people like or dislike someone's comments is irrelevant. Means nothing to me. Smile

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

GregH's picture

No surprise to see the responses here. Just the typical reaction from the traditionalists when someone dares to suggest that the good old days were not so good.

WallyMorris's picture

Greg: Your comments are way off the mark, assuming what no one has said or implied, using a label (traditionalist) to create a negative impression. Very Strange.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

GregH's picture

WallyMorris wrote:

Greg: Your comments are way off the mark, assuming what no one has said or implied, using a label (traditionalist) to create a negative impression. Very Strange.

If you care to read what I said, I did not assume anything about what you or anyone else believes and I don't have to assume what has been said. I just have to read it. I merely said that the reaction here is predictable whenever anything is published that is somewhat negative about that period of time. 

I frankly find people like you very strange. Supposedly, your belief in evangelicalism would lead you to break down barriers that might interfere. Racism is clearly one of them. Yet every time someone tries to address it, people like you are quick to pop up with the tired "I am not responsible for the past" and "how many times do you have to apologize?" rhetoric. Why don't you just get on board and see what you can do to break down the barriers so when you try to evangelize African Americans, they might actually listen to you a bit more?

Paul Henebury's picture

No I have not read the whole report, just Mohler's letter.  My point is that Brown was not simply a Jonathan Edwards, R. L. Dabney, James Boyce slave owner, he was an avid racist who promoted white supremacy.  My point - which it should not be necessary to clarify - is that before going to all the bother to sniff out racism Mohler might start with his own job title!  I hope that is clear now.

I am aware that many blacks have experienced what they identify as racism.  I think some of it is racism.  A lot of it is fear and/or culture.  You yourself speak to some of it.  I have known several black pastors who have told me that there are often hierarchies within black churches based upon income etc.  So it's complex.  On the more mainstream front, men like Larry Elder and Thomas Sowell say that most of the racism that is complained about is not really racism, but is falsely labeled as such. 

Now you ask why I introduced women and LGBT?  It's because these things are being brought to prominence at the same time, and I do not believe it's a coincidence.  I firmly believe that the evangelical world will be split over these issues.  They are the wedge that open the split.    

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

WallyMorris's picture

Greg: Of course you made assumptions, particularly about people (myself) you have never met nor do you know. Your comments generalize certain reactions into rigid categories and assume motives. You seem to assume that the reason "people don't listen" is because of some racial reason. And you seem to assume the problem is because people do not "get on board". I have given the gospel to many people of a different race than I am, and they have never rejected the gospel because I am not the same race as they are. Nor do I think that racism is "clearly one" of the reasons people reject the gospel. That's ludicrous. I think it IS an excuse, but not a reason. But this is getting somewhat off topic. My concerns relate to the never-ending self-introspection about racial issues. I have friends & relatives in SBC churches and who pastor SBC churches, and they do not like the current SBC obsession with race. They believe it is not helping evangelism at all; in fact, interfering with it. This has nothing to do with Fundamentalists, traditionalists, or any other pejorative label.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

Wally does ask a good question about "how many times" must one "own up to past sins".  Really, wouldn't the answer be "with about the same frequency as the manifestations of your movement's previous racism"?  Figure out the blatant things, make sure that's unacceptable, then figure out the more subtle things in your church's culture that might be pushing people away and fix that.  

Really, it's along the lines of what the early church may have done when the widows among the "Grecian" (hellenized) Jews were being neglected in charity; 7 men with names indicating they were Grecian Jews (Greek names) were chosen as the original deacons.  

So really, it's not just a one time apology, though that's helpful, but rather a change of culture as we realize what we've done, what its effects are, and so on.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

Yes, Bert, but the "same frequency" approach will be infinite, never ending. I don't think "the same frequency as the manifestations of your movement's previous racism" really solves anything practically. Why should I be continually apologetic for something that occurred decades before I was born and had nothing to do with? If someone wants to make a formal admission of guilt and repentance for a "movement's" pasts sins, OK. But let's not keep doing it over & over & over.

The situation in Acts 6 is not similar enough to be that helpful, although helpful in solving practical problems that involve different people groups. "The "change of culture" approach can be helpful, of course, but again people who have accepted modern racism theory will not be satisfied with anything we do. Many want to keep certain racial groups guilty & apologetic in order to punish that group for as long as they can and receive preferred treatment for as long as they can. Not denying genuine racial problems which must be fixed. But I do not accept this continual, never-ending apologetic attitude.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

....just until the question of "are we reaching our communities" is answered clearly in the affirmative, and when people are very clear on the fact that no, we are not going to tolerate the attitudes of the past which were (and remain in many places) a blight on our communities.  And let's be honest here; "our tribe" has been digging this hole for 350-400 years, really.  It's going to take a little while to dig out.

I applaud what the SBC has done here; it's a great start.  The key issue going forward, though, is to see what attitudes in our "corporate culture" ultimately have the same roots, and figure out how we fix that.  

And of course not everyone is going to be persuaded, but what you achieve with genuine cultural change is to isolate the fringe.  People are actually smart enough to figure these things out, and quite frankly, a lot of the guys who are advocates in one area in one year aren't in the next.  To wit, the father of some of the kids my church has served in AWANA one time regaled me about BLM (his version, there are several), and then the next time, he'd left that behind.  All I had to do to figure this out was to listen.

In other words, if we see what's been done, figure out what it's affected, and take real steps to fix our culture, the vast majority is going to figure out we've "owned" that and eliminated it.  

Hard for you to do in Huntington, but 25 miles up the road in Fort Wayne, you're going to find some partners who will be very willing to help you figure out how to address this.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/much-story-never-...

The following 13 points constitute a summary of the findings in the 66-page report:

  1. The seminary’s founding faculty all held slaves.
  2. The seminary’s early faculty and trustees defended the righteousness of slaveholding.
  3. Upon Abraham Lincoln’s election, the seminary faculty sought to preserve slavery.
  4. The seminary supported the Confederacy’s cause to preserve slavery.
  5. After emancipation, the seminary faculty opposed racial equality.
  6. In the Reconstruction era, the faculty supported the restoration of white rule in the South.
  7. Joseph E. Brown, the seminary’s most important donor and chairman of its Board of Trustees 1880-1894, earned much of his fortune by the exploitation of mostly black convict-lease laborers.
  8. The seminary faculty urged just and humane treatment for blacks.
  9. Before the 1940s, the seminary faculty generally approved the Lost Cause mythology.
  10. Until the 1940s, the seminary faculty supported black education and the segregation of schools and society.
  11. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the seminary faculty appealed to science to support their belief in white superiority.
  12. The seminary admitted blacks to its degree programs in 1940 and integrated its classrooms in 1951.
  13. The seminary faculty supported civil rights for blacks but had mixed appraisals of the Civil Rights Movement.
Joel Shaffer's picture

Wally, 

The institution of the SBTS didn't own up to their history until now. When your founder (Boyce) was a slave owner, when the undergrad college is still named after that same slave owner, when your chair of theology is named after a slave owner, and the list goes on and on, you need own up to your history, instead of glossing it over. (In the document, Mohler mentioned that they don't plan on changing any names within the institution)   Mohler mentions that this document should've accompanied the SBC resolution over 20 years ago.  Its not repenting over and over again. Its actually going into detail of the actual sin.    When institutional sin has been allowed to fester, a detailed report such as this helps because it exposes the sin so that true repentence and reconciliation can take place.    Think of the Pii investigative report that exposed ABWE when it comes to dealing with institutional sin.  It wasn't just Dr. Ketchum that sinned against the many ABWE MKs.  It was many of the missionary administrators in power whose decisions created a depraved culture that allowed a predator like Dr. Ketcham to continue to sexually harm young girls.       

Why are you so defensive about something that has nothing to do with you?  In this situation, who is asking you to repent about racism on behalf of other white people?  (the answer is no one).  Sadly, your response (defensiveness and accusations of critical race theory) is one of the main reasons why Black Christians hardly ever come through the door of a fundamentalist church or desire association fellowship with them.  If conservative Christians did alot more listening and showing empathy instead of trying to prove (from a distance and without relationships) that black Christians are being influenced by secular sociological theories, there would be significant progress when it comes to racial reconciliation.   

It is no secret from my posts that I believe in the concept of White Privilege, although I define it differently than secular sociological theories so that it aligns with authority of Scripture.  https://sharperiron.org/comment/95060#comment-95060.    As one the pastors of our multi-ethnic church, every so often we have to address racial prejudice, and it isn't just from white people.  Earlier this week, i had to confront a black brother of mine that I disciple (who is part of our church) over his attitude towards the white people in our church.  He had missed church for the past 3 weeks and as I probed as to why, it came out that he was assuming that the white people at our church had the same attitudes as White Christians who show their racist colors on social media such as facebook (Unfortunately facebook stokes the flames of racial conflict).  I brought him to II Cor. 5:16-17, in that because of who we are in Christ, we no longer view anyone with a worldly point of view.  He owned up to his prejudice and repented of it.    By the way, he didn't show racial prejudice because of accepting critical race theory, rather his racist attitude came out of a life-time of having to endure racism from law enforcement, schools, and business institutions and his frustration with Christians that he doesn't even really know (from social media)  That doesn't excuse his sin which was an offense against God and his white brothers and sisters in Christ.   

 

 

        

Jim Welch's picture

A quote from NPR, "Now, 173 years later, Southern Baptist leaders are not just acknowledging their dark history; they are documenting it, as if by telling the story in wrenching detail, they may finally be freed of its taint."  Seems to me that by says 'as if by telling the story . . .they may finally be freed of its taint', the article is saying that more needs to be done than just telling the story.  Maybe I am missing something.

Jim Welch's picture

"Making a statement about Confederate monuments might be a next step," says Alison Greene, a historian of U.S. religion at Emory University in Atlanta, "or taking a stand on questions of voting rights in the 21st century. That would be really significant."

Greene, who was raised as a Southern Baptist, found the seminary report lacking in its failure to acknowledge any consequence of the denomination's recent association with conservative politicians and the policies they have promoted.

"It papers over a generation of hand-in-glove cooperation with efforts to roll back every single social program that served African-Americans or promised to rectify, even in the smallest ways, the gross economic and social effects of enslavement and segregation and inequality on black communities," Greene says.

I doubt if the well intentioned report will be as well received by the liberal communities of our nation.  

TylerR's picture

Editor

No matter what any institution does or says to apologize for past sins, it will never be enough for the internet. I think Mohler (et al) understand that, but I also think they believed they had to try. 

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Jay's picture

I doubt if the well intentioned report will be as well received by the liberal communities of our nation.  

But the point isn't pleasing liberal sensibilities, or we could jettison the core doctrines of our faith.  The point is owning our (in the global sense) failures.  This is a great first step - to fix a problem, you have to acknowledge a problem. While we could undoubtedly nitpick this report or decision to death, as some appear to want to do, just the fact that they did something to acknowledge these issues is notable and praiseworthy.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Don Johnson's picture

Perhaps you, too, have ancestral sins you must apologize for. One of my cousins said, "I'd be interested in finding out my ancestry but I'm afraid I'd find too many horse thieves in it." Knowing him, possibly apt.

In any case, I encourage everyone to search through your own past and be sure to grovel for your ancestral sins. You will be doing something to acknowledge your own issues.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jim Welch's picture

Jay, I appreciate what you are saying, and I am not trying to nitpick the report.  You made my point when you said, "This is a great first step - to fix a problem, you have to acknowledge a problem."  Ok, what would be the second step?  Third Step?  How many steps do we need to take?  I appreciate Dr. Mohler.  I enjoy his preaching, blogs, and his humble walk with God.  I sincerely want to know what is next?

Racism is wrong.  It is sinful.  It is not like Christ.  

 

Jay's picture

I don't know what the next steps are, because I am not in a position in make those decisions.  It may be that the next step IS to rename some of the buildings and positions that others have commented on.  Maybe it's something else.  I can't say.

When BJU announced that they were dropping the inter-racial dating ban, they could make an apology (which I believe BJIII did via Larry King Live), drop the ban, and that was all that was needed.  Confronting and fixing the challenges described in this report is going to take some time, some careful thinking, and well thought through and executed plans.  We will have to see where it goes.  But I still want to encourage our brothers in the Lord as they do so, even if I am not an alumnus or donor to SBTS.

"Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." - Proverbs 28:13

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jim's picture

Definitions and what's going on here. There's: 

The Southern Seminary report is history and it's important because

 

 

Bert Perry's picture

Don, the trick here is that we're not talking about the horse thief six generations back.  We are talking about the majority culture of the SBC not that long ago, not to mention southern fundamentalism and probably also a good sector of northern fundamentalism.

The interracial dating ban is a great example of how to peel back the onion.  First step is to repeal the policy and apologize for it.  Done, great, awesome.  Next step is to take a serious look at the arguments made to promote it, as they likely are linked to other attitudes we might want to know about.  Can the arguments supporting it be readily refuted?  Are the refutations getting around so we all can learn?

As commendable as the SBC report and the BJU apology for the interracial dating ban are, I'm persuaded that we're still in that middle stage of figuring out why we did this and eliminating the support for those positions.  And that's fine, as long as we're still moving in the right direction. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Given we still hear from those opposed to Christianity about the Crusades, and how "Christianity" is responsible for them (not making any distinction from changes since 800 years ago, or what the Bible actually says), I suspect that no amount of apology for institutional racism will ever be enough.  And, as others have said, I can't really apologize for things others have done anyway, even if I can regret that they happened.

All I can do is to do my best with God's help to not further the sins of the past (like forced "conversion" or racism) and try to be the best Christian I can be today.  That might include extra reaching out to those who have been affected by racism, listening to them, and trying to understand, but it certainly does not include eternal groveling or incessant apologizing for things I can't control (like my skin color) or things done by others supposedly in God's name.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

seriously? How does a culture sin? Who is responsible for cultural sin? (Answer: rich white makes, usually.) Can a culture ever be forgiven? (Answer: no, you can never repent enough for something you never did, but must enter a constant self-abnegation mode.)

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

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