Fred Luter, the Southern Baptist Convention’s first and only black president, along with current leader J.D. Greear have joined a growing chorus of dissent over a statement from the denomination’s Council of Seminary Presidents denouncing racism and critical race theory.
Luter joined scores of Southern Baptists in endorsing A Statement on Justice, Repentance, and the SBC, which argues 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.
“Further, we stand firmly in opposition to any movement in the SBC that seeks to distract from racial reconciliation through the gospel and that denies the reality of systemic injustice. To deny systemic injustice would be to ignore the effects that sin has on both individuals, societies, and institutions.
“We believe God is calling us to repentance as individuals and as a convention of churches, but our hearts have grown cold to His call, continuing to fight for money, institutions, and influence.”
The statement comes as prominent black pastors, including the Rev. Ralph West, founder and senior pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas, and most recently Charlie Dates of Chicago’s Progressive Baptist Church, publicly announced decisions to cut ties with the SBC over the position of the seminary presidents.
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 condemn “racism in any form” while also rejecting CRT as incompatible with their faith.
“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.
The SBC defines critical race theory as a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society. Intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience.
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 The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are all members of the council.
Mohler pointedly argued that advocacy based on views like CRT and intersectionality “has no rightful place within an SBC seminary.”
Marshal Ausberry, head of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, expressed his disappointment with the position of the seminary presidents and said he expects to meet with them soon to “discuss our concerns.”
In an op-ed published by RNS Friday, Dates, who said that his church only partnered with the SBC in recent years in a “dual affiliation,” explained that older adult members of his church had initially resisted the partnership but he promised them, “that was the old Southern Baptists.”
He humbly accepts now that he was wrong.
“Conservatism is, and has always been, the god of the SBC. To them, a belief in a high view of Scripture must mean an adaptation of Republican politics and, with it, the dismissal of critical race theory and intersectionality because of a fear of ‘liberalism.’ That said, our church has just as high a view (if not higher) of Scripture as any SBC church, but theirs is an inconsistent epistemology. They are selectively conservative,” he argued.
“But what is ‘liberal’ in the history of American Christianity? What is liberalism to the conservative Southern Baptists? I’ll tell you: abolition, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, a Black U.S. president who was initially against partial-birth abortion, non-white male faculty at their seminaries and now a theory that uncovers our nation’s de jure and de facto segregation,” he wrote in explaining his decision.
“As for me and the Progressive Baptist Church, I keep hearing the words of Harriet Tubman: ‘We out.’ The hard reality of the seminary presidents’ statement is that Black people will never gain full equality in the Southern Baptist Convention. My acknowledgement of this is not a statement of submission, but an act of defiance,” he added. “The SBC’s power structure wants to maintain white dominance. They are happy to have a Black chapel speaker, the occasional conservative Black professor whose classes are not taken seriously or a Black employee who never bucks against their notions of superiority.”
Dates further argued that there is a need for a more diverse and relevant Christian collective because “none of our denominations, Black or white, are as relevant and biblically prophetic as our present age requires.”
“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.”