The American Church isn’t exactly known for honest assessments of its unsavory elements, but on Wednesday, Southern Theological Seminary published a rare and vital reckoning with its history; particularly its roots in racism, segregation and slavery. It’s required reading.
It all started in 2017, when Southern president Dr. Albert Mohler commissioned a six-person to team to conduct an investigative deep dive into the venerable seminary’s legacy of racist and pro-slavery messaging. What they found was not pretty.
Established by Southern Baptists in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina, the campus was moved to Louisville, Kentucky following the Civil War, where it remains today. The team found that every single Southern Theological Seminary founding faculty member was also a slaveowner and defended slavery from the criticism of abolitionists. The Southern faculty fought to preserve slavery following the election of President Abraham Lincoln and advocated for Confederacy’s cause to preserve slavery during the Civil War. Following the defeat of the Confederacy, Southern faculty continued to oppose equal rights for black people, specifically citing their “inferiority.” Even as times changed, Southern faculty supported segregation and did not integrate its classrooms until 1951.
In a lengthy letter published along with the report, Mohler wrote that while “most Southern Baptists” may want to just move on from the past without honestly assessing it, “[t]hat is not possible, nor is it right.”
… the moral burden of history requires a more direct and far more candid acknowledgment of the legacy of this school in the horrifying realities of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, racism, and even the avowal of white racial supremacy. The fact that these horrors of history are shared with the region, the nation, and with so many prominent institutions does not excuse our failure to expose our own history, our own story, our own cherished heroes, to an honest accounting—to ourselves and to the watching world.
“We must repent of our own sins,” Mohler continued. “We cannot repent for the dead. We must, however, offer full lament for a legacy we inherit, and a story that is now ours.”
The entirety of Mohler’s letter can be read here. The full report is here. Both should be read in their entireties.