Religion News Service has resurfaced some comments about slavery made by the longtime president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Al Mohler. In a 1998 interview on Larry King Live, Mohler said that the Bible doesn’t endorse slavery, but says it does command slaves to obey their masters. When pressed on whether or not that would condemn the efforts of runaway slaves like Harriet Tubman, Mohler said the Bible did not provide any loopholes for such disobedience.
When asked about those comments on Friday, Mohler repudiated them. “It sounds like an incredibly stupid comment, and it was,” he said. “I fell into a trap I should have avoided, and I don’t stand by those comments. I repudiate the statements I made.”
The story involves a secret, “Skull and Bones”-type society at Southern Seminary that Mohler was part of and even served as president during his time as a student. That club apparently restricted its membership to students with “high standard for scholarship” and “an aptitude for literature.” In researching the article, journalist Jonathan Merritt also found that it had counted several notable white supremacists and segregationalists among its ranks. In 2018, Mohler released a report detailing and apologizing for the seminary’s long history “in the horrifying realities of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, racism, and even the avowal of white racial supremacy.” Mohler told Merritt he was not aware of any racial requirement for joining Southern’s secret society, known as Dodeka. Nevertheless, several former students interviewed by Merritt said Southern’s attitude towards race changed for the worse under Mohler’s leadership.
The CNN interview, which involved Larry King, Mohler, the Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr. and then-president of the National Organization for Women Patricia Ireland, centered on the Southern Baptist Convention’s beliefs about women. The conversation steered towards slavery, which is where Mohler’s quote in question landed. Via RNS:
According to a transcript obtained from CNN, Mohler asserted that he agrees with the New Testament’s command for slaves to obey their masters. This doesn’t mean the Bible “endorses” slavery, Mohler said, “but it does say, if you’re a slave, there’s a way to behave.”
King asked whether such a belief meant he would “condemn those who ran away,” like Harriet Tubman.
“Well, I want to look at this text seriously, and it says submit to the master,” Mohler replied. “And I really don’t see any loophole here as much as, in terms of popular culture, we’d want to see one.”
Seemingly stunned, King cut to a commercial break.
Falwell took issue with Mohler’s interpretation, claiming that he would have helped operate the Underground Railroad had he been alive during the Civil War. As RNS notes, Falwell’s early opposition to the Civil Rights Movement is well-documented.
Mohler recently made headlines for an about-face he made regarding the upcoming election. Though he called President Donald Trump “the Great Evangelical Embarrassment” in 2016, he says he now plans on voting for Trump in 2020.