A statement from the Council of Seminary Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention denouncing racism and critical race theory as incompatible with their beliefs, has come under fire from some Christian academics. Prominent Dallas Pastor Tony Evans denied affirming it Wednesday.
“Members of the 2019 Resolution Committee of the SBC, without my awareness or permission, used my name in their recent Affirmation of Recent Statements from Christian Leaders on Critical Race Theory. Upon reading this affirmation, I need to state that their use of my name and what I said in a sermon titled Race & Reconciliation released on 11/15/20 needs clarification of what I fully said. They have referenced a portion without giving it the context of my sermon,” said Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and the first African American to earn a doctorate in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary.
“I have a great deal of respect for the SBC and the work that they do around the nation and the world, and this misunderstanding does not diminish that in any way,” he explained.
“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.”
Critical race theory, which has been a lightning rod for debate and division in evangelical circles in recent years, is defined as an ideological framework that some legal scholars argue interrogates the relationship between race, law, and power.
In September, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in which he classified CRT and related concepts like “white privilege” as “offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating” after previously directing federal agencies to stop teaching government workers about the concept in diversity training sessions.
At their recent annual session, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the revised Baptist Faith & Message, the Council of Seminary Presidents, which is comprised of six seminaries, voted to reject CRT as incompatible with their faith while condemning “racism in any form.”
“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 council said.
Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jason K. Allen of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jamie Dew of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Adam W. Greenway of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jeff Iorg of Gateway Theological Seminary, and Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are all members of the council.
Mohler argued that advocacy based on views like CRT and intersectionality “has no rightful place within an SBC seminary.”
John Fea, a distinguished professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, who has authored several works including Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction, called the statement from the council “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 lacks nuance and complexity,” he wrote in an op-ed posted on his website.
He noted that while there is evidence to suggest that many of the seminary presidents who signed the statement “actually do believe in systemic racism,” anyone who believes in systemic racism and rejects CRT “in any form or fashion” at the same time “will need to thread a very narrow intellectual needle.”
To make that claim successfully, Fea argued, citing Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, that it would all depend on how they define systemic racism and CRT.
He highlighted what CRT affirms: that racism is an “ordinary” or “common” part of everyday life and racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice against people of color but includes a system of discrimination built into American institutions, especially the law; since white people benefit from such systemic racism, they will not have the incentive to do anything about it; race is “socially constructed; no person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity;” and “Black people and other people of color ‘are able to communicate to their White counterparts matters that whites are unlikely to know.’”
Jemar Tisby, president of The Witness, a black Christian collective who is also author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, slammed the statement from the SBC seminary presidents as a “commitment to whiteness.”
“The Southern Baptist seminary presidents continue to affirm their commitment to whiteness by quashing any meaningful effort to address racism in their schools or denomination and making those who attempt to do so targets of criticism. Of course, they covered their backs by saying, ‘[w]e stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form.’ Still, such statements have all the hallmarks of what Martin Luther King Jr. called ‘pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities,’” Tisby wrote in a recent op-ed.
“The seminary presidents could have simply acknowledged the 20th anniversary of the Baptist Faith and Message’s adoption and stated that they remain dedicated to its doctrines. Instead, they focused on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality. By highlighting ‘Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory’ as particularly acute threats to Southern Baptist orthodoxy, the seminary presidents take aim at virtually anyone who advocates for racial justice beyond hugs, handshakes, and symbolic statements,” he explained.
The Rev. Kate Hanch, associate pastor of youth and families at First St. Charles United Methodist Church in Missouri who holds a Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, expressed her disappointment with the statement on Twitter.
“Of course the #sbc is going to deny critical race theory. The denomination began because of their support of slavery. Self-examination of one's own white supremacy, given the history, feels almost impossible. (I say this as someone ordained in CBF, which broke away from the SBC),” she wrote.
“This grieves me bc the SBC is still a large denomination, and I'm guessing most ppl denying CRT have never read it. Claims of orthodoxy/hierarchy supersede the call to repentance and change. It makes me so sad and angry. Where is the Holy Spirit's witness? Where is the Holy Spirit convicting, converting, changing?” she asked.
Hanch further noted that “we all use ‘secular’ theories & methodologies in engaging theology. Reformed people used the Scottish Common Sense Realism. The Apostle Paul used the Stoics. To solely claim one is ‘biblical’ and nothing else is inaccurate & disingenuous.”