As the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention is about to begin, there is so much confusion surrounding the debate around Resolution 9 “On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality,” that I thought I might be able to give an apologist’s view of the issue. I became involved in this ministry because of the “new atheist” attacks on the failures of church history. While developing my defenses, something clicked, and I discovered that I could document how, in every era, when the church was guilty of the horrific sins of burning people at the stake, kidnapping slaves, segregation, Nazism, and more, it was in those moments that the church had ADDED other truths to the faith. After that, I knew my attention needed to be turned to the Body of Christ. They needed to know why it was important to keep the Word pure! Because if we don’t–humanity suffers! Not only eternally, but in THIS world. And worst of all–because those who did the evil carried the name of God–He would be blamed!
Is it any wonder that one of the easiest and most effective ways the devil can attack the church is by bringing in other “truths” to divide us? This is what the Gnostics tried to do, but the apostle John stood against it so that his “little children” wouldn’t sin (1 John 2:1). It’s also what the Judaizers tried to do, but Paul warned the church not to be “bewitched” by the temptation (Gal. 3:1).
It shouldn’t be a surprise then, that the CHURCH, not just the Southern Baptist Convention, finds itself in another time of chaos and division as the other “truth” of Critical Race Theory (CRT) is being brought into our midst. It was another time such as this that W.A. Taylor, pastor of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. described when writing about the decision over “modernism” that was facing Christians of his era. They were standing at a crossroads and there was no easy answer. No matter what solution they gave, they would be in trouble.
“If we answer yes,” he explained, “we fly into the faces of those orthodox fundamentalists, who stand guard over the traditions of the church and dare to jealously defend the ‘doctrines once for all delivered to the saints’ and to see that no one word used by the pioneers of the church in that original document shall be changed.’ But, if the answer were no, he continued, the response would ‘bring upon us the condemnation and censure of modern scholarship, reactionaries, and progressives, and be styled as back numbers, behind the times and out of line with the march and progress of modern religious thoughts and recent Biblical interpretation.'” (1)
The SBC is in a similar valley of decision. If Resolution 9 is overturned, there will be hatred and misunderstanding. They will say the SBC is made up of racists who are returning to (or continuing) their old white supremacist ways. But if Resolution 9 is left in place, it will “fly into the faces” of those who believe Critical Race Theory is in conflict with biblical Christianity. It seems that division is inevitable.
There’s no doubt the Southern Baptist Convention was unfaithful to God in the past. They were slaveholders and segregationists! But how did they become such scourges of history? I am going to borrow some thoughts (why write them out twice?) that I used in a letter to Beth Moore in response to a series of Tweets she sent out to her followers about white supremacy. I hope it will help to explain why the addition of CRT to our faith is a way of being unfaithful to God:
“As I have tried to understand the failures and sins of church history, I’ve come to one conclusion: the reason the church failed so often is because the church was unfaithful to God. What do I mean by that? I mean that every time that atheists can point to our failures, it was because the church had ADDED another source of truth to the Word of God. (I like to think of it as spiritual ADDultery.) For example:
- Martin Luther was upset because the popes had become a source of extrabiblical Christian doctrine (especially concerning indulgences) and pointed out the inconsistency of man-made/extrabiblical papal decrees in his famous response before the Inquisition: “Unless I am convinced by scripture or by clear reason—for I do not trust the pope or church councils, since everyone knows they can make mistakes and contradict themselves—I am bound by the scriptures I have quoted. My conscience is held captive by the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything…” Luther was standing before a group of religious prelates who were unfaithful to the Word, and yet the Inquisition with its murderous flames and torture chambers would finally be defeated by those faithful saints who cried out “Sola Scriptura!” The Word of God ALONE!
- The Scientific Revolution began as a result of the Protestant Reformation—since the Catholic Church could no longer control Christian doctrine. In the medieval era, Thomas Aquinas (in his Summa Theologica) created a blend of biblical doctrine and the “natural” philosophy of Aristotle that would form a stronghold in the church. It was this blend of Christianity and philosophy that hindered science. Most of the greatest advances in science were direct attempts to OVERCOME this false blend that was set up as a dogmatic authority. Galileo wasn’t called before the Inquisition for opposing the Bible; he was called there for opposing Aristotle’s geocentric view of the solar system. Francis Bacon also went against Catholic dogma when he wrote his Novum Organum (which included his new “scientific method”) as a direct response to Aristotle’s Organum. Many medical advances have blessed the world simply because scientists such as Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister were trying to disprove spontaneous generation—another Aristotelian belief. Science was hindered because a group of religious leaders were unfaithful to the Word and formed a blended Christianity, but blessings came when the leaven of philosophy/”science” was finally cleaned out.
- According to Martin Luther King, Jr., in a speech given in July 1962, entitled “Love in Action,” (1) slavery was upheld by a trifecta of greed, false teaching of the scriptures (such as the Curse of Ham), and science. (Ibram X. Kendi speaks of the science of white supremacy in his book, Stamped from Birth.) The Enlightenment philosophers, impressed by the advances of the Scientific Revolution and excited to be free from the control that religion held during the “dark ages” felt justified in placing scientific truth and empirical evidence over scriptural revelation, but one of the first results of their new thought was their acceptance of polygenism—the belief that each race had separate parents other than Adam and Eve. This allowed blacks to be considered a sub-species that weren’t subject to the same human rights as whites. After the Civil War, polygenism was replaced by social Darwinism—the belief that the darker races were less evolved. (As the Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary revealed, many of their slaveholding professors and leaders [such as John Broadus and Charles Gardner] believed in a form of scientific racism in order to justify their white supremacist views.) The abolitionists, on the other hand, consistently stood on the Word ALONE, especially Acts 17:26 (“And hath made of one blood all nations of men.”) Slavery and Jim Crow were supported by religious hypocrites who gave precedence to “science” and were unfaithful to the Word, but another group of believers, standing on the Word, redeemed slaves with their own money, hid slaves on the Underground Railroad, and gave the lives of hundreds of thousands of their sons, husbands, and fathers to fight what they thought was a righteous war to emancipate the slaves. These Christians were not “complicit” in the sin of slavery. They shed their blood (what greater price could be paid?) for the sake of freedom.
- Colonialism became even more prolific when social Darwinism was added to the Gospel. “Christians” such as Josiah Strong and William Graham Sumner believed that the “Anglo-Saxon” was appointed by God to civilize the weaker races and that people of color were the “white man’s burden.” They truly believed they were doing good. Cecil Rhodes, the diamond magnate, believed the British people were the “finest race in the world,” (2) yet his belief in social Darwinism allowed him to exploit the darker races. Just like in slavery, abusive colonialism was upheld by religious hypocrites who were unfaithful to the Word.
- The Confessing Church, led by Karl Barth, Martin Niemoeller, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote the Barmen Declaration because they could see that the German church was succumbing to other sources of truth in addition to the scriptures. This led them to declare that they rejected “the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.” They refused to acknowledge any other source for the proclamation of truth beside the Word of God. We know that they were faithful shepherds who, in many cases, gave their lives, but we also know that Nazism was upheld by many religious people who were unfaithful to the Word. Even now atheists claim Hitler was a Christian, and we can see pictures of the altars in all the German churches who added Nazism to their faith.
Did you notice how in each area that atheists have attacked the failures of the church, the church didn’t preach the Word alone? They added man-made decrees, philosophy, or “science” to the Word, creating a lukewarm mixture. They still carried the name of God, though, so the damage that was done to humanity as a result of their compromise could now be placed on God!
This brings me to your analysis of the Old Testament prophets. Their primary message was that the Israelites had been unfaithful to God. This was difficult for the people to understand because they never stopped worshipping God. Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah—all cried out against the spiritual adultery of the Hebrew people. God used Hosea’s marriage as a picture of the way His people had betrayed him. Hosea’s wife didn’t divorce him, she just had lovers on the side. In the same way, Israel never denied God—they continued in their worship (as revealed in Isaiah 1:11-14)—but they also went up to high places and gathered under the oaks to worship idols on the side (Isaiah 1:29). Their sin was that of disobeying the First Commandment to love God with all their heart.
- Isaiah lamented, “How is the faithful city become an harlot.” – Isaiah 1:21
- Amos stated: “Fallen is virgin Israel.” – Amos 5:2
- Hosea cried out: “A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God.” – Hosea 4:12b
- God asked Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, this question: “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.” –Jeremiah 3:6
- And then God asked this heart-wrenching question: “What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?” – Jeremiah 2:5 (In other words, why have you been unfaithful to me? What have I done wrong? Any person who has been cheated on asks these same questions.)
And even though the prophets cried out against their unfaithfulness, the people denied that they had done anything wrong. They defended themselves to God saying, “My God, we know thee” (Hosea 8:2). But God pleaded with them, asking with a broken and grieved heart, “How long will they be incapable of purity” (Hosea 8:5, NIV)? He also said: “Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images” (Hosea 10:2). Israel was in a covenant relationship with God, yet his people were having affairs on the side. It was the equivalent of a wife remaining in her marriage, yet cheating on her husband with other lovers, and it broke God’s heart.
Israel had become a sinful nation because they were “corrupters” (Isaiah 1:4). To corrupt something is to taint it with something putrid. The pure worship of god was being tainted by idol worship (see Isaiah 2:8 and Isaiah 44), and in the same way that the church corrupted the faith down through history, and it caused massive sin and suffering, the corrupted worship of the ancient Israelites caused sin, suffering, and lack of care and justice for the least in society.
Jesus had this same concern for faithfulness. He was upset with the Pharisees for the same reason that the ancient prophets said God was upset with Israel. They may not have worshiped idols in the same way as the ancient Israelites, but they were still unfaithful in two ways:
- They set aside the commands of God for human traditions or man-made rules. They carried themselves as though they were the people of God, but they added other teachings to the pure Word of God (Mark 7:6-9).
- They wanted an extrabiblical sign from God to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. The “law and the prophets” weren’t enough (Matthew 12:39, 16:4).
Jesus wasn’t pleased when the Word was corrupted by outside influences, or if the Word was not enough. He said the Pharisees were just like the people of Isaiah’s day:
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” – Mark 7:6-8, NIV
Keeping the scriptures pure was important to Jesus because the only way that true compassion and justice could be produced was by remaining faithful to God and his Word. The prophet Hosea pointed out the connection between what we worship and the outcome of our character:
“But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to the shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved.” – Hosea 9:10, NIV
Jesus explained this propensity to become the thing we love. He revealed the connection between the vine and the fruit it produces in John 15. He is the vine and we are the branches. When we let the Word of God abide in us it bears much fruit. As you say, Beth, a tree is “known by its fruit.” I agree that white supremacy has produced “terrible fruit,” but the fruit of white supremacy came from another tree! It was rooted in a science (polygenism or social Darwinism) that was incompatible with the Word of God.
Unfortunately, the fruits of the Spirit are not what is produced by Critical Race Theory. What happened to Bret Weinstein at Evergreen College (at one point he was being hunted down by a person with a baseball bat!) is one example of the divisive, critical, and violent spirit by which it is characterized. The Black Lives Matter movement is also immersed in Critical Race Theory. (And even if rioting mobs have hijacked the movement [as some claim], the root of bitterness, anger, and misunderstanding that have resulted merely from the content of its ideology has divided communities, schools, universities, political parties, and neighbors all across America.) The battle is also raging in the evangelical church and may even divide the Southern Baptist Convention.”
When we look at history through the lens of the Bible (rather than through the “lens” of CRT) we can see that the scriptures have continually been corrupted (meaning that they were tainted because something was added to them), and yet there was always a light in the darkness, a remnant who opposed the corruption. They were often mocked, hated, tarred and feathered, burned at the stake, sawed in half, beheaded, and even crucified. They stood against false doctrine, greed, slavery, lynching, apostasy, idol worship, racism, and every kind of evil, even when it meant they would be misunderstood or mischaracterized. For example, here is a beautiful story I discovered about the price that Jonathan H. Frank and other black leaders would have to pay concerning the battle over “modernism.”
According to Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews, writing in Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism Between the Wars, in the 1920s and 30s the clash over the historical critical movement (or “modernism,” as they called it), raged in the black churches. While some leaders tried to map out a middle way of compromise, the editor of the National Baptist Union-Review, Jonathan H. Frank, argued for “the divine inspiration of the Bible and its use as the sole [emphasis mine] source of knowledge and understanding of the divine.” (2) He reminded his readers that “Jesus said heaven and earth will pass before his word shall fail” and there was a “warning to any man who dares to add to the things written in the book.” (3) Frank “would not stand for biblical criticism of the German or liberal variety.” (4)
Not surprisingly, black Christians added their voice to the battle over evolution also, and according to Mathews, to “writers and editors of black denominational papers . . . evolution was linked to modernism and modernism could not be tolerated.” (5) This commitment to the scriptures left them open to the charge of being “an obstacle to black racial progress,” (6) because if they opposed evolution, they knew they would be aligning themselves with those who “rejected much scientific discovery of the previous seventy-five years.” (7) Black leaders were painfully aware that if they rejected Darwinism “it could potentially confirm white stereotypes of African Americans as intellectually deficient.” (8) But pastors and leaders like Frank remained faithful to the Word ALONE–even if it meant that they looked anti-scientific and anti-intellectual. This was a particularly difficult stand to take when most of the world already looked at blacks as though they were less evolved. Aligning themselves with those fundamentalist hillbillies (like those who were mocked by H.L. Mencken in the Scopes Trial) was NOT an easy position to take!
This is another moment in history where the legacy of the SBC will soon be determined. Will they be found faithful to the Scriptures–not adding to their faith any type of belief (such as CRT) that conflicts with biblical truth (as I argue here)? Or will they be unfaithful again? As they did during the slave era when they succumbed to worldly white supremacist science that conflicted with the Word (as I argue here)? Will they be afraid of possible news reports that will paint the SBC as racist for resisting CRT? Or will the Convention form a bulwark of opposition to CRT–no matter what it costs them, following the heroic example of Frank and so many of our courageous forefathers–who cared more for faithfulness to God and his Word than for their image in the world? (Or even for their life?!) Will the SBC be seduced away by the philosophies of the world (Col. 2:8) and betray the Lord and his Word? Or will they be “found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2)?
“Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” –Proverbs 30:6
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”–James 4:4
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” –1 John 2:15
- Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism Between the Wars (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2018), 68.
- Ibid., 72.
- Ibid., 72-73.
- Ibid., 73.
- Ibid,. 71.
- Ibid., 87
- Ibid., 93.