Southern Baptists and Critical Race Theory

In this season of turning over a new leaf, e.g., starting a new year, in a significant surprise to me, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is again trying to shed some of its racist past.

The SBC is the world’s largest Baptist denomination, the largest Protestant, and the second-largest Christian denomination in the United States. Defending slavery SBC split off from other Baptists in 1844 and was the church of the South.

Currently acknowledging racism’s prominence, they want to use Critical Race Theory (CRT) as an up-to-date tool, or frame of reference, to address this ongoing problem.

CRT was developed in the 1ate 1980s, in part due to debates around race and legal theories and the permanence of racism. At its best Critical Race Theory overlaps with the ongoing development and understanding of racism as being systematically structured in American institutions’ operation.

In 2019 the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) passed a resolution to adopt and use CRT. The Resolution carefully states that CRT should be employed as an analytical tool and not an ideological replacement for Christian doctrine. Yet, this move has caused some significant disruptions in the denomination.

Six presidents of SBC seminaries issued a statement condemning the Resolution to use CRT.

One prominent African American pastor criticized the six presidents and asked a key question, “Why are SBC seminary presidents rejecting Critical Race Theory if they teach about Jesus and the prophets who denounced injustice?

A few churches have left the SBC over the issue, including a few prominent African American pastors. Interestingly, the SBC has been gaining a few black congregations in recent years; however, some have left the denomination, critical of SBC for not being more concerned and aggressive about addressing racism. On the other hand, a few other black pastors are leading the fight against using CRT.

Pastors and members of SBC object to the Resolution for various reasons. Some object to it out of hand because CRT is assumed to have some Marxist principles.

Others object to the characterization of white privilege and white supremacy as overriding cornerstones of American society.

But one inescapable issue is that many of these white Christians do not think that racism is a problem in this country. A 2019 study found that only 38 percent of white practicing Christians surveyed say the country “definitely” has a race problem, compared with 78 percent of black practicing Christians.

Yet many others object to CRT because the myth of individualism guides them. These people oppose the idea that American culture is baked in white supremacy and racism and argue that personal feelings, hearts and minds, and individual responsibility should be relied on more—even to address racism. Of course, this is very weak and ineffectual.

One supportive argument for this position objects to the idea of corporate sin, meaning the sin of the group or the institution. Instead, they argue that the problem of racism lies within individuals who hate, belittle, or devalue those of different races. Consequentially, they see it as the Christian group’s job–SBC–to put “righteousness” in such individuals’ hearts and minds, have them love their neighbors, etc. These critics of the Resolution are in good company with this problematic argument as it is made all the time across America. But the simple fact is that we cannot change the racism in our institutions by addressing thoughts in someone’s mind. To curb racism, we must address racism.