It turns out that East Texas pastor Tom Buck wasn’t the first Southern Baptist pastor in Texas to call Vice President Kamala Harris a “Jezebel.”
Steve Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rockwall, Texas, located in the eastern suburbs of Dallas, coined the term nearly three weeks earlier. Swofford currently serves on the SBC Executive Committee, one of the most powerful bodies governing the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination.
The “Jezebel” statement by someone in such a leadership role caused another Texas pastor — who already is threatening to leave the SBC over statements by the six SBC seminary presidents — to call for the president of the convention to “repudiate” both Swofford and Buck. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, made the request via Twitter Jan. 28.
In his Jan. 3 sermon at First Baptist of Rockwall — which was three days before rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol and 17 days before Harris was sworn in as vice president — Swofford mentioned both Harris and then-President-elect Joe Biden in his sermon.
He said Biden would be a “cognitively dysfunctional president” and then asked: “What if something happens to him and Jezebel has to take over? Jezebel Harris, isn’t that her name?”
The pastor went on seconds later to explain that the Biden-Harris administration would not likely to be “doing things our way of doing things.” And then he urged the congregation to maintain their “convictions of being pure and honest and having convictions for Christ.”
A Jan. 25 BNG news article reported on the “Jezebel” comment by Buck, creating a firestorm of both protests and affirmation on Twitter. Some of Buck’s defenders said the story misrepresented what Buck had said. But Buck issued two more tweets reiterating his point. The second of those said, “I fully stand by the point of my original tweet!”
As earlier reported, calling a Black woman “Jezebel” is a racist trope documented by the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University. It has roots in slavery and the perceived sexual promiscuity of Black women compared to white women.
Whether Buck or Swofford — both white males — were aware of this history is not known. What is known is that McKissic and others pointed out the problem to them publicly via Twitter, and neither pastor has backed down from the statement.
The stakes in this battle are high for the SBC, which has taken a barrage of criticism during the past year of racial reckoning in American life. McKissic currently is leading the charge against the six SBC seminary presidents because of their public stance against Critical Race Theory. He and other prominent Black Baptist pastors have said the seminary presidents are denying the reality of systemic racism and its role within the SBC and American culture.
They have asked the seminary presidents to explain their specific objections to Critical Race Theory, but no further explanation has been forthcoming since the original announcement Nov. 30. McKissic this week announced his church would leave the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention over this issue and was still considering its affiliation with the SBC. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is a conservative state group that broke away from the historic Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1998. Both Buck’s church and Swofford’s church are affiliated with the more conservative group. Swofford previously served as president of the SBTC.
Swofford has served the Rockwall church since 1989. His biography on the church website says he is “actively involved in Baptist life at the state and national level.” He chaired the search committee that recommended Ronnie Floyd to become president of the SBC Executive Committee, the top staff role within the SBC’s structure.
In 2019, Swofford was named in a multi-part series of articles by the Houston Chronicle investigating cases of clergy sexual abuse within the SBC. The Chronicle reported that a volunteer at the Rockwall church had been convicted of indecency with a child and accused of molesting another child before being allowed to serve at the Rockwall church. A lawsuit brought by one of the volunteer’s alleged victims says Swofford knew about the man’s previous conviction but didn’t do anything about it. The Chronicle said Swofford refused to comment for its story.
In 2015, the Rockwall church was sued by Carla Sweet and Ed Gomez, who claimed their son’s suicide was caused by years of abuse by another man, who had been a youth minister at the church. Two years later, the church asked a Rockwall County court to enter a summary judgment to end the litigation, which the court granted. No other details of the outcome appear in the public record.