“Sometimes, Anglo Americans do not recognize the degree that racism has crept into our lives.” This is the key line in an official apology published Wednesday by Paige Patterson, president of the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary. It’s totally unbelievable as written in context.
Let me back up, in case you missed what led up to this penitent creed to the Church of Racial Virtue.
Four SBTS professors dressed up as rappers as a humorous send-off for another professor who enjoys rap, and has even incorporated it into sermons. They tweeted their little homage (that was really their bad judgment), and of course, the requisite people who live to pounce on such things reacted in their predictable virtue-signalling, faux righteous indignation.
— Jonathan Merritt (@JonathanMerritt) April 25, 2017
The tweet was removed. “Southern Baptist can do better.” Maybe so, but what is “better,” and who gets to decide what’s offensive? This isn’t some “Jews to the ovens” remark about the Holocaust, or an offhand joke about sheet-wearing KKK members. It was a play on rappers: “Notorious S.O.P.” meaning “school of preaching.” To a gaggle of theology professors, this is funny stuff.
Only people who feel that “Anglo Americans” are inherently subhuman scum inbred with racism in their DNA would believe that it’s truly offensive. But Jemar Tisby, President and Co-Founder of the Reformed African American Network, opined in the Washington Post that this photo really matters. RAAN’s purpose is to get people “woke” using Biblical reference and scholarship.
Tisby compared the photo to “blackface,” as an example of dehumanization. Really? As if these professors went to the “Mock Africans Costume Store” to buy their gear. More likely they went to Journey’s or JC Penney, where every item they wore is proudly for sale without reference to the skin color of the buyer. The only requirement is that their money is green.
Were the photo of four teenage white boys who love rap and attend church dressed this way, nobody would be saying “how dare they!” In fact, but for the outrage displayed by Tisby and others, nobody would even care.
But Tisby’s real beef is that the leadership at SBTS is not diverse enough for him.
Unfortunately, racial homogeneity is a shortcoming within white evangelicalism as a whole. Looking across evangelical denominations and nondenominational networks, leaders tend to come from similar backgrounds. They are predominantly educated, middle-class white men. Racial uniformity in the leadership means blunders like this photo will probably keep taking place.
Let’s ignore the fact that there are plenty of white rappers, even white “gangsta” rappers. Eminem, Beastie Boys, Machine Gun Kelly, Yelawolf, Mac Miller, Kid Rock, Linkin Park, the list goes on. A big part of African-American culture revolves around rap, so in Tisby’s mind, of course middle-aged white theology professors must have had mocking black culture in mind when they planned this photo.
As a Christian, Tisby should examine the judgment and beam in his own eye before looking for specks in SBTS.
Now that Patterson and SBTS has apologized, we see how totally unbelievable the apology really is. Tisby doesn’t believe it either.
Southwestern could certainly use this opportunity to dialogue about race and diversity, but I hope the seminary goes further. I hope it will commit to hiring professors and staff members from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The professors could conduct an audit of their curriculum to see if they are assigning works by scholars of color. The seminary could review the places it goes to recruit students. The leadership could visit other seminaries with more diversity to learn how they could change their own campuses. Sit down with minority students and ask them if they are willing to speak honestly about their experiences at the seminary.
To the priests of the Church of Racial Virtue, “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it as long as a school is primarily made up of “Anglo Americans,” who, Patterson was forced to write, “do not recognize the degree that racism has crept into our lives.” The cure for this is to get “woke.” But Patterson and SBTS have no intention of getting woke. And in my view of why Jesus Christ came to earth, and God’s ultimate purpose for mankind, they shouldn’t.
The reason the apology was written is contained in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” Patterson placed others’ feelings first, realized that they were offended, and wrote “Racism IS a Tragic Sin.” Yes, there is a history of racism in American Christianity. Many denominations struggle with this history. It’s been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, as whites go to their churches, blacks go to theirs, Hispanics go to a different church, and so on.
But what does that have to do with four seminary professors dressed as rappers as a humorous memento for a colleague who genuinely likes rap? Very little, except to people who see everything in life through a racial lens. People like Tisby put their faith in the Church of Racial Virtue, not the Church of Jesus Christ.
Patterson wrote in his apology:
The purpose of this article is not to elevate myself as any noteworthy example. Nevertheless, I will note that my first controversy in the SBC was not about the Bible per se but about the fact that I led a black man to Christ one day, thus incurring the wrath of godless men in that state and county. At Bethany Baptist Church in New Orleans, I was the object of constant threat because we ministered to children of all races in the Irish Channel district of the city. The course my mother established and my dad enthusiastically supported is one I continue to press here at Southwestern. From that I will not be deterred, whatever the cost.
How is this man guilty of anything but being an “Anglo American?” His apology is unbelievable because he has nothing to apologize for. Does Pharrell Williams need to apologize for wearing a wide-brimmed black hat, that Hasidic Jews have been wearing for centuries? Is his sin being black in an Anglo world? Williams has nothing to apologize for, and neither does SBTS.
In the church especially, leaders of all races should realize that we are not African and Anglo, Hispanic and Asian. We are the hands and feet of Christ. There is only one “woke” the church needs to preach: Jesus Christ and His righteousness. Righteousness is not inherent in any skin color and neither is racism. We are all born sinners in need of a savior.
The only poor judgment these professors showed is allowing their photo to end up on social media, where the hounds of hell could pick it to pieces. Patterson’s apology was forced by a culture which has lost the distinction between good, irony, humor, mockery and evil. A forced apology offers no solace to the offended and no absolution to the one giving it.
Heaven owes no apology to hell. Yet Patterson stooped to offer what was not owed, to fulfill Romans 12:18. For that he should be commended. It is God’s goodness and our steadfast faith that will overcome evil, not pandering to those obsessed with skin color and past injustice. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21.