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The SBC’s Battle Royale Over Critical Race Theory (CRT)

The SBC’s Battle Royale Over Critical Race Theory (CRT) December 20, 2020

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, I showed you a sordid history: the entrenched, systemic racism of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). As one might expect, the top leaders of the SBC are dealing with the fallout of their past in different ways — all to gain power at their frenemies‘ expense. And one surprising player has moved to try to take center stage away from their current Dear Leader. Today, let me show you this ailing denomination’s newest Battle Royale — over Critical Race Theory (CRT), human rights, and just how much SBC leaders should pretend to care about anything or anybody but themselves.

skeksis represents al mohler shh pass it on
(GabboT, CC BY-SA 2.0.) What? It’s just an incredible Skeksis cosplay from The Dark Crystal. Nothing to see here. This image definitely doesn’t symbolize Al Mohler or any other leaders of the SBC. Ceci n’est pas un skeksis.

Resolution 9: A Battle Begins in Earnest.

Last year, the SBC passed Resolution 9, which officially denounced Critical Race Theory (CRT). However, this resolution also declared that the ideas of CRT could conceivably be used “as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture.”

Wait, what???

The resolution also decided that the denomination’s leaders would be allowed to “carefully analyze how the information gleaned from these tools are employed to address social dynamics.” At the same time, the resolution’s writers warned, churches and “institutions” (read: seminaries) needed to be super-careful not to “misuse” any “insights gained” from CRT. They do not define “misuse,” but the word clearly means getting too pushy and wanting changes the top leaders don’t approve.

In every way imaginable, Resolution 9 is a bewildering mess.

What it pretends to give with one hand, it more than takes away with the other. It provides no guidelines whatsoever for knowing what a “misuse” of “insights” might look like, nor how to handle racist SBC leaders who despise change almost as much as they hate human rights in general. It really looks like a Junior Chemist instruction manual from the 1950s, except nothing explosive could ever come from this over-cautious mishmash.

The whole resolution came about only because the SBC’s leaders are getting a whole lot of negative press for their racism. It’s an exercise in appeasing anti-racists while maintaining status quo. I’m sure J.D. Greear, the SBC president, was thrilled with its wishy-washy flip-flopping.

All the same, the traditionalist faction went just haywire bananapants furious about it. Two opposing factions began to coalesce around the issue of racism and how to handle it. 

Keeping the Money and Power Trains Running.

Every time a fresh new scandal erupts from their leadership ranks, the SBC’s top leaders swing into action — to unruffle the flocks’ feathers enough to keep them tithing and parking their butts in pews. (BIPs are, in my opinion, a good measure of churches’ effectiveness and social dominance.)

The SBC’s leaders neither care about nor can even perceive the big picture. What they care about and perceive are the short-term effects of their damage-control efforts.

They know their denomination is like a yacht that’s hit an iceberg and is sinking quickly.

Right now, their goal is to grab as much as they can from the yacht’s staterooms before it sinks forever beneath the waves.

One day, the money-and-power train will stop running. The SBC’s leaders will reach to grab money and power, and find themselves flailing at the air.

But that day is not today.

Not yet.

The Major Players.

As we discuss the two main factions in this Battle Royale, be aware that neither one actually wants to dismantle the SBC’s entrenched racism and white privilege. One side’s just more obvious about that fact than the other, that’s all. Their only differences involve how they present themselves to SBC flocks.

In this corner, the newfangled Calvinist/Reformed faction. They’re younger, sassier, and more energetic than the people in the other faction. They want to feel like they’re accomplishing things and creating positive changes in their denomination.

Of course, they’re still absolutely, positively on board with the culture wars, along with all of the cruelty and bigotry that the culture wars entail. But they think there’s a kinder, gentler way to achieve their totalitarian political goals than what their opponents suggest.

J.D. Greear leads this faction. We’ll talk about his faction next time.

In the other corner, the old-fashioned fuddy-duddy Arminian/Traditionalist faction. They call themselves traditional because Arminian sounds weird and not everyone knows what the word means. (See footnote.) But they’re traditional in a lot of other senses. When you think of frothing-at-the-mouth, ultra-politicized fundagelicals, these are the folks you’re picturing. They’ve never met an extremist conservative stance they didn’t love on sight and embrace, and they bitterly, deeply resent any changes at all to their political or doctrinal stances. Of the culture wars, they’re a lot more gung-ho on supporting Israel than their opponents. Otherwise, the factions are more or less identical.

Al Mohler seems to be reaching for the leader’s sceptre for this faction.

This is where we’ll hang out today.

Wait, Al Mohler?

We’ve talked about Al Mohler off and on for a while.

He’s a traditionalist’s traditionalist, as Old Guard as it really gets for his comparatively younger age. He leaped right on board with the Conservative Resurgence (a hostile takeover of the SBC by ultra-conservative, ultra-politicized wingnuts back in the 1970s-1990s). In return for his fealty, the denomination’s Dear Leaders rewarded him lavishly: they gave him the plum leadership role at one of their seminaries, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He’s been there for a while now, but he’s also been branching out into making denominational-leadership noises. Lately, those noises have sounded a lot like him carefully criticizing the upstart Calvinist/Reformed faction’s pretenses of progress.

Shortly after Resolution 9 passed, Al Mohler zipped to the forefront to whine and complain about CRT. One can see why it’d bother him so — and that root cause has nothing to do with his stated issues with but but but MUH MARXISM, MUH IDENTITY POLITICS. 

(Because obviously, Al Mohler wouldn’t ever participate in identity politics. Nope, never, not him! He’d never make politicking around his identity as a totalitarian fascist Jesus-LARPing bigot any kind of big deal. And he definitely wouldn’t make identity politics a major part of his Briefings. Nope.)

To be fair, CRT is an academic discipline for the most part. Educational and academic facilities (and those pretending to be so), therefore, are its natural home.

So Al Mohler likely felt like his fiefdom had been invaded by an interloper threatening to destroy his hard-won power! Heck, Resolution 9 might as well have opened the floodgates to all of his most-hated culture-war opponents.

Circling Each Other in the CRT Ring.

Of course, Al Mohler wasn’t the only ultraconservative Old Guard Southern Baptist who felt that way. Faction lines began forming almost immediately.

In November 2019, John MacArthur participated in a hilariously-misnamed conference called “Truth Matters.” At this conference, he spent his valuable speaking time complaining about CRT. He cried crocodile tears as well about what he saw as “a sign of ‘liberalism’ taking over the SBC.” Seriously, that story is absolutely comedy gold. He whined about how liberal the SBC was getting and how they’d “decide[d] to let the culture interpret the Scripture.” Obviously, he’d never do that if he ran the SBC.

In January 2020, some ultraconservative fundie group released a documentary criticizing Resolution 9. Its landing page asks: “How do we wield the sword?” (Hoo boy.) They predictably condemn CRT as “a godless ideolog[y].” Interestingly, though, the page features a pull-quote from one of the original Conservative Resurgence guys, Mark Coppenger, hinting that he’s sad that the hijacking of the SBC didn’t go nearly far enough.

Remember, all of these Christian leaders are sniping at each other.

They’re all trying to imply that their enemies are seriously wrong about how they Jesus. Theoretically, Jesus appointed all of them to their positions. But somehow, he’s utterly failed to keep them Jesus-ing correctly. Gosh, so much for Jesus’ prayer about the unity of his followers.

Faction Lines in the CRT Battle.

Then, in March of this year, Craig Vincent Mitchell, a Black graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and now a Creationist culture warrior, laid down explicit faction lines in a speech he gave to a religious private school. In that speech, Mitchell accused Al Mohler of supporting CRT because three of the professors working at his seminary taught its ideas to students. The link tells us:

Mitchell said he is not aware of anyone at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary teaching such views.

Jamie Dew is the new president,” he said. “I’ve known Jamie for years. I don’t think Jamie would go for that. But then I never imagined that Danny Akin or Al Mohler would support this sort of thing.”

It’s worth noting that in a recent joint seminary-president statement denouncing CRT, Jamie Dew is definitely present for the hatefest — as is Al Mohler, of course. In fact, Mohler writes the lion’s share of the document and appears last in it (I am sure this order represents a tacit indication of Mohler’s relative importance compared to his fellow seminary leaders).

Slamming the CRT Gauntlet Across Al Mohler’s Face.

What’s hilarious, though, is what Craig Vincent Mitchell said about Al Mohler, or rather what he hinted about the guy:

[Mitchell] named three professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, including a New Testament professor who by all accounts “doesn’t really teach New Testament; he just teaches critical race theory.”

Uh oh! Reminds one of a certain so-called “list” of Communist traitors, doesn’t it?

Well, this accusation represented nothing less than a gauntlet slapped across Al Mohler’s smirking face. It also outlined some of the other players in this new slapfight:

  • Craig Vincent Mitchell himself, of course: 100% loyal
  • Adam W. Greenway, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: true-blue loyal
  • Jamie Dew of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary: potentially loyal but who knows
  • Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: definite traitor
  • Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary: suspected traitor
  • Jason K. Allen, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: no comment
  • Jeff Iorg, Gateway Theological Seminary: no comment
  • Richard Land, previous president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission: traitor

If all of this reminds anybody of a Mean Kids fight from high school, where frenemies danced and danced around each other constantly while loyalties shifted and flowed, you’re not alone. A very distinct battle was being set down here on the SBC gameboard, and Al Mohler stood at serious risk of ending up on the wrong team.

Explosive Accusations of CRT Sympathizing.

But we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.

In May of 2020, a blog called Capstone pushed even harder against Al Mohler’s power. Its writer decided that Al Mohler had suffered a literal “theological decline.” Even worse, this detractor claimed, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary itself suffered from “liberal drift” due to its leader’s deterioration.

In another blog post around that time, Capstone accused Mohler of not only secretly totally supporting CRT, but also deliberately hiring CRT-friendly teachers for his seminary — and then firing anybody who opposed his hiring decisions. The blog even accused Mohler of offering “extended pay and benefits” to bribe those fired critics to keep them quiet about the whole situation.

This accusation is downright explosive. It would mean nothing less than Al Mohler lying about his opposition to CRT — which would, by extension, mean all of those links I gave earlier to his briefings also contained lies.

I find that notion exceedingly hard to believe, personally. I don’t actually have any doubts that Al Mohler hates CRT and everything associated with it. Utterly hating CRT fits completely with his character.

Al Mohler secretly liking CRT? Oh, now that is the difficult idea to swallow here.

Giving Away the Game: This Isn’t About CRT.

“This is all about Critical Race Theory at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” declared that first Capstone post.

But that writer’s dead wrong.

It’s not.

Remember, Al Mohler came out on record almost immediately to denounce Resolution 9 and CRT. He’s never indicated anything but the very deepest hostility toward anything associated with CRT. And I’m really hard-pressed to imagine a more conservatively-run place than his seminary.

But somehow every single hardline anti-CRT Southern Baptist is acting like Al Mohler is the Head Cheerleader For All Things CRT.

I’m really forced to conclude that this squabble isn’t about CRT at all.

It’s not even about how Al Mohler runs his seminary.

It’s really about power, and how authoritarians approach the subject of power. The SBC’s leaders sense blood in the water here.

And they’re right. That’s why they’ve made Al Mohler their central enemy in this fight. Somehow, he’s begun losing power behind the scenes — and the other sharks always know instantly when the the time to strike has arrived.

Pawns on the CRT Gameboard.

This coming slapfight has probably been brewing for a couple of decades. There’s much here that fascinates me, in terms of authoritarian struggles over power. But nothing about it looks like anything but purely earthly machinations and squabbling.

The SBC really does not care how outsiders perceive their antics. Despite their ongoing panic about sales figures, they stopped caring about alienating us heathens a long, long time ago.

They seem to care even less about the opinions of their own sheep, except in the abstract as paying customers.

Really, any real and good god involved with this denomination would likely feel repulsed by the fact that the SBC’s leaders are using human rights and civil liberties as pawns on their gameboard, and always have.

It’s really easy to treat people like that, if one doesn’t believe most people are really people at all. The SBC began as an organization dedicated to the proposition that some men (and all women) just need to be owned by other men. There’s no indication at all that they ever changed their minds.

As we’ll see next time, all some of their leaders have done is learn to pretend that they have progressed a few inches closer to being decent human beings. And that paltry effort is still more than enough to get them un-personed by their frenemies.

NEXT UP: LSP! See you tomorrow!


Endnotes.

Regarding Arminianism/Calvinism: Basically, Calvinism asserts that the Christian god chose every single person who’ll ever go to Heaven, ever, and never changes his mind. If you’re one of those Heaven-bound souls, lucky you! Whether you like it or not, he’ll force you to worship him. If not, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change his mind. Conversely, Arminians assert that people have a choice about worshiping this god. Neither position makes this god sound like anything but a monster of the highest order. If you’re reeeeeeally curious, here’s a handy chart some Christian made about the differences between the two doctrinal stances. (Back to the post!)


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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