Racism can be found everywhere, but Southern racism is uniquely invidious because it has historically been sanctioned by the majority religion — the Southern Baptists. The consequence is that it is not an obscure theological issue — Who did Cain take for a wife?, say — but a toxin embedded into the culture. Southern society needed slavery, and the Southern Baptists gave His imprimatur to the ownership of dark-skinned human beings.
That is, southern society’s need for slaves spurred the Southern Baptists to dream-up a theological rationale for ownership of slaves, and so the Southern Baptists grew rapidly, spread far and wide, and their (generally, degrading and screwed-up) ideas became the taken-for-granted underpinning of daily thought and life. To this day, preachers are big men hereabouts; people actually care what they think, though the evidence is overwhelming that most have never had a bona fide thought in their lives.
So it’s a very big deal that Southern Seminary, the first and largest of the Southern Baptist seminaries, issued yesterday an accounting of it own part in cultivating racism. As Albert Mohler writes in the cover letter:
We are living in an age of historical reckoning. Communities, nations, institutions, Christian churches, and denominations are now called upon to ask hard questions and, when necessary, to face hard realities. This is true of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it is true for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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We have been guilty of a sinful absence of historical curiosity. We knew, and we could not fail to know, that slavery and deep racism were in the story. We comforted ourselves that we could know this, but since these events were so far behind us, we could move on without awkward and embarrassing investigations and conversations.
I have begun reading the report, but not finished. I imagined when I downloaded the report that it would be a lot of nonsense about happy mammy’s and extended families, et cetera, et cetera, and I don’t mind admitting that I have been startled at times by the report’s frankness; it has a sincere, regretful sensibility that I didn’t expect. I suppose I might change my mind as I continue reading, but on first impression it’s a heartfelt effort to face honestly an ugly history.
I doubt that it will do much good. You may be sure that not many of the folk in the pews are downloading it and reading it, and have no idea that Southern Seminary-educated Pastor Bubba was injecting poison when he told them that darkies either bear the mark of Cain or are descended from Ham. As Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”