Early Southern Baptist Leader- “Take down that confederate flag!”

July 1, 2015

The fact that Southern Baptists had a tragic beginning when it comes to racism is a well-documented historical fact. The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 as a result of southern churches deciding to no longer cooperate with northern Baptists over the issue of southern slave-owners being refused ordination for missionary service. As we study the lives and writings of many of our heroes in the faith, we are often stunned by their blind inconsistencies on the slavery question.

Of course, we do not study history in the abstract, which is precisely why this issue bothers us so much. We are white Southern Baptists from Alabama, which means it is possible some our ancestors could have owned slaves and that we might have too if we had lived at that time. The massive failure of the vast majority of our Baptist kin on the issue of race makes the exceptions all the more remarkable. One such exception is James Madison Pendleton (1811-1891). Pendleton was born in 1811 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, and was raised from the age of one in Christian County, Kentucky. He pastored churches in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Pendleton was a prominent Southern Baptist whose life coincided with the racial debates surrounding the founding of the SBC and the American Civil War. He had everything to gain by siding with his denominational brethren on the slavery issue, but he courageously chose to argue for the end of slavery. There has been a great deal of talk recently about whether the Confederate flag should fly at state house grounds. Pendleton’s position on that issue in 1861 was to quote the popular Twitter hashtag #TakeItDown. Pendleton wrote,

It was about midsummer in 1861, when the Confederate flag was hoisted on the Court House in Murfreesboro, and there it waved for nine months, but I seldom saw it. I was unwilling to look at it, because it was usurping the place of the flag the United States—the flag of my heart’s love.[1]

In 1849, Pendleton wrote a series of letters in response to a series of proslavery articles Rev. W.C. Buck had written in the Baptist Banner. Buck refused to publish Pendleton’s responses in his paper and Pendleton turned to the Louisville Examiner to publish his rebuttal. The articles entitled, “Letters to Rev. W.C. Buck, in Review of His Articles on Slavery” put forth a courageous argument for emancipation.

As Christians continue to be pushed to the margins of contemporary American culture in our own day, James Madison Pendleton offers a model of convictional gospel courage that remains faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of intense pressure to compromise. Note Pendleton’s own descriptions, from his autobiography, of what it cost him to oppose secession as a southern man living in Tennessee leading up to beginning of the Civil War:

I was known to be a Union man, and it was no advantage to me that nearly all my family connections, by blood and marriage, were on the other side. I suppose I was in greater danger of personal violence than I thought at the time. It is said that a citizen offered to head any company that would undertake to hang me, and that my name, accompanied by no complimentary remarks, was sent to the daring John Morgan. I knew not what might happen.[2]

Because of his allegiance to the Union at the outset of the Civil War, he was forced to resign his post at Union University in Tennessee. He describes his despair during this period, “I remember waking the next morning before the day and bursting into tears, under the impression that the Lord had nothing more for me to do, and that there was no place for me in his vineyard.”[3] To compound his grief, Pendleton’s own son would die in battle as a Confederate soldier.

Pendleton believed the Bible, when interpreted correctly, could not be coopted into a proslavery agenda. In response to proslavery advocates’ reliance on the Mosaic Law, Pendleton countered, “I have often wondered that the apologists of slavery refer with such frequency to the Mosaic law, when it is evident that if a prominent regulation of that law had not been utterly disregarded there would have been no slavery in America. Moses says, “He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hands, shall surely be put to death.”[4]

Pendleton understood that there was more driving the proslavery agenda than simple and objective biblical interpretation. In response to Buck’s contention that many slaveholders owned slaves out of their obligation to love their neighbor and convert unbelievers. Pendleton replies with incredulous and biting sarcasm:

Can you name a class of men who in the early settlement of America went across the Atlantic to Africa “from mere impulses of humanity” to purchase slaves, “believing that they could materially better their condition?” Does history contain a record of such a class? If so I am ignorant of the fact, and would gladly be informed. I would like to do honor to the memory of men whose “impulses of humanity” excited so much sympathy for the African race. Give me, if you please, the names of those who composed this philanthropic “class.” They deserve a celebrity, which they have not yet attained.[5]

Pendleton knew that “their approbation of the system of slavery grows out of its supposed capability of producing dollars and cents.”[6]

Pendleton argued that slavery was a religious issue and not merely a political one. He wrote, “Many professors of religion, I know, speak of [slavery] as if it were on a level with ‘tariffs,’ ‘national banks,’ &c.; and this to me is a source of profound mortification. The idea that slaves are ‘property’ seems to have taken exclusive possession of their minds, and hence they overlook the capital fact that slaves are ‘persons’ as well as property.”[7] He continues, “The idea is horrible. Rational beings, on whose souls God has stamped immortality, are placed on an equality with beasts that perish.”[8] His personal ministry backed up his words as he admitted slaves into membership of his church in Bowling Green, Kentucky.[9]

Responding to Buck’s argument that slavery promoted the “holiness and happiness” of slaves, Pendleton countered with this gem:

If then it could be established that slavery promotes the holiness and happiness of slaves, it would follow that as it does not promote the holiness and happiness of the white population it would be well for white people to be enslaved in order to their holiness and happiness. … But you know, and I know that slavery “promotes the holiness and happiness” of neither the free nor the slave population.[10]

As Pendleton saw it both North and South were self-seeking and blameworthy in the Civil War. He did not hold a righteous North or a righteous South theory about the war. He wrote, “In the early part of the war there was no reference to the extermination of slavery” but it became clear to the North that “the preservation of the union required the abolition of slavery by a successful prosecution of the war.” According to him, it was “an overruling Providence” that was to be credited with the end of slavery. He continued, “It is evident that the end of slavery was not man’s work.” He summarized, “The overthrow of American slavery was an epoch in the world’s history, and it is the providence of God that creates epochs.”[11]

[1]J.M. Pendleton, Reminiscences of a Long Life (Louisville: Press Baptist Book Concern, 1891), 122-123.

[2] Ibid., 122-123.

[3] Ibid., 134.

[4] J.M. Pendleton, Letters to Rev. W.C. Buck, in Review of His Articles on Slavery(Louisville: n.p., 1849), 5.

[5] Ibid., 7.

[6] Ibid., 8.

[7] Ibid., 2.

[8] Ibid., 6.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Pendleton, Letters, 3.

[11] Pendleton, Reminiscences, 125.

Casey McCall

Casey McCall is lead pastor at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church – Oldham County. He writes frequently for Prince on Preaching and the Oldham Era and has contributed articles to Radical, For the Church, ERLC, and the Journal of Andrew Fuller Studies. Read More

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24