Billy Kobin, Louisville Courier Journal, June 9, 2019
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville have rejected a call for it to give millions of dollars to a historically black college as reparations for slavery.
The seminary, which disclosed its ties to slavery in December, said it could not give the money to Simmons College of Kentucky because of conflicting theologies.
“We will always be open to partnerships that honor the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God,” seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. and trustees Chairman Matthew Schmucker wrote in a May 31 letter. “But such a partnership can come only with institutions that share our theological commitments.”
Their letter was addressed to the Rev. Joe Phelps, co-chair of EmpowerWest, a coalition of clergy that gave the seminary a petition calling for it to “transfer a meaningful portion of its financial wealth” to Simmons as an act of “repentance and repair” to the descendants of slaves.
Phelps said an example could be giving 15% of the school’s endowment. The seminary’s endowment is approximately $95 million, according to the school.
Phelps, the former pastor of Highland Baptist Church, said he delivered the petition to Mohler on May 20 following months of conversations between the two.
But Mohler and Schmucker replied that the Southern Baptist Convention “would not allow nor support the transfer of funds to any other institution.”
“We agree with the policy of the Southern Baptist Convention in this regard, and we do not believe that financial reparations are the appropriate response,” Mohler and Schmucker wrote.
Southern Seminary’s December report, which Mohler commissioned, disclosed that its founders owned more than 50 slaves and that past faculty believed in the “superiority of white civilization and that this justified racial inequality.”
Among other details, the 71-page report also shared how Joseph E. Brown, the school’s “most important donor” and leader of its board from 1880 to 1894, earned much of his fortune by exploiting mostly black laborers in his coal mines in Georgia.
The report noted Brown used the “same brutal punishments and tortures” once practiced by slave drivers and said his mines were “hell on earth.”
But Southern Seminary cannot partner with Simmons College due to conflicting theological beliefs, the two leaders told Phelps.
Simmons College has partnered with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which split from the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1990s over theological differences, such as the convention’s ban on female pastors.
Southern Seminary “would not partner with an institution that denies or repudiates doctrines essential to biblical Christianity,” Mohler and Schmucker wrote.
“Southern Baptists would expect nothing less from us, and rightly so,” they wrote to Phelps. “And you knew that this was so, even before addressing the letter to us.”