Rev. Otis Moss III, the eloquent and winsome young preacher who succeeded Rev. Jeremiah Wright as Pastor of The Trinity Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois, posted on Facebook a brutal response—tantamount to a rebuke—of the five Preaching professors at SWBTS, and by extension, a rebuke of the Seminary and the SBC. Moss’ intellectual and insightful mind is on full display in his “Standing on the Outside of the Window—Looking In” interpretation of the Twitter photo.
Four years ago, I was privileged to be a table mate of Rev. Moss for three hours, during an invitation-only Phoenix gathering of high-profile Black pastors that I didn’t qualify to attend. I walked away from that table and the topic-driven table discussion impressed with Moss’ humility and quest to pursue excellence in ministry. Rev. Moss is well known and highly respected in the Black Church Community across theological camps, as the son of an iconic Civil Rights leader/pastor who was a co-laborer with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; a man with earned degrees from Morehouse, Yale Divinity School and Chicago Theological Seminary. Pastor Moss made history by being the youngest person to deliver the Lyman Beecher Lecture Series at Yale Divinity School in October 2014.
Rev. Moss and Dr. Hall, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, have engaged in a friendly dialogue about the history of racism in evangelicalism. The Moss-Hall dialogue is a much more effective way to reach across the aisle to Urban Communities addressing felt-need issues from a Kingdom perspective. An urban student would be attracted to enroll in a SBC Seminary by a substantive Kingdom dialogue, on an issue relevant to the Urban Community, between a respected SBC academician and a respected urban pastor, much more so than a gangsta rap parody/caricature picture of Preaching Professors.
This post is my second public pushback of a published Moss statement that I’ve felt compelled to give a public rebuttal. I strongly, biblically disagree with Moss’ support of “same gender loving couples”—his description of same-sex marriages, or homosexual relationships. Both Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama were frequent attenders of the Trinity Church of Christ, while pastored by Dr. Jeremiah Wright, who shared the same views on homosexuality as does Otis Moss III. Undoubtedly, the theology of the Trinity Church on homosexuality influenced Barack Obama, who later forever changed America on the subject of same-sex marriage.
Now because of the Twitter photo from SWBTS, here we go again! I will provide a “Standing on the Inside of the Window—Looking Out” Rebuttal to Moss’ Brutal, but Fair Statement Regarding the Twitter photo. What was lacking from Moss’ statement was an Insider’s perspective.
Please don’t misread or misunderstand my analogy. Anyone who knows my history with SWBTS and the SBC wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination consider me to be a “House Negro.” Inasmuch as our church was planted while I was a student at SWBTS and I’ve maintained a relationship with the SBC for over 42 years—dating back to my college days—that makes me somewhat of an insider in SBC life, compared to Moss, who has no known history with the SBC that I’m aware of, except that I’ve referenced above.
In addition to offering a gentle rebuttal and friendly, sympathetic critique regarding Rev. Moss’s positon on the Gangsta Gate Photo, I want to offer Rev. Moss’ full Facebook Post. A good friend and former adjunct Professor at SWBTS shared with me after visiting with Dr. David Allen, Dean of Preaching at SWBTS, and also pictured on the Twitter photo, that the disposition and posture of the Preaching faculty is that of “being a learner and listener” in the aftermath of the controversy. Believing Dr. Allen, Dr. Patterson, Dr. McCarty (who reached out to me in response to my previous Article on this subject), and all involved to be sincere, there’s no better outside critique, interpretation, evaluation (or whatever you want to call it) of the photo than you could get than the one following from Dr. Otis Moss III. I believe he voices the sentiments of most African Americans, who would view this photo similar to how Dr. Moss views it, without any prior relationship with the SBC or SWBTS. Dr. Moss’ Facebook statement:
“The Southern Baptist convention has had a long storied history of racialized thought and action beginning with the inception of the convention in Augusta, GA. The largest of the Protestant denominations has consistently stood on the wrong side on issues of race. I have over years made the claim evangelicals choose “whiteness” over Jesus because the real religion of Americanized Christianity is maintaining the structure of white supremacy. The rhetoric of “We are one in Christ” is used freely in evangelical circles as a veneer to cover-up the rotting flesh of a broken faith that no longer speaks for the vulnerable, but worships Eurocentric and racialized assumptions about humanity especially people of African descent. This article below is more than insensitivity, but a bold proclamation of privilege, ignorance and illegibility of black bodies. These “preaching professors” (I use this term loosely) demonstrate their clear homiletical bias not to preach Jesus, but proclaim the Gospel of George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. How devastatingly ugly for grown men to live in a sophomoric bubble where racial appropriation is not only okay, but the appropriate response for the farewell of a colleague. How cruel to preach a visual sermon that will outlast their words on the internet and injure hundreds if not thousands of women and men. These are the teachers of the new generation of leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention? Now I know why Steve Bannon, Jeff Session and Mike Flynn advise Trump maybe they were taught by professors at Southern Baptist Seminary. If these are the best minds of the Seminary America can expect graduates who colonize minds, injure spirits and mis-educated communities.
“Tragic and beyond tragic”
Moss Connects the Photo to the History of Racism in the SBC
The SBC publicly apologized for their history of racism in ’95; yet they must recognize that America will always view the SBC as being birth in racism and continuing in that trajectory. The scars of some sins remain for a lifetime. I believe it was fair for Moss to connect the picture to the SBC’s racist history based on his—outside the window—interpretation of the picture. That’s why the SBC entities have to be mindful of perception, which is reality, to many.
As Dr. Fred Luter has so accurately and eloquently stated: “We cannot change our past—it is what it is; but we can change our future.” And Luter’s election as the first African-American President of the SBC provides a modicum of hope that the SBC may be willing to move in a different direction in her future. However, for many, the Twitter photo was reminiscent of the era when White males portrayed themselves as “Amos and Andy” complete with made-up Black faces. For those who argue that the twitter photo could reflect Vanilla Ice or Eminem—too late. There was an admission that “Notorious Biggie Small,” a Black Gangsta Rapper, was the inspiration for the “Notorious SOP” wall graffiti.
Moss Connects the Photo to His Belief that the Evangelical Church Props Up White Supremacy
The photo lends itself to an interpretation of fostering White Supremacy. How? If you view, Gangsta Rap as having originated with and primarily associated with Blacks—as most Blacks do, and history verifies—then the picture represents five white men mocking or making fun of an aspect of Black culture. The only reason that you would do that is out of a feeling of superiority or supremacy.
The SBC has repented of their history of racism, but they’ve never repented of the White Supremacist Theology and ideology that provided and fed the racist attitudes and actions that still residually occur in various pockets throughout the SBC. I offered the SBC an opportunity to repent of their White Supremacist Theology a few years back, but they refused. Inevitably, a racial brouhaha erupts in the SBC every few years and will continue to do so, until the SBC repents of the White Supremacist Theology that yet shackles her, and reoccurs openly on occasions.
SBC Pastor Rick Patrick admits that there is a “bit” of an Alt-Right element in the SBC. The Alt-Right unashamedly promotes White Supremacy. I am considering submitting another resolution giving the SBC another opportunity to reject White Supremacy and White Supremacist Theology.
Moss Connects the Picture to a Skewed View of the Gospel
His interpretation of the picture and the preaching professors is that “it demonstrates their clear homiletical bias not to preach Jesus, but proclaim the Gospel of George Wallace and Strom Thurmond.”
In essence, Moss is saying that it is impossible to harbor the kind of feelings or insensitivity, that would allow you to dress for and proudly take that photo, without passing on to your students a similar kind of insensitivity. Mindsets, who could take such a picture, may not be able to equip men to preach the Gospel in an urban culture from Moss’ perspective. I agree that the picture represents a huge cultural disconnect with the Black Community. Ironically, the picture was designed to appeal to the Gangsta Community that can only be reached with the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Where I Disagree with Moss
Although, I don’t disagree with Moss’ premise that racism and White Supremacy are yet present forces within evangelicalism and SBC Life, I strongly disagree with what appears to be his premise that SWBTS professors cannot homiletically properly equip Black seminarians. Yes, there is a cultural gap in training and connectivity to the Black context and Community. I get that. Usually, the difference is made up for in the local church or attending preaching seminars and conferences as the E.K. Bailey Preaching Conference, H.B. Charles Preaching Conference, Tony Evans Conference, National Baptist Congress of Christian Education, etc.
The current Preaching Department at SWBTS has produced one of the featured preachers for the upcoming SBC Pastors Conference in Phoenix, Jamar Andrews, recommended by Dr. Paige Patterson, SWBTS President. Jamar has also preached in SWBTS Chapel. Dr. Bart Barber, a Southwestern Trustee, also recommended Jamar, even as a small church pastor—to preach in the Annual Pastors Conference.
Dr. Barry McCarty, Professor of Preaching and Rhetoric at SWBTS requires his students to study the preaching of the following Pastors: Dr. Robert Smith, Dr. Ralph West, H.B. Charles, Dr. Fred Luter and Dr. Tony Evans. Pastor Rick Patrick and Seth Dunn are two White Southern Baptist personalities that have labeled me a “race baiter.” Dr. McCarty, whom I’ve only met once on stage at the Annual SBC meeting in Baltimore—shook my hand and said, “I appreciate your heart for racial reconciliation.” His words have ministered to me ever since and bring healing when others falsely accuse me. Dr. McCarty will never know how those few words blessed me. I am encouraged by his exposing his students to excellent models of Black expositors.
Beloved Former Preaching Professors at SWBTS that are greatly loved and appreciated by scores of Black Seminarians would include Dr. Al Fasol, Dr. Joel Gregory, Dr. Calvin Miller and Dr. Raymond Spencer. The sermons that I preach that are considered my best, are homiletically structured following the pattern taught to me by Dr. Al Fasol.
A current SWBTS student attending the church I pastor, Larry Williamson, recently completed a class taught by The Dean of the School of Preaching at Southwestern—Dr. David Allen. Larry’s preaching has improved dramatically from two years ago—and he attributes the improvement to SWBTS. He described his interactions with Dr. Allen as affirming and positive and is appreciative of Dr. Allen encouraging him toward PH.D Studies. All the “Negrotics”—Negroes +Politics = “Negrotics”—which would include learning to fill in the cultural gaps from what SWBTS don’t know to teach—that Larry needs to know—Larry can learn from me.
The late S.M. Lockridge, the late E.K. Bailey, James Meeks, Ralph Douglas West, Ross Cullins, Fredrick Douglas Haynes, the Late Dr. Raymond Spencer, Ken Jones, Robert E. Fowler (pastor of the largest Black Baptist church in Las Vegas), Louis Rosenthal (Senior Pastor of McKinney First Baptist Church), Ronnie Goines—who pastors a fast-growing church in Arlington, TX—and most recently, Jamar Andrews are just a few of the names of great Black preachers trained at Southwestern. Interestingly, both the largest Black Baptist churches in Chicago (James Meeks) and Las Vegas are pastored by SWBTS graduates.
None of these men preached the gospel of Strom Thurmond or George Wallace.
Southwestern has also featured a cadre of Black preachers in Chapel across the years: Manuel Scott, Sr., E.V. Hill, Rick Armstrong, Tony Evans, H.B. Charles, Eric Redmond, William J. Shaw, the late Gardner C. Taylor, and a host of others. The cultural gap is in part made up for by the Chapel speakers and the Professors who require their students to study excellent Black role models in preaching. I would agree, though, none of this supplants or substitutes for a Homiletics professor who understands the African American Church experientially.
My Interpretation of the Picture vs. Moss’ Interpretation
- I do not believe there was an inkling of racial or racist intentionality involved in posing for and the displaying of the photo.
- I believe the spirit and intent behind the picture of celebrating a departing colleague was sincere, but sincerely wrong; because the photo was open to multiple and misinterpretations.
- I believe that the picture represented a sincere attempt by the Preaching professors to be relevant to the culture, connect with the times, affirm the departing Professor, and appeal to the current generation.
- Whether one views the picture as a parody or a caricature, as insensitive, or racist—or even as innocuous—I’m baffled as to how a picture with imaging and symbolism of guns, gangs, “Benjamins”—money, “Bling-Bling”—materialism, Misogny-synomous with Gangsta Rap, coupled with, violence, alcoholism, drugs, fornication, adultery, anti-police rhetoric, etc.—is compatible with the Kingdom of God, the mission of the Seminary , and the departure of the Professor? Forget Racism. The photo is an affront to the Kingdom of God.
- The real evidence of whether or not this picture is a real problem or just a temporary distraction, won’t be known for 15-20 years. By then we’ll know if this Preaching faculty has produced 10-15 Black preachers of distinction, who belong in the same sentence with Ralph West, S.M. Lockridge, E.K. Bailey, James Meeks, Robert Fowler, Ken Jones, Freddy Haynes and Ross Cullins.
I believe all have learned from this unfortunate occurrence. I’ve labored to write this post, for the above stated reasons. Furthermore, when I was a 25-year old student at SWBTS, if something like this occurred, I would have wanted someone to help me interpret not only Moss’ post, but my SWBTS inside experience. I highly recommend SWBTS, particularly to those who share similar theological convictions and doctrinal points of views compatible with theirs. This photo should not be a disqualifier for current or prospective Black students. There are many good predominately Black Churches in the DFW area to help fill the cultural gap between the classroom and Sunday morning. Furthermore, they are working toward hiring a Black Preaching Professor.
Pray that God leads them to the right one and prepare his heart for SWBTS.
As it relates to racism in the SBC and evangelicalism as a whole? Again it’s a reality. But at some point, we are going to have to look through the front window, more so than the rear-view window. We must not interpret every incident racially. At times we must give the benefit of the doubt. This is one where I choose to be gracious. We must also count blessings that have come our way; not just perceived or real injustices. It could be that the good that has come to many of us in the SBC, has outweighed the bad.
Yes, there have been challenges and regrets along the way, but without the SBC I am not ashamed to say, our congregation, my family, and my ministry would not be where it is; and for that I’m grateful. I have an older brother who planted a church in Arkansas nine years ago. An SBC congregation just deeded their nice modern, fully functional facility to his congregation in a transitional section of town free of charge.
Yes, I could complain about a picture and several other things, but when Cornerstone needed a $3 million loan to move our ministry to the next level, an affiliate of the SBC provided it in 1995. I don’t belong in the same sentence with the great White, Black, Asian, or Hispanic Preachers Alumni from SWBTS, but without the mentorship of Dr. Al Fasol and later, Dr. Joel Gregory, I shudder to think, where I would be as a preacher. We should not let one picture—which admittedly was a bad decision—to cause us to dismiss a great Seminary and a great Convention. We need to work together to make it better.