From Pastor William Dwight McKissic Sr.
“An Open Letter to Dr. Al Mohler and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Trustees Regarding Honoring the Founding Slaveholders
Dr. Albert Mohler
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
2825 Lexington Rd.
Louisville, KY 40206
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Trustees
Dear Dr. Mohler and the Board of Trustees,
Greetings in the Name of our Triune God, “in whom we live, move and have our very being” (Acts 17:28).
The impact you have made on the SBC and the nation will be felt for generations to come (Psalm 145:4).
The purpose of this correspondence is to humbly and respectfully request that the President and Board of Trustees at SBTS remove from SBTS campus, any memorabilia of the founders: James Pettigru Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly, and William Williams.
Why? The founders should be acknowledged and appreciated for their role in the establishment and development of SBTS. However, it is biblically inappropriate to celebrate them though, due to the following reason(s): Because of the patriarchy, prejudice, and the promotion of “putrid exegesis,” practiced and preached by the founders of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, their names need to be removed from the Seminary as memorabilia; this includes the names of Boyce College, Broadus Chapel, and any other places where the names of the founders are displayed, including coffee mugs.
The founders stated motivations to relocate SBTS from Greenville, South Carolina, to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1877 was to escape the presence of freed slaves in Greenville, which they viewed as an “incubus and plague.” They expressed their desire to relocate the Seminary “in a White Man’s country.” Pastor Steve Bezner, who holds a PH.D. in history, recently tweeted: “Boyce helped found the school because the SBC was founded on a pro-slavery hermeneutic and needed a seminary which would support that hermeneutic.” Those scathing words alone merit revisiting this matter.
The founders should be acknowledged and appreciated for their role in the establishment of and development of SBTS. However, it is simply inappropriate and unbiblical to hallow and honor these men in a prominent and celebratory manner.
By allowing the names of the founders to continue to be plastered on walls and memorialized publicly as men of high moral character—you are in effect upholding their legacy of being theological and practical proponents and defenders of White Supremacy and Black inferiority. Furthermore, you are stuffing it down
the throats of those of us who find their actions incompatible with their faith and Baptist orthodoxy. As ministers of reconciliation, we can and ought to do better than this (II. Corinthians 5:18-20). When you build a monument or highlight names of people in significant places, you are telling people, “they did good.” When you build a monument to evildoers, you are telling people, “These evildoers did good!”
The Bible says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Honoring slaveholders by naming a college, chapel, library, and attaching their names on other high-profile places on campus is honoring them. By having done so, you have effectively called “evil good and good evil.” To defend and honor slaveholders is to defend and honor slavery.
It is a slap in the face of God’s people, and an affront to the Kingdom of God to keep saying slaveholders were theologically right but morally wrong. You cannot divorce theology and morality.
Currently, the BFM2K is the standard for doctrinal orthodoxy in the culture and life of the SBC. The founders of SBTS could not and would not meet the qualifications of being classified as orthodox, because they could not affirm the BFM2K, Section III, “Man.”
The first three sentences in this section read, “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.”
The final sentence in Section III, “Man,” reads: “The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”
Boyce, Broadus, Manly, and Williams did not believe that “every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.” These men also opposed the suffrage movement and women voting as messengers in SBC annual sessions. These two positions were evidence of misogyny and patriarchy, which is counter-culture to the spirit and the letter of the BFM2K, Section III, regarding “Man.”
Therefore, based on SBC’s doctrinal statement, these men cannot be classified as orthodox. To label these men as “orthodox” radically redefine the historic meaning and usage of the term.
Defending their beliefs and behaviors by suggesting that they were mere men of their times, simply do not justify their heterodoxy or practices. The Quakers, Wilberforce, Spurgeon, James Madison Pendleton, and the Sandy Creek Baptists, all were spiritual leaders during the era of slavery, but they chose to honor Scripture and the fact that man was made—male and female—in the image of God—the Imago Dei.
Throughout biblical and cultural history, God has often chosen to hit straight licks, with crooked sticks, to accomplish His will. That statement would fit all of us to a certain extent, certainly me. Men and women who engaged in a multitude of sins are listed on the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11). I am grateful that God has more grace than we have sin (Romans 5:20). All of the names in Hebrew 11 were repentant sinners. The Founders of SBTS either left no record of their repentance or in the case of Broadus, later in life, there is a
record of him having changed his tune on practicing slavery, but I am yet to read where he changed his tune regarding his beliefs about the inferiority of the Negro.
When did the founders of SBTS face accountability for their racial and gender sins? They did not! When did the founders repent of their racial and gender sins? They did not!
I am aware that President Mohler and SBTS faculty have released a 71-page, well-researched document, in recent years. This document acknowledges the Seminary’s complicity in participating and contributing greatly to the diabolical institution of American chattel slavery—which, by the way, was radically different than biblical slavery. One was much more brutal and degrading than the other.
I applaud and appreciate SBTS for releasing this brutally honest document on SBTS slavery report. However, acknowledging their heinous sins, while leaving their celebratory memorabilia intact is shortsighted and incongruent. “If a person kidnap, steal and sell your child, where do you want to place the statues [memorabilia] of that person?” Absolutely nowhere! (Rev. Joel Bowman’s quote) Yet, that is exactly what SBTS has done.
We would all agree that the four founders of Southern Seminary could not imagine or fathom, that a day would come, that sons and daughters of their slaves would be admitted as students and serve on the faculty. They did such a good job of instilling the sin of White Supremacy and Black inferiority into the fabric, theology, policies, and image of the school until it was almost 100 years later before a Black student was admitted to SBTS. Is it really fair to ask this generation to honor these men in light of their heterodoxy and immoral lifestyles? If the founders had been drunkards and adulterers, rather than being men stealers and kidnappers, would you honor them? No! Why then are you honoring them? Is it because you don’t see the sin of slaveholding as wicked as drunkenness or adultery?
If there is one major takeaway to recent protests of police brutality and systemic racism, it is—this generation is not going to tolerate, accommodate, or defend the racial hypocrisy and sins of the forefathers. Black students and faculty currently have to walk the halls of SBTS always remembering and being asked to appreciate the captives of their ancestors. That’s a tall ask. Again, future generations will not tolerate what previous generations have accepted. Take note of the departure of Pastor John Onwuchekwa and the Cornerstone Church, Atlanta, from the SBC, if you don’t believe me.
One pushback to my request may be: shouldn’t we extend grace, forgiveness, forbearance, etc., toward the founders? Absolutely! Beyond a shadow of a doubt; and I do. But I can forgive you, and be gracious toward you, without hanging your pictures and memorializing your name in a celebratory fashion around my home.
You are honoring men who never repented of their rebellion and treasonous acts against the United States by serving in and supporting the confederacy. Why then honor them?
The founders were felons while engaged with the Confederacy. Why then honor them?
You are honoring men, who never recanted or repented for teaching and modeling White Supremacy. Why then honor them?
You are honoring men whom according to Dr. Mohler, engaged in “putrid exegesis” of the Scripture in order to justify the enslavement of descendants of Africa. Why then honor them?
You are honoring men who would not have allowed T. Vaughn Walker, Curtis Woods, or Jarvis Williams to have taught at SBTS. Why then honor them?
You are honoring men who would not have allowed Martin Luther King, Charlie Dates, or HB Charles to have preached in chapel at SBTS. Why then honor them?
You are honoring men who would not have allowed your wives to cast a vote for President Mohler’s choice for President, Donald J. Trump. Why then honor them?
You are honoring men, who some were praised for being benevolent slaveholders. That is tantamount to honoring a person for being a benevolent kidnapper. Who would do that? No one, in their right mind. Why then honor them?
The founders were also child abusers. It is impossible to be slaveholders and not simultaneously be child abusers. Why honor them?
You are honoring men, who dishonored Black people and women of all colors. Black people and women had no say so in the decision to honor them. Why honor men who were elected to be honored by other men who essentially found no fault with their beliefs and behaviors?
To say that it is permissible to honor the founding slaveholders of SBTS because they were not primarily known as slaveholders is simply an inaccurate statement. The slaves knew them exclusively as slavemasters. Shouldn’t they count? The slaves did not call the founders “Professor”; they called them “Massa.” Do you really want to continue honoring them? And one can’t study the history of the founders, without soon discovering that they were slaveholders and their wealth derived from slave labor helped to subsidize SBTS, mightily. To ignore the reality of the slaves’ relationship to the founders is to abuse them posthumously. To downgrade the prominence of the founders being well known as slaveholders is being dishonest.
Do you want to continue the legacy and sins that were passed down to you, by passing over this God-given, perfect moment to “remove the stain of racism” from SBTS campus? Why continue to honor them?
Being slaveholders was very much their identity. They were also known as being providers of a theological license to the church and larger society to justify slaveholding. Why then honor them?
Christ should be honored above culture. This is your opportunity to redeem SBTS’ slavery legacy, for the Kingdom of God.
Please don’t let this moment pass. Please make the right decision for the health of the school and for future generations to not have to wrestle with the question: Why is our college and seminary buildings named after “putrid exegetes,” White Supremacist and misogynist, and men who were not orthodox according to the BFM2K and the Bible?
I am formally requesting that Dr. Mohler and the SBTS Board of Trustees, prayerfully and deliberately take up this matter in the 2020 Fall Trustee meeting, and publicly report their findings. Future generations will honor you and hold your great legacy even higher, if you will make a wise decision, in the best interest of the SBC, SBTS and the nation’s health—that so desperately needs racial healing. Dr. Mohler, to paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, “Tear Down Those Names.”
For His Kingdom,
Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.”
**** The Southern Baptist Convention (#SBCvoices, #SBCExecComm) is very blessed to have such a godly man and leader like Pastor William Dwight McKissic Sr. (one of my Christian heroes) who always appeals to Scripture and sound reason to call SBC Christians and the Denomination to greater righteousness, equity, racial justice, and gender inclusion. What a man of conviction!
We will keep insisting until President Albert Mohler, the SBTS Board of Trustees, and the SBC Board of Trustees “take down those names”! Please click on the link below to read a previous letter/article on the same subject: