The controversy surrounding a statue on the campus of Princeton University has sparked a debate between conservative and liberal evangelicals about how to remember significant figures in the movement’s history, their theology, and their complicity in the institution of slavery. The statue in question depicts John Witherspoon, a founding father of America, an influential leader in the history of Princeton University and the American church, and who also happened to be a slaveholder.
A group of 300 people, consisting mostly of graduate students, have called for the statue to be taken down and for it to be replaced with a memorial that reflects on the different aspects of Witherspoon’s life and legacy. In response, Princetonians for Free Speech (PFS), a group created by Princeton alumni, released a statement arguing that the removal of the statue “would have a deleterious effect on free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity.”
Naming in response to a proposal to remove the statue of John Witherspoon from Firestone Plaza. In the statement, PFS argues that the process being followed by the Committee does not accurately reflect the views of Princetonians on the issue, as there is a climate of fear and censorship on campus that prevents students, faculty, and others from freely expressing their views, especially on highly politicized issues.
PFS also claims that the debate over the statue has significant implications for free speech and academic freedom and that removal of the statue would lead to further demands to remove or rename other parts of Princeton’s history, ultimately leading to an attempt to erase Princeton’s history and create a monolithic university that does not welcome nonconforming views.
Finally, PFS asserts that the ongoing push to remove and rename is an attempt to erase history and impose orthodoxy, and that the purpose of a university is to promote learning and advance knowledge, rather than to train students and promote “social justice” as defined by current campus orthodoxy.
Kevin DeYoung, a pastor and prominent theologian within Evangelical circles, has confidently and firmly defended the decision to keep the statue of John Witherspoon on the campus of Princeton University. DeYoung, who holds a Ph.D. in Early Modern History and has a deep understanding of Witherspoon’s theology, has accurately characterized Witherspoon’s complicated relationship with slavery in his article.
In the article, DeYoung argues that while John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and president of Princeton University, was not a radical abolitionist, his views on slavery were more enlightened than those of several other famous founders. Witherspoon believed that bringing people into slavery was wrong, that abolition should be sought after and prayed for, and that slaves and Black people should be treated with decency and dignity. However, he also believed that immediate abolition would likely do more harm than good, and that slavery would soon disappear in America.
DeYoung also discusses Witherspoon’s personal actions related to slavery, including his baptism of a runaway slave, his private instruction of free Black men, and his effort to fund American Indian students at Princeton. Despite owning two slaves at the time of his death, DeYoung suggests that Witherspoon may have intended to manumit them, as he had previously suggested that New Jersey enact a law freeing slaves at a certain age.
DeYoung concluded that if Witherspoon’s contributions to Princeton and the United States are worth remembering and celebrating, and if his mistakes were fairly enlightened for his age, then perhaps it is better to focus on understanding people from the past in their own context rather than tearing down statues.
Megan Basham is a rising star in conservative Evangelical journalism, with a growing reputation and following. She writes for Daily Wire, a leading conservative news and opinion website. Basham has supported Kevin DeYoung’s stance on the controversy surrounding the statue of John Witherspoon on the campus of Princeton University.
However, Dwight McKissic, a Southern Baptist pastor with a history of making unfounded accusations of “racism” against conservatives who do not align with his left-leaning views on issues such as abortion and feminism, has baselessly and without evidence accused Basham of being a white supremacist.
Of course, these accusations lack any credibility and are completely unfounded and demonstrate nothing more than an emotional tantrum from an immature man who calls himself a pastor over not getting what he wanted. Basham’s defense of the statue, which portrays Witherspoon as a slaveholder, does not in any way indicate support for white supremacy or a desire to downplay the truthful history of slavery. In fact, it indicates the opposite, a desire to remember history as it actually was rather than hide it.
Basham’s support for DeYoung’s stance on the controversy has landed her in hot water with the usual woke Evangelical talking heads. Rather than resorting to baseless accusations or divisive rhetoric, Basham has been forced to defend herself against McKissic’s character assault. Despite this, her willingness to engage in productive dialogue and to seek understanding, yet without compromise, is more than can be said about McKissic.
McKissic has lambasted Basham on social media, alleging that her agreement with DeYoung’s defense of the statue is indicative of her support for white supremacy. He has accused Basham of trying to downplay the “harm and trauma” caused by slavery and has called for her to be held accountable for her views. Dwight McKissic’s accusations of “racism” and tactics of making baseless accusations and engaging in divisive rhetoric are clearly not motivated by a genuine concern for justice, but rather by a desire to silence those who disagree with him. Even after Basham made her position clear, McKissic continued with the malicious insinuations that she is a white supremacist.
However, when asked by another Twitter user whether he would support the removal of statues of Martin Luther King Jr. due to his immorality and sexual abuse of women just as he supports the removal of statues of slaveholders, McKissic avoided answering the question. This refusal to answer reveals McKissic’s hypocrisy, as it shows that he is more motivated by politics than by upholding a consistent moral standard in his opposition to DeYoung.
McKissic has been known to prioritize racial identity over his professed Christian faith and values. He has openly endorsed politicians who actively advocate for abortion and LGBTQ rights, despite these positions conflicting with traditional Baptist beliefs, let alone biblical orthodoxy.
Dwight McKissic’s hypocrisy and refusal to answer questions about his own moral standards reveal his true motivations: silencing those who disagree with him rather than a genuine concern for justice. His divisive tactics and unbecoming behavior as a pastor call into question the Southern Baptist Convention’s continued fellowship with him. It remains to be seen how much longer they will tolerate this kind of immorality in their ranks.
Dwight McKissic’s views and actions are not based on a biblical worldview, but rather on Critical Race Theory (CRT), a neo-Marxist philosophy that asserts that institutional racism is present in every aspect of society and that these structures are intended to maintain and protect white supremacy in our culture. The Southern Baptist Convention and Evangelicalism as a whole have been greatly divided by the influence of CRT and its associated movement, “antiracism.” Colossians 2:8 describes CRT as a form of “vain philosophy” and “empty deceit,” clearly demonstrating its ungodly and harmful nature. It is imperative that Southern Baptist leaders take a stand against this toxic and divisive ideology and refrain from platforming and supporting those who promote it, such as Dwight McKissic, who has demonstrated that his primary identity is not with Christ and the body of believers, but with his ethnicity.