Albert Mohler has a powerful essay reflecting on racism and the burden of history. His remarks about Southern Baptist history are particularly candid. He writes:
More humbling still is the fact that many churches, churchmen, and theologians gave sanction to that ideology of racial superiority. While this was true throughout the southern churches, 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.
We bear the burden of that history to this day. Racial superiority is a sin as old as Genesis and as contemporary as the killings in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The ideology of racial superiority is not only sinful, it is deadly.
I gladly stand with the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in their courageous affirmation of biblical orthodoxy, Baptist beliefs, and missionary zeal. There would be no Southern Baptist Convention and there would be no Southern Seminary without them. James P. Boyce and Basil Manly, Jr. and John A. Broadus were titans of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
But there is more to the story. Boyce and Broadus were chaplains in the Confederate army. The founders of the SBC and of Southern Seminary were racist defenders of slavery. Just a few months ago I was reading a history of Greenville, South Carolina when I came across a racist statement made by James P. Boyce, my ultimate predecessor as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was so striking that I had to find a chair. This, too, is our story.
By every reckoning, Boyce and Broadus were consummate Christian gentlemen, given the culture of their day. They would have been horrified, I am certain, by any act of violence against any person. But any strain of racial superiority, and especially any strain bathed in the language of Christian theology, is deadly dangerous all the same.
Subsequent generations of Southern Baptists have repudiated and even repented of this sad history. In fact, our official doctrinal standard explicitly denounces racism as a grave sin. Still, Mohler is right. We bear the burden of history, and we do well not to forget that.