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Our forefathers believed a heresy, says famous Baptist

NEWS | John Sandeman

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Albert Mohler, a conservative theologian and a leader of the United States’ largest protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists, believes his denomination’s founders believed a heresy.

Heresy, as Mohler says in an article making the surprising admission, “is the denial or corruption of a Christian doctrine that is central to the faith and essential to the gospel”, and is a charge not to be made lightly.

Mohler is serious. In the wake of the massacre of nine black people in Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina by a white gunman, Mohler denounced the founders of both his denomination and the Seminary he leads as believers in racial superiority of white people over African-Americans.

(This story is about a revolution in white Christian thinking, but the black Mother Emanuel Church has given a remarkable example of forgiveness at a court hearing, where Anthony Thompson, husband of Myra Thompson who was killed in the attack, said: “I would just like him [the gunman] to know that … I’m saying the same thing that was just said. You know I forgive you and my family forgive you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ. So He can change you, can change your ways no matter what happened to you, and you’ll be okay. Do that and you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”).

“Today, we just recognise and condemn another heresy that has reared its ugly head in recent days, and murderously so,” Mohler writes.

Slave trader's business in Atlanta, Georgia, 1864.

Slave trader’s business in Atlanta, Georgia, 1864.

“The killing of nine worshippers gathered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina is a hideous demonstration of the deadly power of this heresy. The young white man charged with the killings has not, as yet, claimed a theological rationale for his acts. Nevertheless, he has been exposed as a young man whose worldview was savagely warped by the ideology of racial superiority — white superiority — and the grotesque and wretched ideology that drove him is now inseparable from the murders he is charged with committing.”

In a frank description of his denomination’s history Mohler is plain about how close to home this racial heresy is.

“Southern Baptists bear a particular responsibility and burden of history. The Southern Baptist Convention was not only founded by slaveholders; it was founded by men who held to an ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in scandalous theological argument. At times, white superiority was defended by a putrid exegesis of the Bible that claimed a “curse of Ham” as the explanation of dark skin — an argument that reflects such ignorance of Scripture and such shameful exegesis that it could only be believed by those who were looking for an argument to satisfy their prejudices.”

It was only in 1995 that the Southern Baptists publicly repented of their forefathers’ defence of slavery. Mohler describes himself as being shocked (“I had to find a chair”) when he came across a racist statement by James P. Boyce, the founding president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which Mohler now heads. He writes that it’s not enough to repent of slavery. Rather, “we must repent and seek to confront and remove every strain of racial superiority that remains.”

Another Southern Baptist leader, Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has an opinion piece on the Washington Post calling for the Confederate flag to be taken down from the South Carolina capital’s grounds. He writes, “White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terror against them.

“The gospel frees us from scrapping for our ‘heritage’ at the expense of others. As those in Christ, this descendant of Confederate veterans has more in common with a Nigerian Christian that I do with a non-Christian white Mississippian who knows the right use of ‘y’all’ and how to make sweet tea.”

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