Racism IS a Tragic Sin – A Statement from the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Genesis 3:20 declares that “Eve is the mother of all living.” There are only two options. If I intend to love God and follow His paths, the slightest tinge of racism must be eliminated. Or if I wish to present myself as unconcerned about the ways of the Master, then I may indulge in racism or any other sin, but the consequences of such behavior are certain and tragic. In fact, this verse clearly declares that while we may have a variety of social origins, there is only one race—the human race. This fact is not abridged by skin pigmentation, body shape or size, unique abilities, or anything else. As a part of this one race, we are all sinners in need of redemption, and Christ died for every one of us.
My early years were spent in a part of Texas with a history of racism. However, the home in which I was reared was an intensely missionary home and free of racist perspectives. So I remember well returning from school in the fifth grade and asking my mom why black kids had to go to other schools and why some of the kids at our school had unkind attitudes toward those who were different from them. My mother minced no words in explaining that such attitudes were a result of the sin of the race. She admonished above all that I would devote my life to eradicating every vestige of racism.
Since that time, I have come to understand why racism is an affront to God. The Heavenly Father is a God of variety. His artistic genius produced such a variety of birds, fish, animals—and people—that every time you meet a man of any ethnicity you meet a fascinating and unique member of the race, who in various ways demonstrates the artistry of God. To act in a racist fashion is to ridicule the God of creation for His artistry and judgment. A person who claims to follow the Bible cannot harbor racist convictions without proving himself selective in his approach to Scripture, and therefore, forfeiting his status as a faithful follower of the Bible.
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.
A gracious young Native American preacher on our staff does rap as a hobby. He preached a sermon recently in chapel in which he included a section of rap. I thought that it was great, and the students seemed responsive to it. He has since accepted a pastorate; and, as part of his departure, his fellow professors wanted to awaken memories and in so doing to tease him. That is par for the course around here. The president encourages our people to laugh at each other rather than to risk taking ourselves too seriously. But, as all members of the preaching faculty have acknowledged, this was a mistake, and one for which we deeply apologize. Sometimes, Anglo Americans do not recognize the degree that racism has crept into our lives. Such incidents are tragic but helpful to me in refocusing on the attempt to flush from my own system any remaining nuances of the racist past of our own country. Just as important, my own sensitivity to the corporate and individual hurts of a people group abused by generations of oppressors needs to be constantly challenged.
Southwestern cannot make a moment of bad judgment disappear. But we can and will redouble our efforts to put an end to any form of racism on this campus and to return to a focus that is our priority—namely, getting the Gospel to every man and woman on the earth. God has been kind to us and blessed this effort. In an effort to be humorous, we made a mistake and communicated something that was completely foreign to anything that any of us felt in our hearts. To say that we are sorry will not be sufficient for many. We understand. To each of those and to everyone, we extend an invitation to visit this campus unannounced and at a time of your choosing and witness the love of Christ extended to all indiscriminately and to the best of our ability to every individual who sets foot on the campus. Thank you for praying for us and especially praying that our Lord through His Spirit will perfect our hearts in every way to reflect the heart of the Master.
Paige Patterson, President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary