Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear has urged that the denomination to stop opening its annual meetings with a gavel that carries the name of John Broadus, a 19th-century Southern Baptist leader who was a slaveholder.
“When I presided over the Annual Meeting in Birmingham, I was presented with a gavel to use, so I used it,” Greear said in a statement. “Knowing that it was the Broadus gavel and knowing John A. Broadus’ views on race, I must admit that while we stood there, I felt a sense of unease.”
Greear, who has long been a champion of intentional diversity in the SBC, continued, “To be fair, John Broadus seems to have changed some of his positions later in life, and for that I am thankful. But the reality is that given the role that slavery played in the formation of the SBC, mixed messages were still being sent.”
He urged, “Southern Baptists, I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel. While we do not want to, nor could we, erase our history, it is time for this gavel to go back into the display case at the Executive Committee offices.”
Greear, who leads The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area, quoted his friend O.S. Hawkins, president of Guidestone Financial Resources, as having said: “We need to be less about 1845 and more about 2025.”
The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and was founded in 1845.
While the Broadus gavel has been used continuously to open the convention since 1872, “others were incorporated as well,” said Greear. So at the SBC annual meeting next year in Nashville, Greear said, “There are different options that I will consider using.”
According to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's 2018 report on slavery and racism in its history, Broadus owned slaves and argued that slaveholding was morally just. He had also drafted resolutions pledging Southern Baptist support for the Confederacy. It was in 1882 when Broadus repudiated American slavery.
Following the recent death of a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, which was caught on a video showing him lying on the ground, handcuffed and restrained by three officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Greear urged Southern Baptists to see racial injustice as a real issue that must be addressed.
“We realize that especially in a moment like this one, we need our brothers and sisters of color. We need the wisdom of leadership that God has written in their community. We know that many in our country, particularly our brothers and sisters of color, right now are hurting,” he said.
“Black lives matter,” Greear said after acknowledging the SBC’s racist past and highlighting the denomination’s growing diversity, as well as the ongoing civil unrest over racial inequality.
“I realize that the movement and the website have been hijacked by some political operatives whose worldview and policy prescriptions would be deeply at odds with my own, but that doesn’t mean that the sentiment behind it is untrue. I do not align myself with the Black Lives Matter organization,” he said.
“I think saying bold things like ‘defund the police’ is unhelpful and deeply disrespectful to many public servants who bravely put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect us. But I know that we need to take a deep look at our police systems and structures and ask what we’re missing. Where are we missing the mark? And I’ll say that we do that because black lives matter. We know that honoring Christ in this moment … means listening to those who hurt, lamenting with them, and bearing their burdens.”