David French wonders where “the South ends and Christianity begins.” Some history will help those wondering the same thing

Here is French at The Dispatch:

There’s an enormous amount of literature describing shame/honor culture in the South and shame/honor culture generally, but I like this succinct description from David Brooks:

In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. In a guilt culture people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad.

Shame/honor cultures are very focused on group reputation and group identity. Again, here’s Brooks:

People are extremely anxious that their group might be condemned or denigrated. They demand instant respect and recognition for their group. They feel some moral wrong has been perpetrated when their group has been disrespected, and react with the most violent intensity.

Brooks was writing about the general growth of shame culture in America, including in left-wing circles on campus. But doesn’t this sound familiar on the right? Have you noticed how much of the GOP, the party of white Evangelicals, is often positively obsessed with grievance, how it marinates in anger at the insults of the “elite” or the “ruling class”?

We experience this reality constantly. It sometimes appears as if the bulk of the conservative media economy is built around finding and highlighting leftist insults, leftist disrespect, and leftist contempt. And yes, it exists, but there is a difference between highlighting a problem and marinating in grievance over the rejection of the left.

This has old, old roots. In his book Desire, Violence, and Divinity in Modern Southern Fiction, Kent State professor Gary Ciuba writes that “honor meant that southerners beheld themselves as others beheld them,” and that meant that “their self-worth lived in the look of the other.”

French asks an important question. Where does the South end and Christianity begin? Historians have wrestled with this question for decades. If you want to dig deeper, I encourage these books:

Christine Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt. (I haven’t taught this book in a while, but it used to be a staple of my course on the early American republic).

Bertram Wyatt Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South

Craig Thompson, ed., Southern Manhood: Perspectives on Masculinity in the Old South

Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in the Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause

Paul Harvey, Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities Among Southern Baptists

Paul Harvey, Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era

Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation and Manhood in the Rural South

Daniel Stowell, Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South

James Bennett, Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans

Robert Elder, The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South

I am sure I missed others. Feel free to add more at Facebook and on Twitter and I will try to add them to this list.

The U.S. Senators who objected to the Electoral College results were almost all evangelicals

For the record, the following United States Senators objected to the Electoral College vote in Arizona last night:

Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)

Roger Marshall (R-KS)

John Kennedy (R-LA)

Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)

They are all Republicans. They are all Trump supporters. But they are also, in one form or another, evangelical Christians. Cruz is a Southern Baptist and a Christian nationalist. Hawley is a member of an Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Cindy Hyde-Smith is a Southern Baptist. Roger Marshall is a “non-denominational Christian” who has the support of the Christian Right Family Research Council, the organization run by court evangelical Tony Perkins. Tommy Tuberville attends a Church of Christ congregation. The former Auburn football coach believes that “God sent us Donald Trump.” John Kennedy is a founding member of North Cross United Methodist Church in Madisonville, Louisiana and is a big Billy Graham fan.

The following Senators objected to the Electoral College vote in Pennsylvania last night:

Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)

Roger Marshall (R-KS)

Rick Scott (R-FL)

Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)

Cindy Hyde Smith (R-MS)

John Kennedy objected to Arizona, but he did not object to Pennsylvania. Rick Scott and Cynthia Lummis did not object to Arizona, but did object to Pennsylvania.

Lummis is a Lutheran and has not made Christian faith a central part of her political identity. Scott is a founding member of Naples Community Church, an independent evangelical church that “affirms the necessity of the new birth.”

Of course there were many evangelical Senators, including Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), John Thune (R-SD), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) who did not object to the Electoral College votes. Other evangelical Senators, including Jim Lankford (R-OK), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), originally said that they would oppose the Pennsylvania results, but changed their minds after the insurrectionists broke into the U.S. Capitol.

Will the debate over critical race theory divide the Southern Baptist Convention?

It’s a fair question. The Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination founded upon a commitment to slavery and racism, is now engaged in a fierce debate over how to deal with racial unrest in the United States. Future historians will notice the irony.

Charlie Dates, the pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, has had enough. His church is leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. Here is his recent piece at Religion News Service:

From 2016 to 2019, too, I preached on the campuses of four of the SBC seminaries and had been invited to another. The backstage conversations at these gatherings promised a new era of advancement on race and theology.

So we decided to cooperate and join our church to the SBC in what is known as a dual affiliation. 

The resistance, especially from some of our elderly membership, was swift and sincere.

“That was the old Southern Baptists,” I promised them and others in our church. The specter of racial animus and theological arrogance was giving way to a new era of Christian leadership, I suggested. Sure, there were more battles to be won before legitimate change would warm the hearts of African American churches like ours, but that’s why our movement felt almost prophetic.

At the emergence of the pandemic, the SBC donated to our emergency effort to provide online food delivery services for Chicagoans with SNAP benefits. Here it was, I thought, further proof that the old SBC was fading.

But as 2020 went on, I grew increasingly uneasy. When Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, said the only politically moral option for Christians was the Republican Party, I asked other SBC leaders, good Christian men, to challenge him. They would not. I was shocked, but not surprised, when Mohler endorsed President Trump and watched the two men — on Reformation Day — celebrate each other on Twitter.

And then, last week, a final straw.

On Dec. 1, all six of the SBC seminary presidents — without one Black president or counter opinion among them — told the world that a high view of Scripture necessarily required a corresponding and total rejection of critical race theory and intersectionality.

When did the theological architects of American slavery develop the moral character to tell the church how it should discuss and discern racism? When did those who have yet to hire multiple Black or brown faculty at their seminaries assume ethical authority on the subject of systemic injustice?

How did they, who in 2020 still don’t have a single Black denominational entity head, reject once and for all a theory that helps to frame the real race problems we face?

I had to tell my church I was wrong. There is no such thing as “the Old Southern Baptists.”

Conservatism is, and has always been, the god of the SBC.

Read the entire piece here.

Six white men decided the Southern Baptist Convention position on race

Maina Mwaura is a Black Southern Baptist writer with an undergraduate degree from Liberty University and an Masters of Divinity from New Orleans Theological Seminary (SBC). Here is a taste of his recent piece at Religion News Service:

I asked Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s president, the Rev. Danny Akin, about the meeting where the statement on CRT was devised. He shared that the six — all of them white men — talked on a Zoom call. He said the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was the principal architect of the statement, but that they were all on the same page when it comes to issues of race.

I don’t think Akin and Mohler, both of whom I know, understand how problematic it is to have six white men meeting to discuss race without having anyone of color in the room to represent their experience. I find it deeply offensive that people would speak for the SBC on race when they themselves have never worn Black skin; never dealt with its historical and cultural inequities; nor had any firsthand experience of navigating the tensions of race in today’s world.

This problem isn’t only one of misunderstanding academic theories. As America’s demographics shift, the SBC’s attitudes toward race will begin to cost the SBC souls. In 2020, the SBC is led solely by white men. The denomination’s president and the heads of every one of the SBC’s denominational entities are white. White male leadership has been ingrained within the denomination since its founding in 1845, when it broke with the Northern churches over slavery.

Read the entire piece here.

The debate over critical race theory in the Southern Baptist Convention (and beyond) is heating up

Who is afraid of critical race theory (CRT)? The Southern Baptist Convention is.

A denomination founded on racism, slavery, and white supremacy has become the center of opposition to a theory that helps us to better understand the consequences of racism, slavery and white supremacy in American life.

But the Southern Baptist Convention is not alone in this fight. Liberty University is also becoming a bastion of opposition to critical race theory. Liberty University is the evangelical school with a former president who wore a blackface COVID-19 mask that cost the school the support of African-American evangelical pastors and led to the voluntary departure of Black athletes , students, and employees.

These two institutions have chosen to pontificate about the dangers of critical race theory at a time of racial unrest in our nation. Instead of listening and learning in this moment, they felt the need to double-down.

Last week the presidents of the six Southern Baptist seminaries in the United States openly condemned CRT in “any form or fashion.” Dallas-area pastor and noted evangelical leader Tony Evans, who was quoted by the members of a 2019 Resolution Committee, offered a more nuanced take on CRT:

As I stated in my sermon, which I encourage everyone reading this to watch, I again affirm that the Bible must be the basis for analyzing any and all social, racial or political theories in order to identify what is legitimate or what is not legitimate. But I did not say, nor imply, that CRT or other ideologies lack beneficial aspects—rather that the Bible sits as the basis for determining that. I have long taught that racism, and its ongoing repercussions, are real and should be addressed intentionally, appropriately and based on the authority of God’s inerrant word.

J.D. Greear, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, endorsed the seminary presidents’ statement on CRT and then added a Twitter thread:

And then came a piece by a Nathan Skates of the Liberty University Falkirk Center. He praises the SBC seminary presidents and other critics of CRT and then decides to take a shot at Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism and this recent piece. Skates writes:

Meanwhile, Jemar Tisby, president of The Witness, a black Christian collective that has advocated for CRT as a means to achieve racial justice and reconciliation, wrote that the Council’s statement showed their commitment to “whiteness.” He stated that the Council “ostensibly met to recommit to their guiding statement: the Baptist Faith and Message. In reality, these seminary presidents reaffirmed and gave themselves over to another historic Southern Baptist commitment: whiteness.”

Tisby went on to criticize the Council’s lack of action on racial issues and defended CRT. Tisby stated that the real threat to the Church is “Christian nationalism,” claiming that America is “not so exceptional” and lobbed charges of racism at evangelicals who support the Republican party.

This author would like to add that if America were not exceptional and were indeed irredeemably and systemically racist, Tisby would not be able to have achieved such success nor be allowed to make such claims without consequence.

I don’t know anything about Nathan Skates, but it doesn’t surprise me Liberty, an evangelical university, would publish such a loaded and ignorant statement like the last paragraph in the above excerpt. Let’s remember that not all Christian universities are the same.

A few final thoughts:

Evangelical Christians adopt all kinds of “theories” without accepting them in total. For example, “pagan” philosophers like Plato and Aristotle have informed the history of Christian theology at every turn. The evangelical “church growth” movement and most evangelical megachurches have embraced secular business theories. American evangelicals drink deeply from the wells of the Enlightenment, especially economic (capitalism) and political liberalism and self-improvement. There is nothing in the Bible about wearing masks, but many evangelicals wear them because they believe in science. Christian counseling owes a huge debt of gratitude to secular psychology (unless, of course, you come from the nouthetic school of counseling).

So why do evangelicals try to “integrate faith and learning” when it comes to ancient philosophy, psychology, economic and political theory, and science, but refuse to do so when it comes to race? I am asking this question to the SBC seminary presidents, Liberty University, and J.D. Greaar.

Do Southern Baptist schools teach secular ideas for the sole purpose of showing their evil origins–a kind of “know your enemy” approach to education? Is there nothing we can learn from human beings who do not share our theology? What happened to “all truth is God’s truth.” This is why I called the SBC presidents’ statement “anti-intellectual.”

What do we mean by critical race theory? I have now defined it in several posts, but I will define its basic tenets one more time for those who may have missed the previous posts:

First, CRT affirms that racism is an “ordinary” or “common” part of everyday life. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice against people of color, it is a system of discrimination built into American institutions, especially the law.

Second, CRT affirms that since White people benefit from such systemic racism, they will not have the incentive to do anything about it. Shock events such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha might alert White people to racial injustice, but it is unlikely such tragedies will lead to a sustained anti-racism.

Third, CRT affirms that race is “socially constructed.” This means that the racial categories we use are not biologically determined but invented by human beings. There is nothing inherent about any race that should lead to its oppression. Racism is thus best explained by a close examination of American history to see how men and women in power “constructed” the idea of racial difference and promoted bigotry based on those differences.

Fourth, CRT affirms, to quote Delgado and Sefancic, that “no person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity.” For example, I am a male, white, a product of the American working class, and a Christian. These different identities are often mutually dependent on one another and when taken together make me a whole person. CRT uses the technical term “intersectionality” to define the way these different identities overlap and intersect.

Fifth, CRT affirms that Black people and other people of color “are able to communicate to their White counterparts matters that whites are unlikely to know.” At the heart of CRT is storytelling. This is the primary way that people of color can explain the racism that they encounter daily. It also implies that people of color are more equipped to talk about the plight of the racially oppressed than White people.

Which of these points do the Southern Baptist seminary presidents oppose?

Southern Baptist seminary presidents unite against critical race theory

The official statement is tacked-on to the end of George Schroeder’s article at Baptist Press. Here it is:

On this twentieth anniversary year of the Baptist Faith & Message (as revised and adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000), the Council of Seminary Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in its annual session, hereby reaffirms with eagerness the Baptist Faith & Message as the doctrinal statement that unites and defines Southern Baptist cooperation and establishes the confessional unity of our Convention. Our six seminaries are confessional institutions, standing together in this classic statement of biblical truth. All professors must agree to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message. This is our sacred commitment and privilege, and every individual faculty member and trustee of our institutions shares this commitment. We are thankful for the theological commitments of the Southern Baptist Convention, standing against the tide of theological compromise and in the face of an increasingly hostile secular culture.

In light of current conversations in the Southern Baptist Convention, we stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.

The statement seems to suggest that Southern Baptists now formally believe that racism is confined to individual racist acts and is not systemically embedded in American society. The latter appears to be understood as a form of “theological compromise in the face of an increasingly hostile secular culture.”

Yes, you are reading this correctly. A Protestant denomination founded upon its commitment to slavery and racism has rejected the idea that racism is systematically embedded in southern society.

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, has also endorsed the statement.

UPDATE (December 2, 2020 at 12:30pm):

Several folks have told me that many of the seminary presidents who signed this statement actually do believe in systemic racism. This appears to be true. Al Mohler, Danny Akin, and J.D. Greaar have all said that systemic racism exists. Mohler seems to making some kind of case for systemic racism here. (I find this interview problematic for a lot of reasons, but that is another post). Akin and Greaar seem to be adhering to something similar to systemic racism here and here.

A couple of quick points.

A person who believes in systemic racism and, at the same time, rejects critical race theory “in any form or fashion,” will need to thread a very narrow intellectual needle. It all depends on how one defines systemic racism and critical race theory (CRT). I summarized CRT in this post. Here is a taste:

First, CRT affirms that racism is an “ordinary” or “common” part of everyday life. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice against people of color, it is a system of discrimination built into American institutions, especially the law.

Second, CRT affirms that since White people benefit from such systemic racism, they will not have the incentive to do anything about it. Shock events such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha might alert White people to racial injustice, but it is unlikely such tragedies will lead to a sustained anti-racism.

Third, CRT affirms that race is “socially constructed.” This means that the racial categories we use are not biologically determined but invented by human beings. There is nothing inherent about any race that should lead to its oppression. Racism is thus best explained by a close examination of American history to see how men and women in power “constructed” the idea of racial difference and promoted bigotry based on those differences.

Fourth, CRT affirms, to quote Delgado and Sefancic, that “no person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity.” For example, I am a male, white, a product of the American working class, and a Christian. These different identities are often mutually dependent on one another and when taken together make me a whole person. CRT uses the technical term “intersectionality” to define the way these different identities overlap and intersect.

Fifth, CRT affirms that Black people and other people of color “are able to communicate to their White counterparts matters that whites are unlikely to know.” At the heart of CRT is storytelling. This is the primary way that people of color can explain the racism that they encounter daily. It also implies that people of color are more equipped to talk about the plight of the racially oppressed than White people.

Which of these points do the Southern Baptist seminary presidents oppose?

Here’s another thought. Why are Southern Baptist seminary presidents and theologians willing to learn from non-Christians in other areas, but seem unwilling to learn from those unbelievers (and in many cases fellow believers) who write about race? For centuries Christian theologians have read “pagan” philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle and have integrated the thought of these pagans into Christian theological systems. In fact, one cannot understand the history of Christian theology without these ancient thinkers. (Thanks to historian Andrea Turpin who told me that Wheaton College theologian Esau McCaulley makes this case for Plato in his book Reading While Black).

We just interviewed Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn on The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. What she argues about Stoicism, Platonism, and other ancient moral philosophies in her book Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living can be very helpful to evangelical Christians. I am guessing that these seminary presidents would agree.

Next semester I am teaching Homer in a course for first year students. In the context of a Christian college we will read Homer critically, but I imagine there will be things that my students will find useful in Homer as they strive to practice their Christian faith.

I am sure most of these seminary presidents would agree with the phrase “all truth is God’s truth.” I linked to an Al Mohler interview above in which he talks about a variety of non-Christian or non-evangelical thinkers who have influenced him, including the sociologist Peter Berger. If Mohler and others do believe that truth can be found outside the Bible and the church then why do they reject CRT “in any form or fashion” (as I defined it above)?

In the end, this statement is another example of Southern Baptist anti-intellectualism and fundamentalism. When I call someone an anti-intellectual I am not saying that they can’t think. Rather, I am saying that they think in overly binary ways that lack nuance and complexity. As a friend wrote to me this morning, such anti-intellectualism results in fear–the fear of theological or intellectual others and the fear that acknowledging what is true about intellectual others will hurt them politically and lead to a loss of power.

Al Mohler on the future of the Southern Baptist Convention

The Trump-supporting president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wants to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He makes his case in an interview with the Baptist Press.

If Mohler becomes president of the Southern Baptist Convention:

  1. He will be a “bridge” between the SBC’s past and future.
  2. He will “fly the flags of conviction very clearly.”
  3. He will make sure younger pastors line-up with the “conservative resurgence” in the denomination, a movement he calls the “World War II of the Southern Baptist Convention’s history.”
  4. He will defend the inerrancy of the Bible.
  5. He will defend a “biblical pattern of sexuality.”
  6. He will try to curb the power of social media by bringing people together face-to-face to discuss pressing issues in the church.
  7. He prevent “liberal drift” in the denomination. (This is not defined).
  8. He will prevent critical race theory from making inroads in Southern Baptist seminaries. (I am not sure what Mohler makes of this video that suggests three of his faculty believe in systemic racism).

Read the entire interview here. I find it interesting that Mohler has nothing to say about this or this.

A movement that rejects social justice wants to “unite” the Southern Baptist Convention

In the 1980s, the Southern Baptist Convention went to war over the inerrancy of the Bible, the ordination of women, and abortion. The so-called “fundamentalists” won that war and gained control of the convention. Most of the liberal and moderate evangelical theologians either left the denomination or the conservatives forced them out. People like Albert Mohler and Paige Patterson gained control of Southern Baptist seminaries and touted their victory in books, videos, and speeches.

The Southern Baptists have not fared very well since the conservative takeover. The number of converts to the faith is in decline. Children raised Southern Baptist do not stay Southern Baptist. Many of the denomination’s leaders, including Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, and Mohler, have hitched themselves to the Trump wagon. Scandals related to sexual abuse and racism have brought down conservative leaders such as Richard Land, Paul Pressler, and Paige Patterson. Between 1998 and 2018 more than 700 Southern Baptists experienced some form of sexual misconduct at the hands of ministers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and church volunteers.

This is a denomination in crisis.

Now it looks like the SBC has a new civil war on its hands. It looks like the denomination is seriously divided over issues such as social justice, critical race theory, women’s role in the church, and the very meaning of the Gospel. We have covered this here and here and here. One young buck within this movement want so excommunicate all the “woke” members of the denomination.

Yesterday David Roach of Christianity Today published a piece on this new movement within the SBC. A taste:

Over 500 people gathered Tuesday night for a religious liberty event at the university’s campus in Cleveland, Georgia, and within a few days over 10,000 had watched on Facebook. Speakers criticized political correctness and cancel culture, urging believers to focus on biblical justice over social justice. They prayed for bold, biblical preaching and godly leadership for their churches and the country.

Radio host Todd Starnes characterized the gathering as an attempt “to save the nation’s largest denomination from a radical group of Never Trumpers and woke critical race theorists.”

The group responsible for the event is the Conservative Baptist Network. This newly formed coalition of conservative pastors and leaders worry the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is drifting toward more worldly approaches and away from the convictions of millions of everyday churchgoers in the pews (or, in pandemic times, over the screens)—and they believe now’s the time to do something about it.

Their concerns emerged or accelerated over the past four years when, like the rest of the country, Southern Baptists found themselves in disagreement over Donald Trump’s presidency as well as the appropriate response to rising social unrest nationwide.

Read the entire piece here.

Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler makes it official. He voted for Trump

We have written before about Al Mohler‘s support for Donald Trump. Just to be clear, Mohler is not arguing, like some evangelicals, that Christians should not vote for Biden. He is arguing that Christian should vote for Donald Trump.

Here is the crux of his recent piece:

  1. Trump or Biden might die and Mike Pence is a better option than Kamala Harris. Mohler writes, “I do not have to blink in deciding between the prospect of a President Mike Pence versus a President Kamala Harris.”
  2. Trump lacks basic moral character, but so does Biden.
  3. Mohler would prefer to have Biden as a neighbor, but he is not voting for a neighbor.
  4. Mohler believes that “love is to be the animating motivation for political action.” Love, he writes, “leads to policies that have good moral effects.”
  5. The Democrats embrace a “culture of death” because of their position on abortion.
  6. Mohler did not vote for Trump in 2016, but he will in 2020 because Trump has delivered on his pro-life promises (read: abortion). He goes as far to say that “Donald Trump has been the most effective and consequential pro-life president of the modern age.”
  7. Religious liberty is under threat
  8. The group “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden” is “insanity.”
  9. Not voting for Donald Trump is the same thing as voting for Joe Biden
  10. Black people have the right to vote for Democrats, but he does not share their values.

Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian and former member of the Obama White House, responds:

By the way, if you want to understand the “historical reasons” Wear is talking about here I would encourage you to read Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. (I know, I know, this is blatant self-promotion. But give me a break–I may only have one more week of relevance with this book! 🙂 )

More reporting on Southern Baptist Owen Strachan’s claim that “woke” Christians should be excommunicated

We covered this here.

Here is Leonardo Blair at The Christian Post:

Deryk D. Hayes, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights in Kentucky, said he believes Strachan’s comments about “wokeness” makes him look like “an open and unrepentant champion of white supremacy.”

“His most recent attack isn’t against ‘wokeness’ as much as it is the affirmation of ‘whiteness.’ Among white male evangelicals like Owen, apathy and bigotry seems to be at an all-time high,” Hayes charged on Twitter Monday.

Anthony B. Bradley, professor of religious studies at The King’s College in New York City and a research fellow at the Acton Institute, called Strachan “depressing” and his analysis hypocritical.

“I cannot tell you how depressing Owen Strachan is. These are people who quote Spurgeon & Edwards. Racism doesn’t require Matt 18 excommunication only the responses to it. This is why Eric Mason calls Reformed Evangelicalism a ‘hypocritical monstrosity,’” Bradley tweeted.

Southern Baptist Convention Pastor Dwight McKissic who is founder and current senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, also suggested Strachan’s take on “wokeness” is hypocritical.

“Owen Strachan is encouraging the SBC to disfellowship ‘woke’ churches & professors from the SBC. 3 AA professors have been targeted. One has since resigned. Would Strachan favor removing the names of the White Supremacist founders at SBTS from buildings? No, of course not!” McKissic tweeted Monday.

Read the entire piece here.

The problem here is not only with Strachan, but with Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the school that gives him a platform.

Some of you may remember last June when Strachan attacked popular evangelical preacher Beth Moore. Here is part of what I wrote back then:

Of course the Southern Baptist Church leadership has the right to define the role of women in the church in any way they want to define it.  This is what religious liberty is all about.  Millions of evangelicals attend churches that do not ordain women.  As noted above, the largest religious body in the world–the Catholic Church–does not ordain women.  But Strachan and other Southern Baptists also like to fancy themselves as heirs to the evangelicalism that I experienced at TEDS nearly thirty years ago. Strachan writes books and edits books for conservative Christian publishers extolling people like Carl F.H. Henry, Charles Colson, and other members of the neo-evangelical movement.

My professors at TEDS had firm convictions on a whole host of issues, but they did not promote them with the fundamentalist spirit to which I see coming from Strachan and his followers.  In fact, it was this very spirit–the kind of militant spirit I see in their tweets–that made fundamentalism so repulsive to people like Carl Henry, Ken Kantzer, and the other neo-evangelical leaders who broke from fundamentalist militancy in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Southern Baptist Convention can work out their issues on women in the church on their own, without my help, but if you are going to try to make complementarianism a defining and non-negotiable characteristic of SBC orthodoxy please stop writing about how much you love the neo-evangelical movement.

Read my whole post here.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary addresses its racist past; keeps buildings named after slaveholders

Here is Adelle Banks at Religion News Service:

The flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention decided Monday (Oct. 12)  to maintain the names of campus buildings named for school founders who had connections to slavery. At the same meeting, the trustees of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary created a multimillion-dollar scholarship fund for African American students.

“We’re not going to erase our history in any respect or leave our history unaddressed,” said the school’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr., in a statement. “We are seeking to respond to the moral and theological burden of history by being a far more faithful institution in the present and in the future than we’ve been in the past and in this central respect we acknowledge a special debt to African American Christians.”

Starting in the 2022-23 academic year, the school will earmark $1 million of restricted and endowed funds for the Garland Offutt Scholars Program to honor the first African American full graduate and assist Black students at the seminary. It plans to contribute an additional $1 million every three years until a $5 million goal is reached.

The seminary trustees also declared vacant the Joseph Emerson Brown Chair of Christian Theology, which was held by Mohler. Brown, governor of Georgia during the Civil War, earned a substantial part of his fortune from the exploitation of mostly Black convict-lease laborers and gave a gift of $50,000 to the seminary that helped save it from financial collapse.

Read the entire piece here.

Excommunicate me please!

This is the new fundamentalism.

Here is Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the major Southern Baptist seminaries in the country. He calls for the excommunication of people who believe in critical race theory and suggests that they will be sent to “eternal damnation.”

The arrogance of this is amazing for a man who responsible for training ministers.

Strachan is also driving a knife through the Southern Baptist Convention, many of whom teach critical race theory at Southern Baptist seminaries.

Watch the entire lecture here:

By the way, here is my take on critical race theory.

“If you’re a white church, you’re open. If you’re a Black church, you’re not.”

The quote in the title of this post comes from pastor John Onwuchekwa of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta. Onwuchekwa’s church recently left the Southern Baptist Convention because it was “slow-walking racial justice reform.”

Here is a taste of Kadia Goba’s piece at Buzzfeed News:

It’s a common difference between the churches in Georgia right now who are grappling with the coronavirus. More than 7,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the state and those numbers have deterred many of the most vulnerable — churches with large Black congregations — from returning to in-person activity.

Gov. Brian Kemp reopened the state on April 24; a month later, Trump declared places of worship essential, settling a nationwide dispute as to what category they fell under during the pandemic. By then, and soon after, many evangelical churches led by white ministers with predominantly white congregations in Georgia were opening their doors. Many Black churches, some of which had been closed since March 15, continued digital services and one-on-one Zoom meetings with members of their congregation.

“I would be overwhelmingly reckless and irresponsible to put 6,500 people in my sanctuary while COVID numbers in Georgia are still escalating,” Pastor Jamal Bryant told BuzzFeed News, who added that the divide on masks wearing is that of a political nature, and nothing to do with theology.

State data shows the statistics mirror other parts of the country: Seniors and Black people have disproportionately died of the coronavirus. Data in June showed that 79% of people hospitalized in Atlanta for COVID-19 were Black.

Read the entire piece here.

Name changes in American evangelicalism

The Southern Baptist Church now wants to be called “Great Commission Baptists” but none of the denomination’s seminaries will remove the word “Southern” from their names and churches have the right to reject the new name. Go figure. Sarah Pulliam Bailey has the story at The Washington Post. The suggested move is an attempt to separate from the South’s racist roots.

Evangelicals for Social Action is now “Christians for Social Action.” Kate Shellnut has the story at Christianity Today.

Ron Sider, the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, recently addressed the name change at his blog:

I want to tell you about an important name change for Evangelicals for Social Action. For 40 years, I had the privilege of leading ESA. Although I retired in 2013, I continue to serve as co-chair of the board.

Today,  September 15, ESA launched  a new fabulous website and announced its new name. Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) is now Christians for Social Action (CSA).

Here is a short (well, relatively short!) explanation of the new name.

The most important thing to say is that the title I have given this blog makes the most important point: different name, same mission.

ESA began with the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern written over the Thanksgiving weekend in 1973. About 50 evangelical leaders – – elders like Carl Henry, Frank Gaebelein and Vernon Grounds and younger folk like Jim Wallis, Sharon Gallagher, John Perkins,  Richard Mouw, and myself – – spent two days wrestling with the widespread lack of evangelical engagement on social issues such as economic and racial justice, peace, and the dignity of women. Everyone at the conference, both young and old, agreed that biblical faith demanded that American evangelicals become much more engaged in issues of social justice.

The Chicago Declaration started with  our central foundation: “As evangelical Christians committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God, we affirm… “  From there, the statement went on to call evangelicals to a vigorous commitment to struggle against personal and structural racism, economic injustice, “the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might,” and  men’s prideful domination of women.

The immediate response to the Chicago Declaration was stunning. There was massive coverage in both the religious and secular press. Almost everyone was surprised and many were delighted that evangelicals were ending a long silence and were now ready to launch a new movement of evangelical social action.

Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) slowly emerged from this historical declaration. After  several years of only annual meetings, ESA became a membership organization with full-time staff in 1978. Our basic sense of mission was to develop biblically solid materials and meetings to help evangelical Christians become much more deeply engaged on issues of social justice. (We focused on evangelicals because we were evangelicals and that was where the need was greatest!)

In the next couple decades, ESA developed programs in many areas: working to end apartheid in South Africa; opposing our government’s support of the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s; developing materials and workshops on global poverty; encouraging the emergence of Christians for Biblical Equality; launching an environmental program that became the Evangelical Environmental Network; working for racial justice. In the 1990s, when we began to fear that  some younger evangelical social activists might lose their passion for evangelism, ESA launched a program to help churches  combine word and deed. We hoped and prayed that vast numbers of American evangelicals would become part of a large movement that would work through both faith-based social service agencies and political engagement to make American society more just.

But ESA (and related organizations) were soon not the only ones urging theologically conservative Christians to reengage politics. In 1979, Jerry Falwell formed Moral Majority and led large numbers of fundamentalists into politics. In his run for the presidency in 1987-1988, Pat Robertson did the same for many charismatics and  Pentecostals. Their agenda was significantly different from that of  ESA. Whereas ESA believed biblical faith called us to a “completely pro-life “agenda, Falwell, Robertson and colleagues tended to focus on a much narrower range of issues ( especially abortion and  marriage). And they identified more and more with the politically conservative part of the Republican Party. Increasingly, the media equated evangelicals with the “Religious Right”. And in 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. And they have continued to support this twice divorced sexist, who had boosted of sexual affairs, stoked racism, promoted policies that largely benefit the richest 20%, ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming and lied constantly, undermining democracy by dismissing anything he disliked as fake news.

Today the word evangelical in the popular mind has largely political connotations. For large numbers of people,  it signifies a right-wing political movement irrevocably committed to Donald Trump. Large numbers of young people raised in evangelical churches are turning away in disgust – – abandoning evangelical churches and even sometimes Christian faith itself. And the larger society thinks of evangelicals  not as people committed to Jesus Christ and  the biblical gospel but as pro-Trump political activists.

The result is that ESA increasingly found that our name failed to communicate who we really are. And it also led people to click off any message with that name before we had any opportunity to  explain that the word evangelical is a rich theological term that refers to historic Christian orthodoxy and a commitment to Jesus’ gospel (the word  evangelical comes from the Greek word for Gospel.) Because of a long history of white evangelical racism, the black church has long refused to use the term evangelical for itself even though its theology and piety are very close to what the word evangelical used to mean. And since 2016, there is even more resistance among African-American   Christians to the word evangelical.

So after careful thought and prayer, we have decided to change our name – – a little! Our new name is Christians for Social Action (CSA). We believe that will help us win a listening ear with more people – – not least with African-Americans. And it certainly will avoid people refusing to even take a minute to see who we are because they see a word that for many people immediately signals  “right-wing, pro-Trump” political folk.

Read the rest here.

Charles Stanley steps down at First Baptist of Atlanta

After 51 years in the pulpit of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Charles Stanley has stepped down. Here is Atlanta Constitution-Journal:

On Sunday, the 87-year-old Stanley announced to the congregation that he was stepping down and turning the reins over to his already designated successor, the Rev. Anthony George.

Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will become pastor emeritus and plans to remain active with In Touch Ministries, which was founded in 1992.

“Earlier this month, I informed the board that I felt the time had come for me to step down as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta to become pastor emeritus” Stanley said in a pre-recorded message.

Read the rest here.

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center meets all expectations at its “Get Louder” event

Yesterday, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the culture war wing of the largest Christian university in the world, held a 1-day conference titled “Get Louder: Faith Summit 2020.” Evangelical Trump supporters were encouraged to yell and scream more, fight more, and make sure that they were active on every social media platform. This is how the Kingdom of God will advance and Christian America will be saved because in the minds of the speakers, and probably most of those in attendance, there is little difference between the two. There was virtually nothing said about civility, humility, empathy, peace, compassion, the common good, or justice for people of color or the poor.

If there is any doubt that the Falkirk Center, with its angry and bitter political rhetoric and unswerving support of Donald Trump, represents Liberty University, those doubts were put to rest in the first fifteen minutes of the event. The day began with a video from the late Jerry Falwell Sr.:

This was followed by a welcome from Liberty University Provost Scott Hicks. Scott Lamb, Liberty’s Vice President for Communications, also welcomed the audience and praised the work of the Falkirk Center.

Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein introduced the day’s festivities:

The first plenary speaker was former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He started-off with a real “historical” whopper:

Much of Huckabee’s speech confused identity politics with “collectivism.” It was an ideological mess. The real socialist collectivists in America are no fan of identity politics.

And it wouldn’t be a Huckabee speech without some fearmongering:

Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:

Next came Ralph Reed, one of the primary architects of the Christian Right playbook. Reed sings one note:

The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:

We’ve written about the “Black-Robed Brigade here.

Falkirk Center’s co-founder Charlie Kirk’s pastor spoke:

A general observation about the day:

And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:

I compared this session on the “Christian mind” to Bruce Springsteen’s convocation address last night at another Christian college–Jesuit-run Boston College:

Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:

Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:

At the end of a long day Eric Metaxas came back for a solo speech:

Please read my recent Religion News Service piece in this context of these texts.

The Author’s Corner with Eric Smith

Oliver HartEric Smith is Senior Pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Savannah, Tennessee and Adjunct Professor of Historical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. This interview is based on his new book, Oliver Hart and the Rise of Baptist America (Oxford University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Oliver Hart?

ES: I wrote Oliver Hart and the Rise of Baptist America mostly because I wanted to tell the story of Oliver Hart, arguably the most important evangelical leader of the pre-Revolutionary South, whose thirty-year ministry in Charleston transformed Baptist life in the region. I also wanted to tell the understudied story of American Baptist transformation across the long eighteenth century; Hart provides a particularly useful window into that narrative. 

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Oliver Hart?

ES: My book argues that Oliver Hart played a pivotal role in the rise of Baptist America in the second half of the eighteenth century by practicing a singular and understated style of religious leadership. Through his earnest piety, relational skills, and ability to integrate Baptist precisionism with the evangelical revivalism of the Great Awakening, Hart became Southern Baptists’ most important pioneer and a key contributor to Baptist ascendancy in America. 

JF: Why do we need to read Oliver Hart?

ES: My book is the only biography of Oliver Hart, Southern Baptists’ most important pioneer and one of the most important evangelical leaders of the eighteenth century. If you read my book, you will also discover how American Baptists began the eighteenth century a small, scattered, disorganized sect, but ended it a large, rapidly growing, increasingly sophisticated, and relatively unified denomination in the young republic.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American Historian?

ES: I have always been fascinated by the past! As a child in West Tennessee, I grew up enchanted by American history–exploring Shiloh National Military Park, listening to stories about Davy Crockett, watching the Ken Burns Baseball documentary on PBS with my dad, reading presidential biographies–and I’ve just never gotten over it. I’ve also always loved to write. So as a historian, I get to pursue the sheer joy of learning for myself, and then try to share what I’ve learned by telling the very best story I can to others. I’d love to produce for readers the kinds of informative and enjoyable stories about the past that I’ve benefited from through the years. My work so far has focused on Baptists, an important but relatively understudied group in American religious history. Since this is my own tradition, I have a personal interest in understanding how the Baptists have lived, worshipped, and participated in the larger American story (for good and for bad) through the centuries. Along the way, maybe I can shed some light on the Baptists for others, too. 

JF: What is your next project?

ES: I have completed a biography of the eccentric but highly influential Baptist John Leland, which is currently under consideration with a publisher, and I have begun work on a critical biography of the nineteenth-century Southern Baptist leader John A. Broadus.

JF: Thanks, Eric!

Why so many Southern Baptists do not believe in systemic racism

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If you want to understand what is dividing the Southern Baptist Convention today, watch this documentary produced by a group called Founders Ministries :

The discussion of race in America picks-up at the 33:00 minute mark when Thomas Ascol of Founders Ministries starts talking about “critical race theory” and “intersectionality.”

Why are some Southern Baptists so afraid of critical race theory?

I have never met a Southern Baptist who accepts every dimension of critical race theory. So I am imagining much of the concern regarding these ideas is best explained by the old slippery slope theory. In other words, critical race theory will lead to compromises in other areas of doctrine that will put Southern Baptists on the road to theological liberalism. These conservative Southern Baptists, like the fundamentalists of the early 20th-century, are always guarding against declension. In his wonderful book The Sin of Certainty, theologian Peter Enns compares this kind of Christian faith to “sentry duty.”

We can get at this issue in a slightly different way by thinking about the debates over social justice that have been raging in conservative evangelicalism.

There is much that is true about critical race theory. For example, it forces us to come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups. In this sense, there are parts of critical race theory that illuminate the impact of human sin on modern life. Is anyone in the Founders Ministries group going to say that white people have not oppressed black people in American history? Is anyone going to deny that white Christians have used their power in ways that are unChristian? Critical race theory might be one way to make sense of this. If James Cone can help me become more aware of racism and teach me how to have a greater solidarity with the oppressed, then why wouldn’t I want to read him, engage him, and employ some of his ideas in my work? All truth is God’s truth. This seems to be the general thrust of the so-called Resolution 9 discussed in this video.

So what is really going on in this documentary? It seems like the folks who created it want to avoid having hard conversations about racism in America. In fact, it seems like they don’t want anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention to have conversations that might lead to more effective efforts at dealing with racism in church and society. They are trying to scare ordinary Southern Baptists by telling them that there is some evil Marxist force working in subtle ways to undermine Christianity. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

When I watched this documentary, at least the parts related to race, it seemed like I was watching the Southern Baptist version of a debate that recently took place in the House of Representatives:

Let’s remember that the Southern Baptist Convention was born as a pro-slavery denomination and remained committed to white supremacy for much of its history. As a result, white supremacy is deeply embedded in all of its institutions and has been for 150 years. Repentance, apologies, and spiritual transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary, but so is structural change.

Those looking to bring such structural change to the convention should be glad that Founders Ministries felt the need to produce this documentary. As an outsider looking in, it tells me that despite the Trumpism of Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Richard Land, Greg Laurie, and Al Mohler, some things are starting to change in the Southern Baptist Convention.

But I am also sure that folks like Jarvis Williams, Matt Chandler, Dwight McKissic, Matthew Hall, and Curtis Woods would say that the convention has a long way to go. As University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter reminds us, these kinds of deep structural changes often take generations and can only “be described in retrospect.”

Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron has some good reporting on evangelicals and systemic racism. She quotes Redeemer Presbyterian Church founder Tim Keller: “You can’t simply say, ‘We’re going to convert everyone and convict them of the individual sin of racism and everything will be OK.”

If you want to dig deeper, a good place to start is Episode 48 (Jemar Tisby) and Episode 70 (Scott Hancock) of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Friday night court evangelical roundup

Metaxas

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Eric Metaxas is still attacking systemic racism. Today one his guests said, “systemic racism does not exist. It is a conspiracy theory that the radical Left has been using to try to destroy the whole American system of justice, of equity, of individual rights, and of the Christian mission of the human being as morally responsible for his own actions and for no one else’s.” (For what people mean when they say “systemic racism,” I point you to Chris Cuomo’s show last night).

Metaxas says that people are now talking so about systemic racism right now because Donald Trump “has been such a monkey-wrench in the deep state.” (No reference here to the idea that people may be talking about systemic racism because of the death of George Floyd and the peaceful protest in every U.S. city”). His guest also compares what is happening right now in America to the Salem Witch Trials. Metaxas compares the woke mob to “Hitler and the Nazis” and also suggests that Black Lives Matter and anyone else who is sympathetic to the movement is the Antichrist. Metaxas knows where his ratings bread is buttered.

OK.

In other court evangelical news:

Robert Jeffress believes that churches should lead the way in solving the problem of racism. He writes, “Every major social and political movement in American–from abolition to the Civil Rights Movement–has been led by pastors and churches. Too many attempts have been made in recent years to scrub our public square clean of religious language and devotion.”

Leave it to Jeffress to somehow connect the church’s role in social justice to the victimization of white evangelical churches.

I wish Jeffress was correct. I wish white churches would step-up and work to end racism in America. But first let’s stop and think more deeply about the history of American reform movements. Yes, Christians were active in the abolition movement and civil rights movement. This activity has been well documented. But let’s also remember that abolitionism was necessary because white churches in the South–including Jeffress’s own Southern Baptist Convention–endorsed slavery. In fact, the Southern Baptist Church was born out of its defense of slavery.

And how about the civil rights movement? Let’s remember that Martin Luther King Jr. and the other leaders of the Black church had to fight for civil rights because white churches and pastors did nothing to end it. King wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the white clergymen in Birmingham who did not not want him in town because he was an “outside agitator.” And let’s not forget that Jeffress’s own First Baptist Church in Dallas was a bastion of segregationist theology. So before Jeffress starts pontificating about churches leading the way, he should look at the history of his own people.

Jeffress says that “reform is always local.” I wish this were true when it comes to the history race relations in America. The racist localism of white cities, and the fear of “outside agitators” like King, meant that change had to come from the outside, including the federal government. History teaches that when we leave white evangelical churches, especially those in the South, to solve the problem of racism, very little happens. I pray that things might be different this time around.

Below is a video of Jeffress’s appearance tonight on Fox News Business with Lou Dobbs. I was waiting for Jeffress to bring up Romans 13 to defend the police. It happened tonight, just after Jeffress asserted that Trump does not have a racist bone in his body. And he concludes by saying that if Biden wins in 2020 he will bring out the guillotines and kill everyone who has a thought that the Left does not like. What is it lately with all of these references to the French Revolution? Jeffress sounds like the Federalists in New England who feared that if Thomas Jefferson were elected president in 1800 the Democratic-Republicans–fueled by the spirit of the French Revolution– would start closing churches and confiscating Bibles. And there are still smart people out there who reject my fear thesis.

Meanwhile:

Ralph Reed is trying to convince people that he has compassion for Stacey Abrams

Franklin Graham wants you to vote for law and order:

Until next time.

Southern Baptist Convention President: “I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel”

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Source: SBC This Week

I can’t remember if it was in college or divinity school, but somewhere along the way my professor assigned John A. Broadus‘s book On the Preparation and Delivery of SermonsI don’t remember anything about the book and I did not know that Broadus was a significant figure in Southern Baptist history and a slaveholder.

Well, it looks like the Southern Baptist Convention named a gavel after John Broadus. Current SBC president J.D. Greaar wants to retire it. Here is Sarah Pulliam Bailey at The Washington Post:

J.D. Greear, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, on Wednesday called for the retirement of a gavel that carries the name of a 19th-century Southern Baptist leader who was a slaveholder and led the convention in support of the Confederacy.

Greear said that he was “deeply conflicted” last year when he was handed the gavel named after John Broadus, who was the second president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the SBC’s flagship seminary. The SBC’s annual meeting, which takes place in a different city every year, was held in 2019 in Birmingham, Ala., the city where several significant events took place during the civil rights movement.

“Southern Baptists, I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel,” Greear wrote in a forthcoming piece in the Baptist Press that was shared with The Washington Post. “While we do not want to, nor could we, erase our history, it is time for this gavel to go back into the display case at the Executive Committee offices.”

The decision comes amid nationwide protests around racial injustice that has led to the removal of Confederate statues and symbols, which have been challenged for years. A spokesman for Greear said the gavel is the SBC’s version of a Confederate monument and that Greear did not realize that he had the option to choose another gavel.

The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and was founded in 1845 in defense of missionaries who owned slaves. The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have elicited widespread condemnation by Southern Baptists.

Greear will preside over one more annual meeting and will get to pick the gavel next year for SBC business. He wrote that he might consider using a gavel representing Annie Armstrong, a pioneer advocate for missions who fought to send the first female African American missionaries. He also might consider the Judson gavel, named after Adoniram Judson, was one of the first missionaries to travel to Myanmar, then known as Burma.

Read the entire post here.