Two Baptist pastors in Texas called Vice President Kamala Harris “Jezebel” in recent weeks.
The pastors are Steve Swofford of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, and Tom Buck of First Baptist Church in Lindale.
According to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, “historically, white women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control and modesty – even sexual purity, but Black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory. This depiction of Black women is signified by the name Jezebel.”
Vice President Harris, who comes from a multifaith family, grew up attending church and is a member of a Baptist church.
The Baptist Seminary of Kentucky (BSK) is partnered with Simmons College of Kentucky, a historic Black college, and has recently launched the Institute for Black Church Studies.
Since 2008, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas has been in partnership with Arkansas Baptist College, and its office is located on the ABC campus.
Both CBF of Arkansas and BSK have benefitted from the rich perspectives offered by the Black community at these colleges.
While we often stand in solidarity with these communities, we also know the importance of speaking out when racism and white supremacy present themselves.
It is vital that we, as leaders in predominantly white organizations, use our voices to bring about needed change in the church and world.
I (David Cassady) believe one of the tenets of white supremacy is that only whites (usually white men) should hold positions of power in society. I am pained by the statement of these pastors as they perpetuate this falsehood, suggesting a lesser value for women and persons of color.
I (Ray Higgins) grew up around name-calling by white men.
On April 8, 1968, my father had his letter to the editor published in the Arkansas Gazette. In it, he mourned the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and he praised King for working to “build a society wherein dwells truth, love and justice.”
One night that week, a man from another Southern state called our home and asked to speak with my dad. He called my dad a name: “communist.” “You’re just a communist,” he declared.
I learned during that experience that people call names when they don’t have love, truth and justice on their side.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “Anyone who says to his sister or brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22).
And Jesus says in Matthew 12:36-37, “I tell you that people will have to answer on Judgment Day for every useless word they speak. By your words you will be either judged innocent or condemned as guilty.”
These two pastors engaged in the sin of name-calling, and a specific form of name-calling – one that is intentionally designed to denigrate and dehumanize people of color and women.
Jesus called it out as sinful in his day, and we call it out as sinful in our day.
Of all people, we expect pastors to understand, respect and obey the teachings of Jesus.
Cassady is president of Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in Georgetown and Louisville, Kentucky, and the founder and president of Faithlab.
Higgins is executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas.