Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky, has said that the denomination's founders were "heretics" in their belief that whites were superior to blacks and urged modern-day Southern Baptists to confront the racism of their founding fathers.
In a poignant essay titled "The Heresy of Racial Superiority - Confronting the Past, and Confronting the Truth", Mohler lamented the "putrid exegesis" of the Bible that was allowed to justify racism in the past and acknowledged that "Southern Baptists bear a particular responsibility and burden of history."
"The ideology of racial superiority is one of the saddest and most sordid evidences of the Fall and its horrifying effects," he writes. "Throughout history, racial ideologies have been driving forces of war, of demagoguery and of dictatorships."
Heresy, he argues, is different--and far more dangerous--than error. Heresy is "the denial or corruption of a Christian doctrine that is central to the faith and essential to the Gospel." In other words, a heretic is someone who can be considered to have abandoned the faith, Mohler says, such as those who deny the Trinity.
The "deadly power" of heresy, he writes, is evident in the the killing of nine worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston S.C. by 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who hoped to instigate a "race war".
"The young white man charged with the killings has not, as yet, claimed a theological rationale for his acts," Mohler writes. "Nevertheless, he has been exposed as someone whose worldview was savagely warped by the ideology of racial superiority -- white superiority."
Sadly, this kind of racial superiority is not exclusive to a certain people group; in fact, its "most fertile soil" was tilled in the states of the old Confederacy, particularly among Southern Baptists.
"White superiority was claimed as a belief by both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, but it was the Confederacy that made racial superiority a central purpose," he says.
"More humbling still is the fact that many churches, churchmen and theologians gave sanction to that ideology," he added, explaining that the SBC was founded by slaveholders who held to an ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in "scandalous theological argument".
Historically, white superiority was defended by claiming a "curse of Ham" as the explanation of dark skin. Mohler argues that any strain of racial superiority, especially when bathed in the language of Christian theology, is "deadly dangerous".
"The separation of human beings into ranks of superiority and inferiority differentiated by skin color is a direct assault upon the doctrine of Creation and an insult to the imago Dei - the image of God in which every human being is made," he argues.
"Racial superiority is also directly subversive of the gospel of Christ, effectively reducing the power of his substitutionary atonement and undermining the faithful preaching of the gospel to all persons and to all nations," Mohler continues. "To put the matter plainly, one cannot simultaneously hold to an ideology of racial superiority and rightly present the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Although the Southern Baptist Convention publicly repented of its roots in the defense of slavery in 1995, Mohler emphasizes that more is "now needed."
"We must seek to confront and remove every strain of racial superiority that remains and seek with all our strength to be the kind of churches of which Jesus would be proud -- churches that will look like the marriage supper of the Lamb."
He admits: "We cannot change the past, but we must learn from it. There is no way to confront the dead with their heresies, but there is no way to avoid the reckoning that we must make, and the repentance that must be our own."
In a separate blog post, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also addressed issues of race and the church in light of the Charleston massacre, focusing in particular on the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag.
"This raises the question of what we as Christians ought to think about the Confederate Battle Flag, given the fact that many of us are from the South," he writes.
"The Confederate battle flag may mean many things, but with those things it represents defiance against abolition and against civil rights," he continues. "The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night."
"White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them."
Moore concludes,"The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire...Let's take down that flag."