In 1995, on the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the group released an affirmation acknowledging the role it had historically played in oppressing African Americans and perpetuating racism. More than 20 years later, the SBC’s “mother seminary” has released a new report outlining the ways that institution has contributed to the problem of racism in America.
“We have been guilty of a sinful absence of historical curiosity,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) president Al Mohler said in a statement.
Mohler says it was time for a “more direct and far more candid acknowledgment of the legacy of this school [SBTS] in the horrifying realities of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, racism and even the avowal of white racial supremacy.”
President Al Mohler Says It’s Time to Take a Closer Look
Mohler, who was involved in the 1995 affirmation released by the SBC, asked a team composed of faculty members from SBTS and Boyce College to spend 12 months researching the role Southern Seminary played in perpetuating things such as slavery, opposing the civil rights movement, and systemic racism. Mohler told the team of researchers nothing would be withheld from the public from their discoveries.
Among those on the research team are Dr. Gregory A. Wills, professor of church history and former dean of the School of Theology; Dr. Jarvis J. Williams, associate professor of New Testament interpretation; Dr. Curtis A. Woods, assistant professor of applied theology and biblical spirituality and associate executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention; Dr. Matthew J. Hall, dean of Boyce College; Dr. John D. Wilsey, associate professor of church history; and Dr. Kevin Jones, associate dean of Boyce College at the time of commissioning and now interim chair of the School of Education and Human Development at Kentucky State University.
While it is not news that many of the founders of the SBC were slaveholders, Mohler says a more thorough understanding of the seminary’s role in racism was in order. The report is being released with “both lament and conviction,” according to Mohler.
“The founding faculty of this school—all four of them—were deeply involved in slavery and deeply complicit in the defense of slavery. Many of their successors on this faculty, throughout the period of Reconstruction and well into the 20th century, advocated segregation, the inferiority of African-Americans, and openly embraced the ideology of the Lost Cause of southern slavery.”
According to the 72-page report, the SBC “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.”
Southern Seminary’s Troublesome Past
The report goes on to detail 13 ways in which the seminary historically perpetuated slavery and white supremacy, and how it eventually changed. A brief description of the points are included below. To read the full report, which includes more specific details and historical records, click here.
1. SBTS’ founding faculty owned slaves. “James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, Basil Manly Jr. and William Williams together owned more than 50 persons.”
2. SBTS’ early faculty and trustees defended the “righteousness” of owning other people. “They argued first that slaveholding was righteous because the inferiority of blacks indicated God’s providential will for their enslavement, corroborated by Noah’s prophetic cursing of Ham. They argued second that slaveholding was righteous because southern slaves accrued such remarkable material and spiritual benefits from it.”
3. When Abraham Lincoln was elected, SBTS faculty fought to continue slaveholding. SBTS “trustees such as Benjamin Pressley had made arguments for secession as early as 1851, claiming that defending slavery was of such vital priority that southern states should be prepared to leave the Union.”