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Church Planter Training Video Criticized for Appearing Prejudiced Against Pastors From the South

southern accents
Screen shot from YouTube.

An uproar on social media occurred this week in response to a church planter training video produced by the North American Mission Board’s Send Network, which seemed to imply that southern church planters should consider working to lose their southern accents in order to appear more intelligent. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) is the domestic missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). 

In the video, which could be found on YouTube, pastor and church planter Kenji Adachi discussed the importance of contextualization for church planters, centering his presentation on the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9, wherein Paul says that he has become “all things to all people, that by all means” he might save some.

Adachi went on to describe someone he knew who went to extraordinary lengths to bridge cultural gaps between himself and those to whom he was ministering in Boston, MA. 

“This planter, I asked him where he was from, and he said that he was from South Carolina. And I was stunned. I said, ‘Did you grow up there?’ I was stunned, because he didn’t have an accent. And I said, ‘What happened to your southern accent?’ Because I’m a North Carolinian,” Adachi recounted. “And he says this: ‘I got a voice coach when I first moved here to get rid of my southern accent.’”

“Man, you talk about someone being all things to all people so that he can reach people for Christ,” Adachi said. “This is so critical as we think about who we are trying to reach, instead of just thinking about who we are. We need both. We need to understand the culture around us.”

Taken by itself, Adachi’s story might not have been the center of any controversy. However, as Adachi spoke about the church planter who worked to lose his southern accent, a graphic appeared on the bottom left of the screen which read, “According to a 2012 study conducted by the University of Chicago, people with southern accents are assumed less intelligent than their northern accented peers, even among children.” 

Some who saw the video took this as a tacit affirmation of the stereotype that people with southern regional accents are, or at least seem, unintelligent. 

One of those people was Tom Buck, who serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Lindale, TX, and who has a southern accent. 

“I’m sick of this, but people need to know how their @SBCCP & @sendnetwork dollars are used,” Buck tweeted. “NAMB church planters w/ Southern accents are encouraged to lose their accent because ‘people w/ Southern accents are assumed less intelligent.’”

“Everyone knows if NAMB had said that an individual of a different ethnicity changed his vernacular because a study found that people thought talking that way sounded unintelligent, everyone (including me) would be outraged. And rightly so,” Buck later said.