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The Gracelessness Of Woke Evangelicals

Pastor Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove can't stand conservative Southern Baptists, and has a wonderful plan for their lives (Paraclete Press/Shutterstock)

No good deed goes unpunished by Woke Evangelicalism — especially Woke White Evangelicalism, a movement composed of middle-class white activist types who love nothing more than asserting and performing their intersectional bona fides — for Jesus, naturally.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary just published an unsparing historical examination of the institution’s founders and their support for slavery and white supremacy. Progressive Evangelical crusader Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove takes to the pages of the Washington Post to trash them for it. Here’s the key excerpt from the piece:

But when those voices questioned the legacy of slavery and racism at the seminary, they were accused of not believing the Bible by the self-identified leaders of what became known as the Conservative Resurgence in the Convention. Those leaders ended up pushing out the president who had resisted them and installed Mohler in 1993. During this more recent history, which the report omits, the phrase “traditional values” has replaced “white supremacy” as the socially acceptable way of defending the legacy of a Christianity that supported slavery.

All of this matters not only to Southern Baptists and others who care about the Gospel of Jesus, but also to the broader American public, because many experts believe that Christian nationalism is the primary force driving support of Donald Trump and the resurgence of white nationalism in our public life.

The gist of his column is that because the leaders of SBTS are theologically conservative, and because many white Southern Baptists are politically conservative, they are not much different from their slaveholding and white supremacist ancestors. If they were really sorry for slavery and white supremacy, Wilson-Hartgrove’s column says, then the Southern Baptists would become Social Justice Warriors like — golly! — Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

It’s an extraordinarily graceless piece of work. It’s important for this reason. Today I blogged about the Fairness For All proposal, an attempt by some Evangelical leaders — conservatives among them — to find middle ground on the struggle between LGBT rights and religious liberty. Already some conservative Evangelicals are calling it a sellout of principle that will in any case not be respected by liberals and progressives. Part of their argument is that progressives do not negotiate in good faith, that if you yield even a bit, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to smash you.

A column like Wilson-Hartgrove’s gives ammunition to the “no compromise” side. To be clear, I don’t believe for a second that SBTS president Albert Mohler ordered the appraisal because he sought any kind of political advantage, whatever that might look like. I believe he did it because it was, and remains, the right thing to do. But those on the religious right who oppose initiatives like this on grounds that it will allow progressives to weaponize confession and repentance will cite Wilson-Hartgrove’s column as evidence that the Evangelical left is interested only in scoring points against their enemies.

How would this look from the other side? Let’s say a progressive Christian seminary’s leadership adopted the traditional Christian teaching that abortion is evil, and commissioned a soul-searching report on the institution’s support for abortion. What if they released the report with a cover letter from the seminary president expressing deep sorrow and shame over what his predecessors had done. And what if a day later, a conservative Evangelical published a column in the Washington Post claiming that if the progressive Christians were really sorry for what they had done, they would prove it by embracing a series of policies favored by conservative Evangelicals, and abandoning the social gospel as a distraction from what Christ would have them do?

I think it’s fair to ask the SBTS leadership what, if anything, it plans to do in response to these findings. I think the discussion about what they should do is legitimate. But I think it is wrong — and, in fact, offensive — to say that if they don’t take moralistic lecturing and strategic advice from liberal Evangelicals on the matter, then they aren’t serious.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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