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Are critical race theory and intersectionality (CRT/I) the kind of “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition,” that Colossians 2:8 warns us about? Or are they useful secular tools by which we can explain Biblical principles, akin to Paul quoting pagan teachers to reason with the Epicureans?
That’s the question at the heart of a fraught debate within the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. It’s also the subject of a new documentary from Founders Ministries, By What Standard?.
The film begins with the vote on a controversial resolution at the 2019 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Resolution 9 passed, so the SBC adopted CRT/I as “analytical tools [that] can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences.”
In the first moments of By What Standard?, we see pastor and president of the doctrinally conservative Founders Ministries, Tom Ascol, slump in defeat outside the convention hall. “What happened?” the cameraman asks. “I’ll tell you what happened,” Ascol sighs. “We’ve been played, that’s what happened.”
From there, the film fills in context for what critical race theory and intersectionality are, arguing all Christians should mourn their introduction into the Southern Baptist toolbox.
Ascol told me he and his team originally intended to produce an update and response to the well-known 1997 PBS documentary Battle for the Minds, about feminism in the SBC. But in their last half-hour of shooting, Resolution 9 came to the floor. It ironically illustrated Founders’ thesis that forces within the Church are using legitimate dialogue about racial division and sexual abuse to move it in a liberal direction, undermining its work and witness.
Despite persuasive interviews with theologians and academics, less time hearing opinions and more time investigating what happened behind the scenes with Resolution 9 would better serve the film’s audience.
As the film successfully demonstrates, CRT/I touches on the most hotly contested topics in our culture, including white privilege, LGBT identity, and feminism. Their adoption by a denomination so traditionally minded as the SBC proves all Christians need to grapple with how the Bible expects us to respond.
Despite persuasive interviews with theologians and academics, less time hearing opinions and more time investigating what happened behind the scenes with Resolution 9 would better serve the film’s audience. How did a resolution that went into committee with language condemning the use of CRT/I come out tacitly endorsing them as a lens through which to view sin?
Tracking that development would likely have given greater insight into the methods and motives of those that Founders wants to warn other believers about.
By What Standard? is most effective when it allows those arguing for more liberal doctrine to speak for themselves, as when Beth Moore links long-established beliefs about women preaching to sexual abuse within the SBC.
It seems a pretty far bridge to argue that believing the pulpit is reserved for men—a position endorsed by countless pastors and theologians never embroiled in an abuse scandal—is responsible for abuse. So when the film cuts to Al Mohler pointing out that having plenty of women in powerful positions didn’t prevent abuse in Hollywood or in the media, a pithy line, not a lecture, makes his point. (Editor’s Note: Al Mohler is a WORLD board member.)
Even those who aren’t inclined to agree with Founders Ministries—and judging from the uproar that ensued after a controversial trailer ran last July, that’s plenty of people—can benefit from viewing By What Standard?. Because, as the American church at large will likely soon discover, this is only the beginning of the conversation.
—This story has been updated to show that Al Mohler is a WORLD board member.