A RECENT CONTROVERSY showcases why some black members say the SBC takes one step forward and two steps back when it comes to race relations. On Nov. 30, 2020, six SBC seminary presidents released a statement condemning critical race theory (CRT). The statement declared that CRT, intersectionality, and “any version of Critical Theory” are “incompatible with the Baptist Faith and Message.” In comments following the statement, the presidents acknowledged that “racism still exists” and opposed “the sin of racism.”
Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who initiated the statement, told me the seminary presidents decided to address CRT after receiving constant questions from Southern Baptists about it. (Mohler is a WORLD board member.) The statement doesn’t contain a clear definition of CRT or intersectionality, or what specifically is problematic about them. But Mohler, who’s running for SBC president this year, told me the presidents’ purpose was “not to issue a comprehensive analysis [of CRT] but a statement that would just signal and inform Southern Baptists that we’re not going to have Critical Race Theory taught in our seminaries.”
Legal theorists and activists in the 1970s developed CRT to attack laws and systems that they say perpetuate inequality. They looked at how once-lawful practices such as segregation and racial discrimination, though no longer legal, created residues that still affect people.
Others objected. Conservatives emphasized the positives in the American experience. Marxists saw economic class rather than race as the crucial divide, and feminists and LGBT leaders foused on sex. A new doctrine, intersectionality, emerged: It emphasizes multiple overlapping (or “intersecting”) identities—race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.—that may disadvantage people.
CRT is complicated, and some CRT scholars even disagree with one another on what it is and how to apply it. But it’s become a vortex sucking Biblical Christians into heated debates: Some Christians say CRT can be a useful tool in understanding long-persisting inequalities in society, so long as Christians don’t adopt it as an ideology or worldview. Others say CRT perpetuates some form of reverse racism against whites, is no help for Christians navigating race issues, and has links to Marxism and other ideologies that deemphasize personal responsibility.
On Jan. 20 a Stop Critical Race Theory coalition of law firms and legal foundations filed three lawsuits against public institutions conducting CRT programs, charging that they “perpetuate racial stereotypes, compel discriminatory speech, and create hostile work environments.” The coalition said CRT programs “violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the United States Constitution.”
The seminary presidents’ Nov. 30 statement contradicted the SBC’s Resolution 9, adopted in 2019, which described CRT and intersectionality as “insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of social ills” but also sees them as helpful in “evaluating a variety of human experiences” so long as they are “only employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks.”
Mohler said the presidents’ statement in November did not directly respond to Resolution 9, but “it’s certainly a part of the background.” Some Southern Baptist leaders are trying to rescind the resolution, saying it’s a sign of secular liberalism creeping into the denomination.