Hi and welcome back! Recently, I showed you the newest schism threatening to tear the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) apart: how the SBC’s leaders will respond to accusations of entrenched, systemic racism in their ailing denomination. Last time, we looked at the ultra-conservatives all trying to out-conservative each other for the title of Conservative SBC God-Emperor. (The highlight of that faction’s infighting, to me anyway, is always gonna be the way a bunch of them are trying to paint Al Mohler as a liberal traitor. Seriously, WTF?) Today, I’ll show you the ultra-conservative SBC leaders all trying their best to pretend they’re totes cool with anti-racist reforms while doing their level best not to change a thing.
Lying for Jesus: Racism Edition.
The SBC has been struggling for a year or two now with accusations of entrenched, systemic racism. Nobody should be surprised by that news. This denomination got its entire start because its founders loved slavery and were completely certain Jesus approved of them owning other human beings.
(Strangely, Jesus didn’t stop them.)
For a long time, the SBC cruised along happily with their racism. But now, it’s starting to become an issue — along with all the other regressive, cruel beliefs and practices the SBC’s people love so much. It’s starting to cost them sales and affect retention of current members.
So someone’s gotta do something.
Naturally, factions have formed as the SBC’s top leaders blunder along in dysfunction. Of course. There is power to be seized and taken and grown here. Authoritarians can smell opportunities like that from miles away.
The Factions Enter the Racism Ring.
First, a very conservative, traditionalist faction doesn’t want anything to change. They’re accusing anybody who pushes for reforms of the very worst snarl words they can possibly muster. Al Mohler really wants to lead this faction, it seems to me, but he’s not the only contender for that scepter. The other contenders are busy trying to paint him as suspiciously liberal so they look like the Last Contender Standing. (Indeed, that’s not just an awful apologetics tactic for evangelicals.) I call these guys the Old Guard and I seriously think they’re the biggest faction in this fight. They’ve been freaking out about social justice for a while now.
A second very conservative faction also doesn’t want anything to change. However, the people in this one really want reform-minded congregants to think they do. This situation is about as 4D chess as the SBC gets. The people in this faction seem to skew younger and Calvinist. They don’t want real change, but they understand that the SBC’s racism is destroying sales and credibility alike. So they’re making reform noises with their mouth-holes while refusing to take any solid action that’d bring about reform. Hey, it’s always worked before! J.D. Greear seems like he’s easily won the leadership of this faction.
A third and considerably-smaller faction of lower-level leaders (mostly pastors) has recently come to bear. This group actually wants real reform. These slightly-more-progressive Southern Baptists might as well be demanding that the moon change course. I’ve seen a few big-ish names in this faction, like ex-SBC President Fred Luter (the first and only Black president they’ve ever had). Overall, though, they completely lack the political power needed to push any reforms through.
The SBC’s Official Position on Racism.
Officially, the SBC completely opposes racism.
In their 2020 Annual Report, on p. 45 #3, we see the SBC declaring a stance that’d be laudable if they could actually live up to it:
The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.
Then, on p. 48 #15, we see racism lumped in with a variety of things the SBC disapproves of:
In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.
But the SBC’s top leaders vastly prefer to just make noises about equality. They don’t really like to actually do anything definitive to reduce the incidence of racism in their ranks, which especially includes penalizing other big-name leaders for doing incredibly racist things. And really, they’d rather not even make noises about it. They’d rather just print resolutions up and nod piously to each other and then go out for lunch.
The more conservative the leaders, the less they even want to talk about racism in any way. As far as they’re concerned, if Southern Baptists would only start Jesus-ing at full capacity then there would never be any racism to worry about.
Change, Change, Change.
That’s why Resolution 9 became such a problem last year. It felt too much like change to the SBC’s biggest names. Even worse, it made clear that no amount of Jesus-ing was actually fixing the SBC’s racism problem.
Of course, Resolution 9 changed nothing. Literally all Resolution 9 did was allow Southern Baptist seminary students and professors to examine racism through the lens of Critical Race Theory (CRT). That’s an academic field of study that seeks to understand the underlying social and governmental systems that elevate and protect white people while marginalizing and oppressing folks from other races.
Clearly anticipating the objections to come, the writers of the resolution made sure to firmly harness CRT to their doctrinal stance of literalism/inerrancy.
But it wasn’t enough. Only full refusal to touch CRT would make the Old Guard happy. They exploded in criticism of the resolution.
Since the SBC’s seminaries are fiefdoms of the Old Guard, and CRT is, again, an academic discipline, those seminary leaders predictably bellowed the loudest about hating it forever. A few weeks ago, they issued a joint statement formally denouncing CRT as utterly and completely incompatible with proper and correct Jesus-ing. Lately, they’re all but demanding loyalty tests of each other. Their sheer vitriol and animosity are astonishing to behold — even knowing evangelicals as I do.
Meanwhile, J.D. Greear, the SBC’s current president, is doing his very best to act like he wants to see reforms — while defanging those reforms as much as he can. His faction is largely following suit — and trying very hard to rein in that powerless third faction before they become a serious issue.
Charlie Dates: “We Out.”
A few days ago, a whole bunch of lower-level SBC leaders in that third faction issued a statement of their own. It is a doozy. Its writers titled it “Justice, Repentance, and the SBC,” and it is essentially a whole series of shots fired. So far they’ve got almost 250 signers. I loved this bit:
[H]uman inability to achieve full justice before the return of Christ cannot become an excuse to avoid dealing with injustices in our lifetime.
But that’s been the SBC’s strategy all along!
The statement continues:
Many who recognize systemic injustices are labeled as “Marxists,” “Liberals,” and “Critical Race Theorists,” even though they are theologically orthodox and believe in the total sufficiency of Scripture.
While God desires us to continue growing in the area of racial justice, the actions of some in the SBC appear to be more concerned with political maneuvering than working to present a vibrant, gospel-loving, racially and culturally diverse vision.
You don’t say.
In addition, churches are starting to leave the SBC. Charlie Dates, the Black pastor of one of these churches, echoed Harriet Tubman in his poignant statement: “We out.”
Obviously, J.D. Greear had to say something in response.
Also obviously, he managed to say almost the worst possible thing in response.
So Many Words About Racism to Say Nothing of Value.
In a statement of his own, J.D. Greear declared that he thought the “Justice, Repentance, and the SBC” statement was both “gracious and important.” He advised the flocks “to carefully and soberly consider these words.”
And hilariously, he thwacked the noses of the Old Guard hard with this bit:
We must not default to labeling believers who parse certain questions differently “Marxist” or “racist.” This uncharitable spirit is not only intellectually lazy, it is a sin against the body of Christ.
I bet his enemies in the denomination saw that and exploded in rage.
Then, Greear cried some Jesus tears:
I also lament my own sluggishness in addressing ongoing pain in the lives of my brothers and sisters caused by the legacy of sin.
See? It’s “the legacy of sin!” Nothing anybody can help, really!
He ends his response with some blahblah about increasing the diversity in SBC leadership roles, and fluffs himself up a bit by saying he totally makes sure to hire people of color (POC) whenever he can. Finally, he says Jesus himself likes diversity.
It’s an interesting statement, both for what it does contain and what it studiously avoids.
Avoiding Any Hint of Change Through Careful Christianese.
Primarily, J.D. Greear doesn’t mention anything solid he’s doing to change the SBC’s culture of racism. He stands very firmly in the Jesus-ing properly fixes EVERYTHING camp, of course. He’s very proud of the fact that he’s totally trying to hire as many POC as he can, but there’s certainly no requirement that he do so — and I don’t think he’d ever allow such a rule to pass.
While chiding the Old Guard for labeling literally everything they hate as “Marxist,” Greear also chides the third faction for calling the Old Guard “racist.”
Gosh, y’all, both sides are awful! Only King J.D. Greear can possibly elevate himself above the fray to perceive things clearly! (But but but BOTH SIDES is a false equivalence. And it is really distasteful to see the tactic used here.)
And and and y’all, he laments stuff!
By the way, “lament” is Christianese. It’s similar in meaning to grieved. It means he feels sorry about something, but in a very Jesus-flavored way. The implication is that Jesus himself is making that sorrow so intense. Listeners are supposed to be totally impressed by this expression of sadness. In reality, nobody sensible gives a flying f*#% how sorry he is. We want results and action.
But we won’t find either here. Jeez! He’s hiring POC, y’all! What else could anyone ask?!?
If I were an SBC member (and I was, once, long ago), I’d be absolutely insulted by this response.
And the answer to his lamentation comes, slow and sonorous and ringing like silver bells echoing up into the crisp wintry night sky:
Change, change, change. We want change. It is time. Yes, it is time.
It is more than past time.
Change, however, is the one thing J. D. Greear cannot give — even if he wanted to give it.
All he and his faction and his opposing faction can do is either deny the cries for reform or pretend to go along with them.
This time, though, it seems like fewer and fewer people in the sheepfold are fooled. I hope more church pastors figure out just what a toxic mess the SBC truly is, and what it is actually about.
NEXT UP: When I say SBC leaders are doing their best not to change anything, I’m dead serious. Tomorrow, I’ll show you a heartbreaking case in point. See you soon. <3
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