The Civil War and the Failure of White American Christianity

Robert Lewis Dabney

The American Civil War was a crisis on a number of levels, including, as Mark Noll has explored, a theological crisis (see Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis). As Abraham Lincoln noted in his second inaugural address, both sides, “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Among the various lenses available for exploring this crisis is that of Robert Lewis Dabney, a Reformed Presbyterian seminary professor (at Union Seminary), and a pro-slavery, white-supremacist. Dabney had seen war coming years before the fateful events of 1860 and 1861, and he warned against what he feared would be its destructive results. In particular, Dabney’s concerns highlight a deep deficiency in white American Christianity, one that Dabney himself was unable to see, but which may be instructive for white American Christians today.

“Shame on the boasted Christianity of America” — March 29, 1856

On March 29, 1856, Dabney published an editorial in the Central Presbyterian titled “Christians, Pray for Your Country” (in Discussions, Vol. 2, 393–400). He  lamented: “what a war that will be? Civil feud has ever been known as the most bitter of all.” He described, “the conflagration of battle which will rage along this narrow line across the whole breadth of a continent!” (396). He especially feared for the state of religion: “Christianity will sicken and droop amidst the crimes of national convulsion and the license of camps” (398). “Christian America” would be wasting time fighting with each other, “and meantime, the redemption of the race is by so many ages postponed; and sin and hell pray [sic] upon so many more of the teeming generations!”

Dabney then exposes a deep inability at the heart of white American Christianity, an inability which would prove itself in the country as a whole, and in Dabney’s own life in particular, as he later fought for the Confederacy:

Christians of America, will ye suffer this ? If such a crime against God and man be wrought in this land of thirty thou­sand evangelical ministers and four millions of Christians, how burning the sarcasm which it will contain against your Chris­tianity ! What, was there not enough of the oil of love in all these four millions of the servants of the God of love to soothe the surging billows of party strife? Was there not enough of the majesty of moral weight in these four millions of Christians to say to the angry waters, “ Peace, be still ?” ”Were not all these strong enough to throw the arms of their love around their fellow-citizens, keep down the hands that sought each others’ throats, and constrain them by a sweet compulsion to be brethren? Did this mighty church stand idly by and see phrenzy immolate so many of the dearest hopes of man and so much of the glory of God on her hellish altar, and not rather rush between and receive the sword in its own breast? And this church knew, too, that the fiend had borrowed the torch of discord from the altar of Christianity, and that therefore Chris­tians were doubly bound to arrest her murderous hand before the precious sacrifice was lost in the conflagration! If this be suffered, then shame on the boasted Christianity of America, and of the nineteenth century! With all its parade of light and evangelism, wherein will it be less impotent and spurious than the false Christianity which permitted and sanctioned the butcheries of the Crusades, the torture of the Inquisition, or any other great iniquity of the dark ages ?

(“Christians, Pray,” 398–99)

Dabney’s questions are perceptive: “was there not enough of the oil of love in all these four millions of the servants of the God of love to soother the surging billows of party strife?” No, among white American Christians, there was not enough of the “oil of love,” first to love their Black brothers and sisters (which Dabney did not have in mind here), and then, out of those deeds of love and justice, eliminating entirely the need for war.

“Was there not enough fo the majesty of moral weight in these four millions of Christians to say ‘peace be still’?” No—there was not enough moral weight in 4,000,000 white Christians to do what was morally right and just, let alone work for peace.

I agree with Dabney on this point: “shame on the boasted Christianity of [white] America, and of the nineteenth century.” For all of her evangelism and revivals, it proved “impotent and spurious.”

November 1, 1860

Four years later, on November 1, 1860, Dabney preached a sermon on a special “fast-day” appointed by the Synod of Virginia (“The Christian’s Best Motive for Patriotism,” in Discussions, Vol. 2, 401–412). Five days later, Lincoln would be elected and in December, South Carolina would secede from the Union, but for now, Presbyterians in Virginia were gathering to “pray for escape from national convulsions” (401). The sermon includes many of the same themes, but includes some new elements as well:

Now, in view of this picture of possible crime and misery, would to God that I could reach the ear of every professed servant of Jesus Christ in the whole land! I would cry to them : Christians of America—brothers—shall all this be ? Shall this church of thirty thousand evangelical ministers, and four millions of Christian adults—this church, so boastful of its influence and power; so respected and reverenced by nearly all; so crowned with the honors of literature, of station, of secular office, of riches; this church, which moulds the thought of three- fourths of our educated men through her schools, and of all, by her pulpit and her press; this church, which glories in having just received a fresh baptism of the Spirit of heaven in a na­tional revival—permit the tremendous picture to become reality ? Nay, shall they aid in precipitating the dreaded consummation, by traitorously inflaming the animosities which they should have allayed, and thus leave the work of their Master to do the devil’s ? Then, how burning the sarcasm which this result will contain upon your Christianity in the eyes of posterity! Why, they will say, was there not enough of the majesty of moral weight in these four millions of Christians to say to the angry waves, “ Peace be still ” ? Why did not these four millions rise, with a love so Christ-like, so beautiful, so strong, that strife should be paralyzed by it into reverential admiration ? Why did they not speak for their country, and for the house of the Lord their God which was in it, with a wisdom before whose firm mod­eration, righteousness, and clear light, passion and folly should scatter like the mist ? Were not all these strong enough to throw the arms of their loving mediation around their fellow citizens, and keep down the weapons that sought each other’s hearts; or rather to receive them into their own bosoms than permit their mother-country to be slain ? Did this mighty church stand idly by, and see phrenzy immolate so many of the dearest hopes of man, and of the rights of the Redeemer, on her hellish altar ? And this church knew, too, that the fiend had borrowed the torch of discord from the altar of Christianity, and that therefore Christians were bound, by a peculiar tie, to arrest her insane hand before the precious sacrifice was wrapped in flames. Then shame on the boasted Christianity of America, and of the nine­teenth century! With all its parade of evangelism, power, and light, wherein has it been less impotent and spurious than the effete religion of declining Rome, which betrayed Christendom into the dark ages; or than the baptized superstitions which in those ages sanctioned the Crusades and the Inquisition? In the sight of heaven’s righteous Judge, I believe that if the Chris­tianity of America now betrays the interests of men and God to the criminal hands which threaten them, its guilt will be second only to that of the apostate church which betrayed the Saviour of the world ; and its judgment will be rendered in calamities second only to those which avenged the divine blood invoked by Jerusalem on herself and her children.

“Patriotism,” (405–406).

In addition to what he had observed four years previously, Dabney also lays potential (soon to be actual) blame specifically upon the seminaries and churches (“this church, which moulds the thought of three- fourths of our educated men through her schools, and of all, by her pulpit and her press”). He highlights a deep incongruity (via his own anti-Catholicism): “With all its parade of evangelism, power, and light, wherein has it been less impotent and spurious than the effete religion of declining Rome, which betrayed Christendom into the dark ages.” 

He also poses a good question: “Why did not these four millions rise, with a love so Christ-like, so beautiful, so strong, that strife should be paralyzed by it into reverential admiration ?” The answer, which Dabney could not grasp, was that these four millions would not rise with such a love because they did not have it in them. Had a “Christ-like love” actually inhabited white Christians, it would have been evident in their lives long before the eve of Civil War in their treatment of Black brothers and sisters. That horse had not merely “left the barn,” before November 1860—it had never resided there in the first place.

The 1858 “Revival”?

Interestingly, Dabney calls attention to the “revival” of 1858: “this church, which glories in having just received a fresh baptism of the Spirit of heaven in a na­tional revival—permit the tremendous picture to become reality ?” (“Patriotism,” 405). 

This event has sometimes been called the “Businessman’s Revival,” the “1858 Prayer Revival,” or the “Awakening of 1858.” Historians have noted how difficult it is to know how to assess this revival, given how widespread it was, and how short-term its effects. Indeed, it is “so haphazardly interpreted that there exists little unanimity on what even to call it.” (See Leonard I. Sweet, “A Nation Born Again: The Union Prayer Meeting Revival and Cultural Revitalization,” in In the Great Tradition: In Honor of Winthrop S. Hudson: Essays on Pluralism, Voluntarism and Revivalism, ed. Joseph D. Ban and Paul R. Dekar (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1982), 193–221; cited in Kathryn Long, “The Power of Interpretation: The Revival of 1857-58 and the Historiography of Revivalism in America,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 4.1 (1994), 77; Baptist historian William McGloughlin concluded that it was not “any kind of national awakening but merely a response to financial insecurity and newspaper publicity”; William G. McGloughlin, Modern Revivalism, Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (New York: Ronald Press Company, 1959), 164.)

Frederick Douglass

As you might expect, the spuriousness of white Christianity is see in her so-called revivals too. As Frederick Douglass said, “revivals in religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand together” (“American Slavery: Report of a Public Meeting, May 22, 1846,”).

In 1858 at least one anti-slavery figure instantly criticized the “revival” precisely because of what he saw as its pro-slavery features. Isaac Nelson was an Irish evangelical minister who worked with Douglass and Garrison in the 1840s to oppose slavery (see Daniel Ritchie, “Transatlantic Delusions and Pro-Slavery Religion: Isaac Nelson’s Evangelical Abolitionist Critique of Revivalism in America and Ulster,” Journal of American Studies 48.03 (2014), 761).  Nelson critiqued the revival because “it had not led to emancipation or even to the American churches disciplining slaveholders” (“Delusions,” 764). He believed that “a genuine spiritual awakening would have led to an increased interest in anti-slavery,” and that absent this, any so-called revival was “spurious” (“Delusions,” 765). He noted that in some parts of America experiencing this revival, leaders had forbidden prayer on behalf of emancipation. At the epicenter of the revival, the Fulton Street prayer meetings in New York, it was reported that they segregated the meetings and made Black people pray by themselves on a separate floor removed from the main meetings. “This is the first time I have ever been to any of these meetings, and this shall be the last,” said one Black woman. “I told her that these things were a part of the American Religion,” replied a Black man who had also visited the meetings that day (“Letter from a Colored Man,” New York Tribune, March 27, 1858).

Daniel Ritchie makes an acute observation regarding the revival: “when one considers that American quickly fell into the most destructive Civil War, Nelson’s argument about the specious nature of the 1857–58 revival appears accurate… If 1857–58 had been a true revival, then, according to Nelson’s reasoning, it is not likely that the American states would have been plunged into a brutal war only a few years later in 1861” (“Delusions,” 776). Indeed—if 1857–58 had been a true revival, genuine Christianity would have been manifest long before the brutal war in their treatment of Black brothers and sisters in Christ.

“Humble Confession of Our Sins, Individual and Social”

Back to Dabney’s 1860 sermon—the remedy to this dire danger includes, first, “Christians should everywhere begin to pray for their country” (“Patriotism,” 406). Next, Dabney turns to confession: “And along with this should go humble confession of our sins, individual and social.” Dabney understands the connection between individual sin and its social and systemic aspect as well: 

It is for our own sins alone that we are responsible to God. It is our own sins alone that we have the means of reforming, by the help of his grace. Let each man, then, consider and forsake his personal transgressions; for as your persons help to swell the aggregate of this great people, so your individual sins have gone to form that black cloud of guilt which threatens to hide from us the favorable light of our heavenly Father’s face But let us remem­ber, and confess also, our social sins: that general worldliness which hath set up the high places of its covetous idolatries all over the good land God hath given us; that selfish profusion and luxury which have squandered on the pride of life so much of the goods of our stewardship; that heaven-daring profanity and blasphemy by reason of which the land mourneth. And let me not forget faithfully to protest, on such a day as this, against that peculiar sin of the southern country, the passion for bloody retaliation of personal wrong, which has been so often professed and indulged among us, unwhipped of justice. You have allowed too often the man of violence, the duelist, profess­ ing his pretended “ code of honor ”—most hateful and deceitful pretence of that father of lies, who was a murderer from the beginning—to stalk through the land with wrongs upon his angry tongue and blood upon his hand, while his crime was winked at by justice, and almost applauded by a corrupt public opinion. “ So ye have polluted the land wherein ye are; for blood, it defileth the land, and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.’”

Dabney acknowledges a number of sins that characterize the South, but though he names “worldliness and covetous idolatry; selfish profusion and luxury” he refuses to see white-supremacy and chattel enslavement as the foundation of such covetousness and the source of that luxury. Especially interesting is his calling out of the “duelist,” that “peculiar sin of the southern country, the passion for bloody retaliation of personal wrong, which has been so often professed and indulged among us,” driven by their honor/shame culture, “professing his pretended ‘code of honor.’”

Dabney had many of the resources at hand to combat the deep sickness in his country, and in particular, in white American Christianity. He had his Bible, and he knew deeply of its teachings of “Christ-like love”; he had categories for not just individual, but social sins; he knew that seminaries, churches, and printing presses despite their “vaunted successes” could prove utterly impotent in the face of a real call for moral weight; and yet, this form of Christianity—his form of Christianity—proved impotent. 

What was missing? More theology wouldn’t fix it (Dabney himself was a theology professor at Union Seminary); more printing of books, more preaching of sermons (see also “We have much theology, but what does it amount to?”: William Lloyd Garrison’s critique of the American Tract Society“). What was needed was repentance at such a deep level that the entire society would be changed from the bottom up. Even preaching on “Christ-like love” remains impotent when that love is only intended for fellow white people. 

White American Christianity needed to be born again. I think it still does.

The Christian Watchman & Reflector: A 19th Century Boston Baptist Newspaper

When studying history, there are a variety of sources that give us a window into another world, and one of these is newspapers. In their time, newspapers served as the primary medium for the exchange of ideas, at times resembling a form of “social media.” Controversies were debated, sermons reprinted, minutes of various societies published. Newspapers could be so controversial that an editor could lose his life (see the example of Elijah Lovejoy who was murdered at the age of 35 for printing an abolitionist paper).

Over the past few years I’ve come to deeply enjoy digging into the archives of a 19th century Boston Baptist newspaper, The Christian Watchman and Reflector (GenealogyBank has searchable digitized archives for the Christian Reflector for the years 1842–48 and for the Christian Watchman from 1819–1876). It was here that I first discovered nineteen previously unpublished letters written by Charles Spurgeon, including his “Red Hot Letter on American Slaery” (see: “Charles Spurgeon in the Christian Watchman & Reflector | Index”). I’ve since devoted hours upon hours to searching the archives on any variety of topics related to Baptist History. Additionally, when I want to know “what did certain 19th century New England Baptists think about [X]?” I search the archives. Every source, though, needs itself to be examined, in order to better understand the context and the perspectives expressed in it. Though somewhat lengthy, this is actually just a beginning sketch of the history of this paper. An exhaustive study remains to be done, and this merely gestures toward some of the contours such a study could follow.

The Most Popular Baptist Paper in All New England

William Cathcart  (1826–1908), in his Baptist Encyclopædia, called it “the most popular Baptist paper in all New England” (466). Robert Turnbull (1809–1877) considered it “the leading Baptist journal in New England, and one of the best papers in the country.”

Thomas Armitage (1819–1896), in his The History of the Baptists, gives this brief overview of the paper:

The oldest Baptist weekly in America is ‘THE WATCHMAN’, of Boston, established in 1819, with the title, the ‘Christian Watchman,’ and edited by Deacon James Loring. The question of slavery becoming a subject of warm discussion, the ‘Christian Reflector’ was begun at Worcester, Mass., edited by Rev. Cyrus P. Grosvenor. This paper was removed to Boston in 1844, under the editorship of Rev. H. A. Graves, where it obtained a large circulation; but, Mr. Graves’s health failing, Rev. J. W. Olmstead became its editor, March, 1846, and in 1848 the two papers were united, under the name, ‘The Watchman and Reflector,’ Dr. Olmstead remaining as editor

(Armitage, 882)

The leading Baptist seminary at the time—Newton Theological Institution—was just ten miles away, and the Watchman & Reflector tended to stay up-to-date with, and to some extent to reflect, the higher echelons of white Baptist leadership.

Name Changes and Mergers (1819–1913)

The paper underwent a number of mergers and name changes over the years. Here is a nearly complete list of its evolution over the years (with links to the Library of Congress listing for each title):

The Christian Watchman

Christian Watchman: (Boston) 1819-1819

The very first article published in the Christian Watchman was a missionary update from Burma:

Christian Watchman & Baptist Register. (Boston) 1819-1821

The Christian Watchman. (Boston) 1821-1848

(LOC notes that the paper was “Published under the patronage of: Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts, Dec. 9, 1825-Aug. 1838.”)

The Christian Reflector

Christian Reflector (Worcester, MA) 1838-1839

Christian reflector. (Worcester, Mass.) 1840-1848

The Christian Watchman & Reflector (or was it “Reflector and Watchman”?!)

In 1848, the Watchman and the Reflector merged, though the order in the name switched during its first year:

Christian Reflector & Christian Watchman: (Boston) 1848-1848

Christian Watchman & Christian Reflector. (Boston) 1848-1850

Christian Watchman & Reflector. (Boston) 1851-1866

Watchman & Reflector. (Boston) 1867-1875

In 1876 the paper merged with another Boston paper, the Christian Era, to form: The Watchman (Boston).

The Watchman. (Boston) 1876-1913

William Cathcart, “The Watchman”

William Cathcart includes an entire entry for “The Watchman” in his Baptist Encyclopædia

Watchman, The, a weekly religious paper, pub­lished in Boston, was started, in 1819, by True & Weston, Mr. Weston being its first editor. The original name of the paper was The Christian Watchman, and it was intended to be an organ of the Baptist denomination, setting forth and vin­dicating, in a kind, Christian spirit, the peculiar tenets and practices of the Baptist churches in this country Messrs. True & Weston did not long retain their connection with the paper, but passed it into the hands of William Nichols, Deacon James Loring acting as its editor. Here it remained for fifteen years, and, as an exponent of Baptist prin­ciples and practices, it performed excellent service for the denomination. On the retirement of Dea­con Loring from the editorial chair, Rev. B. F. Farnsworth took charge of the paper for a few months, when he was succeeded by Rev. Ebenezer Thresher, who was its editor for three years. During the next ten years—from 1838 to 1848— The Christian Watchman was under the editorial management of Rev. William Crowell, whose abil­ity as a writer was everywhere acknowledged. Under his supervision the paper took a high posi­tion among the religious periodicals of the day. In consequence of what by many were regarded as too conservative views on the exciting topics which were agitating the community during this period, Mr. Crowell’s position was condemned ; and there seeming to be a call for the establishment of another paper, the Christian Reflector was started in Worcester, Mass., with Cyrus Grosvenor as editor, and W. S. Dannell as publisher. In 1844 the new paper was removed to Boston, and, under the edi­torial management of Rev. H. A. Graves, it was not long before its circulation exceeded that of The Christian Watchman. The health of Mr. Graves led to his resignation, and the paper passed into the hands of Rev. J. W. Olmstead. The two papers were united in 1848, under the editorial manage­ment of Messrs. Olmstead and Hague. Mr. D. S. Ford, one of the publishers, soon came upon the editorial staff, his specialty being the arrangement of the outside of the paper, which, by his enterprise and rare tact, was made as attractive as the inside. The general tone and circulation of the paper con­tinued to improve from year to year until 1867, when it was enlarged to an eight-paged sheet, furnishing to its patrons nearly double the amount of reading matter, with but a small increase in its price. Mr. Ford retired from the Watchman and Reflector at the close of the year 1867, and the proprietorship and editorial management were in the hands of Dr. Olmstead. The Christian Era, which commenced its existence in Lowell, Mass., in 1852, to meet the demand for a more thoroughly out­ spoken anti-slavery paper, after passing through a successful career, chiefly under the management of its editor, Rev. Dr. Webster, was merged into what, under the present arrangement, is called The Watchman, at the close of 1875. The editors of The Watchman were Drs. Olmstead, Lorimer, and Johnson during the year 1876. Rev. L. E. Smith, D.D., for a long time connected with the Examiner, of New York, took the editorial chair at the beginning of 1877. The circulation of the paper in 1878 was a little under 20,000, and was con­stantly increasing. Its growth has been extraor­dinary. The Christian Watchman, insignificant in size, has expanded to a sheet 49 inches by 33, nearly eight times as large as at its birth. The expense of a single paper for original matter has been often larger than the former outlay for an entire year. It cannot be doubted that a prosper­ous future is before it.

(Cathcart, 1216)

Note: if the language regarding William Crowell and Cyrus Grosvenor seems cryptic (“took a high position”; “too conservative views on the exciting topics which were agitating the community during this period”) let me make it plain: Crowell was moderate on the issue of slavery, and Grosvenor was outspoken: 

Begun in 1838, the Christian Reflector was religious paper for the Baptists of Massachusetts. Intended as a paper for the layman, the Reflector was outspoken in its advocation of temperance and morality, and of abolition. Cyrus P. Grosvenor edited the first four volumes. Although the paper was theological in nature, during his editorship, at least two or more articles concerning the slave and the abolitionary movement appeared each week.

“Christian Reflector,” Library of Congress

William Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopædia

Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopædia is a standard reference book for 19th century Baptist history. A search of the book uncovers a wide range of Baptist figures who were connected to the Watchman and Reflector in a variety of ways, whether as owners, editors, writers, reporters, or occasional correspondents. Reading through the list will give you a sense of the various ways Baptists engaged with their newspapers.

Granville S. Abbott (1837–1897)

“For four years he edited the Sunday-school department of The Watchman, of Boston.”

(Cathcart, 10)

Rufus Babcock (1798–1875)

“Dr. Babcock had a ready pen, and always maintained an intimate connection with the religious press… His correspondence with the Watchman, as it is now called, extended over almost the entire period of its existence.”

(Cathcart, 52)

James G. Bolles (1802–1871)

When fifteen, entered a printing-office in Bridgeport, Conn., and remained till twenty; went to Boston, Mass., and was partner in the firm that published the Christian Watchman.”

(Cathcart, 111)

William Chauncy Child (1817–1876)

“In 1861 he was chosen district secretary of the American Tract Society, of Boston, which position he held for eight years,— 1861–69. Soon after retiring from this office he was elected district secretary of the American Baptist Publication Society, and was in office until1873. He occupied during the latter years of his life a responsible position on the editorial staff of The Watchman and Reflector.”

(Cathcart, 215–26)

William Crowell (1806–1871)

Crowell, William, D.D., was born in Middle- field, Mass., Sept. 22, 1806. He received his liter­ary and theological education at Brown and New­ton. While pursuing his studies at the latter he preached in several villages and towns around Bos­ton, especially at Quincy, where he gathered a congregation in a large gambling-room in a house formerly used as a tavern, and such was the bless­ ing attending his ministrations in this room that a church was organized. 

Soon after leaving Newton, Mr. Crowell accepted the editorship of the Christian Watchman. This position he held for ten years, when the Watchman and the Christian Reflector were united. During this period the paper prospered, and its reputation was not surpassed by any denominational organ in the country. 

While in Boston, in 1845, he preached twice every Sunday, and taught in the Sunday-school. After leaving Boston he accepted the pastorate of the church in Waterville, Me., and continued to serve it for about two years, when he removed to St. Louis, Mo., to take editorial charge of The Western Watchman. He held this position for ten years, making the paper a power among the grow­ing hosts of Missouri Baptists. A variety of causes led him, just as the late war was about to convulse the nation, to retire from the editorial chair of The Western Watchman, after which he served as pastor for a short period at Freeport, 111., and at the time of his death he was engaged in ministerial and other labors in New Jersey. He died in August, 1871. The Watchman and Reflector, of Boston, of August 31, 1871, says of him, “His mind was one of uncommon discrimination and clearness. We mourn the loss of so able and good a man, and that his ‘sun should have gone down while it was yet day.’” Dr. Crowell was one of the most tal­ented and cultured men in the Baptist denomina­tion, his piety was all-pervading, and he shed a genial and blessed light over the entire relations of life. Thousands mourned his death as an af­fliction to the whole Baptist Israel. He was the author of several works, chief among which was “The Church Member’s Manual” now used as a text-book in some of our theological seminaries.

(Cathcart, 1304).

Sewell S. Cutting (1813–1882)

.In 1851 he accepted an editorial position on the Watchman and Reflector, of Boston.

(Cathcart, 305)

Daniel Sharp Ford

Daniel Sharp Ford

“Daniel Sharp Ford (1822-1899) is a Northern Baptist newspaper publisher. Born in Cambridge in a Christian home, as a young man Ford apprenticed in the printers’ trade in Boston, soon becoming a partner in the newly-founded Christian Watchman and Reflector, a Baptist newspaper that becomes a leading voice for American Baptists.

Ford’s publishing enterprises did not stop there. In 1857 the business partners founded the Youth’s Companion, a publication aimed at young Christians. In a matter of time, a falling out between Ford and his partner led to his giving up his part in the Watchman and Reflector while assuming full ownership of Youth’s Companion.”

(from Bruce Gourley, “Baptists and the American Civil War: March 5, 1864”)

Amory Gale (1815–1874)

He graduated from Brown University in 1843, and from Newton Theological Seminary in 1846. Under his labors while a student at Brown Univer­sity an extensive revival was experienced in Royalston. His first settlement after graduating was at Ware, Mass. Here he was ordained Nov. 11, 1846. In the spring of 1857 he received a com­ mission from the American Baptist Home Mission Society to visit the West, and settled with the First Baptist church of Minneapolis. He succeeded Rev. T. R. Cressey as general missionary for the State. July 1,1858. For fifteen years he toiled in his mis­sionary work, and reaped a glorious harvest. The Rev. Lyman Palmer collated many facts concerning Brother Gale’s labors, from which we select the fol­lowing : “Sermons, 5000; family calls, 16,000; books sold or donated, 25,000 volumes; miles traveled. 100,000.—more than 50.000 miles of his missionary journevings were with Indian ponies, in a buggy or a sleigh.” Large churches were anxious for his services, but his reply was, “The men are fewer who will take fields to be worked up, so I will take a new field.” He had a strong physical frame, but it was the constraining love of Jesus that wrought within him an indomitable energy to grapple with and overcome great difficulties. He did not stop to look at obstacles, but to inquire for needed work. For years he suffered very much with asthma, and often slept leaning against the wall of his room, lie had as true a missionary spirit as ever dwelt in a human heart. He organized Sunday-schools all over Minnesota. At the time of his death there were one hundred and sixty-nine Baptist churches in that State, more than one-half of which he had assisted in forming. His name will long remain a household word in Minnesota. 

In the summer of 1874 he sailed for Europe. While abroad he visited the principal places of in­terest in Great Britain, many of the continen­tal cities, Greece, Constantinople, and Palestine. At Jaffa, prostrated by Syrian fever, he was taken to the hospital, where he died, Nov. 25, 1874. During his travels a number of highly interesting letters from his pen were published in the Watch­man and Reflector, of Boston. The death of no citizen of Minnesota ever occasioned more profound sadness, lie was buried in the 1”American Prot­estant Cemetery,” near the city of Jaffa.

(Cathcart, 430–31)

George Gardner (1828–1895)

George Gardner

“He has contributed to the pages of the Baptist Quarterly, published several missionary tracts, and was the Sunday-school editor of the Watchman and Reflector for 1871 and 1872.”

(Cathcart, 436)

Hiram Atwell Graves (1813–1850)

In 1842 he became the editor of the Christian Reflector, a Baptist weekly newspaper, published in Boston. He entered upon the duties of the office when the fortunes of the paper were at their lowest ebb. At once it was evident that an energetic man was at the helm of affairs. The moribund paper was lifted into new life. Its subscription list increased largely, and it was a power in the denomination, which made itself felt in every direction. At length it was united with the Christian Watchman, and under the new name of the Watchman and Reflector it was the most popular Baptist paper in all New England. 

Such hard and constant strain on his nervous system, as he was forced to endure to bring his paper up to the point where he finally left it, thoroughly exhausted him, and he was compelled to retire from his editorial chair and seek rest and recuperation in a milder climate. Three or four years were spent in the island of Jamaica. His disease was probably held in check, but it was not subdued. Feeling satisfied that he could not recover, he returned to his native land, and after lingering a few weeks, he died at his father’s house in Bristol, R. I., Nov. 3, 1850. 

The fame of Mr. Graves rests upon his accomplishments as an editor. Of him, as working in this department of Christian labor, Dr. Turnbull says,“He formed the character and laid the foundation of the prosperity of the Watchman and Reflector, the leading Baptist journal in New England, and one of the best papers in the country. 

Easy, versatile, and graceful, apt, also, in a high degree, with sufficient spice of wit and vigor, always sensible and often eloquent. his leaders, short or long, were the first things caught by appreciative readers. In full sympathy with the spirit of Christianity and the progress of the age in all benevolent enterprises, he threw himself into the grand movement of the church for the salvation of the world. Our educational, missionary, and philanthropic schemes are largely indebted to his judicious, earnest advocacy.”

(Cathcart, 466)

William Hague (1808–1876)

“He has also written much for the reviews and the periodical press, especially for the Watchman, of Boston, with which he was at one time connected editorially, and whose columns he has often enriched over his well-known signature “Herbert.” Dr. Hague is justly regarded as one of the ablest and most scholarly ministers of his denomination.”

(Cathcart, 485)

Alvah Hovey (1820–1903)

Alvah Hovey

“Dr. Hovey has contributed a large amount of matter to the Christian Review, the Baptist Quarterly, the Bibliotheca Sacra, the Examiner and Chronicle, the Watchman, the Standard, and other papers.”

(Cathcart, 547)

Heman Lincoln (1821–1887)

Heman Lincoln

“Dr. Lincoln has had much experience in writing for the press during all his professional life. For five years he was editorially connected with the Christian Chronicle, and for thirteen years with the Watchman and Reflector.”

(Cathcart, 703–704)

Richard M. Nott (1831–1880)

“In the summer of 1880 his health so failed that he was obliged to abandon his supply at Brookville, and also his valuable work in the Sunday-school department of The Watchman, the “Lesson Helps,” which were very satisfactorily prepared by him.”

(Cathcart, 859)

John W. Olmstead (1816–1891)

In 1846 he became editor of the Christian Reflector, of Boston. In 1848 the Watchman was united with it, and he filled the editorial chair of the consolidated papers until 1877. His ability as a religious journalist was fully demonstrated in his long and successful management of that paper… His life has been one of great usefulness and honor”

(Cathcart, 868)

George Whitefield Samson (1819–1896)

George Samson

He entered Brown University in September, 1835 ,and graduated in 1839. In the mean time he was an occasional correspondent of, and reporter for, the Christian Watchman, Boston… 

After four years of arduous labor, having specially prepared himself for the study of art and of Biblical archaeology, he spent a year in the East and in Western Europe, devoting half a year to Goshen, the Desert of Sinai, and Palestine; following the route of Napoleon’s engineers in1798–99 through the delta retraced by Seetzen in 1810, and personally finding the valley east of Jebel Mousa, regarded by early Christians as the place of Israel’s encampment, and since his visit recognized by French and German scholars. He satisfactorily identified also the sites of Christ’s birth, baptism, transfiguration, death, ascension, and other localities. A series of letters was written for the Watchman, of Boston ; three articles on Goshen were prepared for the Christian Review; one on Sinai for the Bibliotheca Sacra; a treatise on the places of New Testament baptisms; a small volume on spiritualism,—all appearing between 1848 and 1851. 

…No Baptist clergyman in the country is perhaps better known throughout the denomination than Dr. Samson.”

(Cathcart, 1024–25)

Lucius Smith (1822–1900)

In 1868 he entered upon his duties as literary editor of the Examiner and Chronicle, and held that office until 1876, when he was called to the chair of editor of the Watchman, which place he now occupies. 

Dr. Smith’s editorial calling seems to be the one for which he has special and most superior qualifi­cations. His experience in this line goes back to his student days, when for a year he was editor of the Williams Miscellany, a college magazine. Pres­ident Hopkins said at the expiration of that year’s work, “ I do not believe you are done with editing. I am inclined to think it is your vocation.” The event has justified the correctness of his confident assertions. Besides articles contributed to reviews, magazines, and various newspapers, Dr. Smith published, in 1852, “Heroes and Martyrs of the Missionary Enterprise, with an Historical Review of Earlier Missions.” The degree of D.D. was conferred upon him in 1869 by Williams College. Dr. Smith is held in the highest esteem in the extensive fields which he has cultivated.”

(Cathcart, 1071)

Joseph Stockbridge (1811–1894)

Having received an appointment as chaplain in the U. S. navy, he was ordained in New York in 1842, the sermon being preached by Rev. Dr. William R. Williams, from the appropriate text, Acts xxvii.24, “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” In the discharge of his official duties Dr. Stockbridge has visited many parts of the earth, and Occupied several stations as chaplain on land. He has also had intimate connections with the public press, both religious and secular. As a correspondent of The Watchman, under the signature of “Mallah” he has furnished a large amount of matter, especially in the form of interesting and instructive letters from foreign lands.”

(Cathcart, 1111)

Ebenezer Thresher (1798–1886)

Ebenezer Thresher

In 1834 he became editor of The Watchman, though his name did not appear in connection with the paper until1836, when he purchased the proprietorship from William Nichols, and held this three or four years.

(Cathcart, 1151)

Tremont Temple

Tremont Temle

Tremont Temple, Boston, Mass., was pur­chased early in 1843 by Timothy Gilbert, S. G. Shipley, Thomas Gould, and William S. Danwell for $55,000. It had been the Tremont Theatre.. The deed was executed in June, 1843. The object for which the edifice was bought by these gentle­ men was to secure a place of worship for the Tre­ mont Street Baptist church, where the seats should be free, that there might be free seats for the poor, and for strangers coming to the city to seek employ­ment, whose means would not allow them to rent, pews in other churches. 

…The church worshiping in the Temple has a membership of 1500, and, under the able ministry of F. M. Ellis,D.D., one of the largest congregations in the UnitedStates. It is known and designated as the headquarters of New England Baptists. The Missionary Union, the New England departments of the Home Mission Society and the Publication Society, the Woman’s Baptist Home and Foreign Missionary Societies, and the Watchman have rooms in the Temple.

(Cathcart, 1162–64)

James Upham (1815–1893)

In 1866 he retired from this position [president of the New Hampshire Literary Institute], and became one of the editors of the Watchman and Reflector. He held this office for several years with distinguished ability.

(Cathcart, 1185)

John E. Weston (1796–1831)

Henry Weston

Weston, Rev. John E., was born in Amherst, N. H., Oct. 13, 1796. On his mothers side he was of Huguenot descent, and had many of those qualities of character which we associate with those honored French refugees, who suffered so much for the sake of their religion. He estab­lished, in connection with Mr. Benjamin True, in 1818, the Christian Watchman, now The Watchman, of Boston, which has been in existence sixty-three years. His connection with the paper continued not far from three years. While thus engaged his religious impressions ripened into a full hope in Christ, and he was baptized by Rev. James M. Winchell, Feb. 22,1820, and connected himself with the church under the pastoral care of Rev. Dr. Sharp. Having given up his business as a printer, he now resolved to carry out his early purpose to secure a better intellectual training, with a view to entering the ministry. lie repaired to the Andover Phillips^ Academy, and subsequently put himself under the tuition of Rev. Dr. Bolles, of Salem, Mass.; then became a student of Columbian College, and com­pleted his theological studies in part at Andover and in part as a member of the first graduating class at Newton. He was ordained at East Cam­ bridge, Mass., Oct. 10, 1827, and was the pastor of the Baptist church in that place for four years. He resigned his charge May 27, 1831. An invita­tion had been extended to him to become the pas­ tor of the Baptist church in Nashua, N. II., but his work was nearly done. On his way to Nashua to fulfill an engagement he drove into a pond—it being a warm summer’s day—to refresh his horse. Unfortunately it was a dangerous place, and Mr. Weston leaped from the carriage, and, being unable to swim, was drowned. The sad event occurred July 2, 1831. Mr. Weston was father of the Rev. H. G. Weston, D.D., president of the Crozer Theological Seminary.

(Cathcart, 1234)

“Emotional Blackmail” and “The Sin of Empathy”

When Joe Rigney published his first article on “The Enticing Sin of Empathy” on the DesiringGod website in May 2019, many were bewildered — where did this come from? In subsequent articles, Rigney has unpacked some of the sources of his position, including the work of Edwin Friedman and his “The Fallacy of Empathy.” But another significant source for this idea is found in the teachings of John Piper himself, particularly the concept of “emotional blackmail.” Piper developed this concept over the course of several years, from talking about our “emotionally fragile age” in 2006, to the way children “emotionally blackmail” their fathers in 2007, to a speculation regarding A.W. Tozer’s wife in 2008. Through Piper, the language of “emotional blackmail” became widespread among conservative reformed evangelicals, especially at The Gospel Coalition, so when Rigney wrote his articles on “the sin of empathy” a decade later, they found a ready platform at DesiringGod, and a ready audience (among some) in conservative evangelicalism, because they so closely resembled Piper’s original concept, if perhaps dressed up in new, more provocative, language. The following post documents this development from 2006 to 2021.

“An Emotionally Fragile Age”

John Piper does not include the phrase “emotional blackmail” in his 2006 book What Jesus Demands from the World, but he develops several points that he will pick up in later sermons and comments on “emotional blackmail.” In the chapter titled “Love Your Enemies—Lead Them to the Truth,” Piper includes a section under the heading “Challenging the Absoluteness of the Beloved”:

The next obvious implication of Jesus’ words for the meaning of love is that it is not unloving to call someone an enemy. We live in an emotionally fragile age. People are easily offended and describe their response to being criticized as being hurt. In fact, we live in a time when emotional offense, or woundedness, often becomes a criterion for deciding if love has been shown. If a person can claim to have been hurt by what you say, it is assumed by many that you did not act in love. In other words, love is not defined by the quality of the act and its motives, but by the subjective response of others. In this way of relating, the wounded one has absolute authority. If he says you hurt him, then you cannot have acted lovingly. You are guilty.

No one I have ever known in person or in history was as blunt as Jesus in the way he dealt with people. Evidently his love was so authentic it needed few cushions. It is owing to my living with the Jesus of the Gospels for fifty years that makes me so aware of how emotionally fragile and brittle we are today. If Jesus were to speak to us the way he typically spoke in his own day, we would be continually offended and hurt. This is true of the way he spoke to his disciples and the way he spoke to his adversaries.

The point of this is that the genuineness of an act of love is not determined by the subjective feelings of the one being loved.

I am stressing another side of the problem that seems unusually prevalent in our psychologized world. I am simply drawing attention to the fact that feeling unloved is not the same as being unloved. Jesus is modeling for us in his life the objectivity of love. It has real motives and real actions. And when they are loving, the response of the loved one does not change that fact.

pp. 641–43 in The Collected Works of John Piper, Volume 6.

Though Piper does not use the term “emotional blackmail” in this chapter, he will explicitly use some of this same language (“feeling unloved is not the same as being unloved”) when describing “emotional blackmail” in 2008.

One point seems interesting and important to note here. Piper draws attention to the fact that Jesus sometimes used sharp words in “the way he spoke to his disciples and the way he spoke to his adversaries.” All of the scripture references in this section of What Jesus Demands are directed toward his twelve disciples, Pharisees, Herod, and Jesus cleansing the temple. Though Piper would later apply this reasoning to a wife who claimed that she did not feel loved by her husband, casting doubt on her claim, and wondering whether she might be engaging in “emotional blackmail,” it is striking that this is a significant leap from the text of the scriptures that Piper cites to support his initial claim. What Jesus directs toward hard-hearted disciples and Pharisees, Piper will apply to wives, and anyone else who he thinks is too “emotionally fragile.” Whether such a leap from text to application is warranted, the reader must judge.

Children Blackmailing Fathers

The first reference to “emotional blackmail” in Piper’s works can be found in a 2007 sermon on Ephesians 6:1–4: “Marriage Is Meant for Making Children . . . Disciples of Jesus, Part 2: A Father’s Conquest of Anger in Himself and in His Children.” While unpacking the phrase “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger,” Piper acknowledges that angry children are not necessarily evidence of a sinful father:

So what shall we say to us dads about this matter of anger in our children? First, we should say that this verse may not be used as emotional blackmail by the children. Blackmail would say, “I am angry, Dad, so you are wrong.” Some people never grow out of this childish self-centeredness: “My emotions are the measure of your love; so if I am unhappy, you are not loving me.” We have all experienced this kind of manipulation. We know Paul does not mean that because Jesus himself made many people angry, and he never sinned or failed to love perfectly. Since all children are sinners, therefore, even the best and most loving and tender use of authority will provoke some children sometimes to anger.

(Note: this paragraph (indeed, the whole sermon) was reproduced in book form in 2009 under the heading “No Emotional Blackmail” in This Momentary Marriage (p. 151))

Though the focus of the sermon is on fathers and children, note that Piper broadens the scope to include people who “never grow out of this childish self-centeredness,” and manipulate others with their emotions. 

Aiden and Ada Tozer

The following year, Piper would use the term “emotional blackmail” in a discussion surrounding the wife of A.W. Tozer. Tozer (1897–1963) was a pastor and author who is probably best known for his two books The Pursuit of God (1948) and The Knowledge of the Holy (1961). In 2008, Lyle Dorsett published a biography of Tozer, A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer. Dorsett’s biography included frank descriptions of his home life,  including the fact that his wife Ada felt neglected by him.

The occasion that prompted Piper to write was a brief reflection on Dorsett’s book by Sean Michael Lucas, then the associate professor of church history at Covenant Theological Seminary. In his post, “A Passion for God,” Lucas said this:

Dorsett exposes a fundamental contradiction in Tozer’s character that raises all sorts of questions about holy zeal and its effect on the whole of life. The contradiction could be summed up: how did Tozer reconcile his passionate longing for communion with the Triune God with his failure to love passionately his wife and children? Perhaps the most damning statement in the book was from his wife, after she remarried subsequent to his death: “I have never been happier in my life,” Ada Ceclia Tozer Odam observed, “Aiden [Tozer] loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me” (160).

Now, certainly all human beings have flaws; that is not the point here. Rather, the point that Dorsett failed to explore adequately is how Tozer reconciled his pursuit of God with his failure to pursue his wife. This reconciliation–or failure to reconcile–should have raised questions about Tozer’s mystic approach and prophetic denunciation of the church and nuanced the value of his teaching on the Christian life. After all, if his piety could spend several hours in prayer and also rationalize his failure at home, then it should raise questions about his approach to piety. 

In his blog post on The Gospel Coalition, “Tozer’s Contradiction and His Approach to Piety,” Justin Taylor published an excerpt from Lucas’s post, and added that “John Piper writes in with a helpful caution.” Here was Piper’s “caution”:

Sean Lucas seems to say that Tozer’s wife’s greater happiness with her second husband implies Tozer’s “failure to love passionately his wife.” When she remarried after his death she said, “”I have never been happier in my life. . . “Aiden [A. W. Tozer] loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me.” Lucas may be right to infer from this sentence that Tozer loved his wife poorly. But Tozer’s wife’s statement does not prove it.

We would need to be as penetrating in our analysis of her spiritual condition as we are of A. W. Tozer’s. Not feeling loved and not being loved are not the same. Jesus loved all people well. And many did not like the way he loved them. Was David’s zeal for the Lord imbalanced because his wife Michal despised him for it? Was Job’s devotion to the Lord inordinate because his wife urged him to curse God and die? Would Gomer be a reliable witness to Hosea’s devotion? I know nothing about Tozer’s wife. She may have been far more godly than he. Or maybe not. It would be helpful to know.

Again I admit Lucas may be totally right. Tozer may have blown it at home. Lucas’ lessons from this possibility are wise. But I have seen so much emotional blackmail in my ministry I am jealous to raise a warning against it. Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, “If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.” There is no defense. The hurt person has become God. His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. All that matters is the sovereign suffering of the aggrieved. It is above question. This emotional device is a great evil. I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it.

I am not saying Tozer’s wife did this. I am saying that the assumption that her feeling unloved equals her being unloved creates the atmosphere where emotional blackmail flourishes.

Maybe Tozer loved his wife poorly. But his wife’s superior happiness with another man does not show it. Perhaps Lyle Dorsett’s new biography of Tozer, A Passion for God, penetrates to the bottom of this relationship.

A few things are noteworthy. First, it seems clear that Piper has not read Dorsett’s book (“Perhaps Dorsett’s new biography penetrates to the bottom of this relationship”). Everything he writes here about Ada Tozer is pure speculation. 

Second, note what Piper is “jealous” about, what provokes him to write: upon hearing of Ada Tozer’s claim that her husband neglected her for the sake of his ministry, Piper is not jealous to “raise a warning” to pastors. He could have said “Pastors, whatever you do, be sure to love your wife. If you have to leave the ministry, be sure to love your wife. Do whatever it takes to love your wife.” Rather, Piper is jealous “to raise a warning against emotional blackmail.” 

Third, note that in this post he draws together material from two previous occasions (1) What Jesus Demands from the World on “emotional fragility” and the fact that “Not feeling loved and not being loved are not the same” and (2) his teaching on the way that children attempt to manipulate and use “emotional blackmail” on their fathers; and then directs this combination at the claims of a wife that her husband was neglecting her and their family for the sake of his ministry.

(Note: for another review of Dorsett’s book from a reformed evangelical a few years later (2011) see Tim Challies, “A.W. Tozer: A Passion for God,” which highlighted the dichotomy in Tozer’s life and ministry, but did not question Ada’s account, or hypothesize on whether it amounted to “emotional blackmail”).

Ray Ortlund and Jared Wilson

Piper’s quote and particularly his phrase “emotional blackmail” was eventually picked up by other figures in the reformed evangelical network. In 2013 pastor Ray Ortlund republished Piper’s quote in a TGC blogpost (“Emotional Blackmail at Church”), and added his own analysis:

When a church’s mentality — the very categories and assumptions with which they process reality — is not biblical but therapeutic, this “great evil” can be perpetrated without any troubling of the conscience.  But no one should ever be pressured to confess as sin aspects of their behavior which the Bible itself does not identify as sin.  It is the Word of God, chapter and verse, and only the Word of God, not human expectations or emotions, which defines sin.  When we forget this, we exalt ourselves to the place of God with our own self-made demands and haughty accusations.  This is indeed a great evil, though self-exaltation rarely feels evil.  Misguided moral fervor feels good, even virtuous.

The following year (2014) Ortlund would reproduce this point, including Piper’s quote and discussion of “emotional blackmail” in his book in the 9Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series: The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (p. 101).

Jared Wilson also republished the quote on his TGC blogpost “Piper on Emotional Blackmail in the Church.” (This post appears to have been removed from the TGC website, but can still be found on Wayback).

As an observation, this is the way that a phrase and a concept work their way through a broader community, in this case, conservative reformed evangelicalism. Terms are coined, and then delivered in sermons and conference messages, then published in blog posts, and then in books, spread around by other influential pastors and writers. After a few years “emotional blackmail” became a part of the reformed evangelical vocabulary.

Marg Mowczo’s Critique

Not everyone appreciated Piper’s “warning.” In 2015, Marg Mowczo wrote a post critiquing Piper’s use of the term “emotional blackmail.” She also noted that “It seems the people at TGC really like these words” (“John Piper and Emotional Blackmail”). Mowczo found “a few things disturbing in John Piper’s words”:

First, John uses the examples of three women in the Bible who, for various reasons, had a problem with the godly zeal and devotion of their husbands. These three women—Michal, Job’s wife, and Gomer—are presented in a negative light in the Bible, and John compares their negative attitudes, words, and actions with the feelings of a woman who he admits he doesn’t know, Tozer’s widow.

The statement I have the biggest problem with, however, is this reference to Tozer’s widow: “… the assumption that her feeling unloved equals her being unloved creates the atmosphere where emotional blackmail flourishes.”

This is unfair. Why not believe her when she says she felt loved by her second husband, with the implication that she didn’t feel loved, or as loved, by Tozer. Why cast it as an “assumption”? And why attach her feelings to the issue of emotional blackmail? 

…It is disrespectful for John Piper to have used Tozer’s widow to explain “emotional blackmail.” But there is more to this quotation. 

He suddenly makes it personal and talks passionately about the emotional blackmail he claims he has often seen in his ministry…

John believes that some church members have wrongly assumed that he and other ministers have hurt them, when in fact they have loved them. He asserts that some hurting church members failed to feel the love of their pastors and then resorted to emotional blackmail.

I know of people who have been hurt by pastors. This usually occurs when people have unrealistic expectations of their ministers. Yet these expectations are usually reinforced from the pulpit or by church culture, or both. When pastors allow the perception that they are powerful people with a better or deeper spiritual understanding, maturity, or capacity than other church members, or when pastors accept accolades to that effect, then some church members will expect more than what pastors can actually give. Some members may even expect to be loved in such a way that they will feel loved.

To some extent I agree with John that “a person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt,” but what concerns me the most about his words is that John never admits that there were times when he failed to love well. He puts all the blame and guilt on those who have felt hurt.

Being a pastor can be a very difficult role, and there are times when pastors need protection. But John seems intent on protecting himself and his fellow shepherds at the expense of his fellow sheep. To protect A.W. Tozer’s reputation, he maligns his widow. To protect his fellow shepherds who have been emotionally blackmailed, he puts all the blame on the sheep. Surely there must be a way of supporting and caring for the shepherds without resorting to unhelpful and uncaring insinuations against fellow Christians.

For the record, I agree with Mowczo’s critiques here. I find Piper’s criticisms unwarranted and seeming to “protect shepherds at the expense of the sheep.”

Erik Raymond

In 2016, Boston pastor Erik Raymond published an article on TGC on “Common Evangelical Attacks Against Sola Scriptura.” In it he listed “3 common attacks upon the sufficiency of Scripture” and the third was “The unmeasurable and devastating emotional blackmail.” Raymond favorably quotes Piper’s 2008 remarks on the Tozers and concludes the paragraph with this: 

How does this undermine the sufficiency of Scripture? It does so because the Bible gives us the basis for interpreting what loving behavior actually is. There is fruit that corresponds with love. And sometimes it doesn’t make us feel very good.

“Emotional blackmail” had moved from a tactic used by children on their fathers, to a dismissal of a wife’s claims, to an attack on the sufficiency of Scripture.

Joe Rigney and The “Sin of Empathy”

In 2019, Joe Rigney published his first article on “The Enticing Sin of Empathy.” In this initial article, he does not use the term “emotional blackmail” but the ideas are consistent. In the genre of a “Screwtape Letter” Rigney has the demon Screwtape explain the plan for emotional manipulation:

Our policy has been to teach sufferers to resent all resistance to their feelings. Any holding back, any perceived emotional distance — especially a distance that is driven by a desire to discover what would actually be good for them — must be regarded as a direct assault on their dignity and an affront to the depth of their suffering.

Over the next couple of years, as Rigney further elaborated on “the sin of empathy,” he began to explicitly tie it to Piper’s language of “emotional blackmail.” In a January 2020 post on DesiringGod “Dangerous Compassion: How to Make any Love a Demon” Rigney analyzes a passage from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, and includes a section under the heading “Emotional Blackmail.” One of Rigney’s “takeaways” is that we don’t always recognize 

“when our compassion ceases to be compassion and instead becomes a subtle tool of emotional blackmail. But if Lewis is right that the highest and best things become demoniac when they begin to be gods, then we ought to be aware that compassion — which is one of the highest and best things — can also fall into this trap.”

In May 2020, Rigney published another article “Do You Feel My Pain? Empathy, Sympathy, and Dangerous Virtues.” In this article, Rigney again puts an entire section under the heading “Emotional Blackmail” and this time explicitly references Piper: “Under the influence of empathy, we may open ourselves up to what John Piper calls ’emotional blackmail.’” He then includes a block quote from Piper’s 2008 speculation regarding Ada Tozer.

Others began to weigh in on the discussion, including Kevin DeYoung. In a March 2020 blog post on TGC (“Sympathy Is Not the Point”), DeYoung used the language of “emotional blackmail” to make his point: 

“feelings are not infallible. Sensitivity is one thing, sacrosanct is another. I am always responsible for what I do; I am not always responsible for how you feel. If emotional ineptitude is a problem for some, then emotional blackmail is for others.

In a May 2020 blogpost, Bethlehem College & Seminary professor Andy Naselli published a post summarizing Rigney’s articles on the sin of empathy (“How Empathy Can Be Sinful”). In this post, Naselli explicitly connected the dots between Piper’s “emotional blackmail” (quoting his comments on Ada Tozer) and our “emotionally fragile age” (quoting from What Jesus Demands from the World) and Rigney’s “The Sin of Empathy.” Naselli, too, affirms this as a “thought-provoking, insightful, and wise way to apply the Bible.”

“Empathy Blackmail” and “Ethnic Harmony”

Later that year, Naselli would apply this concept to the issues of race, or what Piper has termed “ethnic harmony.” Naselli taught a seminar at Bethlehem Baptist Church’s campus on “Ethnic Harmony” (“Ethnic Harmony 2020 North Campus Seminar”), and then published a journal article “What the Bible Teaches about Ethnic Harmony,” in the Midwestern Journal of Theology (2020). In the article, Naselli includes this point: “iv. Christians who are victims of ethnic partiality must not nurture resentment or show ethnic partiality in return.” He notes that:

“This statement might sound insensitive—the opposite of showing compassion. But that is not my intent. My intent is to show compassion by lovingly sharing the truth and by not withholding the truth” (38).

He then applies the concept of “empathy blackmail” to minorities who claim to have been on the receiving end of actual “or perceived” racism:

“here I am addressing Christians who are at the receiving end of actual or perceived ethnic partiality. With love I want to gently warn against adopting the mindset of a victim that is so common in our culture now. I am warning against empathy blackmail: “You must completely agree with me and share my perspective, or else you don’t love me.” I am warning against weaponizing empathy and manipulating others with it. I am warning against being oversensitive about what you perceive as micro-aggressions with the result that you are so easily “triggered” that you cannot live out what the NT says about loving your neighbor” (39–40).

To support his point in his article, he footnotes four of Joe Rigney’s blogposts on “the sin of empathy.”


In April 2021, Joe Rigney published yet another article on empathy (“Where Do We Disagree?: Golden Rule Reading and the Call for Empathy”), and again explicitly tied the two concepts (“empathy” and “emotional blackmail”) together: 

If you’ve seen or experienced emotional blackmail in the name of empathy, or if you’ve seen Christians divided because some have adopted the logic that “I’m hurt; therefore you sinned,” then you’re more likely to be aware of that danger and thus emphasize the need for a deep respect for objective truth and goodness in our efforts to help.

And in May 2021, John Piper used the phrase again, this time to describe unbelievers (“Can Joy Come in Sorrow?”)

The enemies of Christ cannot succeed with emotional blackmail against Paul — that is, they cannot manipulate him by demanding the ruin of his joy because of their unbelief.


“Emotional blackmail” and “the sin of empathy” appear to be essentially the same thing. In what Piper thinks is an “emotionally fragile age,” he and those who have been influenced by him are concerned that we, especially fathers, pastors, and husbands, are not manipulated by the emotions of others, including children, women, and racial minorities.

To me, it is striking that one of the most important moments for the development of this concept, the discussion of Ada Tozer, was based on such flimsy evidence, from both the Tozer’s lives, or from Scripture. Without even having read the biography, while acknowledging that perhaps all of it was true, Piper felt “jealous” to expound on the danger of “emotional blackmail.” Though all of Jesus’s “hard words” were directed toward His heard-hearted disciples, Pharisees, or unbelievers, Piper directed this idea toward women. Once articulated in this way and in this context, the phrase spread broadly through conservative reformed evangelicalism.

Sometimes when you find yourself in a mess, you need to backtrack and figure out how you got there. What if we went back revisited this particular point? What if the warning about “emotional blackmail” was the wrong take then, and that’s what led us to “the sin of empathy” now? What if instead of “jealous to raise a warning against emotional blackmail” we were jealous for the flourishing of everyone in our communities? What if we stopped defending pastors and institutions at the expense of the sheep? Doing so may require going further back than we imagined, in order to untangle and undo years of harm.

“Bethlehem College & Seminary, Ethnic Harmony, and Doug Wilson”

In March 2019 I submitted two reports to the leadership of Bethlehem College & Seminary: “Bethlehem College & Seminary and Ethnic Harmony: A Minority Report,” and “Bethlehem College & Seminary, Ethnic Harmony, and Doug Wilson” (note: “ethnic harmony” is Bethlehem’s language for issues related to racial reconciliation). I was the Director of Admissions and was responsible for recruiting and admitting students to all programs, including the college and the seminary. We had been struggling to recruit Black students the seminary for several years, and I had recently heard concerns that “BCS is not a good place for minority students” from some current students, former students, and fellow Bethlehem Baptist Church members. Since this was my job, I followed up and took a representative survey of some students, alumni, faculty, board members, and friends of the school, out which came these two reports. 

Recently, I have heard from multiple attempts to downplay or minimize the relationship between Bethlehem and Douglas Wilson, and I would like to document the fact that (1) there is a substantial connection and (2) BCS leadership has been directly confronted with this question for several years. (note: I am not sharing the first report, as it contains direct feedback from people whom I have not received permission to share from).

(Note: this report is specifically focused on issues of race, and thus does not discuss Wilson’s views on women, sexual abuse victims, or any other number of issues that could each receive their own focused treatment.)

I had four goals in the report, reflected in the main headings:

I. Document the affiliation between Bethlehem College & Seminary, DesiringGod, and Doug Wilson.

II. Show why Black and Tan is so offensive and historically inaccurate.

III. Reflect on the past six years (now 8) since the Doug Wilson / Thabiti Anyabwile exchange in 2013.

IV. Suggest some areas we might consider taking action on.

I had intended to share the report with all faculty in order to discuss it at one of the monthly “Faculty Forum” meetings, but was encouraged to share it with the President’s Cabinet first. 

It was not well received.

First, I was immediately told that I was not permitted to share these findings with anyone. Not with faculty, not with pastors, not with board members — no one. I asked specifically if I could share it with Jason Meyer, who was then on the board of trustees, was the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and professor of preaching at the seminary, and was told “no.” I asked to share with Sam Crabtree, chair of the BCS board — “no.” Of course, sharing with other faculty was out of the question, but the leadership decided to share it with Joe Rigney.

I was told that my reports were “incendiary,” as in “highly flammable,” and that they had the potential to damage the school’s reputation. This seemed to me to be a case of misdirection. It is Doug Wilson who is incendiary. It was our affiliation with him that I though could get us burned. It seemed strange to blame the person saying “Look! There’s a fire!” when the fire was started by someone else.

A number of meetings followed, some of which were very intense. At one meeting, I was admonished for “aggressively” pushing an “agenda” for racial justice. Whether I realized it or not, I was espousing “Critical Race Theory,” which, in 2019, was just starting to come on the evangelical radar. My social media posts were being observed and commented on, and apparently some of our faculty had expressed concern to school leadership regarding my statements, though no one had ever spoken to me directly about any of it. 

There was fear that the issues of racial justice had the potential to divide our faculty deeply, which was surprising to me, and if true, seemed to be a sign of brittleness. American slavery came up, including that sentiment that “the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery” so how can we condemn Jonathan Edwards’s slaveholding and call it “sin”?

The report on Doug Wilson was dismissed as “Desiring God’s problem,” ignoring the specific affiliations that the school itself had (and continues to have).

Later that summer, I again raised concern about our affiliation with Wilson at the time of the annual Association of Christian Classical Schools conference “Repairing the Ruins.” I expressed that my conscience was troubling me, and “I feel compelled to raise again the issue of our affiliation with Doug Wilson, an issue that has not been addressed at all since my raising it nearly 3 months ago.” Much of what I expressed is contained in this post: “Doug Wilson and the Association of Christian Classical Schools.” I concluded with this:

I think that our affiliation with Doug Wilson, including ACCS, is a big mistake. I am asking you to reconsider whether this is really in the best interest of our school.

Specifically, I would be served to have clarity on the following questions:

—What exactly is our position on Doug Wilson?

—In the absence of any clear direction, are all faculty and staff free to make their own determinations on how to relate to Doug Wilson and his associated organizations? I.e., if Joe is free to associate in public and prominent ways with Doug, NSA, and ACCS, are others of us free to offer criticism in equally public ways? If not, what is the specific standard or policy to which we will be held on this issue? 

—Why do we feel the need to affiliate with ACCS? There are other classical education organizations that we could pursue like the Society for Classical Learning. Can someone articulate the difference between the two and offer an argument in support of the ACCS?

The school sent another representative to this conference, and ultimately it was determined that nothing public would be said clarifying Bethlehem’s connections to Doug Wilson. 

Finally, in October 2019, our annual renewal to ACCS came up and I once again raised concern about our official affiliation with Wilson and the ACCS. On October 31, 2019, I was told that I was no longer permitted to “advocate for institutional change” regarding our various connections with Doug Wilson.

I closed my report with 8 suggestions, intended to prompt discussion among the faculty. Here was the eighth suggestion:

There may be other things that Bethlehem might consider in order to clarify what has appeared to be confusing and ambiguous messaging regarding ethnic harmony in general and Doug Wilson in particular. With a faculty and staff of such creative minds, I’m sure there will be even better ideas than the ones suggested here.

Ultimately, the school, chose option #9:

But Bethlehem College & Seminary might decide that the price is too high to pay, and say and do nothing at all. I’m praying that that will not be the case. I love this school, and I pray that we will submit to our King, Jesus, whatever he might ask of us.

I continued working as Director of Admissions for another year and a half, and stopped advocating for “institutional change” regarding Doug Wilson. In February 2021, I resigned from my position and in July 2021 I left Bethlehem Baptist Church.

(Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash)

Why I Spoke with Julie Roys about leaving Bethlehem

I spoke with Julie Roys on July 21 about my time at Bethlehem College & Seminary and Bethlehem Baptist Church. With the recent resignations of Jason Meyer and two other pastors, many people have been wondering “what happened?” Julie has been investigating this question and has released three articles so far:

I am briefly quoted in the most recent article, and may be quoted more extensively in future articles as well. I am anticipating a wide variety of responses and questions: some people will be very upset with me for speaking with her; some will feel betrayed; some will be deeply grateful that I spoke with her; others will be confused; others may genuinely want to understand. This post is an effort to answer the question at the top: why did I speak with Julie Roys about my time at Bethlehem?

How long were you at Bethlehem?

I moved to Minneapolis in 2014 to attend Bethlehem College, and then stayed for four more years of seminary, where I also worked full-time as the director of admissions. We attended Bethlehem Baptist Church’s downtown campus that entire time and over the years served in nursery, Sunday school, kitchen ministry, led small groups, played on the worship team, and served on the Ethnic Harmony Task Force. I resigned from my position with the school in February 2021, and we submitted our letter requesting membership removal in June 2021, which was made official in July.

Were you planning all along to “go public” and were just waiting for the opportune time?

No. I had no plans to talk publicly about my time at Bethlehem. I never considered my story to be of particular importance, and in leaving Bethlehem I really wanted to just move on and let other people deal with the mess. I have had to try to reach a point where I could have peace even if the problems going on at Bethlehem never reached a resolution. When Julie posted a public  request for sources, I didn’t respond. I didn’t want to. I was afraid (and still am!) of the reaction people would have. What will former professors, pastors, co-workers, and friends think? What will John Piper think? What will be said about me, what will happen to my reputation? I didn’t want to do it, it felt easier not to speak. But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling: I don’t want to speak with her; but should I? 

Did this feel like a crystal clear choice to make?

No. I went back and forth, back and forth. I was reminded of Proverbs 26:4–5:

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

So many decisions are like this, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. “Do not speak publicly about what happened, lest more harm be done to the cause of Christ. Speak publicly about what happened, lest lest more harm be done to the cause of Christ.” When should we speak, when should we stay silent? It isn’t always crystal clear, it feels like a judgment call that requires wisdom. Some people, like me, have spoken or will speak; others will remain silent. Let each be fully convinced in their own mind.

Did anything in particular influence your decision?

Yes: the concluding chapter in Wade Mullen’s book Something’s Not Right is called “What Now?” and includes a section titled “Building a Safe Community.” Here’s a link to my copy of this section [which I will pull if Wade asks me to!]:

Here are a few of the quotes that influenced me:

“Abuse is not someone else’s personal and private matter that we can ignore out of a concern for minding our own business, nor is it a matter to be only attended to by a select few in leadership positions. Abuse is a community concern. Therefore, the question must be asked of each of us: In what ways am I perpetuating an abusive culture through my silence or tacit endorsement of those who are in the wrong?” (178).

“What can we expect, beyond words, that can assure us of the sincerity of the community’s newfound resolve to end abuse? One action might surpass them all. And it is this: to open all the windows of the darkened house until every nook and cranny is covered in light so that all the damage can be seen. It is to surrender to that light, even if it means there will be no possibility of retaining or regaining legitimacy” (179).

“People often defend their silence by saying, “I don’t want to take sides.” More often than not, that is simply an excuse for not pursuing truth. Who do we usually hear that from? The leadership attempting to maintain order. And even after the truth has been established, those who chose not to pursue the truth often want to remain neutral. But there is no remaining neutral. Bystanders must take sides, either to be arrive supporters of the wounded or to actively turn their backs. There is only deception and truth. People who choose to remain neutral are giving safe passage to lies. Elie Wiesel powerfully said, ‘I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.’” (180).

“A safe community gives people the freedom to say, “Something’s not right.” A safe community searches for understanding until what doesn’t seem right is clearly identified, named, and described. A safe community addresses what isn’t right, even if it means putting their own reputation on the line. And if the system itself isn’t right, then a safe community will consider whether its presence is part of the problem. A safe community gives no room for the language of abuse to spread, because it keeps the lights on. In that light, truth moves freely. People do not keep their stories to themselves for fear of how others will respond” (184).

Again, while I did not consider my own story something worth sharing publicly, I do believe that I have been a bystander, a witness to things that others have experienced, and this was what tipped the scales for me in the direction of sharing publicly.

Is this your attempt to “#LeaveLoud”?

No. “#LeaveLoud” is a term coined by a group of Black Christians over at The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, and on their podcast Pass the Mic (both of which I highly recommend). Tyler Burns very helpfully noted the Black origins of this phrase for when minorities leave predominantly white institutions and then tell their stories (“What is #LeaveLOUD?“). I don’t need to appropriate that language to describe what I’m doing here.

Why did you speak with Julie?

Again, I was not actively seeking someone to speak with. I didn’t respond to Julie’s open call for sources. It wasn’t until multiple people reached out to me asking “would you be willing to speak with Julie? I really think it would help,” and then when Julie herself actually reached out to me, that I decided to go ahead with it.

Why did you speak “on the record” with her?

Julie gave me the option of speaking “off the record” and I think that if I had, I could have spared myself some of the inevitable reactions. This was tempting, but the feeling that I could talk to her in secret and thus avoid the consequences of doing so felt disingenuous to me. Because of this I felt strongly that if I was going to speak to her, my name should be on the record, and to let the consequences come what may. I wish to be able to say with Paul “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (1 Cor 4:2). In a situation where there is so much hiding, so many secrets, so much prevarication, equivocation, and impression management, speaking on the record was a way of actively resisting this for my own self. Obviously not everyone has to come to the same conclusion, and others can speak off the record with completely clean consciences, but for me, this was important.

Why would you speak to a journalist about these things?

For some people, the idea that you would speak on the record with a journalist is inherently suspect. People love to hate journalists, and especially when something controversial is coming out, those with an interest in keeping things under wraps will turn to a critique of journalists as part of the overall communication strategy. Casting doubt on the integrity and truth of journalists can be a tactic to maintain uncertainty, and perhaps keep some loyal followers who might otherwise have been affected. We witnessed this on a national scale when former president Trump repeatedly attacked the press, and sought to discredit them. I feel very differently — I love the “freedom of the press” that we enjoy in this country. I believe that journalists play a vital role in holding powerful institutions and individuals accountable. Are journalists perfect? No. Do they have biases? Yes. Do sometimes the investigative reporters need to be investigated and reported on? Yes! But in general, I hold journalists in high esteem and am deeply grateful for their work.

Have you shared this information with anyone else?

Yes. Along the way I have repeatedly said “I am happy to follow up with anyone about any these things, and nothing I share needs to be confidential. Put my name on it, and send people to me if they want to follow up. I am not hiding anything.” When a classmate reached out and said, “would you be willing to share over the phone some of those things with me? If you don’t really want to share, there’s no pressure on my end.” I said “I’m happy to talk about any of it.” And we did. When pastors or professors have reached out and asked to meet, I’ve met with them. When church members ask to meet, I meet with them. I tried very hard to preserve confidentiality while many of these things were in process, because I wanted the process have its best chance at working. However, these events have broken into public, in public church Q&A’s, in public church meetings, and now in public news stories. I would have been making an exception in this case to do otherwise (“No Julie, I won’t speak with you about this”).

Isn’t it unbiblical to talk about these things in public?

When I read through the Bible, I see names. When Peter and Barnabas compromised the gospel in Galatia, Paul named names. When Demas deserted Paul, he named names. In particular, look at what John does in 3 John concerning Diotrephes:

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church”

3 John 9–10

I call attention to this only to note that it is not just blatant heretics who are called out by name; it is not just adulterers or sexual abusers who are called out by name; it is not just those who extort or embezzle money who are called out by name: Diotrephes is called out for pride (“loving the preeminence”), for “malicious words,” and for pushing people out of the church. Sometimes, these kinds of situations warrant speaking in public, and the Bible gives us warrant and example for doing so.

What do you stand to gain from this?

Honestly, on one hand it feels like “absolutely nothing.” What I feel right now is a deep sense of loss, not gain. Loss of friendships, loss of relationships, loss of trust, loss of opportunities, loss of “positive references,” loss of respect. And when I resigned from my job, loss of money, loss of a clear “career track.” The three core ministries of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Desiring God, and Bethlehem College & Seminary brought in over $20,000,000 in charitable donations last year (BBC: $10.2M; DG: $7.5M; BCS: $2.5M). They have money, influence, and lawyers(!). This is to say nothing of their affiliated institutions (Treasuring Christ Together Network, Training Leaders International, Themelios journal), connections with other national evangelical organizations (T4G, The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), seminaries (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, John MacArthur / The Masters Seminary), the Christian publishing industry (Justin Taylor / Crossway Publishing), missionary agencies, and more. Getting on the wrong side of Bethlehem puts one on the wrong side of a lot of folks in the evangelical world.

I’ve also felt the loss of identity, loss of community, and at times the loss of faith, or at least the form of faith that I once had. I am still fighting to hold on to faith in Jesus, but witnessing what I have has caused deep questions in my soul. What do I gain, though, by speaking? Honestly, I feel like I gain the satisfaction of knowing that I did what I believed was right, even when — especially when — it was deeply costly to me. I can look myself in the mirror and say “I didn’t shrink back because of fear; I stood with the hurting; I told the truth.” That in itself is worth it to me.

Doesn’t speaking about the church’s problems in public dishonor the name of Christ?

Sometimes speaking publicly about the church’s problems can dishonor Christ. There is a time for love to cover a multitude of sins, to bury things in the past, and move on. But not always. In fact, I believe that sometimes not speaking does more dishonor to the name of Christ than speaking would do. I do not believe that Christ is honored by secrecy, by hiding, or by deceit. He is not honored when people hurt others in his name. And he is not honored when other people remain silent in the face of those actions. Churches and ministries are being exposed left and right these days for various forms of abuse: sexual abuse, financial abuse, and spiritual abuse. The American church’s “credibility” is already in question, and one could argue has always been in question, especially when you consider the long history of compromise and complicity with grotesque evil in this country.

I also believe that the impulse to equate “the cause of Christ” with any particular church or institution is part of the problem. When this impulse produces hesitancy to hold people accountable and tell the truth, there seems to be an inflated sense of one’s own importance. The “cause of Christ” is so much bigger than any one person, church, or institution; it has continued for millennia, and will continue for millennia more, and does not hinge upon the reputation of any one expression of it.

To the contrary, I believe that truth-telling and confession actually honors Christ. It is a demonstration of faith. It is an act of hope in the resurrection. On the last day, everything will be revealed in the piercing light of truth. There will be no secrets on that day. In my understanding of the “already/not yet” shape of history, the act of confession is an opportunity to experience the healing grace of light now before the last day when it burns with the regret of lost opportunities for repentance. Confession enacts in the present the reality of the truth of the last day. 

Are you sure you made the right choice?

No. I went back and forth before speaking with Julie, and I’ve gone back and forth since. The whole thing feels yucky. I have second guessed myself, doubted myself, and have been bracing myself for the reactions. Who can know their own heart? Have my motives been perfectly pure at every point?

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23–24

I’m imperfect and I have made imperfect choices in the past, and perhaps this was another of them. All I can say is I sought the Lord, I begged for wisdom, I considered my principles, and I made the best choice I could. The results are in His hands now.

What do you hope to accomplish?

At this point, honestly, I’m not hoping to “accomplish” anything, other than telling the truth, and defending it if I have the opportunity. I’m not a member of this church anymore, and have thus given up my right to advocate for specific outcomes. Whatever those remaining at BBC and BCS will choose to do as more and more comes to light is up to them.

Am I seeking to destroy Bethlehem College & Seminary or Bethlehem Baptist Church? By no means. I love Bethlehem Baptist Church. This church was founded 150 years ago by Swedish Baptist immigrants (as “First Swedish Baptist Church”), and has a great history. I would love for that story to continue. Do I wish to see Bethlehem College & Seminary fail? I do not. There are good men and women who teach and study at BCS, and as much as I may disagree deeply with some positions of key leaders (see, for example, “Some guys need to learn how to take a punch”), I do not wish their demise. Paul did not demand the demise of Barnabas’s ministry when they parted ways in Acts 15.

However, I am deeply concerned that the operations of both institutions has been characterized by a deep lack of integrity, honesty, and transparency, the result of which has been deep harm to people that I love. I do deeply desire that both institutions would experience a refining by the power of God’s Holy Spirit that would result in honest confession, humble repentance, loving repair, and only then the start of a new chapter. I am praying that leaders with integrity will have the wisdom, courage, humility, and faith to do what is right in these days.

What do you think a healthier church might look like?

I am not the Lord, and I am not the determiner of Bethlehem’s future, but in my opinion, a healthier church and a healthier church based seminary would have a lot less of the “global reputation” and “brand” which may also mean less of the money and the power and influence that comes with that brand. My dream for those who remain at Bethlehem would probably look like a smaller church, with a renewed local focus, genuine outreach into the neighborhoods of Minneapolis, genuine face to face community, and perhaps some kind of leadership program that grows up organically out of that kind of ministry activity. Perhaps the formal College & Seminary can continue with support of Bethlehem’s network of churches (Treasuring Christ Together), but the messy complications and conflicts of interest created by having a formal accredited institution “under the authority of the elders” has exposed weaknesses that reached a breaking point this year.

Whether that’s where God takes Bethlehem from here remains to be seen and is up to others to decide. Whatever the case, my prayer is that God will grant everyone there faith to embrace an eternal perspective, to embrace the upside-down values of the Kingdom of God, to embrace the truth that “He must increase! I must decrease,” and to believe that loss can actually be the truest gain.

Please pray for Bethlehem.

“Some guys need to learn how to take a punch”

There’s a lot of discussion right now regarding classroom incidents at Bethlehem College & Seminary. Some students allege “spiritual abuse”; others say those students are being overly sensitive and need to develop “thicker skin.” I’m a graduate of Bethlehem’s MDiv program (2020) and a former full-time employee, and in a discussion I had about this with a professor and leader in the school, he made this statement: 

“Some guys need to learn how to take a punch.”

That is a fascinating, powerful, and illuminating statement, for so many things, including educational philosophy and pedagogy, character formation, leadership, “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” and even more fundamentally, epistemology and the nature of truth itself.

If that’s true…

First, for arguments sake, let’s grant that the statement is true (we’ll return to this later). Let’s say that as part of your pastoral training program, part of what you are going to do is “teach guys to take a punch.” If that is going to be part of your methodology and pedagogy, that would need to be very clearly spelled out on the front end, or people are going to get hurt. When a punch is thrown in the ring at the boxing gym, we can legitimately call that “training”; but when that same punch is thrown in the hallway, we would call that “assault,” and clearly understanding the context you are in makes all the difference. If you are in a classroom, and you are not thinking to yourself “I’m in the boxing gym; I need to be prepared,” and someone throws a punch at you, it may blindside you and leave you dazed and bruised; it may feel like an attack; it may have dramatic effects on the rest of your experiences there; it may even leave lasting wounds.

In my experience as a student, I don’t ever recall hearing, “expect to get punched, brothers.” Nor, in my experience, when punches were thrown, even if it was more akin to the “boxing gym,” I don’t recall adequate follow up by the “coaches” and “trainers.” Some students thrived in this environment, and I was one of them. I gave as good as I got with just about everyone including the most direct and forceful professors; I was praised by them for the way I “fought.” But I’m left with deep reservations and questions about my own formation and leadership as a result.

Other students, it seems clear, didn’t know that this was what they were getting into, and when the punches came, they were left with bruises and wounds. If “some guys need to learn how to take a punch,” is an unwritten part of the pedagogy, then that needs to be advertised up front so students know what they are getting into.

But is it true?

I actually agree that part of a leadership training program, like a seminary, should include developing endurance and resiliency. Imagine a pastor trying to counsel someone through an abusive situation: how will they develop the resiliency required to face an aggressive abuser, and protect the abused? He may even have to face some “punches” in that scenario. “How to best train pastors and leaders for these kinds of situations?” is actually an important pedagogical question, I think.

And to be fair, the “boxing gym” analogy is not the only analogy I experienced in seminary; I also experienced the “lab room” analogy, analyzing texts under a microscope; the “marathon” analogy, reading thousands and thousands of pages (and sometimes collapsing near the finish line); the “cultural heritage center” analogy, examining authors from other cultures and time periods, and cultivating a curiosity and appreciation for them; and there were other analogies, too.

But I think if “some guys need to learn how to take a punch” is even part of a seminary program, it needs to be rigorously evaluated in light of texts describing pastoral ministry, like this one:

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel (μάχεσθαι) but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” 

2 Timothy 2:24–25

The verb μαχομαι and the noun μαχη get translated “fight” or “strive,” as well as “quarrel.” One could argue that the “boxing gym” mode of training actually does more to train “fighters” and “strivers,” and neglects the deeper, and more important character formation required to produce leaders who are “gentle,” “patient,” “humble” teachers.

Or consider, among the qualifications of an elder:

“not quarrelsome [or “violent”] but gentle.

1 Timothy 3:3

This connects with how we understand what it means to be a “Biblical Leader.” When we were assigned Edwin Friedman’s book in an undergraduate “Leadership” course at Bethlehem, I wrote a very critical review because I felt that it inculcated a “survival of the fittest” and “strong vs. weak” approach to leadership, which is anti-Christian in my opinion, but which fits perfectly with the sentiment that “some guys need to learn to take a punch” (see my “Review: A Failure of Nerve”).

“Taking a punch” connects to our understanding of “Biblical Manhood.” When “Biblical Manhood” is understood primarily in a martial frame, as “courageous warriors” “fighting for truth,” then this becomes an important part of their formation. But if “warfare” isn’t the primary mode of understanding “masculinity,” then this kind of formation becomes deficient as it neglects other important aspects. Anyone wishing to explore the “warfare” mentality in American Evangelicalism can consult any number of books published recently, not least Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne.

Finally, “some guys need to learn to take a punch” actually connects to our fundamental understanding of “truth” and the process of learning and discovering truth. Is “truth” and “knowledge” something that is primarily gained via the combative process of “debate”?

Or is humility and love a crucial part of knowing? And I say this as someone who deeply appreciates the “free market of ideas,” and the idea that the “truth has nothing to fear.” I love debate and argumentation and facts and reason, writing this post itself is a participation in these processes. But there is much more to knowledge than debate, and there is a kind of “debate-mentality” that actually hinders the true gaining of knowledge. Those interested can track down whole reams of philosophy and theology on this (one place to start is with Esther Meeks “covenant epistemology” in Longing to Know and  Loving to Know, and others who have built on her work).

And I can imagine someone affirming all the above, who would wish to affirm both “take a punch” and “humility and love” hypothetically. But which parts of the philosophy are operational in the system? If you think to yourself “we want to form humble and loving leaders” but your methodology consistently forms fighters who go on to bruise others, then the methodology needs to be re-examined.

And I should add here, that in my own time at Bethlehem Seminary, I believe I did also learn how to listen humbly, love patiently, and care gently, and I learned it most in my counseling classes, two of which were co-taught by Bryan Pickering. Looking back, it is not surprising that Bryan resigned his teaching position after Fall 2020, and resigned from his pastoral role in 2021 over issues directly related to these things.

At the end of the day, some are just convinced that “some guys need to learn to take a punch,” and wholeheartedly embrace the entire package of ideas that undergird that statement and the methodologies that enact it. Some students will hear this and think “that’s exactly what I need, what our churches need, and what our culture needs right now.” 

I, though, am no longer convinced and am trying to rethink and re-form this in my own life and leadership.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash 

“Race and Religion on the American Continent” (1882)

When considering Baptists and race in the nineteenth century, it’s easy to give Northern Baptists a pass, or at least assume they got it mostly right. After all, Northern Baptists ardently supported the Civil War (see, for example, “Massachusetts Baptists and The Civil War“), and after the war many Northern Baptists went South to help found schools and colleges for the newly freed people through the American Baptist Home Mission Society (see ““Missionaries or Presidents”? Newton Theological Institution’s contribution to the founding of HBCUs). However, even with all of this benevolent work, Northern Baptists had deep racialized views that mingled with their good intentions. This post analyzes one striking example of this.

On November 15, 1882, Ezekiel Gilman Robinson delivered an address before the first Baptist Autumnal Conference, held in Brooklyn, NY, entitled “Race and Religion on the American Continent.” The Baptist Autumnal Conference was attended by some of the biggest Baptist names at the time, including Augustus Hopkins Strong, president of Rochester Theological Seminary, Henry Weston, president of Crozer Theological Seminary, and Ezekiel Robinson, president of Brown University, and former president of Rochester himself. (see “Historical Sketch of the Conference,” in Proceedings of the Second Annual Baptist Autumnal Conference for the Discussion of Current Questions (Boston: Baptist Missionary Rooms, 1883): 100–101). They were there to present papers on a variety of subjects which were then open for discussion. 

“It is to be remembered everywhere, and by all, that the central idea of this conference is, that individuals may submit their views, tentative or final, on divers subjects of cur­rent interest, without being understood in the least to compromise the conference itself or the denomi­nation, and without prejudice to themselves in any direction. The Executive Committee seek to secure the presentation of subjects from different stand­ points, but cannot anticipate the specific views, or be held responsible for the utterances of any speaker. Hence it is not to be presumed that offi­cers of the conference, or members of the com­mittees, any more than casual members of the congregation assembled, either approve or disap­prove the sentiments expressed by the writers or speakers who participate in the discussion of top­ics presented.”

Nevertheless, Robinson’s address on race was deemed significant enough to reprint in its entirety, first in the American Baptist Home Mission Society’s magazine the Home Mission Monthly (available here), which advertised it thus: 

“By the kindness of Prof. Norman Fox, Secre­tary, we are permitted to give our readers, in this issue of the Monthly, Pres. Robinson’s able address before the Baptist Autumnal Conference, on “Race and Religion on the American Con­tinent.” A volume containing all the addresses at the meeting is soon to be published. The wise and weighty utterances of Pres. Robinson are worthy of a wide perusal”

(Home Mission Monthly 5.3 (March 1883), 57)

The address was also published as a standalone pamphlet and available at no charge other than the postage (57).

Ezekiel Gilman Robinson (1815–1894)

Ezekiel Robinson was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts in 1815. He graduated from Brown University in 1838, and Newton Theological Institution in 1842, having studied theology under Barnas Sears. He then taught theology at the Western Baptist Theological Institution in Covington, KY (1846–50), and was professor of theology at Rochester Theological Seminary for nearly twenty years (1853–72). Robinson was an influential theologian, and as Matt Shrader notes, he was among three theology professors (along with Alvah Hovey at Newton Theological Institution, and Ebenezer Dodge at Hamilton Theological Seminary), who “collectively taught theology to all Northern Baptist theology professors through the end of the nineteenth century). In 1872 he became the president and professor of philosophy at Brown University (1872–89), where he was when he delivered the Autumnal Conference address (see Newton Theological Institution General Catalogue, 50). (A bibliography of his published works can be found in Robinson’s Autobiography: “Published Writings”).

All this is to say that the sentiments expressed here were mainstream Northern Baptist views, presented by an influential Northern Baptist figure, and reprinted and distributed widely in the Northern Baptist press.

What was in this address? Well, you can read all five pages of text for yourself here: “Race and Religion on the American Continent.” Here are a few highlights from the speech with commentary. The speech begins thus:

Mr . President : The American Continent is peopled by many races. That portion of it covered by the United States contains the representatives of con­siderably the largest number. Towards these different representatives, the United States Government has been most dilligently [sic] urged within a very recent period to assume widely differing attitudes.

The United States had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act just six months earlier, in May 1882, and Robinson alluded to this:

Towards one of these races, a narrow minded political economy and a one- eyed statesmanship have proposed a defin­itely and a decidedly hostile policy. They purpose to drive them from our shores.

Robinson disagreed with the Chinese Exclusion Act, but in doing so he starts to betray his racialized understanding of the Chinese and their “place” in the United States:

Whether it be a violation of moral obliga­tion on our part, or of personal rights on the part of Chinamen, to refuse them the privi­lege of flocking to our shores and of doing our menial services, is a question of the re­lation of Ethics to Ethnics which we need not here discuss; or whether to refuse them be not a very shallow political economy and a very foolish statesmanship are questions we may well leave to the Economists and Politi­cians. But we are sure that the Christian re­ligion, knows no reason for not giving them a hearty welcome. It sees in their coming a sure opportunity of doing them good.

Robinson then articulates what appears to be a typical color-blind view, emphasizing the universality of the Christian message (he will prove later to be anything but “color-blind”):

Christianity on the other hand knows no distinctions among races. Its attitudes and its promises and its gifts are the same to all peoples and throughout all generations. Its one great aim is to bring all men into such relations with the ‘Father of the spirits of all flesh,’ as shall secure in them the fulfillment of his will, the discharge of all obligations, the realization of the highest ideal being of which humanity is capable.

And again:

the spirit of our holy religion is as broad and comprehensive in its charity as the world is wide. Like the infinite beneficence of God, who sends his rain upon the thankful and the unthankful, and gives harvests alike to all, it will bestow its blessings on all man­kind. It believes that “ God hath made of one blood all nations for to dwell on the face of the earth,” and it accordingly recognizes in every one having the human form, a child of the universal Father and one for whom Christ has died. Such is the attitude of the Christian religion to all races now on this con­tinent or ever to be on it.

Next, Robinson begins to articulate his understanding of the “races,” the superiority of the “English” race, and the common belief that the “commingling” of different races would produce stronger ones (versus “inbreeding”). Notice the way his understanding of Christianity is woven through this account of race:

But it is a noticeable fact that Christianity has always taken the strongest hold and wrought its best and most important result, amongst the sturdiest races. On which of all the races, now on earth, has it wrought more effectually than on the English ? Where, let me ask, will you find a finer type of character and of true manhood than in the truly Christian Englishman ? Insular it may be in habit of thought, he nevertheless is cosmopolitan in spirit, and his race is doing more than any other to-day, to determine the future destiny of mankind on this globe. Of him we are accustomed to say, that there runs in his veins, in commingled currents, the best blood of Europe. But out of English veins come the best blood of America—the blood that has made the United States all that they now are. Our free institutions are only the modi­fied institutions of England. What Christian­ity has done for England is open to the eyes of all the world. What it has accomplished and is now accomplishing in America, who­ ever will can see and understand. If on the English stock Christianity has been grafted and borne such fruit as it has, who shall say what it may not do for the American of the future.

However, Robinson makes very clear the limited scope of this “commingling,” namely, white people: Yankees, Virginians, the Mynheer [Dutch], and now a whole host of other European immigrants:

It was the commingling of bloods, it is said, that gave sturdiness and richness to the Anglican stock. But who shall venture to say what shall be the product of the amalga­mation of bloods in the future American ? That it will differ from any type now among us, or from any that was known to our fathers, no one can doubt. Typical Ameri­cans of a century ago are fast disappearing, if they are not already utterly gone. Even the typical Yankee, remembered by living men, now has only a ghostly existence; the original Virginian, survives only as a shadow; the Mynheer of New York, has utterly vanished; instead of them all there is slowly rising into view, but only in dimmest and undefinable outlines, the coming American. What his exact type will be, five hundred years from now, the omniscient God alone can foresee. This only is plain to us, he is to be the amalgam of many races and of races now in the van of the worlds progress; an amal­gam compounded of a greater variety of bloods than ever flowed together in the veins of any nation yet known to history.

Here, Robinson begins to express what Derek Chang calls the “evangelical nationalism” of the Northern Baptists of the nineteenth century, a mix of “piety and patriotism” and a sense that God providentially intended for them to help spread Christianity and civilization to their country (for more on this see Derek Chang, Citizens of a Christian Nation: Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century; and Chang, “‘Marked in Body, Mind, and Spirit’: Home Missionaries and the Remaking of Race and Nation,” in Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas):

To the complete Christianizing of these commingling races, the providence of God now calls us, with a voice which we cannot, without guilt, decline to hear… The government, too, under which we live, is wholly in our favor. Under it the word of God cannot be bound. Whosoever will may preach the gospel and live accord­ ing to its requirements. And all around us are flowing in the representatives of races, for whom the gospel is yet to do its complete work. Was there ever a nation or a period, since our Lord’s ascension, in which his fol­lowers were summoned, as they now are, as by trumpet calls from heaven, to arise and do his bidding ? or a nation or period in which it was easier to do his bidding ? or a nation or period in which failure to do his bidding could show greater recreancy and guilt ?

It is here, though, that Robinson reveals that when he spoke of the “commingling” of “races” in order to create a stronger “American,” he did not mean the “African” nor the “Mongol”:

But it is not alone to the races out of which the amalgam of the future American is to be formed, that the providence of God now plainly calls us to render service. There are races among us that will never contribute their share to make up the typical American. They yet are our brethren and we are their debtors. No man thoroughly in his senses, can expect that the African will lose his iden­tity by mingling with other races; and there is little or no better prospect, that the Mon­gol will ever be permitted to contribute to the general fusion of bloods. But they can be Christianized and civilized and fitted for that great and incomprehensible part, which the providence of God undoubtedly intends them to play in the future of our world.

Robinson appealed to “providence” in understanding slavery, wondering whether “the Christian religion and American institutions” were given to the formerly enslaved as “compensation” for their sufferings under slavery. Robinson also expresses the typical paternalistic notions of “uplift” present in the Northern Baptists at the time:

To the African, after all the great and cruel wrongs which the greed and injustice of man have heaped on him, the Christian re­ligion and American institutions have given blessings, which the infinite mercy of God may have intended as some compensation for his terrible sufferings. But whatever God may have intended, we have not paid him all that we owe him. Our debts to him should all the more be scrupulously paid, because of his past wrongs and his present weakness and danger. It is our duty to give him educa­tion ; to give him Christian civilization; to give him equality before the law and all his civil rights under the constitution; to give him industry and self-respect, and whatever else may be needed to lift him into true man­ hood. All these we should give him, what­ ever is to be his future on the American Con­tinent.

Robinson could not imagine a future for Black people in America, and believed that their only hope was to “go back to Africa”:

But for one, I cannot believe that the highest and brightest future for the African, is to be that of the career of a distinct race on this continent. Marked and separated as he is from the rest of his fellow citizens, the victim of prejudice and a thousand indignities from the mean and vulgar, can he be expected to look for no better estate elsewhere? Believe who may, that he is to crouch beneath his burdens and indignities, resting forever content with his hard lot, I cannot. If I have read history aright, two races separated, as are the black and white, can never dwell together without one becoming the superior and the other the inferior; and it requires no prophet to foretell which of the two would here succumb. And so also, if I have not read history amiss, no inferior and oppressed people with an open road to a bettered condi­tion, and with evident and abundant induce­ments to walk in it, will long delay to rise up and go. There is a universal law, a law as- unvarying as that of gravitation, and a law never more manifest than in this nineteenth century, that every people will emigrate, whenever by emigration it can improve its condition.

The concluding paragraph in Robinson’s address plays on racialized stereotypes for both the Chinaman and the African, and their respective “natures” and how that interacts with religion:

Let us understand our opportunity ; let us try the power of the gospel on the Chinaman, as divine Providence offers him to our hands. Let us continue our work with redoubled zeal on the half Christianized African of the South. The fruits of the gospel in these races will have its own distinguishing marks. The Mongol, with his Confucian ethics, will make, of the gospel, religion rather than piety, while the African, with his emotional nature, will make, of the same gospel, piety rather than religion; just as our white brothers of the south surpass us, of the north, in piety, while we exceed them in religion. May the Divine Master rule over and work in us all, that, whether northerner or southerner, African, Mongol, or Indian, He may give to us all alike both piety and religion.

Given the nature of the Autumnal Conference, after Robinson was finished “the Hon. George Williams, of Ohio” spoke next, and he “did not believe the negro would go out of the country. The negro was here and he was going to stay.” (“Questions Discussed by Baptists and Unitarians,” New York Times, November 16, 1882.). Whatever else Williams thought, or whether he pushed back on any of the other racialized notions is unknown. Nevertheless, it was Robinson’s views that were published and endorsed.

There is much to appreciate in the theology and practice of the Northern Baptists, not least their work in the south among the freed slaves. But those who would draw on their example and appreciate what is good in it must also face squarely the racism and superiority that often tinged those benevolent acts with paternalism. Ezekiel Gilman Robinson gives us a clear occasion for doing so. As Derek Chang notes “His [Robinson’s] was a compelling vision. But it ultimately succumbed to the specter of racial difference. Even as they declared the possibility of blacks and Chinese belonging to the nation, a principle premised on the equality of souls, American Baptist evangelicals underscored the cultural and historical roots of difference that made such inclusions unlikely” (Citizens of a Christian Nation, 5). Indeed, anyone looking to dig deeply into this dichotomy in Northern Baptists should start with Chang’s work, as well as digging deeply into the original sources for themselves.

Bibliography of Biographical works on Ezekiel Robinson

Anderson, Thomas D. “Ezekiel Gilman Robinson.” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 30 (1894): 572–79. (free on Google Books)

Boutwell, Walter Stacey. “The Moral Matrix of God and Man: The Shape and Shaping of Ezekiel Gilman Robinson’s Theology.” PhD Diss., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1998.

Bronson, Walter Cochrane. The History of Brown University, 1714-1914. Providence, RI: The University, 1914. (free on Google Books)

“Robinson, Ezekiel Gilman, D.D.” in William Cathcart, editor The Baptist Encyclopaedia (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883): 994–95. (free on Google Books)

Chang, Derek. Citizens of a Christian Nation: Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia: University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

———. “‘Marked in Body, Mind, and Spirit’: Home Missionaries and the Remaking of Race and Nation.” Pages 133–56 in Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas. Oxford, 2004.

Metcalf, Houghton, “Ezekiel Gilman Robinson: 1872–1889,” The Brunonian, (1904): 269–73. (free on Google Books)

Robinson, Ezekiel Gilman. Ezekiel Gilman Robinson: An Autobiography with a Supplement. Silver, Burdett, 1896. (free on Google Books)

Shrader, Matthew C. “Hidden Bridges? Progressive Tendencies among Non- Progressive 19th-Century Northern Baptists” (2021). (on

Wilkinson, William Cleaver. “Ezekiel Gilman Robinson,” in Modern Masters of Pulpit Discourse. Funk & Wagnalls, 1905: 433–440. (free on Google Books)

———. “Ezekiel Gilman Robinson: The Man, the Preacher, the Teacher,” The Homiletic Review, (1895): 281–85. (free on Google Books)

“Your place is behind”: Henry McNeal Turner’s critique of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (1878)

The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute of Hampton, Virginia was founded in 1868 by Samual Armstrong with the help of the American Missionary Association. Armstrong served as the president from 1868 to 1893.

Hampton’s most famous graduate was Booker T. Washington, who graduated in 1875 and then taught at the school until 1881 when he founded the Tuskegee Institute in the same “Industrial” model as Hampton.

Unfortunately, one of Armstrong’s fundamental goals for the school was to mold African Americans to accept their place of subordination in the post-Reconstruction South (for a detailed treatment of this, see James D. Armstrong, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935).

Henry McNeal Turner

Anderson notes that “Black criticisms of Hampton Institute received national attention in the Afro-American press during the late 1870s” (63). One such criticism came from Henry McNeal Turner (1834–1915). Turner was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first chaplain in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, and was elected to the state legislature of Georgia during Reconstruction.

In 1878, Turner visited Hampton Institute. He had apparently been considering sending his daughter to attend school there, and had heard much about it, and wanted to see it for himself. His critique, published in the Christian Recorder (May 2, 1878) captures in a few paragraphs the core of the racialized problems at Hampton. It is interesting to note that Booker T. Washington was a teacher in the school at the time, and thus Anderson’s observation that Black criticisms of the “Hampton-Tuskegee Idea” which Armstrong started at Hampton and Washington carried forward at Tuskegee “long predated the Washington-DuBois debates of the early twentieth century and represented a persistent strain of black protest against the Hampton-Tuskegee Idea for the training of black educators and leaders” (65).

Here is Turner’s critique transcribed in full (an original source can be accessed here):



By Dr. Turner


Theological Class at Raleigh—Portsmouth and Norfolk—Fine Congregations at each place—Hampton Normal School—Devotional Exercises—Class Recitations—Fine Buildings—How Visitors are Treated—Ladies Department—Poorly Educated—Negroes Not Capable of Higher Studies—You are Black and I am White—Change of Teachers Needed, &c.


Mr. Editor:—In my Dots and Jots about Raleigh, N.C., I neglected to mention a sight rarely witnessed in this country, viz. a white lady, (whose name I forgot) teaching a theological class, composed in the main of young ministers of the A.M.E. Church, though I believe two or three other denominations are represented. Their text book in Divinity, is Watson’s Theological Institutes, one of the weightiest theological works in the English language; yet this delicate and most lady drills these young men in its most difficult and abstruse subjects with apparent ease and familiarity. I recollect of no similar instance, for ladies, as a general rule, regard theology as something entirely out of their sphere. Leaving Raleigh, I proceeded to Norfolk, VA., where I stopped most of to he time at Mrs. Williams’ Boarding house. I essayed to preach for Rev. W. H. Brown, in Portsmouth on Sabbath afternoon to a fine congregation and for Rev. J. E. Cook in Norfolk at night. The churches were densely crowded and richness of attire and refinement of demeanor everywhere were dominant. These congregations have made rapid improvement since I first visited them during the war.

Elders Brown and Cook are both very popular, and command immense auditories. I lectured at the A. M. E. Church in Norfolk Monday night to a fine assembly of people, and was listened to very attentively.

Tuesday morning I went to Hampton to visit the Normal School of which I had heard much, and had considerable anxiety to see. The impressions gathered there were multifarious. I liked it and I didn’t. I arrived juts as the students were being exercised in a military drill, and must say the sight was grand. How much my predilections had to do with it, I cannot say, but as an old United States Chaplain, the sight might have been favorable because of my familiarity with the exercises. In a few moments, they all filed into the Chapel for devotional services. They sand with a vim and a sweetness, if not with artistic melody; yet is is nothing strange for colored people to sing, and I need scarcely mention it. Prayer was offered by some white gentleman, whose fervency was not discernible in hi supplications, though his faith might have been strong. I looked around in the Chapel, and must say its structure is everything desirable. On the walls I noticed likenesses of several notable characters, hanging in fine frames, giving to the walls attractiveness and beauty. Among them I noticed Washington, Wesley, Greeley, Sumner, Hayes, Andrew Johnson and Gen. Lee. What the two last had ever done for the colored people, I could not tell. I looked in vain for Grant or Butler, who was the founder of Schools in Hampton. After devotional services were over, and the latest news was read of any importance, a planisphere was brought in, and the most advanced class, (the one that will graduate in a few months) were exercised a little in astronomy. As I was somewhat familiar with this branch of science, having lectured upon it quite often, I naturally opened my eyes and ears to see and hear all i could. I was soon informed, however, that the teacher knew comparatively nothing about it, and the lass knew, if possible, less than nothing.

In Justice, however, to this class, I would say that astronomy is not a part of their studies, and this recitation was a little digression for the purpose of giving some distant idea of that science, before the class graduates.

I then visited a class room, where they appeared to be teaching agricultural and horticultural chemistry. Here i confess I was as much pleased with the thorough and rigid training apparently being imparted to the students. Indeed it was the only class I was profoundly pleased with. Whether the credit is due to the teachers’ individual interest and effort, or the purpose of the school to make that a specialty, I can not say.

My next observations were in a class room, where geographical recitations were in progress. Here I was more pleased with the improved system of teaching geography, than with any thing else. This about completed my literary observations.

One thing I must say in regard to the school building however. It is a grand structure, spacious rooms, and every convenience apparently that heart could wish; and cleanliness prevailed in every department I looked. But during my nearly two hours’ stay, not a teacher asked me to sit down, made a solitary explanation, gave me a welcome look, nor shown me the civility of a visitor, while I was in the building. When I would walk into a room, the teachers and students alike, would throw a glance at me, and thus end their courtesies. This was so very different from the High School and university manners at Scotia, Charlotte, Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans, Jefferson, and indeed everywhere that I scarcely know how to interpret it, except upon the ground that “we have no time to bother with you here.” Nevertheless, I noticed when white visitors came in, chairs were offered them, etc. During my perambulations through the school edifice, I chanced to meet one of the lady teachers, rather at leisure, and I engaged her at a venture with a few words.

Said I, “you have a splendid institution here; have you a class in the higher branches?”

Said she, “what do you mean by the higher branches?”

“Well,” said I, “I mean algebra, geometry, or the higher mathematics in general, Greek, Latin, and sciences, etc.”

“Oh,” said she, “the colored people are not prepared for those studies yet. They are too ignorant. It will be time enough to talk about that years from this time.”

Her reply was enough. I wanted to hear no more. It set me a fire. I simply said, “The colored people in Virginia must be unpardonably ignorant, if your statement be correct. That does not apply to them in any other State North or South in this country,” and with these remarks, I left the house.

I did not see General Armstrong. I cannot speak his sentiments, but, of this I am satisfied, that there is a great want of respect among the white teachers of the Hampton Normal School for the colored race. I am as sure that negro inferiority is taught by act, if not by word, as I am that the alphabet is taught. And Gen. Armstrong had better revise his corps of teachers, and get those who respect the race the are teaching. They no more compare with those at Atlanta, Georgia, and many other places, than moon light compares with the sun, in those elements of character, that impart manhood inspirations to our people. After leaving the main building, I went over to the Ladies Department, and one of the white ladies, possibly the matron, sent a beautiful young colored lady to show me through the building. Here, I seemed to have fallen into another atmosphere. This lady was polite and respectful, and the young Miss, who served as my conductor, had evidently imbibed her spirit. She carried me from bottom to top, showed me every thing, and to the credit of all concerned, a grand sight it was. I cannot describe the edifice now. Suffice to say, that every thing was in superb order, and to human observation was as clear as the snow flakes of heaven.

Besides, a variety of fancy and artistic work is taught the lady students, which is calculated to support and enrich them, if they will only make use of it. If the young ladies who come out of Hampton School do not make good house keepers, good wives and mothers, so far as neatness, cleanliness, and household work is concerned, it will be because they are miserably lazy, and not because the proper training has not been given. But as I conclude this letter, I will finish by saying the buildings, yards, walks &c., have a classic appearance, and the school ought to be raised to the dignity of a College or University. Every thing is there for it, the whole surroundings, landscapes, views, &c., are fitted for the highest culture. But the teachers are not fitted for the work they are now trying to do.

They are either in the whole ex-slaveholders themselves, or are pandering to the spirit of slavery. The graduates they send out can not be called educated by any means, for they have not near the learning given by a respectable grammar school. They would not employ one of their own students to teach a class; and I do not blame them, for when they graduate their students, they know nothing comparatively—judging from what I heard and saw in the class that is to be graduated this summer. Besides, I think colored children are taught to remember, “you are negroes,” and as such, “your place is behind.”

Nevertheless, associated with the school are some grand things, and indispensable life prerequisites. With some corrections, it would be a grand place for our children. But as I went to make arrangement to send one of my daughters there, I have declined the idea after seeing it for myself.

Review: Baptist Home Missions in North America (1883)

(image taken from the title page, a stylized logo using each letter of the American Baptist Home Mission Society’s initials: ABHMS)

In 2002, Mark Noll noted that “the history of the Baptists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is a subject as scandalously neglected as had been, until very recently, the history of early American Methodism” (America’s God, 149). Nearly twenty years later, Matthew Shrader noted that “though some has been done to fill Noll’s lacuna, Northern Baptists have received significantly less historical attention than their Southern counterparts”(Thoughtful Christianity, 2). Baptist Home Missions in North America is an essential source for anyone attempting to uncover this neglected heritage (and is available for free on Google Books).

Henry L. Morehouse, ABHMS Corresponding Secretary, and editor of Baptist Home Missions in North America

The full title gives a good idea of the setting and occasion of the book: Baptist Home Missions in North America: Including a Full Report of the Proceedings and Addresses of the Jubilee Meeting, and a Historical Sketch of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, Historical Tables, Etc., 1832-1882. Baptists had a habit of celebrating the anniversaries of their associations with big commemorative meetings and often published histories in conjunction with these events. The fiftieth anniversary (“Jubilee”) of the ABHMS is what occasioned this lengthy (619 pages!) book. The book has five sections: I. The Annual Report of the ABHMS for 1881–82 (pp. 9–44); II. A detailed account of the Fiftieth Annual Meeting (45–290); III. Henry Morehouse’s “Historical Sketch” (291–540); IV. Addenda (541–56); V. Historical Table covering every missionary in every state for the first fifty years (557–619).

The two largest Baptist associations in the 19th century were devoted to foreign missions and home missions, respectively. While the American Baptist Mission Union was focused overseas in countries like Burma and India, the Home Mission Society was devoted to evangelizing and spreading Baptist principles on the advancing frontier. Along the way they dealt with every issue confronting white American Christians during that time: European immigrants, Chinese immigrants, Mexicans, Native Americans, Mormons, and every other ethnic or religious group they encountered; the slavery question (the ABHMS was the society within which the great split between northern and southern Baptists occurred over slavery in 1845), the Civil War, and then the Freedmen; schools and education; the temperance movement.

In this book you can get an idea of the ideals and motivations of nineteenth century American Baptists. As discussions of Christian Nationalism and race engulf us in 2021, it’s striking to see these same issues on full display back then as well. The “Address of Welcome” gives a good sense of the way Baptist were attempting to assimilate the flood of various immigrant and indigenous groups into a single “civilized” and “Christian” society: 

“This country, that we fondly call our own, you claim must forever belong to Christ. It was founded on this principle. This republic was rooted in religion… It seems as if our country was designed to be the battle ground of conflicting customs and ideas that should gather together from all nations upon its soil for a fair and final fight… We need the infusion of foreign life and blood to make us vigorous and strong. And if with all our God-given advantages we cannot baptize them into our spirit and stimulate them in due time to the life and laws of our commonwealth, we deserve to perish… To foreign nations we say ‘Send us over your poor and degraded you would trample under foot in your overcrowded towns and cities, and on our wide plains and prairies, under the fostering light and care of free institutions, of education and religion, we will make out of them such noble specimens of manhood as never grew on your cramped and narrow soil. We have no doubt this can be done if we will only multiply our schoolhouses and churches.”


This kind of “progressive” Christian Nationalism is found almost everywhere on the pages of this account, and it is important to wrestle with. These Baptists understood themselves to be under “the double inspiration of loyalty to the flag of the Union and the cross of the Christ” (144). “We are aiming to Christianize these immigrants that are coming in from all parts of the earth; the Christianize them, to Americanize them, and to baptize them if we can” (202). Quotes like this could by multiplied at length, as the celebratory nature of the meetings gave expression to the optimism of these white American Christians, and their firm belief that their work had both eternal and political and social purposes in God’s plan. There is almost a Baptist manifest destiny here, as they surveyed the west and saw their duty to spread Christian civilization there.

One particular area of interest that receives full treatment is the establishment of Black colleges in the south following the civil war, many of which would go on to become HBCUs (see also“Missionaries or Presidents”? Newton Theological Institution’s contribution to the founding of HBCUs”). The dynamics involved in this are many and they are very complex. Well-intentioned white northerners moved south to help “uplift” the poor, benighted Freedmen. This was important and necessary work, what W.E.B. Du Bois called “the gift of New England to the freed Negro” (The Souls of Black Folk, 48). However, it often came with a full dose of paternalism (on which, see Derek Chang, Citizens of a Christian Nation: Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century). This subject receives multiple treatments throughout the book: “Work among the Colored People” (69–95); “Labors of Baptist for the Negro in America before 1862,” “First Work of the Freedmen,” “Work of the Freedmen–The New Era,” “Work of the Freedmen–The Work Established,” “The Society and Southern Baptists,” “James B. Simmons, D.D.,” “Schools,” “Nathan Bishop, LL. D.” (386–465). As Christians today continue to grapple with questions of race, there are valuable lessons–for good and for ill–that we can learn from efforts to cooperate in the past.

The 1880s was also a time of “reunion” with their southern brethren, and Southern Baptist like John Broadus were present at the meeting and embraced as brothers. White northern Baptists were willing to try to hold two things together: their work among Blacks in the south, and their fellowship with whites in the south, even though these often came into conflict. Baptists believed that, “In some way the Baptist North and South must come together and work together.” Yet, Basil Manly, one of the founders of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, felt that he had to “express his disagreement with some of the delegation and especially with the language of the report concerning the exercise of all the rights and duties of citizenship for the freedmen” (427). Yet, northern Baptists tried somehow to look past this in the hope that “all remembrances of the late deplorable conflict in arms between two sections of this country shall be blotted out by the blood of Jesus” (430). This puzzle of three pieces has never really been solved, and this was already evident then. (For more on the conflict between northern and southern Baptists over the education of Black people in the south, see Barnas Sears, “Objections to Public Schools Considered.”

The Historical Sketch provides an outline of names, dates, and places that are ripe for further historical investigation. Heman Lincoln, William Colgate, Jonathan Going, Benjamin Hill, Jay Backus, E.E.L. Taylor, James Simmons, Nathan Bishop, Sewall Cutting, and many many more all get brief biographical sketches. 

The sixty pages of tables in the final section of the book provide names and dates for every missionary in every state in the country. If you are interested in the history of Baptists in your city or state, you should check here to find out which Baptist Home Missionary first spread Baptist principles to the area. I’ve found the history of Baptists in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Florida fascinating (to name a few).

In all, this book is indispensable to anyone who wants to understand Baptist History, Church History, and the history of race in America, at least from a white perspective. There is a legacy here that white Christians would do well to grapple with, for good and for ill. In all, this book is a historical treasure trove, hopefully not a buried one for too much longer.

W.E.B. Du Bois on Separate Black Institutions

For centuries there have been Black institutions in America (Black churches, Black schools, Black organizations) which have existed in complex relationships to white institutions and the broader white society as a whole. An early example that captures some of the dynamics is Richard Allen, the white Methodist church, and the founding of the African Methodist Episocopal (AME) church:

By this time prayer was over, and we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church.

The Life, Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen

The question of “segregation” is complex, and it really does matter whose vantage point you view it from. When wealthy and powerful white institutions enforce segregation as a means of excluding minorities from access to those resources, segregation is an evil injustice.

But when Black people voluntarily chose to leave the “white table” in order to “build their own tables” where they would be free from the dehumanizing discrimination pressed on them in these white institutions, this kind of “segregation” is a necessity, not an evil, and creates the necessary spaces for Black people to flourish, free of unjust restrictions or the white gaze. Recent years have seen a proliferation of Black-centric organizations who have grown weary of the resistance in white churches, seminaries, and organizations. The Witness, A Black Christian Collective, The Front Porch, and The Crete Collective come immediately to mind as examples who have moved away from proximity to white evangelicalism. Some have questioned this: “If having a white church is bad, then why is it okay to have a black church?” When considering this question, it’s important to note that “segregation” must viewed from at least two angles (maybe more!) and the two are asymmetrical. Who created the separation and who is responding to the separation created? Who is creating resistance and who is responding to that resistance?

In 1935 W.E.B. Du Bois published an article in the The Journal of Negro Education titled “Does the Negro need Separate Schools?” (available on JStor here). In it, Du Bois defends the existence of separate schools, but does so with a deep awareness of the complex realities facing Black people. I would suggest that many of these factors exist today, and that Du Bois’s observations are helpful for those considering, not just separate schools, but churches, seminaries, and other organizations as well.

Here are a few choice quotes:

The question which I am discussing is: Are these separate schools and institutions needed? And the answer, to my mind, is perfectly clear. They are needed just so far as they are necessary for the proper education of the Negro race. The proper education of any people includes sympathetic touch between teacher and pupil; knowledge on the part of the teacher, not simply of the individual taught, but of his surroundings and background, and the history of his class and group; such contact between pupils, and between teacher and pupil, on the basis of perfect social equality, as will increase this sympathy and knowledge; facilities for education in equipment and housing, and the promotion of such extra-curricular activities as will tend to induct the child into life.

There are many public school systems in the North where Negroes are admitted and tolerated, but they are not educated; they are crucified. There are certain Northern universities where Negro students, no matter what their ability, desert, or accomplishment, cannot get fair recognition, either in classroom or on the campus, in dining halls and student activities, or in common human courtesy. It is well-known that in certain faculties of the University of Chicago, no Negro has yet received the doctorate and seldom can achieve the mastership in arts; at Harvard, Yale and Columbia, Negroes are admitted but not welcomed; while in other institutions, like Princeton, they cannot even enroll.

Manifestly, no general and inflexible rule can be laid down. If public opinion is such in Montclair that Negro children can not receive decent and sympathetic education in the white schools, and no Negro teachers can be employed, there is for us no choice. We have got to accept Negro schools. Any agitation and action aimed at compelling a rich and powerful majority of the citizens to do what they will not do, is useless… the futile attempt to compel even by law a group to do what it is determined not to do, is a silly waste of money, time, and temper.

Recognizing the fact that for the vast majority of colored students in elementary, secondary, and collegiate education, there must be today separate educational institutions because of an attitude on the part of the white people which is not going materially to change in our time, our customary attitude toward these separate schools must be absolutely and definitely changed.

It is difficult to think of anything more important for the development of a people than proper training for their children; and yet I have repeatedly seen wise and loving colored parents take infinite pains to force their little children into schools where the white children, white teachers, and white parents despised and resented the dark child, made mock of it, neglected or bullied it, and literally rendered its life a living hell Such parents want their child to ‘fight’ this thing out,–but, dear God, at what a cost! Sometimes, to be sure, the child triumphs and teaches the school community a lesson; but even in such cases, the cost may be high, and the child’s whole life turned into an effort to win cheap applause at the expense of healthy individuality.

We shall get a finer, better balance of spirit; an infinitely more capable and rounded personality by putting children in schools where they are wanted, and where they are happy and inspired, than in thrusting them into hells where they are ridiculed and hated.

Lack of faith in Negro enterprise leads to singular results: Negroes will fight frenziedly to prevent segregated schools; but if segregation is forced upon them by dominant white public opinion, they will suddenly lose interest and scarcely raise a finger to see that the resultant Negro schools get a fair share of the public funds so as to have adequate equipment and housing; to see that real teachers are appointed, and that they are paid as much as white teachers doing the same work. Today, when the Negro public school system gets from half to one-tenth of the amount of money spent on white schools, and is often consequently poorly run and poorly taught, colored people tacitly if not openly join with white people in assuming that Negroes cannot run Negro enterprises, and cannot educate them- selves, and that the very establishment of a Negro school means starting an inferior school… but why attribute this to a defect in the Negro race, and not to the fact that the large white colleges have from one hundred to one thousand times the funds for equipment and research that Negro colleges can command?

Conceive a Negro teaching in a Southern school the economics which he learned at the Harvard Business School! Conceive a Negro teacher of history retailing to his black students the sort of history that is taught at the University of Chicago! Imagine the history of Reconstruction being handed by a colored professor from the lips of Columbia professors to the ears of the black belt! The results of this kind of thing are often fantastic, and call for Negro history and sociology, and even physical science taught by men who understand their audience, and are not afraid of the truth.

Does the Negro need separate schools? God knows he does. But what he needs more than separate schools is a firm and unshakable belief that twelve million American Negroes have the inborn capacity to accomplish just as much as any nation of twelve million anywhere in the world ever accomplished, and that this is not because they are Negroes but because they are human.

So far, I have noted chiefly negative arguments for separate Negro institutions of learning based on the fact that in the majority of cases Negroes are not welcomed in public schools and universities nor treated as fellow human beings. But beyond this, there are certain positive reasons due to the fact that American Negroes have, because of their history, group experiences and memories, a distinct entity, whose spirit and reactions demand a certain type of education for its development.

Negroes must know the history of the Negro race in America, and this they will seldom get in white institutions. Their children ought to study textbooks like Brawley’s “Short History,” the first edition of Woodson’s “Negro in Our History,” and Cromwell, Turner and Dykes’ “Readings from Negro Authors.” Negroes who celebrate the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, and the worthy, but colorless and relatively unimportant “founders” of various Negro colleges, ought not to forget the 5th of March,-that first national holiday of this country, which commemorates the martyrdom of Crispus Attucks. They ought to celebrate Negro Health Week and Negro History Week. They ought to study intelligently and from their own point of view, the slave trade, slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, and present economic development.

In history and the social sciences the Negro school and college has an unusual opportunity and role. It does not consist simply in trying to parallel the history of white folk with similar boasting about black and brown folk, but rather an honest evaluation of human effort and accomplishment, without color blindness, and without transforming history into a record of dynasties and prodigies.

I know that this article will forthwith be interpreted by certain illiterate “nitwits” as a plea for segregated Negro schools and colleges. It is not. It is simply calling a spade a spade. It is saying in plain English: that a separate Negro school, where children are treated like human beings, trained by teachers of their own race, who know what it means to be black in the year of salvation 1935, is infinitely better than making our boys and girls doormats to be spit and trampled upon and lied to by ignorant social climbers, whose sole claim to superiority is ability to kick “n*****s” when they are down. I say, too, that certain studies and discipline necessary to Negroes can seldom be found in white schools.

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