Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of six members of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council of Seminary Presidents, has defended the group’s statement on critical race theory and intersectionality, dismissing much of the criticism around it as emotional misunderstandings.
He also noted that the statement was supported by SBC President J.D. Greear as one that reflected “a biblical view of justice.”
“First, some criticisms of the CSP statement are simply based upon misunderstandings. The CSP statement has been treated by some like a Rorschach test, where ultimate meaning is determined by the subjective experience of the recipient, not by the objective exposition of the statement. A common refrain I have heard and read from critics has been, ‘In rejecting CRT/I, the CSP statement feels like a denial of systemic racism.’ I emphasize ‘feels like’ because those words are the crux of the criticism,” wrote Greenway, who also leads Scarborough College and teaches evangelism and apologetics, in an open letter to his academic community Tuesday.
“Feelings and sentiments are undeniably visceral, but not unimpeachably veridical. Specifically, the CSP statement not only did not deny systemic racism, but reaffirmed denominational condemnations of it,” he explained, calling out critics who, “among other things, asserted that we were reaffirming our commitment to whiteness, assumed that we are propagating fear to maintain control, announced that we are complicit with evil, and ascribed to us the pejorative label of theological architects of American slavery.”
“I want to make this point as charitably but honestly as I can: misconstruing the CSP statement’s rejection of CRT/I as being synonymous with or code for the SBC seminary presidents denying systemic racism is bearing false witness,” he said. “Furthermore, when feelings become all-consuming and paramount in determining courses of action irrespective of the facts contained in plain language, we commit the fallacy of eisegesis, or reading into texts meanings we feel or interpretations we want to impose.”
At their recent annual session, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the revised Baptist Faith & Message, Greenway and five other white members of the Council of Seminary Presidents voted to condemn “racism in any form” while also rejecting CRT as incompatible with their faith.
Critical race theory, as explained by Purdue University, is a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression. Through this framework, scholars seek to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice. Scholarship on the theory traces racism in America through the legacy of slavery, the civil rights movement and recent events. Intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience.
“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 declared.
The other seminary presidents, Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jason K. Allen of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jamie Dew of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Jeff Iorg of Gateway Theological Seminary, and Albert Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are all members of the council. Mohler stressed that advocacy based on views like CRT and intersectionality “has no rightful place within an SBC seminary.”
Fred Luter, the SBC’s first and only black president, along with Greear, have since joined a growing chorus of dissent over the statement from the Council of Seminary Presidents.
Luter endorsed A Statement on Justice, Repentance, and the SBC, which asserts that “the actions of some in the SBC appear to be more concerned with political maneuvering than working to present a vibrant, gospel-loving, racially and culturally diverse vision.”
“We stand with our brothers and sisters of the National African-American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention and their statement of December 11, 2020, affirming their acknowledgement of systemic racism and their admonition to proceed with prayer for ‘better understanding through our mutual love for Jesus Christ and one another,’” the statement, released Friday, said.
“I encourage all Great Commission Baptists to carefully and soberly consider these words. The SBC was founded with the unjust and ungodly assumptions about race, and even though we have acknowledged and repudiated these injustices, we recognize sin, being a reproach to any people, leaves a long tail of destruction,” he said.
“It corrupts our institutions and subtly shapes our perspectives in ways that deserve careful introspection and humble listening. Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. I, for one, remain committed to a posture of humility and leading from it as God enables me. I need my brothers and sisters of color in the body of Christ, and our witness is greatly diminished without each other,” Greear added.
Greenway charged, however, that Greear supported the statement when it was presented to him.
“As president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), I enthusiastically signed the CSP statement, and I was grateful to see words of support for it from our SBC President, J.D. Greear, who noted it represented Convention leaders affirming ‘our historic Baptist theological confessions’ as well as ‘a biblical view of justice,’ and adding his own voice to ‘declare that ideological frameworks like Critical Race Theory are incompatible with the BFM. The Gospel gives us a better answer,’” Greenway wrote.
Nevertheless, a number of black pastors have since begun cutting ties with the SBC over the statement, including the Rev. Ralph West, founder and senior pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas.
West revealed that he had been pursuing a Ph.D. at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and had been encouraging other ministers to do the same due to “President Adam Greenway’s invitation to return as a statement of good faith, that the seminary wanted to welcome me and many other Black ministers to contribute to its legacy.”
The Texas pastor said the statement from Greenway shattered that relationship, forcing him to make a decision to withdraw from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as part of his severing of ties with the denomination.
Greenway highlighted West’s decision about whether he was welcome there, along with concerns raised by another black student at the seminary, as the two reasons he decided to speak publicly on the controversy over the statement. He said he reached out to West about his concerns but they agreed that the needed conversation happened too late.
”I only learned about my fellow Southwesterner’s plans the same time the rest of the world did: when the Baptist Standard published it. But once I read it, I immediately called him, and two brothers in Christ had a wonderful time of conversation sharing hearts and minds with one another in candor and charity,” Greenway recalled of his talk with West. “As our call concluded, I told him that I hoped he would not follow through with any plans to withdraw from SWBTS or from the SBC. We mutually agreed it would have been better if our conversation would have occurred before rather than after the fact.”
Greenway also challenged the view that six white men making a statement concerning “racism and other related issues” is problematic because “without having ethnic representation in the room ... the only outcome can be from their life experience.”
“With the greatest of respect toward and love for those who have expressed this point of view, such a notion itself could be construed as consonant with the worldview framework of CRT/I, even if not the stated intention or expressed ideology of those making this specific criticism,” Greenway said.
“Theologically, neither the life experiences of the six seminary presidents nor anyone else in any segment or subset of Southern Baptist life has any direct relationship to or doctrinal bearing on the compatibility or incompatibility of BFM affirmation and CRT/I affirmation. The reason is straightforward enough: human experience neither determines nor falsifies biblical and theological truth,” he said.
“The Scriptures are the spectacles through which our own experiences must be evaluated, not the other way around. CRT/I is not a value-neutral collection of insights about the individual and collective experiences of African Americans and other ethnic minorities incapable of being correctly understood by Anglos; it is a comprehensive ideology that makes transcendent truth claims about creation, humanity, and the social order that stand in diametric opposition to the BFM,” he added. “Critiquing CRT/I is not about preserving “whiteness,” but rather pursuing righteousness and justice as God says …. [in -- Isaiah 1:16-18].”
Greenway said the statement on CRT and intersectionality was not politically motivated but had emerged organically out of a conversation at the recent annual meeting of the seminary presidents.
The presidents further noted in a statement to The Washington Post Tuesday that they had issued the statement because members had asked about critical race theory’s compatibility with the SBC’s faith statement.
“We regret that our statement inadvertently caused significant hurt among some black brothers and sisters,” the statement said, noting that seminary leaders will meet with Black SBC leaders in January. “This was never our intention or in our heart, even as we expressed our genuine concern about what we see as dangerous ideologies.”