A panel at a historically black college in Louisville, Kentucky, said a December report on the history of slavery and racism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is meaningless as long as the school continues to perpetuate the flawed theology behind the founders’ slaveholder religion.
“I believe that religion and the church is the munitions plant for political racism and racial division in our country,” Kevin Cosby, president of Simmons College of Kentucky, said introducing the April edition of the West Louisville Forum April 3.
Cosby, a graduate of Southern Seminary and pastor of St. Stephen Church in predominantly African-American West Louisville, referenced World War II documentaries showing allied bombers flying over battalions to get to munition plants in order to cut off the resources that enemy troops needed to fight.
“What resources white supremacy in America is the theology of the church,” Cosby said.
Wendell Griffen, a circuit court judge and Baptist pastor from Little Rock, Arkansas, took his analogy from the world of internet technology, labeling Southern Seminary “the Microsoft of white supremacy and racism in this country.”
“Southern Seminary has produced the software of white supremacy,” Griffen said. “The software of white supremacy goes into the hardware called the churches.” New pastors coming out of seminary function as applications or “apps,” bringing “white evangelical theology” along with them.
“We have to call white evangelical theology what it really is,” Griffen said. “It’s heresy. The heresy of white supremacy has invaded, has polluted, is the virus, that is running all the way through white evangelical theology.”
“To say, ‘Oops we had a defect in our program back in the day’ doesn’t fix the downstream problems of the apps that you have out in the system,” Griffen said. “You understand? You’ve got a virus, and you’re still running your company? You’re still selling your product? What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to say that this nice 71-page report is a way of trying to whitewash – and I mean that word intentionally – trying to whitewash the obvious problem that you are not recalling your product.”
“I haven’t heard Southern say: ‘We’re recalling the product. We are recalling everything we have put out, and we are refunding to the country, and especially to the people who have been immediately harmed by our defective product, all of the costs that our product has incurred.’ It’s called reparations,” Griffen said.
Griffen said he read the report carefully “in search for at least one sentence out of 71 pages that would commit Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to do one thing to correct, repair, restore the loss, injury and harm occasioned over its career in white supremacy and racism.”
“I ten times double dog dare anybody to find the sentence,” Griffen said.
Absent such commitments, Griffen said the motive for the December report is the same one behind the 1995 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on racial reconciliation.
“It was an attempt to appear to be what one is not,” he said. “It is an exercise in hypocrisy. The 1995 thing was a well-staged show in connection with the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention…. The 2018 December report is also a show.”
“I would remind you what Jesus said: You will know them by their fruits,” Griffen said. “The fruit in 2018 is the same fruit in 1995. It’s the same fruit that was in 1845.”
Griffen said demographics showing young white Americans becoming less interested in religion work against Southern Seminary.
“So what to do? They try to find black and Latino men who are Calvinists – in the worst sense of the word – and parochial, and they infect them, they download the app, and then they start churches,” he said. “The big church-growth thing in the Southern Baptist Convention was in trying to plant churches in black communities with black pastors — and that’s downloading the app — preaching white theology.”
Griffen said black churches “have to be more discerning” about “white slaveholder theology” that has been downloaded into “somebody who looks black.”
“I started seminary through a seminary extension program run by Southern Baptists,” Griffen said. “I dropped out because I said: ‘Excuse me, to hell with this. These people have too much stuff. There’s too much poison in this well for me to go to this well to drink water. If the well is poison, the water is poisoned this long, in order for me to get healthy, I can’t get healthy drinking this water. And if I drink enough of this water, I’ll come out selling it.’”
“Religion gets sick when one person can point to another person and see a difference that depersonalizes that other person. It doesn’t matter if it’s gender, it doesn’t matter, pardon my bias, if it’s sexual orientation, and it certainly doesn’t matter if it’s race or nationality or age or anything else.”
Wade Rowatt, a former professor at Southern Seminary fired in 1995 for his support of women in ministry, said what Griffen calls software he identifies as “bad theology,” similar to what his former colleague Wayne Oates called “when religion gets sick.”
“Religion gets sick when one person can point to another person and see a difference that depersonalizes that other person,” said Rowatt, now senior professor of pastoral care and counseling at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. “It doesn’t matter if it’s gender, it doesn’t matter, pardon my bias, if it’s sexual orientation, and it certainly doesn’t matter if it’s race or nationality or age or anything else.”
Rowatt said when he was associate dean for the M.Div. program at Southern it was the second-largest black accredited seminary in the United States, with over 100 African-American students. When he worked his way up to associate dean of the doctor-of-ministry program, he prepared a report for a trustee meeting showing “that we had doubled from 12 to 24 African-American pastors across the United States in our D.Min. program, and we were working to actively recruit and educate and bring in black professors to teach them and learn about the black church.”
“I was devastated when a trustee in his southern dignity spoke up and said ‘Dr. Rowatt, just how low did you have to compromise our admission standards to let them in?’” he said. Admitting to a penchant for sarcasm, Rowatt recounted, “I said to that gentleman, ‘Well not quite as low as we have to lower them for the average white pastor from the good state of,’ and I called his state.”
“He was livid and said ‘Dr. Rowatt, I resent that remark,’” Rowatt said. “I said ‘not half as much as I resent that question.’ And Dr. Honeycutt said, ‘Gentlemen, we’ll come back to order.”
“A year later I got fired,” Rowatt said. While the stated cause was his support for women in ministry, he said, “a subtlety that happened was suddenly the black professor that had studied into his Ph.D. with me that we had hired, his contract got canceled when I got fired.”
Jason Crosby, pastor of Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, said when churches start to decline numerically they turn to their denomination for help in revitalizing the congregation. A newly minted pastor comes in, bringing a number of young families. The problem, Crosby said, is “You have to accept in totality the theology that is being sold.”
Crosby noted that on the same day as the West Louisville Forum a community debate was arranged to discuss a Confederate war monument located at one end of Grinstead Drive in east Louisville.
“At the other end of Grinstead there is a living, breathing organism that continues to perpetuate a theology that perpetuates white male hegemony,” Crosby said, referring to Southern Seminary.