A Student’s Reflections of the Recent Lynching Seminar at SEBTS
We have people sending us stories everyday about the effects of the social justice movement being forced on them in our seminaries in churches. Some of these authors want to remain anonymous due to the fact they may be expelled their schools or fired from their jobs.
I write this to reflect upon my experience at a recent library talk that exemplifies a much larger movement taking place at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The event, put on by the library, was titled, “The Lingering Effects of Lynching on Your Ministry: An Untold Story.” There were three panelists who came to Southeastern to discuss this issue: Dr. Colin Adams from Saint Augustine, Dr. Will Willimon from Duke, and Dr. Donald G. Mathews from UNC. It was moderated by James White. There were probably forty to fifty people in attendance, mostly students.
I attended this event with a genuine interest to learn how some Christian scholars believe that lynching impacts our ministry today. The talk began with an admonition to listen closely, remove our biases, and internalize what we learned. These were specifically prayed for at the beginning of the event. After praying, we watched a well-developed video that showed a young woman who found out that her great-grandfather was lynched, and were again encouraged to internalize what we saw.
Next, the panelists shared stories of how they knew someone (a relative, someone in their community’s past, etc.) that was lynched. They explained the event, how it happened, and how the Christian community did not respond. Lynching was described as America’s “original sin,” and the claim was made that we need to understand how this history impacts us today, because as Christians, we know that all history impacts our current lives.
There wasn’t mention of how many people were lynched. It was, however, described as a creation of the white community to keep the black community from advancing. One of the panelists asserted that whites have always felt threatened by blacks, and have devised ways (like lynching) to keep them down. Several photos of lynchings were then shown, and the story behind them described. The majority of the event was spent discussing different lynchings and the details behind them. It was difficult to experience. We were told again to “internalize” what we heard.
One of the panelists expressed frustration that “whites” often do not to talk about this history. He mentioned that often white people respond when these things are discussed, “I never owned slaves, I never lynched anyone, etc.” He responded that as Christians, we have to begin this discussion with confession and repentance instead of defense. Another panelist stated that we can confess this sin and so show Jesus to be the Son of God who forgives sin, or not confess it, and continue with the rest of America by “lying about our past.” The question was asked: “Can Jesus produce the kind of people who tell the truth?”
Near the end of the talk, the panelists began to discuss how lynching lives on today. We were told not to view lynching as something of the past, but something of the present. We were told that it is directly linked to the existence of the death penalty, mass incarceration, police brutality, and desensitization of racism. As a student going there to learn how they thought lynching has impact today, I was disappointed when they did not describe how lynching leads to or directly affects these areas, but simply stated that it does affect these areas.
Police brutality was discussed the most as an effect of modern-day lynching. The specific cases of Trayvon Martin were mentioned and others like it. They described the way that people focus on the supposed crimes, past, or behavior of these men as a direct continuation of how people portrayed blacks in order to lynch them. We were told that people focus on the “crime” they were committing in order to justify a police officer killing them, and that this is essentially modern-day lynching. However, one of the panelists also linked lynching with Donald Trump’s policy on immigration, and mentioned that he uses “lynch language” to keep immigrants down.
People who disagreed with this view were characterized as conservative, ignorant whites attempting to perpetrate the same white supremacy that supported lynching. It was mentioned that some people will try to shut down this conversation by simply calling it “liberal.” One of the panelists told a story of how a pastor read a verse about caring for the sojourner with regards to Trump and immigration and the people were upset with the pastor for “criticizing their president.” Jokes and knocks were made against President Trump, Clarence Thomas, and Fox News to drive the point home: if we disagreed with what was being presented it was probably because we were white and conservative.
As a student attending what I hoped would be a discussion of these issues, it felt very one-sided, and I felt that if I raised any question I would be disregarded as an ignorant, conservative, white person. One of the questions asked (and subsequently answered) at the end was how could the African American community help others (whites) see the connection between lynching and racial injustice today. I quote one of the panelists responses verbatim, who said that he didn’t have much optimism about the future because of how many people are worn out with whites and their ignorance, “Whites have no knowledge of this. They can’t hear it and they don’t want to hear it.”
I grieve that human beings were ever treated in the ways that I heard about at this event. I wholeheartedly agree that we can learn from America’s past with racism and call people to repentance from racist attitudes, comments, and actions today. We should pursue biblical justice and call out racism wherever we see it. However, this event promoted a specific ideology of race and racism that my fellow students and I had to either agree with completely, confess the sins of our (whites’) past, or else risk denying that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who can truly forgive our sins. It was simply assumed that we were responsible for the sin of lynching and our country’s racism, and was directly asserted that if we didn’t confess them, we weren’t truly believing that Christ can forgive our sins, and were unknowingly supporting the structures that lynching created. Anyone who would disagree was portrayed as willingly ignorant or simply racist. More examples from lynching stories were given to support this claim.
At the end of the event, the panelists mentioned a few ways in which lynching impacts our ministry today and requires us to act. We were told to be a voice for those who suffer from mass incarceration, police brutality, immigration laws, and to work for justice. One panelist mentioned that Christians should not let President Trump talk the way that he does. Pastors were called to preach about these things and help facilitate difficult conversations in their congregations about race. One panelist gave an example of how he discipled students who said they hated white people and showed them how the gospel can heal their wounds. Overall, the practical applications were very vague. The event closed with a reminder that Jesus can forgive our sins from the past, heal the wounds caused by lynching, and give us hope that as we continue discussing this issue, true healing and reconciliation can come.
To the best of my ability, I have represented this event, my school, and the panelists with honesty and charity. My concern is shared among other students who fear to speak out because any push back is regarded as willful blindness, ignorance, or white supremacy. Nevertheless, I hope that my reflection of this event will help some see the ideology that is quickly becoming orthodoxy on campus. May God lead us in the truth.