The season is over, but it is never out of style to use a baseball metaphor to explain what is happening in life. What is happening is this: the mighty Albert Mohler, heavy hitter of the Southern Baptist boys, has gone down swinging.
Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Slave holding ministers launched the school in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina. They wanted to counter the undue influence of theologians throughout Yankeeland. It has been, more years than not, the most prestigious of institutions affiliated with the Baptist tradition. I earned two degrees there, a decade before Mohler’s own student days.
From beginning to end, the school has been a bastion of white supremacy, stepping out of line only briefly when it invited to campus the likes of the black preacher Martin Luther King, Jr. and the black theologian James Cone. But those were the days of nefarious liberalism, it is now claimed, that justified the fundamentalist takeover of the school. Mohler was put in charge of the campaign to return the institution to its Calvinist, Fundamentalist, and White Supremacist roots.
He had opportunity to escape the latter—three times, in fact; but each time, he swung and missed. To put it simply and sharply Mohler struck out.
The first pitch came two full years ago when the school published a 70-page expose of its own racist past. It was full and frank and frightening. But also futile—the school did nothing in response, except type a lot of words, including words of remorse. No turning away. No repudiation of people and their preaching that undergirded the reputation of the school. No renouncing of the persistent culture of whiteness that has dominated the school from that day until this. Nothing.
It could have been the occasion of deep repentance, the kind of turning away from old patterns of patriarchy and privilege toward a new vision of Christian community and human compassion. Mohler could have scrubbed the slaveholder names off buildings, launched a theological exploration of supremacy and oppression, and called into his ecclesiastical citadel a cohort of brown and black people to serve as trustees, deans, and professors. But he did not.
The second pitch came earlier this year, and the occasion was the campaign to re-elect Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. Four years ago, Mohler was biting in his assessment of Trump, rejecting him as unworthy of such high position and beneath the lowest baseline of ethical behavior. He neither voted for Trump nor celebrated his victory.
But that was then, and this was now. A new campaign but the same old candidate: rude, crude, and socially, spiritually, and politically unacceptable, unworthy to bear the standard of politically active Christians. Trump had ruled through four years of racist policies and rhetoric; four years of catering to the rich and ignoring the poor; four years of thumbing his nose at any measure of national or global collaboration to address the needs of humanity; and finally one year of the worst mismanagement of a national health crisis in the history of our great country!
We the people saw the light and voted him out of office; but not Mohler. In a much-publicized stunt, Mohler announced his support of candidate Trump, vowing to vote for him in the November election.
Now comes December and another pitch. It comes at the end of a year of public protests demanding justice for people of color; it comes in the very city where white police officers shot and killed an innocent and unarmed black woman in her own apartment.
Mohler stood in the public square and took another pitch.
It was a pitch full of possibilities for any person wanting to shed the racist past of an institution and organization. Mohler could have confessed what everybody knows: racism is deeply engrained in the structures of our society, reaching deeper and wider than the simple prejudices of ordinary people.
But he did not. With his (white) colleagues from five other Southern Baptist seminaries, Mohler repudiated the scholarly study of systemic racism, asserting the odd claim that such perspectives are contrary to the gospel, the Bible, and Baptist doctrine.
Confronted with recurring opportunities for true repentance, courageous leadership, and authentic gospel witness, Albert Mohler struck out.
Mighty Mohler has struck out.
(See also Dr. Moody’s 2018 article “Helping Dr. Mohler“.)
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