Outgoing Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear warned the largest Protestant denomination in the United States against being Pharisee-like hypocrites on issues pertaining to sexual abuse, racism and how they handle critical race theory.
More than 15,000 Southern Baptists came to Nashville, Tennessee, for the SBC’s annual meeting, held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Music City Center.
The annual meeting has garnered extensive attention from those outside of the SBC due to issues like the debate over critical race theory, traditional gender roles, and complementarian theology taking center stage.
At his final address as president of the SBC, given Tuesday afternoon, Greear focused his remarks on Matthew 23, in which Jesus warned His disciples against the hypocrisy, or leaven, of the Pharisees.
While speaking positively of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, stating that “the curse of liberalism is real,” he added that “Jesus warned that there is more than one way to lose the Gospel.”
“There was another,” said Greear. “A leaven Jesus warned about also, perhaps one even more deceptive than liberalism, He called it the leaven of the Pharisees.”
“What is most dangerous about this leaven is that it grows in the soil of orthodoxy.”
Greear warned that Pharisee tendencies threaten the SBC, such as focusing “on the more minute parts of the law while ignoring the weightier parts,” and gave examples of how he believed that looked in the modern day.
“Might look like any institution that creates unnecessary obstacles for victims of sexual abuse to seek justice by hiding behind legal smokescreens or [non-disclosure agreements],” continued Greear.
“It looks like a convention that polices itself rigorously on complementarian issues, but allows female abuse victims to be mistreated and maligned. It looks like an SBC that expends more energy decrying things like CRT than they have done lamenting the devastating consequences of years of racial bigotry and discrimination.”
While Greear stressed that he is opposed to CRT, saying it stems from a belief system “at odds with the Gospel,” he added that denouncing it falls “on deaf ears when we remain silent on the suffering of our neighbors.”
“We must make certain that our zeal to clarify what we think about CRT is accompanied by a pledge to fight with them against all forms of discrimination. To make clear that we stand with our brothers and sisters of color in their suffering,” he said.
The outgoing president stressed the importance of racial minorities in the growth of SBC, getting a lengthy applause after he told them from the stage that “we need you.”
Greear went on to express concern that “political calculus” might be elevated to “divine authority,” declaring that “whenever the church gets in bed with politics, the church gets pregnant. And the offspring does not look like our Father in Heaven.”
His remarks were on the first day of the SBC's Annual Meeting, in which over 15,000 messengers attended to determine resolutions and hear reports for the Convention.
CRT proponents trace their origins to the 1970s, as civil rights activists at the time responded to what they viewed as a backlash to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
According to University of Alabama professor Richard Delgado and his colleague Jean Stefancic, who co-wrote the book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, CRT is defined as a “movement” comprised of “activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.”
“The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious,” wrote Delgado and Stefancic.
“Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”
Critics of CRT have long warned of its ties to Marxist critical theory. Opponents have noted that the ideology uses Marxist tactics of “class struggle” to divide people among race, gender and ethnicity. Some have argued that the CRT wrongfully vilifies the United States and its history, as well as stoking its own racially-charged vitriol.
Last year, The Council of Seminary Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention released a statement denouncing racism and CRT as both being incompatible with Baptist beliefs.
Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said in comments released with the statement that CRT “has no rightful place within an SBC seminary.”
“Instructed by the Bible and motivated by the Gospel, we are called to stand together in opposing the sin of racism. We must make clear that racism has no rightful place within the SBC, our churches, or our entities,” stated Mohler at the time.
“We are not to be guided by secular ideologies, but by the Word of God alone and in the love of Christ. I believe that Southern Baptists are up to this task.”