The war in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over Critical Race Theory (CRT) rages on. Volleys continue to be traded, most of which lack precision or real casualties. On the first of this month, all six of the SBC seminary presidents released a statement denouncing CRT.
The official occasion of the joint resolution was the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM), but the presidents took the opportunity to not only affirm the BFM but reassure the rest of the domination of their collective opposition to CRT.
The statement read, in part,
“In light of current conversations in the Southern Baptist Convention, we stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”
The presidents, of course, denounced racism as well, but presumably according to the traditional definition (i.e., ethnic, or race-based animus) and not the modified, CRT definition (i.e., prejudice + systemic power). Whilst rightfully admitting that “the problem of racism still exists,” the statement held that CRT was “not a biblical solution,” and that BFM and CRT were “incompatible.”
This is all well and good. I, myself, expressed a measured hopefulness regarding the statement. But Jon Harris is right, the statement amounts to little more than a reaffirmation of Resolution 9. There is no practical difference. If anything, the interim between Resolution 9 and the present has demonstrated cause for less confidence in the resolve of the presidents than held in 2019. Southeastern Theological Seminary president, Danny Akin, and SBC president, J.D. Greear continue to send mixed messages on the issue, to say the least. Mark Devine, writing for the American Spectator, has some good thoughts in this regard.
The only evident difference between Resolution 9 and the latest from the seminary presidents might be the direction from which blowback came. And it came swiftly. The committee of presidents mentioned one of Tony Evans’ sermons in their statement, implying (at least in the mind of Evans) that he rejects CRT. Evans has since made clear, in no uncertain terms, that he does not categorically dismiss CRT. Greear responded favorably to Evans’ clarification and lamented that (allegedly) “some in our ranks inappropriately use the label of ‘CRT!’ to avoid legitimate questions or a s a cudgel to dismiss any discussion of discrimination.” To whom or what Greear was referring remains unclear.
But Evans’ response was far from the worst of the blowback.
Jamar Tisby of The Witness characterized the statement as an affirmation of whiteness—the social, cultural, and political capital generated from being white in a white supremacist society—and said that the continued resistance to CRT in the SBC was the “theological and ecclesiastical equivalent of the ‘Red Scare.'”
Justin Giboney of the ANDCampaign tweeted,
Do you know what’s more effective than creating statements condemning Critical Race Theory? Actually dismantling racism so CRT is obsolete.
Evangelicals still can’t see that their lack of credibility on racial justice lends credence to the things they condemn.
— Justin Giboney (@JustinEGiboney) December 2, 2020
Lisa Sharon Harper criticized the SBC seminary presidents for not explaining what CRT is (and erroneously claimed that acknowledging that CRT is related to Marxist thought is ignorant).
Dear six Southern Baptist seminary presidents that denounced #CriticalRaceTheory last week without defining what it is (@DannyAkin @JamieKDew @AdamGreenway @Jeff_Iorg @albertmohler and @PreachingJKA): Let's talk. #CRT #SBC #CriticalRacehttps://t.co/UgXdDjyU0P
— Lisa Sharon Harper (@lisasharper) December 6, 2020
Whilst criticizing the statement for being vague, Harper herself was sloppy in her descriptions. But this is just the point. Harper and others are right to point out that CRT has yet to be thoroughly defined by any official SBC statements. This, rightly or wrongly, does expose denominations heads to accusations of being uninformed. This has been true since 2019. A new approach is needed, one that will sidestep the critique that invoke theological McCarthyism and flimsy criticisms like this:
We’re not stupid. CRT critics have successfully demonized any and everyone who has anything substantive to say about racism/justice. The only answer they’ll accept is “the Gospel” but can do entire podcasts about supporting political candidates and how to think about abortion.
— Phillip M. Holmes (@phillipmholmes) December 11, 2020
Several of the articles reporting on the SBC statement have made sure to remind readers that President Trump recently banned CRT-related federal workplace trainings. The implication intended is obvious. But the comparison is not totally irrelevant for my purposes here.
A Better Approach
Back in October, I argued at American Greatness that Trump’s CRT executive order was necessary to raise awareness but would ultimately prove insufficient. Instead of relying on buzzwords and the like, an effective policy, preferably legislative, would need to be more substantive to meet the desired ends of current administration. I suggested, as a model, Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors (1864).
The Syllabus was a list of 80 propositions of secular modernity that the pope denounced as incompatible with the Catholic faith. Each entry is far from exhaustive, spanning only a few sentences. But it gets the job done, and also cites more extensive treatises on each respective topic.
Such an approach would be able to endure terminological sleight of hand and move beyond simple vocabulary policing. At the same time, it would effectively take the bullet out of the chamber, as it were, by outlawing certain key CRT concepts however packaged. CRT can be conceptually slippery. (In the article, I offered the example of intersectionality which, in basic form, existed prior to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s definitive formulation in the thought of the Combahee River Collective, Angela Davis, and other Black feminists.) It is always evolving, but the core commitments and assumptions remain the same. Plus, Peter Boghossian’s “idea laundering” thesis is particularly applicable to Christian circles, wherein popular-level books like Daniel Hill’s White Awake circulate but, to the untrained eye, are not evidently infected by CRT.
A robust, conceptually based approach is needed. The same solution I offered to legislators is applicable to SBC leaders. A list of rejected errors, stylistically informed by Pius IX, presents a better approach than what has been attempted thus far—that is, if SBC leadership really wants to reject CRT and put the issue to bed.
Here’s what I included in the previous article:
The following propositions and definitions should not appear in or serve as the basis of any taxpayer-funded training programs for federal employees:
Racism is prejudice plus systemic power. It does not simply refer to individual racial animus. Prejudice or bias is assumed of all people. The distinguishing factor is the possession of systemic power which, in western society, is only possessed by white people or those who have been “whitened.”
Racism is a system of (white) privilege that is ordinary, ubiquitous, permanent, and largely unconsciously proliferated. Accordingly, there is no neutral category of “not-racist.” One is either actively dismantling the system of white privilege as an “antiracist” or is complicit therein as a “racist.”
In Western society, all white people possess white privilege, that is, an unearned, unacknowledged, and unquestioned benefit from being white in a white-dominated racial caste system.
Through their privilege, white people are invested in, and benefit from, whiteness. That is, the social capital or property accrued by occupying a location and status of structural advantage in a white dominated society that is denied to others. Whiteness is intrinsically anti-black.
Racism, systemically defined, does not require individual racists to exist and, therefore, need not be a consciously committed act of prejudice. Racism is primarily evidenced via racial disparities. Such disparities are always per se evidence of racist policy.
All white people are complicit in the system of white dominance (i.e. white supremacy) and are, therefore, necessarily guilty of racism. All members of western society are socialized to participate in racism. White supremacy, then, does not refer to individual belief in the intrinsic superiority of ethnic Europeans but rather to a structurally instigated and secured pattern of social, economic, institutional, and cultural disparity.
Race is a social and political construct invented by European whites for the sole purpose of distributing societal privilege along racial lines, subjugating people of color, and legitimizing white dominance.
Racism should be assumed, at the outset, to be a factor in any given scenario. The question is not, “Did racism take place?” but rather, “How did racism manifest in that situation?” Racism is primarily proliferated hegemonically or culturally, ideologically, and institutionally via, inter alia, the predominant norms, narratives, and assumptions of society. Racism is deeply embedded in societal institutions.
Racism can only be truly comprehended through critical consciousness, that is, the awareness of the relative power dynamics and one’s place therein. Critical consciousness is only gained through the lived experience of people of color who possess a “second sight” by way of their experience as the oppressed. People of color who lack critical consciousness (i.e. false consciousness), and/or do not act in accordance therewith, have internalized their oppression.
Racism operates within an interlocking, mutually reinforcing system of oppressions (i.e. intersectionally) including but not limited to patriarchism, heteronormativity, cisgenderism, ethnocentricity, classism, and sexism.
I beg the reader entertain another self-quotation:
Certainly, more could be added to this syllabus. The inclusion of other core CRT ideas like interest convergence, aversive racism, colorblind racism, internalized racism, and white fragility would further bolster the strength of any relevant legislative proposal. It may also be worth noting that to CRT proponents, “equity”—a concept sure to come up in any CRT-based training— has been redefined more or less in terms equality of outcome while controlling for historical injustices (real or perceived) and adjusting shares of resources (economic and otherwise) accordingly—some amorphous equitable utopia, where all past wrongs have been accounted for, being the goal. Equality of opportunity (and meritocracy) is considered a white lie conjured up as cover for racial oppression, as are norms of procedural fairness like due process and the rule of law. As Gramsci held, the hegemony is fully in place when the oppressed themselves perceive the status quo as inevitable, natural, and commonsensical. Then their emancipatory imaginations are fully stifled. Along the same lines, racial disparities, to people like Kendi, constitute per se evidence of racism, no matter what intervening causes might be identified.
I would also recommend Neil Shenvi’s recent article on preaching against CRT. It has much affinity with this approach in that it urges pastors to preach against the ideas imbedded in CRT rather than the lingo or labels themselves. I agree that this strategy promises to be more effective, depending, obviously, on one’s congregational context.
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