Southern Baptist seminary presidents unite against critical race theory

The official statement is tacked-on to the end of George Schroeder’s article at Baptist Press. Here it is:

On this twentieth anniversary year of the Baptist Faith & Message (as revised and adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000), the Council of Seminary Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in its annual session, hereby reaffirms with eagerness the Baptist Faith & Message as the doctrinal statement that unites and defines Southern Baptist cooperation and establishes the confessional unity of our Convention. Our six seminaries are confessional institutions, standing together in this classic statement of biblical truth. All professors must agree to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message. This is our sacred commitment and privilege, and every individual faculty member and trustee of our institutions shares this commitment. We are thankful for the theological commitments of the Southern Baptist Convention, standing against the tide of theological compromise and in the face of an increasingly hostile secular culture.

In light of current conversations in the Southern Baptist Convention, we stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.

The statement seems to suggest that Southern Baptists now formally believe that racism is confined to individual racist acts and is not systemically embedded in American society. The latter appears to be understood as a form of “theological compromise in the face of an increasingly hostile secular culture.”

Yes, you are reading this correctly. A Protestant denomination founded upon its commitment to slavery and racism has rejected the idea that racism is systematically embedded in southern society.

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, has also endorsed the statement.

UPDATE (December 2, 2020 at 12:30pm):

Several folks have told me that many of the seminary presidents who signed this statement actually do believe in systemic racism. This appears to be true. Al Mohler, Danny Akin, and J.D. Greaar have all said that systemic racism exists. Mohler seems to making some kind of case for systemic racism here. (I find this interview problematic for a lot of reasons, but that is another post). Akin and Greaar seem to be adhering to something similar to systemic racism here and here.

A couple of quick points.

A person who believes in systemic racism and, at the same time, rejects critical race theory “in any form or fashion,” will need to thread a very narrow intellectual needle. It all depends on how one defines systemic racism and critical race theory (CRT). I summarized CRT in this post. Here is a taste:

First, CRT affirms that racism is an “ordinary” or “common” part of everyday life. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice against people of color, it is a system of discrimination built into American institutions, especially the law.

Second, CRT affirms that since White people benefit from such systemic racism, they will not have the incentive to do anything about it. Shock events such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha might alert White people to racial injustice, but it is unlikely such tragedies will lead to a sustained anti-racism.

Third, CRT affirms that race is “socially constructed.” This means that the racial categories we use are not biologically determined but invented by human beings. There is nothing inherent about any race that should lead to its oppression. Racism is thus best explained by a close examination of American history to see how men and women in power “constructed” the idea of racial difference and promoted bigotry based on those differences.

Fourth, CRT affirms, to quote Delgado and Sefancic, that “no person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity.” For example, I am a male, white, a product of the American working class, and a Christian. These different identities are often mutually dependent on one another and when taken together make me a whole person. CRT uses the technical term “intersectionality” to define the way these different identities overlap and intersect.

Fifth, CRT affirms that Black people and other people of color “are able to communicate to their White counterparts matters that whites are unlikely to know.” At the heart of CRT is storytelling. This is the primary way that people of color can explain the racism that they encounter daily. It also implies that people of color are more equipped to talk about the plight of the racially oppressed than White people.

Which of these points do the Southern Baptist seminary presidents oppose?

Here’s another thought. Why are Southern Baptist seminary presidents and theologians willing to learn from non-Christians in other areas, but seem unwilling to learn from those unbelievers (and in many cases fellow believers) who write about race? For centuries Christian theologians have read “pagan” philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle and have integrated the thought of these pagans into Christian theological systems. In fact, one cannot understand the history of Christian theology without these ancient thinkers. (Thanks to historian Andrea Turpin who told me that Wheaton College theologian Esau McCaulley makes this case for Plato in his book Reading While Black).

We just interviewed Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn on The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. What she argues about Stoicism, Platonism, and other ancient moral philosophies in her book Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living can be very helpful to evangelical Christians. I am guessing that these seminary presidents would agree.

Next semester I am teaching Homer in a course for first year students. In the context of a Christian college we will read Homer critically, but I imagine there will be things that my students will find useful in Homer as they strive to practice their Christian faith.

I am sure most of these seminary presidents would agree with the phrase “all truth is God’s truth.” I linked to an Al Mohler interview above in which he talks about a variety of non-Christian or non-evangelical thinkers who have influenced him, including the sociologist Peter Berger. If Mohler and others do believe that truth can be found outside the Bible and the church then why do they reject CRT “in any form or fashion” (as I defined it above)?

In the end, this statement is another example of Southern Baptist anti-intellectualism and fundamentalism. When I call someone an anti-intellectual I am not saying that they can’t think. Rather, I am saying that they think in overly binary ways that lack nuance and complexity. As a friend wrote to me this morning, such anti-intellectualism results in fear–the fear of theological or intellectual others and the fear that acknowledging what is true about intellectual others will hurt them politically and lead to a loss of power.