gavel
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear uses the Judson gavel during the opening of the SBC annual meeting June 15, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (RNS photo: Kit Doyle)

SBC Prez Greear Replaces Gavel Named for Slaveholder with One Honoring Missionary

By Adelle Banks

As outgoing Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear prepared to open his final annual meeting in that role, he determined to follow through on his plans to change the way he officially got it started.

Traditionally, Southern Baptists open the two-day meeting — which started Tuesday — with the banging of a gavel. In most years, the meetings have featured the Broadus gavel, named for John A. Broadus, a founding faculty member of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who was also a slaveholder and a believer in white superiority.

This year, Greear said in an interview prior to the meeting that he would use a different gavel, named for a pioneering missionary.

“I’ll be using the Judson Gavel,” he stated in an emailed response to a question about his plans.

That gavel is named for Adoniram Judson, the first Baptist missionary sent out “by the organization that would eventually become the Southern Baptist Convention,” Greear wrote. “Adoniram Judson has always been a personal hero of the faith to me, and I believe his life and testimony exemplify, in every way, the spirit of a Great Commission Baptist.”

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Great Commission Baptists” is a moniker adopted by some Southern Baptists that simultaneously deemphasizes their regional affiliation and focuses on the command of Jesus to his followers to spread his message worldwide.

In a 2020 statement, Greear had said that he thought “it is time to retire the Broadus gavel.” He added that “it is time for this gavel to go back into the display case at the Executive Committee offices.”

Broadus was the author of books on homiletics, or the art of preaching, including “On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons.”

But he also was a promoter of the Confederacy in a denomination that has its origins in a defense of slavery.

“At the 1863 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Augusta, Georgia, Broadus drafted resolutions pledging Southern Baptist support for the Confederacy,” reads the SBC flagship seminary’s 2019 report on slavery and racism in its history.

Nine years later, Broadus presented the gavel to the SBC “for the use of the President, which he had brought from Jerusalem for that purpose,” according to a historical note about the gavel included in the denomination’s 1939 Annual.

Rev. Robert E. Wilson Sr.

Broadus eventually repudiated U.S. slavery in 1882, the Southern Seminary report states, and argued a decade later against lynching.

The Rev. Robert E. Wilson Sr., historian of the SBC’s National African American Fellowship, said he appreciated the move by Greear, who will complete his time as president — which was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic — with the banging of a gavel on Wednesday afternoon.

“I believe that he is trying to show that there is the need for continuing to move from the past that we had to the present that we’re in,” said Wilson, pastor emeritus of God’s Acre Baptist Church at Ben Hill in Atlanta. “And I think that he’s wise in just helping to bring about those changes.”

Adelle Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at Religion News Service.

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7 thoughts on “SBC Prez Greear Replaces Gavel Named for Slaveholder with One Honoring Missionary”

  1. Interesting that the same crowd who decries the study of systemic racism because of its “Marxist origins” has no trouble at all with the slaveholding origins of the SBC.

  2. Brian Patrick

    I’m fine with renaming the gavel, I’d just like to see Greear focus on something other than demonizing the white race, such as, you know, going after sex offenders and con artists like the Loritts clan.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      I echo Tom’s question. How is he “demonizing” the white race? It concerns me that both sides of the aisle have gotten so sensitive that one side sees racism in EVERYTHING and the other hears ANYTHING about racism EVER happening and says “you’re demonizing white people and trying to make them feel guilty!”
      Those attitudes rob us of any hope of meeting in the middle to have a productive conversation.

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