Evangelical scholars sign statement condemning racism as 'contrary to Scripture'

Norton-Hall, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Norton-Hall, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary | Courtesy of SBTS

Two dozen evangelical scholars have released a joint statement condemning racism as “contrary to the evangelical Gospel” and acknowledging the realities of racism that existed throughout evangelical history. 

The new “Evangelical Statement on the Gospel and Racism" was released Monday as nationwide protests continue in the wake of the killing of African American George Floyd in Minnesota and just days after the controversial killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Georgia, by a police officer. 

“Today’s situation requires more than a statement, but certainly no less than a statement,” the document reads. “As evangelical academic voices, we condemn racism as contrary to Scripture and to the evangelical gospel.”

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The statement originates from members of the Evangelical Theological Society’s executive committee, according to David Dockery, president of the International Alliance for Christian Education.

ETS was founded in 1949 and serves as a professional association of scholars, teachers, pastors and students dedicated to the written expression of theological thought and research.

The statement explains that while evangelical history includes “many positive voices for justice,” such as slave trade abolitionist William Wilberforce, the history also includes “negatively those who assimilated the values of their surrounding unjust culture.”

According to organizers, the effort’s mission is to “listen, mourn, speak, and act in accordance with the gospel in our own lives, in our institutions, in our churches, and in our communities.”

“As we grieved over recent events in our communities, we realized that although a statement is insufficient, it is necessary,” a website created to host the statement online, which went live on Monday, reads. “We are compelled to declare that the Gospel stands opposed to racism, and so, too, must people of the Gospel.”

The statement was signed by Evangelical Theological Society President and Asbury Theological Seminary Biblical Studies Professor Craig Keener, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Theology Professor Gregg Allison and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, who also serves as ETS president-elect and program chair.

SBC’s flagship seminary, SBTS in Louisville, Kentucky, released a report in 2018 detailing the school’s history of racism and past support for slavery.  At the time, Mohler called for the institution to “repent of our own sins” and offer “full lament” for the inherited legacy.

Other signatories include Paul W. Powell, the endowed chair in preaching at Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University; Vincent Bacote, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College; and Darrell Bock, a senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. 

As of Tuesday, over 150 people have signed on to the statement. 

The document declares that the Gospel calls on everyone to “come to God on the same terms” and “and become one body in Christ.”

“In reconciling, Jew and Gentile in Christ (Eph 2:16), surmounting a barrier that God himself once established, God in Christ summons us to surmount every barrier erected merely by human sinfulness,” the statement explains. 

“Scripture does not discriminate by color, and, on the most common understanding of Acts 8, the first Gentile convert may have been Black and from Africa.”

The statement adds that Jesus was, both by His example and His teaching, summoning Christians to “serve and love fellow believers to the point of laying down our lives for them” and “to love all our neighbors as ourselves.”

“This invites us to be swifter to listen to others than to speak (Eph 4:29; Jms 1:19), to mourn with those who suffer (Rom 12:15), and to join them in acting for justice on their behalf (Isa 1:17; Luke 11:42; Jms 1:27),” the statement concludes. 

According to Dockery, Keener did most of the “heavy lifting” when it came to creating the statement. However, he stressed that the rest of the signatories “offered suggestions and encouragement.”

“We believe the statement is timely and important, expressing our longing and hope for racial reconciliation in the church and in society,” Dockery, who also serves as chancellor of Trinity International University in Illinois, wrote in an email to The Christian Post. “We trust the statement will be helpful in that regard in the days to come.”

The new statement comes as several church bodies have issued statements on race in the U.S. in the last several weeks following the controversial deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and most recently, Brooks. 

Additionally, several well-known Christian pastors and speakers have participated in demonstrations following the death of Floyd. 

Two Sundays ago, Texas megachurch pastor Matt Chandler issued harsh words for the Church during his sermon. After the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Chandler argues that the Church has largely ”refused to participate” when it comes to speaking out about racial issues.

“[N]ow one of the things that has happened is the Church, by and large, has refused to participate, which means that we have turned over — God help us — we have turned over what is our inheritance to dark ideologies,” Chandler argued. 

“You don’t just preach the Gospel on sex trafficking. You don’t just preach the Gospel on the issue of life and abortion. No, you act,” Chandler added. “It’s like this brain-broke disjoint that’s got us acting absurd and then critiquing this [racial justice] movement as being evil and dark when we have given up our inheritance!”

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear recently called on the denomination to stop opening its annual meetings with a gavel that carries the name of John Broadus, a 19th-century Southern Baptist leader who was a slaveholder.

Greear’s North Carolina-based Summit Church recently released a statement lamenting the death of Arbery, a 25-year-old African American shot by a white man in Georgia while on a jog. 

“The fight for racial justice is one God himself began as far back as Genesis 12 when he promised to reunite the ethnically diverse and contentious world through Abraham,” the Summit Church Committee on Oneness and Reconciliation said. “It is a fight whose victory is promised in Scripture’s final chapters, where we see the multiethnic restoration of all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages (Revelation 7:9–10).  Most importantly, it is a fight made possible by the gospel: Racial reconciliation is an inevitable fruit of the gospel of reconciliation.”

The National Association of Evangelicals, a network with over 40,000 member churches worldwide, released a statement on May 29 lamenting “the recurring trauma experienced by African Americans.”

“We condemn racism and the violent abuse of power, call for justice for victims and their families, and exhort churches to combat attitudes and systems that perpetuate racism,” the NAE stressed. “We are grateful for law enforcement officers who honorably serve and protect our communities, and urge our members to uphold them in prayer.”

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