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?

The court evangelicals and hotel Trump

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reveals all the court evangelicals who have stayed at the $650 a night Trump hotel in Washington D.C. Here is a taste:

Jerry Falwell Jr., former president of Liberty University, said he stayed there for a gala for the opening of the Museum of the Bible in 2017 and has eaten in the lobby’s restaurant several times because he is fond of seafood as well as the establishment’s owner. “It’s like supporting a friend,” said Falwell, who was one of Trump’s earliest supporters. When he was president of Liberty, the university would pay for his travel, he said. “It’s not like they’re giving us better rates. We pay full price.”

Robert Jeffress, who is pastor of First Baptist Church, a prominent Southern Baptist Church in Dallas, said he has stayed at the hotel about a dozen times since it opened and gets a discount because he is a regular customer. He said his choice of hotel, which his church pays for, has nothing to do with his support for the president and comes down to one factor: Its proximity to the White House. “It’s ridiculous to think that the president could be swayed … by where guests stay,” he said.

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stayed in the hotel for one night in August 2018 when he was in town for a White House dinner for religious leaders, a trip that was paid for by his North Carolina church The Summit. Greear’s spokesman Todd Unzicker said Greear had booked an Airbnb but decided to switch to the Trump hotel because he could meet with other pastors staying there, and because he thought it had a good space to record a video for his ministry. “It’s like the convention hotel,” Unzicker said. “It’s convenient.”

Read the entire piece here.

Southern Baptist Convention President: “I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel”

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Source: SBC This Week

I can’t remember if it was in college or divinity school, but somewhere along the way my professor assigned John A. Broadus‘s book On the Preparation and Delivery of SermonsI don’t remember anything about the book and I did not know that Broadus was a significant figure in Southern Baptist history and a slaveholder.

Well, it looks like the Southern Baptist Convention named a gavel after John Broadus. Current SBC president J.D. Greaar wants to retire it. Here is Sarah Pulliam Bailey at The Washington Post:

J.D. Greear, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, on Wednesday called for the retirement of a gavel that carries the name of a 19th-century Southern Baptist leader who was a slaveholder and led the convention in support of the Confederacy.

Greear said that he was “deeply conflicted” last year when he was handed the gavel named after John Broadus, who was the second president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the SBC’s flagship seminary. The SBC’s annual meeting, which takes place in a different city every year, was held in 2019 in Birmingham, Ala., the city where several significant events took place during the civil rights movement.

“Southern Baptists, I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel,” Greear wrote in a forthcoming piece in the Baptist Press that was shared with The Washington Post. “While we do not want to, nor could we, erase our history, it is time for this gavel to go back into the display case at the Executive Committee offices.”

The decision comes amid nationwide protests around racial injustice that has led to the removal of Confederate statues and symbols, which have been challenged for years. A spokesman for Greear said the gavel is the SBC’s version of a Confederate monument and that Greear did not realize that he had the option to choose another gavel.

The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and was founded in 1845 in defense of missionaries who owned slaves. The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have elicited widespread condemnation by Southern Baptists.

Greear will preside over one more annual meeting and will get to pick the gavel next year for SBC business. He wrote that he might consider using a gavel representing Annie Armstrong, a pioneer advocate for missions who fought to send the first female African American missionaries. He also might consider the Judson gavel, named after Adoniram Judson, was one of the first missionaries to travel to Myanmar, then known as Burma.

Read the entire post here.

The President of the Southern Baptist Convention Writes a Sympathetic 1619 Tweet and Catches Hell for It

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J.D Greear, the 62nd president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is trying to make the denomination more sensitive to race and the SBC’s long connection to slavery.  It looks like he has his work cut out for him.

On August 19, Greear wrote 3 tweets:

And then all hell broke loose: