Former faculty members at a Southern Baptist Convention seminary and Baptist professors at other schools joined a call urging financial reparations to American descendants of slavery in a petition now collecting signatures on change.org.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler and his trustee chairman turned down a request by a coalition of black and white pastors in Louisville, Kentucky – the city where Southern Seminary is located – to “transfer a meaningful portion” of financial wealth to Simmons College, a historically black institution with ties to non-SBC groups including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Co-chairs of the group called Empower West – Simmons College President Kevin Cosby and retired white pastor Joe Phelps – are graduates of Southern, the oldest of six seminaries under control of the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination formed in 1845 to defend the appointment of missionaries who owned slaves.
A number of scholars who were associated with the seminary before a shakeup commonly referred to as the “conservative resurgence” forced them to find careers elsewhere have added their names to the call for Southern Seminary to join historic schools including Georgetown, Princeton, Furman, Wake Forest and University of Virginia that “are considering an act of repentance and repair for their roles in slavery.”
New signers include both professors who left Southern Seminary in the 1980s and 1990s and their students with successful academic careers outside the SBC. Three went on to become seminary presidents.
Signer Molly T. Marshall taught theology at Southern after earning her doctorate there before becoming president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, in 2004. She recently announced plans to retire sometime next year.
Linda McKinnish-Bridges, who earned her Ph.D. in New Testament and Greek from the Louisville seminary, was elected in 2017 as president of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, an alternative to SBC seminaries that opened in 1991 but recently ceased operation for budgetary reasons.
David Cassady, who received both a master’s degree in Christian education and Ph.D. from Southern Seminary, two years ago became president of the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. All three schools are considered partners of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Other new signers include Bill Leonard, founding dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School who taught at Southern Seminary from 1975 until 1992; Glenn Hinson, a Th.D. graduate of Southern who taught there for 30 years; and Walter Shurden, who taught at Southern from 1976, including three years as dean, until his departure to Mercer University in 1983.
Petitioners Rob Nash, professor of missions and world religions at McAfee School of Theology, and Baylor religion professors Mikeal Parsons and Doug Weaver all hold doctorates from Southern Seminary.
Signers including Curtis Freeman, director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke; Steven Harmon, associate professor of historical theology at Gardner-Webb University; former New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Samford University professor Fisher Humphreys; Glenn Jonas of Campbell University and Carson-Newman’s Merrill Hawkins earned doctorates elsewhere.
Signer John Finley, executive director of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, earned his Ph.D. from Southern supervised by Shurden. Vaughn Crowe-Tipton, associate vice president for spiritual life at Furman University with a doctorate from Southern, also signed the petition.
Mohler and board chairman Matt Schmucker told the Empower West group that it would not be “appropriate” for the seminary to transfer significant funds to an institution outside the denomination’s sphere of control. If they did, they added, it would be one adhering to the Baptist Faith & Message, a confessional statement that among others things establishes husbands as the head of their household and forbids women from serving as pastors.
“We’re not going to respond to public demands for reparations made, quite interestingly, by the people who demand that the reparations be paid to them,” Mohler told Religion News Service reporter Adelle Banks. “And, furthermore whatever we do, this institution will do in keeping with its theological commitments.”
Cosby, who in addition to being a college president is senior pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church in West Louisville, commented on Twitter: “How convenient, the institution that created the crime gets to determine what the consequences should be!”
“Please sign this petition calling for the Southern Baptist Seminary to pay reparations for their crimes against humanity,” Cosby tweeted June 5. “Southern was started by slave owners for the purpose of maintaining slavery. They like no other institutions gave the theological rationale for slavery and Jim Crow.”
The change.org petition titled “A Call For Repentance and Repair to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary” is here.