Some See Historic Southern Baptist Gavel as a Reminder of Racist Legacy

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear brings the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to order using the 1872 Broadus gavel, named for John A. Broadus, a slaveholder, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala., on June 11, 2019. RNS Photo by Butch Dill

When the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention opens, a little-noticed ritual usually occurs.

An SBC executive hands a gavel to the person elected president the previous June. That act officially opens the meeting.

It turns out that gavel, the so-called 1872 Broadus gavel, has a questionable history — especially in a church body that has sought racial reconciliation within its ranks.

The gavel is named for John A. Broadus. He was a slaveholder, a believer in white superiority and a founding faculty member of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“At the 1863 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Augusta, Georgia, Broadus drafted resolutions pledging Southern Baptist support for the Confederacy,” reads the SBC flagship seminary’s December report on slavery and racism in its history.

On Wednesday (June 12), the day this year’s SBC meeting concluded, Roger “Sing” Oldham, spokesman for the SBC Executive Committee, confirmed in an interview that the Broadus gavel is named for the former slaveholder.

The nation’s largest Protestant denomination was founded in 1845 in defense of missionaries who owned slaves.

Asked about the juxtaposition of the SBC’s current emphasis on racial reconciliation — it featured a panel discussion on the subject on Tuesday — and its use of a gavel from a leader connected to slavery, Oldham said: “I think that that’s a very valid point to raise. I’m not sure that it’s been considered.”

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear speaks during a panel discussion about racial reconciliation at the denomination’s annual meeting June 11, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala. RNS photo by Butch Dill

Broadus is known most, Oldham said, for books he wrote about homiletics, or the art of preaching.

“Primarily he is thought of by most Baptists as being the premier teacher of preachers and preaching,” he said. “But your point’s a very valid point for us to consider.”

Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., who supports truth-telling about history rather than removing names from buildings or monuments, said that artifacts connected to American slavery are a part of the SBC’s past.

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Source: Religion News Service