THE ABSENCE OF A DIVERSE FACULTY AT SWBTS, CREATED AND ENLARGED THE CURRENT CULTURAL CHASM

By William Dwight McKissic, Sr.

When the suggestion was made by one of the preaching professors at SWBTS to dress in “gangsta rap garb,” while brandishing a pistol and displaying gang signs—someone on the preaching faculty should have gently pushed back. Immediately and intuitively the inherent pitfalls in that idea should have been recognized by at least one of those Professors. No matter how noble the stated reasons given for such a photo-op might have appeared on the surface, the primary reason for not posing for and publishing the photo should have been obvious: Rationalizing and defending the optics of middle age to older, White—Southern Baptists Professors—dressed in “gangsta rap,” flashing a gun—would have been impossible to defend—even by highly educated men who make a living “word-smithing.”

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As is often said in the Black Community when the obvious goes unnoticed…”Ray Charles could have seen that.”  So the question must be raised, why could one of these five preaching professors not see this? Why was there no push back from one of the five?  If those five professors couldn’t be trusted to exegete the culture correctly, why should students from minority cultures trust the professors to guide them in exegeting a text correctly? After all, we all bring biases, backgrounds, blind spots, cultural insensitivities, etc., to the text…just as we do the culture. We miss the obvious at times, when we view matters through a singular lens. Many seminarians are attracted to schools with diverse faculties, because cultural needs are often more effectively addressed and cultural sensitivities are less offended or violated, because persons are in place that know, appreciate and respect your culture.

The scandal reflected in the SWBTS Preaching Professor “Gangsta” Garb/Image may be the lack of diversity represented in addition to the unwise images depicted. The willingness to demonstrate appreciation for diversity through displaying the symbolism of “gangsta” garb/images; but, the unwillingness to demonstrate the reality of diversity by hiring a diverse faculty is the real scandal represented by this picture. Offering to bring LeCrae to address the matter is like putting a Band-Aid on a cancer. I appreciate him declining such meaningless, window-dressing offer. Offering to hire—if even in an adjunct capacity, Monday-only classes—Dr. Robert Smith, Dr. Ralph West, Dr. Claiborne Lea, Dr. Maurice Watson, Dr. Robert E. Fowler, H.B. Charles, Marcus Jerkins or any number of others, would be the proper response to this matter. Bringing in LeCrae doesn’t resolve anything. Demonstrating fruit worthy of repentance is diversifying your staff, as did the early Church when they faced charges of cultural and racial ethics issues in Acts 6: 1-6.

A Black Preaching Professor would have no doubt persuaded his co-laborers of the single most important reason why this “gangsta rap” photo idea should have been a non-starter. He would have argued it would be impossible for the larger culture to appreciate the optics as being genuine and sincere.

Middle-age and older White Republican Evangelical males, organically, have no history of identifying with or appreciating in the least bit, the “gangsta rap” culture. Therefore, the picture would be viewed as a caricature—which it was—or an insincere attempt to celebrate a culture that you really don’t, nor should, appreciate. The picture is offensive to me in representing contradictory viewpoints to my biblical values. Make no mistake about it; there is nothing conservative, orthodox, fundamental, biblical, kingdom-minded, evangelistic, holy, righteous, or sensible regarding this picture. Who would have ever thought such a picture would have come from a Paige Patterson-led seminary?

No one would take me serious dressed in Confederate garb, waiving a Confederate Flag as a sincere tribute to a departing Paul Pressler. Neither would anyone take that picture seriously as an appeal to the “gangsta rap” culture to come learn to “rap the Word of God”—one of the two stated purposes of the ill-thought picture. The other stated purpose was to pay tribute to a departing faculty member that had a proclivity toward rap, but not “gangsta rap”—which also made it disingenuous.

What is also obviously missing from this picture is a Black Professor.

Maybe Ray Charles couldn’t see the pitfalls in the preaching professors “gangsta” garb/gate proposal, not because Ray Charles was blind, but rather, because, “Ray Charles” is not on the faculty there. Had there been a Ray Charles among the five or in the upper level administration at SWBTS, he would have pointed out again, intuitively and immediately the pitfalls of the infamous SWBTS Preaching Professors twitter picture.

The late Dr. Raymond Spencer was the first Black Professor and only Black Preaching Professor in the history of SWBTS hired by SWBTS former President, Dr. Ken Hemphill. I enrolled in a Preaching class under him in about 2002. The first day of class he made it clear that he believed in women preachers and would allow women who were also enrolled in the class to preach to the class. He expressed his affirmation of the BFM 2000, and explained why his beliefs and practices regarding women in ministry didn’t violate the BFM 2000. He further stated Dr. Hemphill was aware of and supported his viewpoints. If any of the students objected to his views on women in ministry he encouraged them to report him to the Board of Trustees at SWBTS. He indicated he’d welcome an opportunity to have the conversation with them.

I invoked Dr. Spencer’s memory for several reasons: (1) A diverse faculty brings needed diverse viewpoints to the table; (2) A diverse faculty challenges the status quo often where it needs to be challenged; (3) A diverse faculty models ministry for a diverse student body. In some ways Dr. Spencer in respectfully requesting students to report their objections to his views on women preachers to the Trustee Board was modeling the social justice ministry tradition of the Black Church and representing the oppressed; (4) A diverse faculty retains and attracts a diverse student body. The singular reason I was taking that class is because Dr. Spencer was teaching it. And I got what I needed, not only preaching training but insights and modeling related to providing pastoral leadership within a Black Church context. Dr. Hemphill and Dr. Spencer represented soft complementarianism theology, as oppose to the hyper complementarianism theology currently reigning at SWBTS that restrict women’s functionally in ministry beyond the BFM 2000 and the Bible. Dr. Karen Bullock would not be allowed to speak in Chapel at SWBTS today. The women in Dr. Spencer’s Preaching class would not be allowed to attend or preach in those classes today. Dr. Spencer would not be allowed to teach at SWBTS today unless he compromised or changed his convictions. And that’s why we must see the big scandal here as the lack of diversity represented by the picture, not just the obvious insensitivity represented by the photo. “Out of the abundance of twitter, the heart speaketh,” so says a friend of mine. What does this picture say about the heart of the Seminary, in spite their denials. What does the lack of diversity say about their heart?

I had a chance to preach at SEBTS while Dr. Patterson was there. I actually met three-four Black Professors. They were in Chapel and came to lunch with us. The only SBC seminary with a growing Minority population seems to be SEBTS. It seems as if they are intentional in this regard and have more minority professors than other SBC schools. Dr. Patterson is in part responsible for SEBTS’ growing minority population. He laid the foundation; Cast the Vision; Set the mold. I’ve been told Southern has a serious decline in minority student population; and it once was the “go to” school for Black Seminarians. Truett Seminary is now gaining that reputation and traction in the Black Church Community. Only a few years old, I’m told they have at least 50 Black students. Not sure if Southern or SWBTS have as many. All of my info is anecdotal conversation though. I’m sure someone will check out the facts. I hope to be corrected.

Three of my sons in ministry, all serving as Senior Pastor’s in DFW recently enrolled in Truett Seminary. Their attraction to Truett was their diversity is staffing and course offerings. Truett offers courses in Black Preaching and Preaching and Pastoring in the Black Church. They also have 3-4 Black Faculty members including Dr. Ralph West who teaches the course on Preaching and Pastoring in The Black Church. My guys were attracted to the theological diversity, course diversity, and faculty racial diversity represented at Truett.

There are two names in particular I’d recommend SWBTS reach out to—Marcus Jerkins and Robert Fowler. Robert Fowler pastors the largest Black Church in Las Vegas. He holds an MDIV from SWBTS and a DMIN from Tyndall. He is the greatest preacher on the planet in my opinion and needs to be invited to preach in Chapel. He would probably consider flying in to teach a Preaching class on Mondays. Marcus Jerkins is completing a PH.D at Baylor in New Testament and is a teaching assistant for Ralph West at Truett. SWBTS couldn’t go wrong with either gentleman.

I pray that a miracle comes out of this mess. I pray that diversity is birth from this debacle. I pray that God will turn this around and work it for His good.

A young man who I’d recommended to SWBTS and had actually come down from Illinois, stayed with me and visited the campus, tremendously impressed just sent me this text regarding the “gangsta” gate photo scandal: “Racism and insensitivity is so deeply rooted in the SBC and SWBTS that it is fun to them. I believe their orthopraxy fails to line up with their orthodoxy and this is the result.”

Neither Dr. Patterson, nor the five “gangsta” Preaching Professors are flaming racists. They can be, and in this instance were culturally insensitive-borderline racists-clearly out of touch-needed to have apologized-and need to be forgiven. All six have apologized, sincerely and rightfully so. I forgive them. We need to work together to heal this matter constructively and redemptively. Considerable damage to SWBTS’ image has been done by this photo as evidenced by the prospective Illinois student analysis, and the many, many negative responses recorded on social media. However, the damage can be reversed in one felt swoop if the right person is hired as a professor and course offerings that directly address Black Church Issues are offered in the future.

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