Overcoming The Stain of Racism

"We’ve inherited the systems stained by racism because of racialization, even as our hearts are genuinely transformed by the gospel."

“Dr. Mohler preached through Genesis 11 during one of our chapels, and what he said in that message verbatim was we have a ‘stain of racism.’ So, following the chapel service in our faculty meeting, there were some other discussions about it, and I just felt this unrest: ‘Yeah, we know the stain is there, but what are we going to do about it?’


Editor’s Note: Below, Jarvis J. Williams, Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Seminary, and Kevin Jones, Assistant Professor of Teach Education at Boyce College, talk with Towers Editor S. Craig Sanders about their book, Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention.

CS: What prompted this book project to come out this year?

KJ: Jarvis has a long history being a part of the Southern Baptist Convention and being a student at this institution in particular, and I have been a member of churches that were involved with the Southern Baptist Convention and early on saw a separation between many of the African-American churches and the predominantly Anglo churches. It was all just rooted in racism.

Dr. Mohler preached through Genesis 11 during one of our chapels, and what he said in that message verbatim was we have a “stain of racism.” So, following the chapel service in our faculty meeting, there were some other discussions about it, and I just felt this unrest: “Yeah, we know the stain is there, but what are we going to do about it?” And Jarvis and I had been praying together through a church plant prior to that, and I was thinking, “We should write a book about it, and I think we ought to get as many guys in their own areas of expertise to speak into what it really means to remove the stain of racism — guys who are trusted, who love not only their own institution, but the institution of the Southern Baptist Convention as well.” So that’s what kind of prompted it about two years ago.

CS: In Dr. Mohler’s chapter he mentions how other denominations have roots in slavery or racism. It wasn’t just the SBC. Are there any principles in this book that you think could help other denominations remove the stain?

JW: Even though we are, in the book, focusing on our beloved SBC, I think what we say with respect to the gospel, education, leadership, and curriculum development also apply to any Christian community or organization striving to live out reconciled community with diverse people.

We love the SBC and want the book to serve the diverse SBC, but our prayer is that we can also reach the larger evangelical Christian community. So absolutely, I think if folks from PCA backgrounds, Pentecostal backgrounds, mono-ethnic or multiethnic backgrounds, you name the denomination or Christian organization — if they will read this book with Bible open and hearts open, I think they can contextualize what we say in the book for their own ecclesiological or Christian context..

KJ: And I think some of it, I mean, it’s really black and white. So what I say in my chapter about adapting curriculum, you can do that anywhere. Or what Mark Croston says about administrative steps, like promoting guys who are minorities, who have the ability to lead — give them that opportunity. You can do that at IBM. So, a lot of it is pointed directly at the SBC because of our affiliation, but I mean, it’s broad.

JW: And if I could add — what I say in my chapter about the gospel is an issue that relates to every Christian (red or yellow, black or white). Certain descriptions of the gospel only focus on one’s vertical relationship with God. In my chapter, I make the argument that the gospel is both vertical and horizontal. Therefore any Christian who wants to know examples of how to live out the gospel in ways that promote Christian unity and reconciliation can read that chapter and say, “This is applicable to my denomination, even though I am not an SBC person or will never be an SBC person. I love the gospel, therefore let me hear what this brother has to say about what the gospel is saying about Christian unity.”

CS: I want to focus on both of your backgrounds, individually. Jarvis, you’re a four-time alumnus of Southern Seminary and a faculty member. You’re one of four people who have gone from Boyce to a Southern Ph.D. A great portion of your life so far has been spent at this institution, one founded by slaveholders. How does that experience shape your passion for this issue in particular and your hope for this project?

JW: To my knowledge, I’m the first and only four-time graduate from Southern with a bachelor’s from Boyce College, an M.Div., a Th.M., and a Ph.D. from the institution. That’s very powerful symbolically because I am an African-American with a multiethnic heritage who graduated four times from an institution that was, frankly, founded by slaveholders who were racist. Let’s be honest about that. The founders had virtues, and they also had vices, and one of those vices was that they were racist. And so for me, as a Southern Baptist Christian, who has only been a Southern Baptist and a four-time graduate of this beloved institution, these experiences in part inform how I’m understanding this issue in the SBC as a brown-skinned, multiracial person.

As a racial minority Southern Baptist professor, preacher, and church member in a predominately white SBC, it is impossible for me to go about my daily work in the SBC without being aware of the fact that I am a racial minority in a predominantly white evangelical context. So, as a black Southern Baptist who personally has a lot of privilege and who is also a member of a racial minority group within the SBC, my privilege intersects with my marginalized status as a racial minority. I think these realities in part inform how I’m understanding this issue with respect to a few ways the gospel should be lived out in our SBC context, in a way that someone who is white or black or brown and not a Southern Baptist might not be able to see because he or she is coming from majority cultural privilege or a different denominational context as opposed to coming from both privilege and racial minority status within the SBC.

Bringing my 21 years of experience as a Southern Baptist and preaching in many Southern Baptist churches in those years, serving on staff in Southern Baptist churches, studying at three different Southern Baptist schools, having many conversations with white and black and brown Southern Baptists from different parts of the country and from different areas of SBC life, and teaching at two very different kinds of Southern Baptist schools (a university and a seminary) to this project in conjunction with Kevin’s expertise and experiences in traditional black churches and in SBC churches, I think enables us to highlight some things that we hope people will listen to and receive with an open heart.

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