Pastor Terry Turner Reflects On Finding Out That Two of his Favorite Preachers, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, Owned Slaves

Pastor Terry Turner
Pastor Terry Turner

by Terry M. Turner

A local newspaper interviewed me for a special feature several years ago, asking me, “Who is your favorite preacher of all times?”

Having studied church history, the names of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards immediately came to my mind. Choosing between the two was difficult because I appreciated the theatrical delivery styles of both theologians whereby every word held a convicting punch that compelled the unchurched to find Jesus. For the newspaper article, Whitefield made the top of my list for favorite preacher of all times.

Whitefield and Edwards, without doubt, are two of the most noted theologians in history. But it would take 25 years of formal Christian education before I would learn that these two preachers supported the enslavement of African American people.

Why is this a subject worth the time and effort for modern discussion when American laws no longer make slavery a legalized institution? I can propose two very important reasons: one secular and the other theological.

First, on the secular side, the subject of who owned slaves and how this is left out of history books should remain a subject for study. The confusion over racism in 2017 serves as an example of how the common history of whites and African Americans in this country typically has left out the historical contributions of black Americans. If American history would have honored the labor and contribution of slaves in the building of this country, it would have rewarded their descendants for the suffering endured by their ancestors, and the perception of slavery over the generations would have an entirely different outlook today.

In contrast, many in America have chosen to honor those who fought to keep African Americans enslaved by building statues in their honor and placing memorial inscriptions on the images such as “A Hero of the Confederacy.” These recognitions of praise are the problem, not the statues, especially when slavery and the Civil War are considered the darkest part of American history. America has historically praised its slaveholder heroes, and not the economic and moral contribution of its African American slaves. Among the real heroes are the forgotten slaves, a story that is omitted with every Confederate memorial.

America should commit to telling the whole truth at these statues. Tearing them down does not change a single event of our troubled history, but erecting statues of the unknown accomplishments of slaves at their side could help the healing. African Americans already consider each slave ancestor a hero, and America should honor these descendants for surviving the atrocities of slavery.

The divisiveness on our American streets today is the result of a history filled with erroneous teachings about the anthropological differences between races. Philosophical teachings designed to divide the races remain a blind spot in much of America, and only those committed to finding a solution will see through the racial problem.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press

Terry M. Turner is senior pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, and a former president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.