By Bob Allen
A congressional aide who 10 years ago as a young pastor helped introduce social media as a force in the Southern Baptist Convention, has resigned his job in Washington following controversy over Facebook posts criticized as racially insensitive.
Benjamin Cole, senior adviser for policy and communications for Congressman Aaron Schock, resigned after the liberal website Think Progress and then Buzzfeed reported on Facebook posts in which he complained about black criminals in his neighborhood.
One, posted during the government shutdown in 2013, included a video of an African-American woman arguing with someone in the street with the comment “so apparently the closing of the National Zoo has forced the animals to conduct their mating rituals on my street.”
“I am extremely disappointed by the inexcusable and offensive online comments made by a member of my staff,” Schock (R-Ill.) said in a statement to the Peoria Journal Star. “I would expect better from any member of my team. Upon learning about them I met with Mr. Cole and he offered his resignation which I have accepted.”
Prior to moving to Washington, Cole, then a young pastor at Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, created Baptist Blogger, one of the first blogs in the emerging trend of user-generated Web content devoted entirely to Southern Baptist politics.
Using new technologies, Cole and other young Southern Baptist bloggers challenged the status quo. They were credited with helping to elect a relative outsider, South Carolina pastor Frank Page, as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2006. Page went on to work for the SBC North American Mission Board and today is employed as president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.
Cole distinguished himself from other bloggers with his sharp, satirical wit and impeccable research he said he learned digging up dirt on political opponents of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a key leader in the “conservative resurgence” that rose to power in the nation’s second-largest faith group starting in the 1980s.
Cole, whose own alcoholic father died from cirrhosis of the liver when he was 13, told the Texas Observer in 2007 that he regarded Patterson as a father figure until at some point he concluded the conservative leaders he had grown up idolizing weren’t as angelic as he believed, and the “liberals” they demonized weren’t as bad.
He became Patterson’s fiercest critic, ridiculing a homemaking degree started at Southwestern Seminary with a 1950s video of a sewing machine, filing a complaint in the firing of a female professor allegedly because Patterson didn’t want a woman holding authority over men and accusing Patterson of interfering in policy of the SBC International Mission Board.
Cole was an ally of Wade Burleson, an IMB trustee who resigned after blogging about what he considered abuses in developing policies regarding baptism and prayer practices for missionaries. Cole worked briefly at Burleson’s church, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., before bidding farewell to the ministry to enter secular politics in 2008.
Cole also aided Dwight McKissic, an African-American pastor at a Southern Baptist church in Arlington, Texas, in starting a blog critical of how few black people were in leadership positions in the SBC.
Cole chided racial undercurrents that he perceived among fellow Southern Baptists unhappy with Barack Obama’s election as America’s first black president in one of a series of commentaries he wrote for Baptist News Global in 2008 and 2009.