Nashville, Tenn. | The presidents of six Southern Baptist seminaries and officers of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) met in January following weeks of tension over race relations and a statement released by the seminary presidents. The virtual conversation was convened by SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd after the seminary presidents declared Critical Race Theory (CRT) incompatible with The Baptist Faith and Message.
The statement said the controversial ideological framework on race would not be taught at Southern Baptist seminaries. African American leaders and others in the SBC said the presidents’ statement minimized the existence of systemic racism in the United States. They also expressed concern that no African American leaders were included in the discussion prior to the release of the statement.
Floyd called the meeting to “find a way forward” as several African American pastors announced their churches would leave the SBC, and there were indications that others might join them. “If we’re born again of the spirit of God and washed in the blood of Jesus, we’re family. There is no fellowship—no unity—apart from Christ,” Floyd told the group.
After the Jan. 6 meeting, the group acknowledged “conversations of this nature should have happened ahead of time,” and pledged their commitment to “listen to one another, speak honestly, and to honor our common commitment to the inerrant word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Marshal Ausberry, NAAF president and SBC first vice president, told The Baptist Standard of Texas the meeting was “very cordial.”
“The bottom line is that we are brothers in Christ, we are fellow Southern Baptists,” Ausberry said. “We do have more that we agree on than that which we differ on…We just happen to see, as a host of others have shared and have experienced, that there are some beneficial aspects to CRT, not as a worldview, but as a vehicle to identify systemic racism in institutions and organizations. Most of the time institutional and organizational racism is not willful, but unidentified and therefore unaddressed.”
Those ideologies “do not supplant, by any means, the supremacy of Holy Scripture,” Ausberry said on behalf of the NAAF. “And where such ideologies conflict with Scripture, it is Scripture that governs our worldview, our decisions, and our lives.”
“Some of the confusion comes from a lack of understanding, charged ‘red-meat’ words associated with CRT, and false allegations that there is a liberal shift in our seminaries,” Ausberry told the Baptist Standard. “I do not know of anyone in Southern Baptist life that fully embraces all aspects of CRT.”
In a Dec. 2020 letter to faculty at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, President Jamie Dew said the seminary presidents’ statement sought to answer “a countless number of questions” they’ve received over the last 18 months about where their institutions stand with CRT. The letter, published with his permission on the SBC Voices blog, also enumerated his concerns with the framework: “(1) CRT comes from a family of ideologies that deny the possibility of objective/universal truth claims, (2) CRT locates oppressive and destructive motives in one race of people as opposed to the whole of humanity, and (3) I fear CRT’s understanding of human nature has detrimental effects on important doctrinal affirmations.”
On Dec. 18, a multiethnic group of Southern Baptists, including former SBC President Fred Luter, who was the first African American elected to the post, and Alabama pastor Ed Litton, issued a related statement, acknowledging “recent events have left many brothers and sisters of color feeling betrayed and wondering if the [SBC] is committed to racial reconciliation.”
SBC President J.D. Greear, who previously had affirmed the presidents’ statement, apologized for how it hurt Black Southern Baptists.
“Our brothers and sisters of color absolutely should have been at the table—from the beginning—as we consider questions about what a gospel-based response to racism in our country looks like,” Greear said. “I apologize for how this whole situation has made many of our brothers and sisters feel. Your voices are important in shaping our shared future.”
In pursuit of understanding
IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams expressed support for efforts to bring the differing perspectives together. “Our common ground is the Bible, The Baptist Faith and Message, and the priority of the Great Commission, carried out with the heart of the Great Commandment,” Adams said. “On that common ground I’m confident that Illinois Baptists can speak with biblical unity and conviction against racism and injustice.
“Here in Illinois, we are planning an online Town Hall where some of our network leaders can discuss the current racial tensions in our nation, and how pastors can lead their churches with understanding and compassion through these times. After that we hope to facilitate more interactive, local conversations,” he said.
In Illinois, pastor Charlie Dates announced Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago would rescind its recent affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention over concerns about racism. The church remains a member of IBSA.
The controversy over Critical Race Theory began at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention, when messengers adopted a resolution stating that it and another framework, Intersectionality, “should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks.” Critics of the resolution have said both frameworks have roots in Marxism and should be given no consideration at all. Some had called for the resolution to be rescinded at the 2020 annual meeting, canceled due to COVID-19. The CRT issue appears likely to emerge at the June 2021 convention in Nashville.
– With reporting from Baptist Press, The Baptist Standard, and Illinois Baptist staff