Critical Race Theory and the Southern Baptist Convention

On June 16 and 17, 2021, some 16,000 messengers from thousands of Southern Baptist churches across America gathered for a contentious annual meeting in Nashville, TN. It was a convention of half-measures, determined not to create divisions among its member churches and to present a favorable face to a watching press. The topic on everyone’s mind was critical race theory.


A Quick Definition


Critical Race Theory (hereafter CRT) is an analysis of the history and culture of the United States through the lens of race, specifically of how the white race has perpetrated a racist white supremacist culture in order to obtain and sustain power while at the same time keeping power away from minority groups, particularly African Americans. CRT teaches that all of the institutions of American culture are systemically racist. Following its Marxist roots, in the same way Marxism divides society into socio-economic groups of owners and workers, CRT divides American society into categories of the oppressors and the oppressed. 


One important aspect of understanding CRT is the definition of “whiteness.” Whiteness is not only skin color, but traits of white culture which include such things as an emphasis upon individualism, the nuclear family, time schedules, and Christianity.  When these traits of “whiteness” becomes the prominent culture in society, the result is “white supremacy.” The goal of CRT is to overthrow the systemically “white” culture which currently exists and replace it with one marked by justice and equity.


The Background to SBC 2021


There were other pressing issues that provided several undercurrents to the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention such as sexual abuse, a leaked letter accusing leadership of racism, and women serving in pastoral roles. But I will speak only to the issue of Critical Race Theory.


Before the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham, AL, Rev. Stephen Feinstein from California, submitted a resolution to the Resolutions Committee entitled, On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. His original resolution clearly condemned CRT, stating, “[we] decry every philosophy or theology, including critical race theory and intersectionality, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, since they divide the people of Christ by defining fundamental identity as something other than our identity in Jesus Christ; . . . .” The resolution was submitted because there was a growing concern of CRT language and methodology being used in Southern Baptist seminaries.


The 2019 Resolutions Committee of the SBC accepted Rev. Feinstein’s resolution, but completely rewrote his resolution, turning into a document that states, “critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture.” The subtle  change gave tacit support and approval from the Convention for the use of CRT as a “tool” in Southern Baptist institutions. Rev. Feinstein’s resolution, rewritten by the Resolutions Committee and listed as Resolution Number 9, was approved by the messengers of the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention.


The reaction to the passing of Resolution 9 was immediate. The messengers who knew something of the dangers of CRT recognized the door that had been opened in the Convention and loud, public criticism of Resolution 9 began. Many, (if not most), of the messengers who had voted in favor of Resolution 9 were unfamiliar with the term “Critical Race Theory,” and therefore, did not understand what they were voting for. As in most Baptist business meetings, they trusted the committee bringing the motion. But once they learned the tenants of CRT, the opposition to the resolution increased. Founder’s Ministries, a reformed group of Southern Baptists, produced a controversial movie, By What Standard, which chronicled the vote on Resolution 9 at the 2019 SBC. While some felt the movie  unfairly portrayed the positions of some featured in the film, there is little doubt the movie added to the swell of controversy around the now infamous resolution.


For a year, Southern Baptists waited to readdress Resolution 9 at the next annual meeting. And then the pandemic struck. Public gatherings were canceled all across the globe, and the 2020 SBC annual meeting was among them. At the same time, the unrest in the cities in the summer of 2020 highlighted the issue of CRT. The canceled 2020 annual meeting only increased the felt pressure to address Resolution 9 and CRT.


In November of 2020, marking the 20th anniversary of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, under growing pressure to address CRT, the six seminary presidents of the six Southern Baptist seminaries issued a joint statement declaring that, “Critical Race Theory was incompatible with the Baptist Faith and Message.” The Presidents’ statement was met with mixed responses. Those who opposed CRT were thankful for the statement, but questioned why if the presidents were so settled against CRT, why was its methodology obviously being used in the seminaries? On the other hand, the statement was taken by several prominent black SBC congregations as an indication that the SBC was a racist denomination, and they removed their membership from the SBC. In January, a black pastor in Ohio, although not a part of the SBC, made national news by declaring all blacks should leave the SBC.


In the Spring of 2021, the issues surrounding CRT became focused for the upcoming June annual meeting. A resolution entitled, On the Incompatibility of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality with the Baptist Faith and Message, was submitted to the 2021 Resolutions Committee with a historically high of 1300 co-signers. This resolution clearly condemned CRT and referenced Resolution Number 9 by stating, we deny that any analytical tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences if those analytical tools are themselves rooted in worldviews incompatible with the Word of God . . . .”  At the same time, a number of black pastors threatened to leave the SBC if they did not like the “tone” of the annual meeting or if one of the two conservative candidates were elected as convention president. Under these clouds the 2021 SBC met in Nashville, TN.

 

What Happened at the 2021 SBC

 

If the 2021 SBC had a watch word, it was, “the world is watching.” This phrase was repeated several times by people from the podium, and it set the tone and direction of the meeting. The leadership of the convention had clearly determined that any public denunciation of CRT would cast the denomination as racist in the eyes of the press, and they did everything they could to keep the phrase “critical race theory” out of the official records of the meeting.

 

The resolution that had been submitted to the Resolutions Committee by the 1300 co-sponsors, On the Incompatibility of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality with the Baptist Faith and Message, was stalled in the committee and was not brought to the convention for a vote. The reason given was the Resolutions Committee produced its own resolution, Resolution 2: On the Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation, which they said addressed the same issue. In the committee’s resolution, the phrase, “that we reject any theory or worldview,” was used three times. This phrase was meant to replace direct mention of CRT. 


When messengers spoke against the vague language of the resolution, the chairman of the Resolutions Committee, James Merritt responded by stating, “I want to say this bluntly and plainly: If some people were as passionate about the gospel as they were critical race theory, we’d win this world to Christ tomorrow.” It was a clear signal from the podium that anyone who opposed CRT was guilty of taking emphasis away from the Gospel itself. Question was called on the discussion of Resolution 2 before the messengers had an opportunity to amend the resolution with more specific language.

 

Other attempts to bring up critical race theory, such as motions to resend Resolution 9 from the 2019 SBC or to withhold cooperative program funds from institutions that taught CRT, were ruled out of order.

 

The Aftermath of the 2021 SBC

 

The 2021 SBC ended without an overt, specific condemnation of CRT. The world was watching, and the world was confused about the official SBC stance toward CRT. CNN Commentator, Erin Burnett, while interviewing the new SBC president Ed Litton, asked him about some members of the SBC being upset that the SBC had affirmed CRT. Surprised by the question, president Litton assured Ms. Burnett that the SBC had not affirmed CRT at the annual meeting. Ms. Burnett, clearly confused by the president’s response, asked several more times what exactly the controversy was at the SBC then. The failure of the SBC to speak with a clear voice has left both the convention and the “watching world” confused about our stance, and more importantly, the danger of CRT.

 

In the weeks following the convention, there has been a lot of discussion about churches leaving the SBC. A week after the SBC, I was on a zoom meeting with over 120 pastors connected with G3 Ministries, a reformed-leaning ministry made up of mostly SBC pastors and churches, and most of them on the zoom meeting were favorable to leaving the convention. I hear the same is true among many of the pastors and churches who have a connection to Founder’s Ministries, a reformed group of Southern Baptists. Personally, I am old enough to remember the conservative resurgence in the SBC a generation ago. If we had all left back then, the SBC today would be theologically liberal, without a Gospel to share.

 

The state of the SBC today is perilous. I do not think CRT has taken over the institutions, nor do I think they are producing social justice warriors instead of Gospel ministers—yet. But like the city of Troy long ago, we gave permission for the Trojan horse of CRT to enter our institutions in 2019, and we failed to unequivocally throw it out in 2021. If 2021 remains our only response, things will not end well for the SBC. Like a growing cancer, unless we cut it out, it will metastasize and destroy the SBC.

 

The continued call at the 2021 SBC was , "we should unite around the Gospel." I completely agree. But the question remains; "what Gospel?" This is why CRT is so lethal. It changes the Gospel.

 

Why We Oppose Critical Race Theory

 

If one only listened to some seminary professors that hold CRT is a tool to be used to understand our culture, or hold to the definition of CRT that SBC president Ed Litton used when being interviewed by Erin Burnett, “it’s basically recognizing that people of our communities are created in the image of God,” then one would rightly ask, “what’s the big deal?” But CRT is far more sinister than those descriptions. There are three major reasons why Christians should fight to keep CRT out of their church and institutions.

 

First of all, CRT is a Marxist creation. It is racial Marxism. The old Marxism divided people by economics, but this new Marxism divides people by race and into two categories; oppressors and the oppressed. This fact is important because like the original Marxism, CRT is not designed to solve problems. The very purpose of CRT is to produce upheaval that will destroy the current culture and replace it with a new culture built around the CRT version of justice. Those who want to employ CRT as a “tool” or thinking that an acknowledgement of CRT will bring some sort of equity are intentionally bringing into their church or institution a philosophy that is specifically designed to destroy their church or institution. It is the height of spiritual malpractice to purposefully introduce something into your church whose purpose is to tear the church apart.

 

Secondly, CRT is wrong biblically. It proports a justice that doesn’t produce justice. There is no salvation, grace, or forgiveness in CRT. The best one can achieve is a life-long attempt to be an anti-racist. But still redemption never comes.  But most of all, its central tenant, that if the culture is racist, then the individual—no matter how innocent the individual may be—is guilty of racism, is disproved by the life of Jesus. A casual reading of the New Testament reveals a deeply racist society. The Jews hated the Samaritans and the Gentiles, and the feeling of both groups were mutual toward the Jews. If being a part of a racist society makes you a racist, then we must say our Lord Jesus was a racist.

 

Finally, CRT changes the Gospel. The Gospel is that we are sinners, and our great need is a savior. And God, because of His great love for us, takes our sin upon Himself and becomes our savior.  But not so in the Gospel of CRT. The Gospel of CRT is that we are oppressed and our great need is freedom from oppression. Instead of the biblical God-initiated, God-accomplished, and God-glorifying rescue of His people, CRT morphs the Gospel into man-initiated, man-accomplished series of social actions in the attempt to bring about a worldly justice that is impossible outside the Kingdom of God. Even if somehow CRT was able to bring about justice, the Gospel of CRT would leave people in their sins, under the wrath of God, and doomed to a Christless eternity. Churches or institutions which embrace CRT embrace a false Gospel. 

 

From school boards, to corporations, to the Pentagon, CRT has had a corrosive affect upon our nation. The Southern Baptist Convention has not been immune. Historically we are not a silent people. The hour has come for the people to speak. After all, the world is watching. And listening.