The presidents of the six Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminaries released a joint statement in late November dismissing critical race theory (CRT) as incompatible with their understanding of the gospel and the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention Faith and Message.
CRT is an academic framework used to explain how social, legal, political and economic systems have been used to help certain people groups in America while simultaneously hindering others.
Their primary pushback against the theory is that Marxism is part of its foundation, thus making it atheistic.
Aside from the irony of six white seminary presidents dismissing an academic theory that seeks to hold white leaders accountable when they make decisions related to their relationships with people of color without input from those people of color, the joint statement further brings into focus the disconnect between white evangelical Christians and Christians of color.
For example, the statement says that CRT has become an issue in the larger world only in the past two years (2018-20). Ironically, that timeframe coincides with a greater push for addressing the national concerns of people of color, especially those related to their relationships with law enforcement, lending institutions and so on.
Evangelical denominations, like the SBC, fail to recognize their thoughts about theology and culture in many ways stand in direct opposition to the lived experiences of the people they say they want to be in relationship with.
Many people of color believe the social, legal, political and economic systems in America have been used to keep them at a disadvantage.
By contrast, many evangelicals believe that a person’s life turns out the way it does due to personal decisions made over time. Each person is solely responsible for how their lives turn out.
The following are four additional general characteristics of 21st-century evangelical culture:
- Individualism – Evangelicalism emphasizes a “personal relationship” with Jesus through intellectual faith. One of the challenges inherent in this is the idea that the outcomes a person experiences are the results of personal action.
- Anti-intellectualism – The assumption that critical thinking hinders the gospel message of personal salvation, which can result in a tendency to simplify any argument down to aspects of a person’s personal salvation, rather than engaging in careful reflection to understand underlying issues more fully, such as historic classism and racism.
- Anti-structuralism – Evangelicals often emphasize personal accountability at the expense of understanding structural effects. This leads to thinking that whatever may be wrong in a person’s life is due solely to personal responsibility, and legal, institutional or political patterns do not have an effect.
- Biblically based economic freedom – Evangelicals typically believe the Bible teaches personal responsibility as it relates to economic circumstances. They believe that individual actions carry the greatest influence on a person’s economic status.
One of the problems with this mode of thinking is the tendency to over-spiritualize most life circumstances in such a way that, even when the Gospels clearly show Jesus challenging his followers to understand and combat the systems that fostered discrimination, those passages become spiritualized or overlooked.
Instead of following Jesus’ example of pushing back against the systems that separate people into hierarchies based on race and gender, some evangelicals condemn efforts, like CRT, that seek to do it.
This line of thinking does not enable or encourage people to see the big pictures of structural racism, sexism, classism, other historic intentional inequalities and the effects each has on participants within our society.
How could it if you believe that everything a person has experienced in life is based on personal action or inaction?
I am not saying this type of thinking makes evangelicals or the SBC seminary presidents bad per se. But it does hinder them from understanding the experiences of people whose lives are vastly different from their own.
Unfortunately, understanding others does not seem to be one of the primary concerns of U.S. evangelicals or the SBC.
Instead, it seems like the concerns are for people to affirm a system that does not want to be challenged to think more critically about itself or those it says it wants to be in relationship with.
A pastor, author and educator living in St. Louis, Missouri, he is the author of several books, including The Gospel According to Broadway and Taking Apart Bootstrap Theology: Gospel of Generosity and Justice.