A matter of Black lives: Southern Baptists' new race row

America’s largest protestant church, the Southern Baptists – which was founded to allow slaveholding by ministers, and which has apologised for its past racism – is facing a new race row. The strongly evangelical church has a membership of 14.5 million.

The presidents of the six Southern Baptist theological seminaries (Bible colleges) have issued a statement condemning “Critical Race Theory” (CRT). There has been a strong response from black pastors some of whom have resigned from the denomination.

CRT consists of a series of academic theories that say that institutional racism is embedded in a society’s dominant culture and institutions. It claims that power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy. It has strong roots in legal studies and progressive politics, and “intersectionality” – the idea that various systems of injustice are linked.

“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 and Message,” the seminary presidents statement read. (The “Faith and Message” is the Southern Baptist statement of faith.)

Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, told Religious News Service (RNS) that the theory was rooted in Marxism. Since Marxist theories are atheistic, Akin said, Southern Baptists must reject its underlying framework for understanding the world.

But the Seminary Presidents want to make it clear that while rejecting CRT, they stand against racism. “We want to be crystal clear that we oppose all forms of racism, personal and systemic,” Akin told RNS.

The president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, Marshal Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Virginia, and first vice president of the SBC, has issued a response.

“Let me say that first and foremost I and the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention hold most sacred and dear to our hearts the supremacy of Scripture.

“Second, we affirm the Baptist Faith and Message Guide as part of our being Southern Baptists.

“Third, we recognize that there are ideologies from a sociological and anthropological perspective that when used appropriately, help us to better understand the inner workings of living in a fallen and sinful world.

“Fourth, we affirm that all such ideologies do not supplant, by any means, the supremacy of Holy Scripture. And where such ideologies conflict with Scripture, it is Scripture that governs our worldview, our decisions, and our lives.

“We affirm that systemic racism exists, and like all Southern Baptists we oppose racism in all its forms. We do realize that there are theories and constructs that help us to see and discover otherwise undetected, systemic racism in institutions and in ourselves.”

Baptist Press interviewed Ausbery, who said, “Especially for those of us who have experienced the brunt of systemic racism in our daily lives, our seminary presidents are good men and they had good intent, but the optics of six anglo brothers meeting to discuss racism and other related issues without having ethnic representation in the room in 2020, at worst it looks like paternalism, at best insensitivity. The only outcome can be from their life experience, which really ignores the broader family of Southern Baptists.”

The seminary presidents and the National African American Fellowship plan to meet soon.

“As brothers in Christ, we of all people should be able to dialogue and resolve all of our concerns,” Ausberry said in his statement. A meeting is scheduled for early January.

A multi-ethnic group of Southern Baptists have issued a statement called “Justice, Repentance and the SBC“.

“… [W]e see attempts to downplay this historical reality. Many people deny the existence of systemic injustice as a reality. Many who recognize systemic injustices are labeled as ‘Marxists,’ ‘Liberals,’ and ‘Critical Race Theorists,’ even though they are theologically orthodox and believe in the total sufficiency of Scripture.”

A resolution passed at the 2019 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention attempted a balanced view of the issues around CRT. It firmly placed Scripture above any social theory.

“WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality have been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith, resulting in ideologies and methods that contradict Scripture; and

“WHEREAS, Evangelical scholars who affirm the authority and sufficiency of Scripture have employed selective insights from critical race theory and intersectionality to understand multifaceted social dynamics….”

“WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality alone are insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify, which result from sin, yet these analytical tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences; and

“WHEREAS, Scripture contains categories and principles by which to deal with racism, poverty, sexism, injustice, and abuse that are not rooted in secular ideologies…”

“RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, June 11–12, 2019, affirm Scripture as the first, last, and sufficient authority with regard to how the Church seeks to redress social ills, and we reject any conduct, creeds, and religious opinions which contradict Scripture; and be it further

“RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks….

“RESOLVED, That Southern Baptist churches and institutions repudiate the misuse of insights gained from critical race theory, intersectionality, and any unbiblical ideologies that can emerge from their use when absolutized as a worldview;…

“RESOLVED, That while we denounce the misuse of critical race theory and intersectionality, we do not deny that ethnic, gender, and cultural distinctions exist and are a gift from God that will give Him absolute glory when all humanity gathers around His throne in worship because of the redemption accomplished by our resurrected Lord…”