The president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth apologized on Friday after a photo surfaced of five faculty members dressed as rappers.
The now-deleted Twitter photo showed five white professors in hoodies and gold chains and flashing gang signs. One even clutched a pistol.
"What I would like for people to know is that in life, people make a lot of mistakes," said longtime seminar president Paige Patterson. "We made a big one."
But he added, "There was no racial design in it."
Southwestern is one of the largest seminaries in the world and also one of the most conservative.
Patterson said the faculty members were trying to poke fun at a departing Native American colleague who raps.
Still, it was wrong, Patterson said.
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"Nobody feels more heartsick about it than the men who did it," he said.
Critics said the photo portrays African-Americans as gangsters or criminals.
"It's more than offensive. Any sensible person would see it's offensive," said the Rev. Kyev Tatum, a prominent Fort Worth African-American activist. "If that's Evangelism 101, they need to shut it down because they're not winning souls, they're hurting them."
Patterson wrote an extended apology on the seminary's website and apologized again in an interview with NBC 5.
"We take it as a great lesson to get our act together," he said.
Tatum said he hopes this is a lesson that an image can create a powerful – if unintended – impression.
"It's indicative of the larger problem because what it says to the African-American community is we can mock your community but we can't help your community," Tatum said.
Patterson said the seminary planned to offer more scholarships for African-Americans.
"We are sick in our hearts that we would have contributed anything that would be interpreted as racism," he said. "We don't want that position."