The debate over critical race theory in the Southern Baptist Convention (and beyond) is heating up

Who is afraid of critical race theory (CRT)? The Southern Baptist Convention is.

A denomination founded on racism, slavery, and white supremacy has become the center of opposition to a theory that helps us to better understand the consequences of racism, slavery and white supremacy in American life.

But the Southern Baptist Convention is not alone in this fight. Liberty University is also becoming a bastion of opposition to critical race theory. Liberty University is the evangelical school with a former president who wore a blackface COVID-19 mask that cost the school the support of African-American evangelical pastors and led to the voluntary departure of Black athletes , students, and employees.

These two institutions have chosen to pontificate about the dangers of critical race theory at a time of racial unrest in our nation. Instead of listening and learning in this moment, they felt the need to double-down.

Last week the presidents of the six Southern Baptist seminaries in the United States openly condemned CRT in “any form or fashion.” Dallas-area pastor and noted evangelical leader Tony Evans, who was quoted by the members of a 2019 Resolution Committee, offered a more nuanced take on CRT:

As I stated in my sermon, which I encourage everyone reading this to watch, I again affirm that the Bible must be the basis for analyzing any and all social, racial or political theories in order to identify what is legitimate or what is not legitimate. But I did not say, nor imply, that CRT or other ideologies lack beneficial aspects—rather that the Bible sits as the basis for determining that. I have long taught that racism, and its ongoing repercussions, are real and should be addressed intentionally, appropriately and based on the authority of God’s inerrant word.

J.D. Greear, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, endorsed the seminary presidents’ statement on CRT and then added a Twitter thread:

And then came a piece by a Nathan Skates of the Liberty University Falkirk Center. He praises the SBC seminary presidents and other critics of CRT and then decides to take a shot at Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism and this recent piece. Skates writes:

Meanwhile, Jemar Tisby, president of The Witness, a black Christian collective that has advocated for CRT as a means to achieve racial justice and reconciliation, wrote that the Council’s statement showed their commitment to “whiteness.” He stated that the Council “ostensibly met to recommit to their guiding statement: the Baptist Faith and Message. In reality, these seminary presidents reaffirmed and gave themselves over to another historic Southern Baptist commitment: whiteness.”

Tisby went on to criticize the Council’s lack of action on racial issues and defended CRT. Tisby stated that the real threat to the Church is “Christian nationalism,” claiming that America is “not so exceptional” and lobbed charges of racism at evangelicals who support the Republican party.

This author would like to add that if America were not exceptional and were indeed irredeemably and systemically racist, Tisby would not be able to have achieved such success nor be allowed to make such claims without consequence.

I don’t know anything about Nathan Skates, but it doesn’t surprise me Liberty, an evangelical university, would publish such a loaded and ignorant statement like the last paragraph in the above excerpt. Let’s remember that not all Christian universities are the same.

A few final thoughts:

Evangelical Christians adopt all kinds of “theories” without accepting them in total. For example, “pagan” philosophers like Plato and Aristotle have informed the history of Christian theology at every turn. The evangelical “church growth” movement and most evangelical megachurches have embraced secular business theories. American evangelicals drink deeply from the wells of the Enlightenment, especially economic (capitalism) and political liberalism and self-improvement. There is nothing in the Bible about wearing masks, but many evangelicals wear them because they believe in science. Christian counseling owes a huge debt of gratitude to secular psychology (unless, of course, you come from the nouthetic school of counseling).

So why do evangelicals try to “integrate faith and learning” when it comes to ancient philosophy, psychology, economic and political theory, and science, but refuse to do so when it comes to race? I am asking this question to the SBC seminary presidents, Liberty University, and J.D. Greaar.

Do Southern Baptist schools teach secular ideas for the sole purpose of showing their evil origins–a kind of “know your enemy” approach to education? Is there nothing we can learn from human beings who do not share our theology? What happened to “all truth is God’s truth.” This is why I called the SBC presidents’ statement “anti-intellectual.”

What do we mean by critical race theory? I have now defined it in several posts, but I will define its basic tenets one more time for those who may have missed the previous posts:

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?