The headline for Jemar Tisby, at the Washington Post, is pretty straightforward: “Why a racially insensitive photo of Southern Baptist seminary professors matters”.
Officials from the seminary requested that the post be removed, and David Allen, one of the men in the picture and dean of SWBTS’s School of Preaching, tweeted an apology: “I apologize for a recent image I posted which was offensive. Context is immaterial. @swbts stance on race is clear as is mine.”
It’s odd for a preaching professor to suggest “context is immaterial,” because seminary professors usually teach their students that context is everything. The SWBTS “Mission, Vision, & Values” page states that their global “strategy includes the training of persons from every national, ethnic and cultural background for a variety of ministries.” But when it comes to understanding this particular photo, understanding a larger Southern Baptist and evangelical context is key.
There are always problems with objectifying human beings; to wit, it is perhaps only from an ivory tower of privilege that one might recall the hilarious bit when Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for Religion News Service, tweeted to another his gratitude for the deletion of an “offensive tweet”, and in doing so reposted the “offensive tweet”. And the thing is that, sure, we get it—for the record; yes, that makes a certain amount of sense. But, come on, really? To the one, there was no other way to preserve a record of the moment than returning the content to the circulation from which it was removed? To the other, how is the problem with that not apparent? And, to the beeblebrox, honestly, it’s true, one must have the luxury of being able to find such circumstances funny. As a symbol of human frailty, the moment and subsequent chatter—at least until the weird, poseur ignorance arrived—is very nearly entertaining. Then again, there is also the reminder that this is what counts as enlightenment for certain major market sectors, and something goes here about the luxury of not having that crashing down on one personally every damn day. Still, as gaffes go, I don’t know what to tell you about that haircut.
Stylistics aside, this is still important. This is still happening. “Context is immaterial” might well be dangerously funny, but it’s the twenty-first century, and Americans are slouching toward segregation, again.
And, see, someone, somewhere will pry loose the luxury of laughing as they wonder, incredulously, “What’s all this about ‘again’?”
Image notes: Top — Detail of cartoon by Mr. Fish, 30 November 2014, via Clowncrack. Right ― Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for Religion News Service, circa 2017. (Image via Twitter)
Brown, Emma. “Judge: Mostly white Southern city may secede from school district despite racial motive”. The Washington Post. 27 April 2017.
Cusack, Patrick. “Did you see Straight Out Of Compton? Do you know how well that movie did? When I saw this, I though they were imitating the popular culture.” Twitter. 25 April 2017.
Merritt, Jonathan. “For the record”. Twitter. 25 April 2017.
—————. “Grateful that @barrymccarty deleted this offensive tweet. Southern Baptist can do better.” Twitter. 25 April 2017.
Tisby, Jemar. “Why a racially insensitive photo of Southern Baptist seminary professors matters”. The Washington Post. 27 April 2017.