Baptist Seminary Faces Backlash Over Twitter Photo

Scott Slayton | Contributor | Friday, April 28, 2017

Baptist Seminary Faces Backlash Over Twitter Photo

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson issued an apology Wednesday after a photo posted by several faculty members on Twitter ignited a controversy. David Allen, Dean of the School of Preaching; Barry McCarty, Professor of Preaching and Rhetoric and Southern Baptist Convention Parliamentarian; Matthew McKeller, Associate Professor of Preaching; Kyle Walker, Vice President of Student Services and Professor of Preaching, and Deron Biles, Director of Professional Doctoral Studies and Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry posed for the photo as a going away present for their colleague Dr. Vern Charette. Charette, whom David Allen called “an excellent rapper,” is leaving the Seminary to assume the role of Pastor at a church in Oklahoma.

In the photo, the faculty members pose clothed in hoodies, sweatshirts, jerseys, bandanas, gold chains and sideways hats. McCarty also appeared to be brandishing a firearm. “Notorious S.O.P.” (School of Preaching) is scrawled in a graffiti-like font across the top and each professor signed the photo.

The professors faced stern rebukes from angered believers within the first few hours after they posted the photo and all of them deleted it. Dr. Allen posted an apology, saying, “I apologize for a recent image I posted which was offensive. Context is immaterial. @swbts stance on race is clear as is mine.”The Seminary quoted Dr. Allen’s tweet and commented “An offensive tweet was posted to one of our faculty members' personal Twitter handles. We have asked that the tweet be removed.” 

Popular Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae responded to Dr. Allen and SWBTS, “‘Stance as clear as mine.’ Said Stance thought the picture was worth creating and sharing? How do you all plan to grow from this?” The Seminary asked Lecrae if he would “be willing to lead a dialogue on growth for our community?” Lecrae declined and shared the Twitter handles of eight individuals and organizations he thought would be able to do so better than he could. 

Jemar Tisby, President of the Reformed African American Network and co-host of the “Pass the Mic” podcast, wrote an article in The Washington Post the next day to help Christians better understand the issue with the photo and how it symbolizes an ongoing issue for American evangelicals. 

“Putting on clothes typically associated with racial and ethnic minorities communicates that a person’s culture has value only as entertainment. That’s why you can’t dismiss this photo as ‘just a joke.’ It harks back to a history of dehumanization.

Another problem with the picture includes how it appears the photo was carefully staged. Consider what probably happened before a camera even came out. These men took time to pick out certain clothes and put them on. They found a place with suitable background and lighting to take a picture. They chose poses. One of them even grabbed a gun. Then someone posted it on social media. This picture wasn’t randomly snapped in a moment of poor judgment. These seminary professors had ample opportunity to consider potential offense. At no point in this elaborate set up did anyone veto the idea.”

Dr. Patterson issued his statement under the title, “Racism IS a Tragic Sin.”

“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.” 


Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Publication date: April 28, 2017

Baptist Seminary Faces Backlash Over Twitter Photo