Baptist News Global and Religion News Service reported recently that two white Southern Baptist pastors from Texas called U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris “Jezebel.”
This label, long recognized as a racist slur against Black women, was used by Steve Swofford (pastor of First Baptist Church of Rockwall, Texas) and Tom Buck (pastor of First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas).
Their churches are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and Swofford is a member of the executive committee for the SBC.
It seems that only two national faith-based news organizations, BNG and RNS, covered the pastors’ racist statements.
With the nationwide racial justice demonstrations last year and the celebration by many of Harris’ boundary breaking inauguration to begin this year, why didn’t more news outlets, bloggers, advocacy groups, faith leaders and presidents / deans of faith-based institutions speak out about two white, male pastors using a racial slur against her?
J.D. Greer, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and the 62nd President of the SBC, posted a series of tweets on Feb. 2 addressing these statements.
Outside of this, I have found no published account that any white SBC leader has criticized them for slurring Harris, a Black woman of South Asian and Jamaican ancestry.
None of the six white Southern Baptist seminary presidents has publicly criticized Swofford and Buck for their racist slur.
However, on November 30, 2020, they issued a joint declaration that Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality are “incompatible with the Baptist Faith and Message,” the SBC credal statement.
Perversely, the leaders of SBC seminaries criticize exposing and denouncing white supremacy, racism, sexism and oppression associated with those belief systems but have yet to find words to criticize racist misogyny.
Turning to moderate and progressive Baptists, I haven’t found statements rejecting and denouncing these pastors’ statements from leaders of other Baptist institutions in Texas.
Leaders of other seminary or divinity schools across the U.S. that are affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which split from the SBC in the early 90s, appear to have remained silent, as well.
Hence, it appears that white Baptists who left the SBC three decades ago – which now deserves to be known as the Slaveholder Baptist Convention – and the white Baptists they left are equally incapable of criticizing racist misogyny.
We should not ignore the moral, ethical, professional and cultural implications of what Swofford and Buck said.
Also, we should not ignore the moral, ethical, professional and cultural implications of what other white Baptists have not said, whose “moral incubator” – a term I learned from Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor which now is called “spiritual formation” – was shaped by life in the SBC and who now lead education institutions, including theological schools.
We should remember Swofford and Buck for their racist misogyny.
We should also remember the white Baptist denominational, seminary and university leaders whose SBC-shaped “moral incubator” and understanding of the religion of Jesus is so flawed that they are comfortably silent about blatant racism and misogyny.
Their statements and silence also demonstrate cultural incompetence, meaning they lack the knowledge and skill required to recognize and effectively navigate cross-cultural events, situations and experiences to accomplish beneficial (meaning just) outcomes.
There are six levels of cultural competence.
- Cultural destructiveness describes intentional behaviors, practices and policies that produce adverse cross-cultural results.
Swofford and Buck engaged in culturally destructive conduct. The same is true of white Baptist leaders who intentionally were silent despite knowing what Swofford and Buck said.
- Cultural incapacity describes unintentional behaviors, practices and policies that produce adverse cross-cultural results.
Cultural incapacity fits white Baptist leaders whose silence about what Swofford and Buck said was unintentional.
- Cultural blindness describes behaviors, practices and policies that are insensitive to cross-cultural realities of behaviors, practices, policies and situations.
This term applies to people who fail to recognize the racism and misogyny involved in calling a Black woman “Jezebel.”
- Cultural pre-competence describes behaviors, practices and policies that recognize cross-cultural realities yet are incapable of navigating them effectively.
People who sense that what Swofford and Buck said was racist and misogynist but are unable to effectively respond to the cross-racial realities of their statement are culturally pre-competent.
- Cultural competence describes the knowledge and skill involved in recognizing and effectively navigating cross-cultural events, situations, experiences and realities.
Culturally competent people know how to recognize and skillfully navigate the cross-racial realities of what Swofford and Buck said and can effectively work to produce outcomes that are fair.
- Cultural proficiency describes the knowledge and skill involved in recognizing and effectively navigating cross-cultural realities so that behaviors, practices and policies are benchmarks for how to address them.
Culturally proficient people know how to recognize and skillfully navigate the cross-racial realities of what Swofford and Buck said and can set standards and benchmarks governing the cross-racial realities of their conduct.
Based on that scale, cultural incompetence involves conduct that is culturally pre-competent, culturally blind, culturally incapacitated and culturally destructive.
Competence is always a function of knowledge and skill. It is never a function of intentions, good or not.
Because people are never evaluated on how well they do things based on their intentions but on the results of their actions, it does not matter what Swofford and Buck intended by their statements, nor does it matter what anyone else intended who failed to denounce their statements.
We do not excuse people who drive poorly because they “mean well.”
As I reflect on the reactions of these white Baptist leaders and the racist statements Swofford and Buck made about Vice President Harris, I am reminded of what Jesus said as he concluded the Sermon on the Mount.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy [preach] in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’
“Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers’” (Matthew 7:21-23, NRSV).
Consider the rendering of that passage in The Message:
“Knowing the correct password – saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance – isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience – doing what my Father wills.
“I can see it now – at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’
“And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’”
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a retired state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.