The Southern Baptist Convention has historically opened its meetings by banging a gavel against a pulpit. That gavel, however, is named after a slaveholder. Current SBC President J.D. Greear believes it’s time the nation’s largest Protestant denomination retires the Broadus gavel.
Retiring the Official Gavel After Nearly 150 Years
Rev. John A. Broadus was an advocate for the Confederacy and a founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Broadus was also a slaveholder. Considering the civil rights unrest across the United States, Greear believes it’s time to retire the gavel. The denomination has used it since 1872.
“Southern Baptists, I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel,” Greear said in a statement last week. “While we do not want to, nor could we, erase our history, it is time for this gavel to go back into the display case at the Executive Committee offices.”
Sending a Mixed Message
Additionally, Greear said he felt “uneasy” using the gavel during a meeting in Birmingham, Alabama in 2019. He said he was aware of Broadus’ racial views but felt the slaveholder “changed some of his positions later in life.”
The SBC president also believes the use of the gavel sent a mixed message. In 1845, leaders founded the Protestant denomination in defense of missionaries that owned slaves.
“Here we were… meeting in a city that has been filled with a horrific history of civil rights abuses… using a gavel named after a Southern Baptist who owned slaves…,” Greear said.
The president found out months later that he had the choice to decide which gavel to use.
“The SBC has used the Broadus gavel continuously to open the convention since 1872, but incorporated others as well,” he said.
The History of the Broadus Gavel
According to the SBC’s 1939 Annual, Rev. Broadus gave the gavel to the denomination on May 8, 1872. “The Rev. J. A. Broadus of South Carolina presented to the Convention a mallet for the use of the President, which he had brought from Jerusalem for that purpose.”
“If this gavel had the power to tell us what it has witnessed, we should be thrilled by its story,” The Annual continues. “As numberless points of order have been raised and all sorts of tangles rose to the surface, it has sent forth its sharp, decisive, imperious mandates in obedience to the parliamentary umpires in the chair.”
In May, Greear told Religion News that he had planned to use one of two gavels for the remainder of 2020.
“I was planning on using the Judson gavel or the Annie Armstrong gavel this year in Orlando,” he said. “Adoniram Judson was a missionary that inspired me and I named my son after him. Annie Armstrong demonstrated the missionary spirit that I believe Southern Baptists should be about.”