Joe Rigney, Bethlehem Seminary president, resigns due to support of Christian nationalism and infant baptism

Rigney has long been considered controversial for his views on empathy and for his relationship with Idaho pastor Doug Wilson.

Bethlehem College and Seminary President Joe Rigney. Photo via

(RNS)— Joe Rigney, a controversial Twin Cities seminary president with ties to influential author John Piper and Idaho pastor Doug Wilson, resigned Monday (April 3), due to what the school’s board called a “divergence of vision.”

“I do not believe that I have the full confidence of the Trustees, the elders of the governing churches, or the Chancellor,” Rigney said in his resignation letter, according to a statement from Bethlehem Seminary in Minneapolis.

The issues of divergence, according to the board, included Rigney’s views on Christian nationalism. Rigney has been supportive of the ideology, which has gained currency among evangelical Christian leaders and some Republican politicians, particularly since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. The board also said Rigney’s views on baptism put him at odds with the school’s faith statement and with other leaders at Bethlehem.

“The point is that Dr. Rigney’s more recent emphasis on a hoped-for eventual Christianization of all society, including the civil government, has put him at odds with other leaders of the school who would warn against the use of civil authority to establish Christianity as an official religion,” the board statement said.

Rigney was named president of Bethlehem College and Seminary in September 2020, following the retirement of former President Tim Tomlinson. He had previously served as a professor at the school. The Minneapolis school was an outgrowth of Bethlehem Baptist Church, largely under the director of Piper, former Bethlehem church pastor and current chancellor of the school.

Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis. Image courtesy of Google Maps

Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis. Image courtesy of Google Maps

Rigney is perhaps best known for claiming that empathy is a sin and for a 2021 conflict over race relations at the seminary and Bethlehem church. He has also drawn attention for his relationship with Wilson, a Moscow, Idaho, pastor known for his statements in support of Christian nationalism and for past statements saying American slavery was in keeping with Christian principles.

In announcing Rigney’s resignation, Piper and the chair of the school’s trustees expressed thankfulness for 16 years of service on the faculty and as president and said they had “high regard for his integrity and spiritual authenticity.”

However, Rigney is now “out of step with several distinctives which Baptists have historically viewed as biblical.”

According to the statement, another area of disagreement is that Rigney is now open to the idea that infant baptism could be biblical, meaning he could no longer sign the school’s statement of faith, which holds to so-called believer baptism, which is based on a conscious profession of faith by a person who is of age.

Rigney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The statement from the school did include a comment from the now-former president.

“My family and I are currently praying and considering a number of options for our future, all of which would enable us to spread a passion for God’s supremacy in all things.”

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