The Pen

Southern Baptist Seminary Holds MLK and Malcom X “Read-In” Event

It is, according to whomever designates such things, Black History Month.  Not to be left out of the race-based observations and events taking place at secular schools, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) held its fifth annual “African American Read-In.”   The event was entitled “Martin and Malcom” and was advertised as featuring “the reading of excerpts from and discussion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Malcolm X’s speech The Ballot or the Bullet.”  It was advertised by the SEBTS Office of Kingdom with the following tweet: 

In light of this news, several concerns may come to the mind of the average Southern Baptist pew-sitter, who supports SEBTS and its activities with his Cooperative Program dollars.  

Concern #1: A Southern Baptist Seminary has an Office of Kingdom Diversity.

In his epistle to the Philippian church, Paul exhorted God’s people to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”  This exhortation is in keeping with other biblical calls for unity.  God’s people are to be just that: God’s people.   They are called out from among the various nations of the world into one people to carry out the great commission.  Since oneness is a hallmark of Kingdom living, where then does “Kingdom Diversity” come into play?  Can it be in doctrine?  Diversity in doctrine by another name is heresy, which causes division.  It can’t be in doctrine.  Could Kingdom Diversity come into play in gifting?  Perhaps.  God gives various spiritual gifts for operation in the church.  However, a special seminary “diversity” office isn’t needed to help with the administration and training in these gifts.  What then is the purpose of the “Kingdom Diversity” office at SEBTS?  From an inspection of the Office of Kingdom Diversity websiteit apparently exists to recruit, enroll, and finance the education of non-whites and non-males at SEBTS.

Is some form of theological affirmative action something that Southern Baptists and the greater Kingdom of God need?  Focusing on race within the church seems wrong-headed.  If the church is one people, why should ethnic and gender diversity be a focus?  Focusing on the differences in the world seems to distract from resting in the unity and peace of the Kingdom of God.

Concern #2: Professors are Using Black History Month to Give Voice to MLK and Malcom X

One should presume that SEBTS professors do not agree with the theological liberalism of MLK (which is not a feature of his “Letter of from a Birmingham Jail”) or the Islam and black nationalism of Malcom X.  So why were their writings featured in a seminary event?  Arguably, although both are historically popular and unbiblical, both should be studied so that they can be refuted.  But are MLK and Malcom X being featured at SEBTS so that their errant theology can be understood and biblically corrected?  Mathew Mullins who is a professor of the “History of Ideas” at SEBTS referred to his fellow faculty member as “giving” voice to MLK and Malcom X in a tweet about the “read-in” event.

Mullins’ choice of words is startling.  If the atheistic writings of Christopher Hitchens or the heretical writings of Rob Bell were being featured at an event, its hard to imagine a professor using the the phrase “giving voice” to refer to reading their books.  Quite frankly “giving voice” sounds like social-justice-speak.  Given that MLK and Malcom X, rightly or wrongly, are darlings of social justice warriors one is left to wonder if the kind of thinking that lionizes social justice figures has crept its way into a Southern Baptist educational institution.  If a “read-in” is taking place now, will there be a “sit-in” in the future? The fact of the matter is that the thought of Malcom X was studied by “kingdom diversity” people during Black History Month at SEBTS.  God’s people should have a higher idea of race than does the world, focusing on our unity in Christ rather than our differences in skin color…every month of the year.

Concern #3: The Soft Bigotry of Lowered Expectations

There are sixty-three faculty members listed on the SEBTS website faculty page.  Five of the sixty-three faculty members do not have earned doctorates.  Three of the sixty-three faculty members are black.   Two of the three black faculty members are among the group which do not have earned doctorates.  They are Willaim T. Branch and Ronjour Locke.  Locke’s title is “Instructor of Preaching and Urban Ministry;” he was one of the professors who led the “Martin and Malcom Read-In.”  The third black faculty member is Walter R. Strickland, the Associate Vice President of Kingdom Diversity.  To assess the matter simply, though indelicately, how does this look?  Someone familiar with the unfortunate and sinful history of the Southern Baptist Convention might answer, “It looks like we are not racist anymore.”   The SBC is rooted in supporting slave-owning missionaries and its pew-sitters were among the segregationist crowd during the civil rights era.  Frankly, Southern Baptists have a history of being racist.  While the SBC has officially apologized for its past racism, the injustices carried out by its racist members are a tragic part of history.  Contriving a “Kingdom Diversity” office to attract nonwhites, immigrants, and women and staging black history “read-ins” is a reaction in the wrong direction.  Rather than continue to focus on race, Southern Baptists should eliminate their focus on racial differences and focus on being the Israel of God.

Oh, and Thabiti Anyabwile was at SEBTS in February, too.

Malcom X was born “Malcom Little”.  He was also known as Malik el-Shabazz.  He changed his name to identify with his race and religion.   Such is common for black Muslims who identify primarily with their race and (false) religion.  One such black Muslim was a man named Ron Burns, who changed his name to Thabiti Anyabwile.  Anyabwile has since left Islam behind and become a Southern Baptist pastor.   His focus on race remains.  Before the 2016 elections, he suggested that black Americans would best be served by Democratic pro-abortion candidates such as Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  Sadly, this man is still a darling in some Southern Baptist circles.  Perhaps it’s because of the supposed importance of “Kingdom Diversity.”  He recently gave a chapel message at SEBTS about “biblical justice.”  During the message, he want out of his way to say preaching about “justice” wasn’t equivalent to preaching the social gospel.  It’s not…but coming from “Thabiti Anyabwile,” his message rang a little hollow to me.  If I was a Southern Baptist paying to support SEBTS, one might feel hit right between the eyes, but for a much different reason than SEBTS President Danny Akin implied.

[Contributed by Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.


Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant