Mitchell joins black evangelicals to address ‘Cosby Conversation’
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Bill Cosby set off a firestorm in the black community with his 2004 NAACP speech at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., calling the black community to take responsibility for many of the societal ills they have brought upon themselves. This controversial speech—and the book he co-wrote in 2007 titled Come On People: On Path from Victims to Victors—drew cheers from some and ire from others, sparking a conversation that continues to stir emotions and opinions today.
One of those who assail Cosby’s views is Michael Eric Dyson, a preacher and professor at Georgetown University, who wrote the 2006 book Is Bill Cosby Right? In the book, Dyson criticizes Cosby’s claims as evidence of the class wars in the black community between the middle class “Afristocracy” and the poor “Ghettocracy.”
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary ethics professor Craig Mitchell and other black evangelicals have entered the conversation in the recently published book Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation, edited by Anthony Bradley.
Mitchell, who serves as the director of Southwestern’s Land Center for Cultural Engagement, says Bradley gathered “black evangelical scholars and pastors to weigh in on the different things confronting the black community and what Bill Cosby is saying about it.”
The book analyzes arguments from Cosby, Dyson and others and calls the black community back to the only source of true change: the Gospel. Mitchell wrote one of the final chapters in the book, an analysis of Dyson and his approach to the conversation.
Mitchell holds a healthy respect for Dyson but feels his views delve too far into liberation theology and his personal attacks on Cosby represent a logical fallacy.
“When I see some of (Dyson’s) charges against Cosby, I understand where that’s coming from,” Mitchell said in an interview about the book. “But then, here’s the other side of the equation: Dyson’s analysis of Cosby, the man, is absolutely devastating. … I couldn’t disagree with his assessment with Cosby, but I also realize it’s a logical fallacy. It’s called an ad hominem, ‘attack the man.’ By attacking the man, you destroy his argument.
“I do have respect for who Dyson is, and his accomplishments, and his abilities, because the man is a great writer and speaker. In my chapter, on the one hand, I try to give him his due. When he’s right, I have to say so. But, in the end, he still takes the wrong position. What I try to do is give as fair and as balanced a critique of what he’s saying as possible.”
Mitchell hopes the book will impact the ongoing dialogue in the black community as well as educate Southern Baptists and other evangelicals on the problems faced by the black community.
“I’d like to see more of a dialogue,” Mitchell says. He believes that “among those who think, write and speak on such things, that they will have a more balanced view. This book will encourage others in the black community to move away from some of the things that are self-destructive.”
“When Southern Baptists read this book, they’re going to get a bigger, better picture of some of the real issues affecting the black community.”