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Southern Baptist Seminary Reviews Its Legacy Of Racism


The seminary that trains many Southern Baptist preachers is acknowledging something about its history that was widely known but often ignored. It was founded by men who owned slaves and defended slavery. Later leaders preached white supremacy. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary reviews its legacy of racism in a new report. And we have more now from NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The 71-page document is thoroughly researched and unsparing. In an introductory letter, seminary President Albert Mohler summarizes. The founding fathers of this school, all four of them, were deeply involved in slavery and deeply complicit in the defense of slavery, Mohler writes. Many of their successors, he says, advocated segregation and the inferiority of African-Americans.

ALBERT MOHLER: We knew, in generalities, that the founders of the seminary owned slaves. We knew, in generality, that they've been very much a part of southern culture, the culture of reconstruction and even legal segregation. But it had never been documented.

GJELTEN: The report, written by six current and former faculty members, draws heavily on the seminary's own archives. It acknowledges, the only reason a separate Southern Baptist denomination was formed back in 1845 was because northern Baptists refused to appoint slaveholders as missionaries. The Southern Baptist Convention, more than 20 years ago, apologized for its connection to slavery. Last year, it passed a resolution condemning white supremacy.

The Southern Baptists today are distinguished from others mainly by their more evangelical and politically conservative identity. Alison Greene, a historian of Religion at Emory University, says this new report is significant, but she wonders what might follow.

ALISON GREENE: Making a statement about Confederate monuments might be a next step. Or taking a stand on questions of voting rights in the 21st century.

GJELTEN: There will be more changes, says Albert Mohler, though he can't say what yet. There are no statues on the campus of seminary founders to remove, he says. There are buildings named after the founders. No changes there are planned.

MOHLER: Taking the names off, in one sense, is just an effort to try to hide.

GJELTEN: This is the seminary's story, Mohler says. The new report is the school taking responsibility for its history. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PHARCYDE'S "PASSIN' ME BY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.