The Rev. James Merritt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, withdrew as a visiting professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest after accusations surfaced that he told a “racist joke” in private board meetings.
Mr. Merritt, whose “Touching Lives” is a popular offering on several cable and satellite television networks, has been touted as a voice for racial reconciliation. He led the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, from 2000 to 2002.
Mr. Merritt Tuesday asked to be allowed to step down as a visiting professor, “not wanting to be a distraction to the school,” seminary president Daniel Akin posted on Twitter, calling Mr. Merritt “my dear friend.” He added, “I have honored his request. His integrity, character & love for the gospel is a model for us all.”
On Monday, Mr. Merritt was the subject of a video posted on the Capstone Report blog in which Scott Morgan, a former associate pastor at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia, accused the Baptist leader of regularly telling a joke Mr. Morgan deemed racially insensitive.
“He needs to come clean about ‘Rastus,’” Mr. Morgan says in a video interview. “Hearing him lecture the SBC about the whole thing of racism. But here is the man that would laugh and enjoy calling up his fellow minister friends … as we’re going to share Christ with people, and call ministers saying ‘Let me tell you about Rastus.’ … It was trying to come across like black people were stupid.”
Mr. Akin made no reference to the reason Mr. Merritt stepped aside. A call to the seminary by The Washington Times was not returned, and there was no answer at Mr. Merritt’s Touching Lives ministry office.
According to Baptist News Global, Mr. Merritt was also called out by conservative critics for having praised a sermon his son, religion journalist and author Jonathan Merritt, gave at Good Shepherd Church in New York City.
In a Nov. 22 Twitter message, the elder Mr. Merritt wrote, “I don’t agree with my loved son @JonathanMerritt on everything to be sure. But I encourage you to listen to his message on Mark 13. It is both brilliant and faithful to the gospel and the coming of Jesus!”
The Baptist News Global report noted that Jonathan Merritt has been “outed” as a homosexual, and stated that his father was attacked by the Conservative Baptist Network, which said, “For one who is employed by a Southern Baptist seminary receiving Cooperative Program tithe dollars to promote an unrepentant sinner — no matter whose son he is — as a trustworthy preaching source is a betrayal of trusting Southern Baptists.”
Jonathan Merritt, who did not immediately respond to an email request from The Times for comment, replied on Twitter, “I’m not the only gay child of an SBC pastor who’s home for the holidays. Statements like this make it so much harder for those who are not welcome this time of year. Despite our deep disagreements, I receive kindness and love — not disgust — when I come home.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed the source of the Baptist News Global report.