Southern Baptists at odds over rejection of Critical Race Theory

Baptist leaders continue discussing how racial tensions should be addressed in the church. Cole Tompkins | Photographer

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

Members of the Southern Baptist Convention are continuing to have conversations about Critical Race Theory and intersectional theology after the convention reaffirmed its rejection of these interpretive frameworks. Pastors have begun to leave the SBC in response.

Though Baylor is a Baptist university, it is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (the BGCT plays a role in electing 25% of the Board of Regents), not the SBC. However, many churches throughout Texas and the rest of the country are members of or are affiliated with the SBC.

The SBC came out with a resolution in 2019, stating both intersectionality and Critical Race Theory contradict the Bible. The rejection of Critical Race Theory and intersectionality was reaffirmed in November 2020.

Critical Race Theory is the view that systems and institutions are built on racism; racism exists on both a person-to-person basis and is infiltrated into societal norms. It is a more and more popular framework that scholars and academics use to analyze texts, media and social structures within their respective fields.

“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 resolution said.

Intersectionality is used to identify multiple factors that contribute to discrimination against individuals who belong to multiple marginalized communities. The term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Columbia and UCLA law professor, in order to explain the different systems and identities that come together and lead to discrimination such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class and disability status among others.

“Scripture contains categories and principles by which to deal with racism, poverty, sexism, injustice, and abuse that are not rooted in secular ideologies,” the SBC resolution stated.

Senior Lecturer of Religion Dr. Derek Dodson said via email the SBC has not stated how Critical Race Theory and intersectionality contradict the Baptist Faith & Message and the Bible.

“Their statement has been criticized for not explaining how CRT is incompatible with the SBC’s statement of faith or the Bible,” Dodson wrote. “Subsequent comments from individual presidents stated that CRT originates from a secular, Marxist philosophy, and this is the reason it’s incompatible. But this is a logical fallacy and a red herring. It fails what is asked for: a demonstration and description of how CRT contradicts the Bible? They have not offered any verses and passages that seem in conflict with CRT.”

The 2019 resolution by the SBC said racism results from sin and is on an individual basis, not a structural level.

Dodson said the Bible recognizes sin as individual and collective.

“I don’t understand how one can believe in the ‘fallenness of humanity’ and not see how that ‘fallenness’ infects our human institutions and systems,” Dodson wrote. “Christians — and let’s be clear here, white Christians — should be thankful for CRT for revealing the nature and extent of the sin of racism. It should prompt white Christians to have a repentant heart and compel us to join in the good, redeeming work of justice and reconciliation.”

Director of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Baptist Studies Dr. Doug Weaver said the SBC’s belief of inerrancy in the Bible is what deters them away from secular tools.

“If you’re someone who doesn’t affirm inerrancy, you’re not trashing the Bible,” Weaver said. “You’re simply saying that the Bible is a book of theology, and it’s a book inspired by God … It is also authoritative for religious ideas. So if you found something in the Bible that wasn’t compatible with a scientific, documented thing out there, it wouldn’t bother you.”

Weaver said the SBC is implying that the only book that should be read by Christians is the Bible.

“It is naive and arrogant for someone to say that they’re not reading their scripture books within their historical context,” Weaver said. “Why can’t you learn about issues from lots of different sources? If you’re a good reader, you can evaluate that material in light of the Bible.”

Dr. Stephen Reid, George W. Truett Seminary faculty member and professor of Christian Scriptures, said even though Baylor has Baptist roots and is associated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Truett has academic freedom, and they use all “intellectual resources” to teach their seminary students.

“The Gospel has withstood all sorts of philosophical and sociological strategies, and so we don’t have a position on critical race theory and intersectionality,” Reid said. “I would say, rather, we have a desire to use those materials as they help us understand Christian theology and scripture.”

There are now many pastors who are leaving the SBC because they will not affirm Critical Race Theory and intersectionality, Weaver said.

Dwight McKissic, a pastor in Arlington, said he received the most “blatantly racist” letter in his life in response to his decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the letter sent to McKissic by John V. Rutledge “described Black people as ‘savages,’ and ‘Negroes’ who have ‘defiled and diminished’ all areas of life, including the church.”

Weaver said McKissic is very conservative in his scriptural interpretation, but he has still been outspoken on issues of how racism is viewed and handled in the Baptist church.

“People who are critical of Southern Baptists, whether they are white like me, or Black like McKissic, say that Southern Baptists seem afraid to talk about social justice and seem afraid to acknowledge that racism is a systemic problem,” Weaver said. “It’s not just individual — it’s a system problem.”

The Southern Baptist Convention’s media relations were reached out to for comment, but did not respond after repeated attempts.