critical race theory - messengers
Messengers vote on motions during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 11, 2019, in Birmingham, Alabama. (RNS photo: Butch Dill)

At Least Three Critical Race Theory Statements Proposed for Southern Baptist Meeting

By Adelle Banks

If he had the chance to turn back time, Pastor Stephen Feinstein says, he might not have proposed Resolution 9.

The innocuous-sounding and non-binding statement adopted by Southern Baptists who attended their 2019 annual meeting has contributed to a fierce battle over critical race theory, an academic approach to understanding systemic racism.

The resolution allowed for CRT to be used as an analytical tool but also stated that it should be subordinate to Scripture.

Stephen Feinstein

The debate around CRT has only grown more contentious in the years following, even as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination was unable to meet in person for two years due to pandemic restrictions.

“Oh my gosh, I had no idea, and if I could do it all over again, I would have just shut my fingers up and not typed anything,” said the California pastor and U.S. Army Reserve chaplain. He admits he might have naively thought it would be adopted and harmony would reign. “That is not what happened.”

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As the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting grapples with a number of serious challenges — at least a four-way presidential election, declining membership, charges and countercharges about how it has handled sex abuse claims — some will be focused particularly on resolutions related to CRT and to Resolution 9.

The two-day gathering is set to begin on Tuesday in Nashville, Tennessee, with attendance expected to be more than 16,000 people, the highest in 25 years.

The CRT debate reached a higher dimension when the SBC’s Council of Seminary Presidents issued a statement late last year declaring CRT and intersectionality, another academic theory that addresses exploitation when gender and race intersect, are incompatible with the latest version of the denomination’s faith statement, adopted in 2000.

On Wednesday, two Southern Baptist pastors, Tom Ascol of Florida and Tom Buck of Texas, called on delegates to rescind Resolution 9.

But according to Southern Baptist polity, each meeting’s resolutions represent the thinking of the messengers, or delegates, attending that particular gathering. A new resolution could be adopted, but historically, old ones aren’t removed.

“That resolution that was passed will always be in the record books,” Jon Wilke, media relations director for the SBC Executive Committee, told Religion News Service in 2020.

However, at least three proposed resolutions for the 2021 meeting could be considered clarifications of Resolution 9 that Southern Baptists could potentially adopt this year.

One resolution, proposed by Feinstein despite his second thoughts, clarifies his view that critical race theory is not necessary, that any truths that come from it can also be found in Scripture, while acknowledging systemic racism exists.

Todd Littleton

A second resolution is proposed by Pastor Todd Littleton, a minister and podcaster in Oklahoma. Titled “On the Incompatibility of Structural Racism and Oppression with the Baptist Faith and Message,” Littleton’s proposed resolution counters the seminary presidents’ declaration against CRT.

Interviewed shortly after the release of a leaked 2020 letter by Russell Moore, who recently resigned as president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Littleton said it’s ironic there’s a debate about the existence of structural racism.

“Here we are, we’ve got this big brouhaha over CRT and people claiming that we’re really not racist, we’ve dealt with all that, we don’t need to talk about it,” he said. “And one year ago, the president of the ERLC pens a letter outlining the very ways that’s been real in our denomination.”

But another SBC pastor from Oklahoma — whose governor recently signed into law a legislation that bars schools from teaching concepts of critical race theory — is a supporter of a third proposed resolution titled “Southern Baptists Against Racism.” That statement affirms the seminary presidents’ determination that critical race theory and intersectionality do not align with their denominational faith statement.

Wade Burleson, a pastor of an Enid, Oklahoma, church, argued CRT is rooted in Marxism.

“Christ is a uniter,” said Burleson. “I don’t see CRT uniting. I see it dividing. Marxism has a goal of dividing.”

Pastor Dwight McKissic of Texas wrote an essay posted Wednesday on SBCVoices.com that responds to those who connect CRT to German philosopher Karl Marx.

Dwight McKissic

“Derrick Bell, who is considered the father of Critical Race Theory, denied any Marxan influence or European scholarly influence on his development of CRT,” wrote McKissic, who said he would leave the predominantly white SBC if messengers “denounce CRT in its entirety” at the meeting.

“If you want to know what CRT is, it is everything Martin Luther King has written, including his ‘I have A Dream Speech.’”

Should McKissic, who already left the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention over its anti-CRT stance, depart the larger denomination, he would join several other prominent Black leaders who made that move in recent months.

This year’s resolutions committee chair, James Merritt, confirmed there are “at least 3 or 4” race-related resolutions proposed in the “thick notebook” he will be reviewing with other committee members before they determine which ones to accept, reject or refine and present for adoption at the meeting.

Merritt, who pastors Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia, said a resolution is not going to solve the SBC’s growing debate about race relations. Still, he acknowledged there’s a lot riding on the committee’s work this year, with CRT one of the “points of tension” it has to manage.

“We’re calling on the Lord of heaven to give us wisdom and discernment,” said Merritt, who was president of the SBC from 2000 to 2002. “I had an entity head tell me he thinks this may be the most pressure-packed important resolutions committee in 40 years, and he may very well be right.”

The divides about CRT are not strictly between people of different races in the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded in 1845 with a defense of slavery.

Voddie Baucham, Jr.

Voddie Baucham Jr., an African American dean of a Zambia-based divinity school, is against the use of CRT and devoted pages of his new book, “Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe,” to the development and passage of Resolution 9 — for which he faults the 2019 resolutions committee for opening the door to engagement with CRT.

Resolution 9 concluded: “Critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture — not as transcendent ideological frameworks.”

“This is the crux of the matter: The million-dollar question is whether CRT is a worldview or merely an analytical tool,” writes Baucham, who describes CRT as a worldview. “Tools don’t explain; worldviews do.” 

The Rev. Marshal Ausberry Sr., president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, said most African American churches in the denomination do not see CRT as “the hill to die on.” He noted several Black churches have recently become affiliated with the SBC and his fellowship, even as some Black leaders have left the SBC.

Ausberry, who also is the first vice president of the SBC, noted Feinstein’s 2019 proposed resolution was refined by the resolutions committee — by men and women who were not liberals but rather mostly SBC-trained scholars.

“These are very conservative men and women and who made all kinds of qualifications in their address of CRT,” he said, “not embracing CRT but simply carving out a safe lane for someone — not in the pulpit, not in the elementary school or high school, but in the safety of a college or similar classroom — to help build cultural competencies in future pastors and church leaders that there are some things that can be systemic racism.”

Feinstein, who describes himself as an ethnically Jewish pastor of a Southern Baptist congregation, hopes that despite expectations of a contentious meeting fueled by debate on CRT and other issues, there will be a way to move forward.

“I just want our denomination to stay united in our cooperation on global missions and church planting with the guardrails that are set by the Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” he said. “I want the Lord to protect us from not being, really, just blown up.”

Adelle Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at Religion News Service.

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13 thoughts on “At Least Three Critical Race Theory Statements Proposed for Southern Baptist Meeting”

    1. Frances Christenson

      Tom, a better question would be, is the SBC Biblical? I don’t think so. The Pastor is the head of the local church. I don’t want the SBC telling my local church what we can do and what we can’t do. It should be up to the local body of believers to decide.

      1. Jeremiah Ames

        Consider this:

        If the Lord was truly the head of all churches, would there be ANY division at all between the various churches and individuals?

  1. In the 1960s America, the leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, spoke powerfully of his dream: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Today, activists promoting CRT want to judge people by colour of their skin: “you are White and well-to-do, because you are a beneficiary of White privilege”; “you are Black and live in poverty, because you are a victim of racial injustice”.
    CRT is a neo-Marxist ideology and is embedded in Black Lives Matter’s mission statement. While many Christians would support the values nominally espoused by BLM (namely, anti-racism, equality, social justice), Christians who hold conservative social values (dare I say, commonsensical values) need to be wary of allying with BLM as a political organisation. The BLM movement has social agendas inimical to conservative family values, and embraces the full gamut of identity politics including transgenderism, and the dismantling of the two-parent family structure (notice no mention of fathers): “We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead…We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and villages that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable. We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual” (https://web.archive.org/web/20200729050850/https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/) Some months ago, the site deleted its mission statement page https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/, presumably because the organisation realised the statement alienated many people when they learnt what the movement really represents.
    Raising children often requires more than parental care, but also effort of the extended family – uncles and aunts, grandparents. But the extended family is not a substitute for stable two-parent families. The BLM agenda is that single parenthood is on par, even superior to two-parent family structure deemed part of “structural racism” (another core concept underpinning CRT). The reality is the collapse of the two-parent family structure is instrumental to disadvantaging Black children at the onset.
    The UK offshoot of BLM is explicitly anti-capitalist and anarchist: https://uk.gofundme.com/f/ukblm-fund. “We’re guided by a commitment to dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white-supremacy, patriarchy and the state structures that disproportionately harm black people in Britain and around the world…Developing and delivering training, police monitoring and strategies for the abolition of police.”

    The Right Revd Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, wrote an interesting article criticising Church of England’s recent report on racism in the church (see report here https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2021-04/FromLamentToAction-report.pdf):
    https://archive.vn/GAir7
    “The Church of England has fallen for anti-Christian theories of race”

    Also see Giles Udy’s article:
    https://unherd.com/2021/04/how-critical-race-theory-captured-the-church
    “How Critical Race Theory captured the Church: The anti-racism report is heavily influenced by subversive ideology”

    Kenny Xu’s article:
    https://quillette.com/2021/06/06/no-critical-race-theory-isnt-a-new-civil-rights-movement-just-the-opposite/
    “Critical Race Theory Isn’t a New Civil Rights Movement. Just the Opposite”

    Civitas report “Rotting from the Head: Radical progressive activism and the Church of England”
    https://www.civitas.org.uk/publications/rotting-from-the-head/

  2. You forgot to mention a crucial and honest piece of this – what Curtis Woods DID to Feinstein’s original resolution was so wrong. Woods (not longer a professor at SBTS) practically gutted and rewrote what Feinstein had written. Another example of journalists just giving you a part of the whole story. Also, we are not being honest in these articles if we don’t lay out what CT IS and has been for almost 100 years …..nothing new under the sun.

  3. Lindsey Calverley

    I really don’t understand why all of these denominations feel like they need to make these resolutions in the first place. They clearly are not qualified to make these statements about social issues or to discern and apply scripture to them. See quote from the above article “… Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded in 1845 with a defense of slavery.” Can we talk about that? The SBC interpreted scripture to justify the dehumization of the black race as a whole. And I am talking about literal dehumanization. They thought people of color didn’t have a soul, they were cursed to slavery from the time of Noah. Many thought they were kept on the arc as animals, and not as human beings. This is nothing less than heartbreaking and infuriating! They denied scientific evidence that this is clearly false, and in turn, instigated the civil war. This was a widely held belief by religious people in that time. And what were the results of this demonic theology? “The Civil War remains the deadliest military conflict in American history, and accounted for more American military deaths than all other wars combined until the Vietnam War.” Historically, the religious community has been the WORST commentators on social issues. In order to our society to survive, religious denominations should stop it with these resolutions. Or, they should follow the idea that there should be a separation between church and state by admitting they are a for-profit lobbying organization and be revoked of tax-exempt status. You can’t have it both ways.

    The bible clearly states that we are ALL given the Holy Spirit, just as Christ lives within each of His followers. If the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom which existed before the earth was created lives within each of us, why do we need some denomination to interpret scripture for us and attempt to apply it to social issues that they know nothing about! These are white men voting on issues related to the equal rights. The very men whose fathers and grandfathers probably fought in the civil war FOR slavery!

    By the way… the SBC and many religious organizations still dehumanize women every day. They still do not see us as equal to men in our personhood, many do not allow women to be ordained as pastors, and they are outright abusing women in their churches. Why do we still care about their opinions? These powerful men are but a footnote in the story of Christ being lived out today.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      I was going to comment, but then Lindsey stated everything so wonderfully. Only thing I will add is that the phrase “Critical Race Theory” is being thrown around so casually at just about ANYTHING that mentions race that when I ask what it is, I get a different answer EVERY time. It leads me to believe that CRT is little more than a phrase being politicized and weaponized against anyone and anything that dares to bring up that we as a nation have a problem – past AND present – with racism. (Yes, I said it, so I’m expecting all the usual phrases to be incorrectly used and thrown at me: woke, Marxist, CRT, etc.)
      If only the church would lead the way in addressing it, but again….see Lindsey’s post.

  4. The claim that Derrick Bell was following the thought pattern of MLK is irrelevant. The entire history of Critical Theory, expanded to become CRT, is founded in Marxist thought. Period. To deny that is just intellectually dishonest and false witness.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      @Jeff – this is UNTRUE (yet ironic, given MLK was accused of being Marxist too). CRT is about viewing the past (and present) of this nation (or world) thru the lens of race, to think about how we got here. CRT deniers believe systemic racism is fake – that race has not played any role in the establishment and shaping our legal, economic, social and political institutions. So I ask all of you – how will you explain the history of the slave trade, the 3/5ths clause, segregation/Jim Crow, the very need for a civil rights movement (and legislation) in the first place, redlining, race covenants, etc. To say “Black people were just workers who migrated here” is untrue. To say “Black people just chose to go to different schools” is untrue. Not sure how you’ll explain that Jackie Robinson or MLK were heroes without mentioning what they were fighting against, but hey… I’m interested in how you’ll explain it if race has never been a factor.
      The truth of how we got here will never be comfortable to hear, discuss, or study. Yet, the truth never is comfortable. (We know this as ministers of the gospel – confronting others with their sin and need for Christ is NEVER comfortable). Yet we cannot run from it or we will repeat it.
      Racism is a sin that needs to be confronted and repented from. But we can’t and won’t if we deny it in the first place.

      1. Thanks but apparently you haven’t really read through the founding of Critical Theory. Please educate yourself as to the facts about its origin, before you decide to adopt it as a transcendental theological framework. Your response is a red herring; I didn’t claim racism didn’t exist. I was addressing Critical Theory and CRT, its descendant philosophy. How did you miss that? My guess is that you immediately jumped to one of CRT’s classic axioms – anyone who disagrees with us is a racist. And a denier. No where in my answer did I say anything about racism not existing or denied that it needs to be addressed. Yet, somehow, you arrived at that conclusion in your response. You might want to stop and think of how you got there. I am totally comfortable discussing racism. I am also comfortable discussing the fact that scripture does not instruct believers to assume guilt for others past sins. The fallacy with your approach as I see it is that you are assuming guilt and projecting sin onto an entire group of people. Which, the last time I checked, is the definition of racism. Sin is an individual problem, not a problem that is found in any particular race. The great sin of America is not racism; the great sin of America is depravity. And that depravity exists in every human heart. And from it emanates all manner of sin, including racism.

        1. Marin Heiskell

          @Jeff, I actually have read MANY books on critical race theory, and that is what they each book did: added the lens of race to examine how and why we got here as a society (some were US focused, some were more global).
          I do not think – nor did I say – those who are against CRT are racist. That’s an assumption that is little more than a condescending oversimplification of both sides of the CRT argument. Based on my readings, discussions, and debates with many, I do see a theme in those who despise CRT: the denial or downplaying of how race has systemically played a VERY significant factor in our social, economic, and political structures and views. I’ve bluntly heard “the US has never been racist” come out of the mouths of several who are against CRT. That is factually incorrect. I can point to racist letters and laws that were written, established, and enforced for generations to prove it is factually incorrect. We would have never needed civil rights legislation to CORRECT the racism baked into earlier laws if our country wasn’t racist. A civil rights movement would have NEVER needed to exist if racism (and other isms) weren’t prominently featured in laws and policies, and reinforced by the complicit silence and contentment of others. But being incorrect about that does NOT make one racist. That’s an insult.

          The answer to every problem isn’t to cast blame or find fault. History is no one’s fault. We cannot change history. Yet we can acknowledge how historical events have shaped many inequities that exist in our society. And this goes beyond race. I can prove class, gender, religious, ethnic, and nationality-based inequities that are rooted in multiple “isms” baked into public policies, views, and complacency throughout history. Where we land on the spectrum of inequity is NOT our fault; yet it is responsible to be aware of it. For example, I did NOTHING to be born American, yet I do realize that being American comes with privileges that were established before I was born. And some of those privileges were rooted in various “isms” and sins of the past. Am I to blame? No. Do I need to be aware of it? Yes.

          I have also heard many anti-CRT arguments include such statements as “it will make students uncomfortable”. When did feelings determine what we are to learn?

          If there is an issue with HOW racism is taught or addressed, I’m all for discussing and debating a healthy way to have a constructive dialogue that does NOT deny or downplay it. But the whole “it makes students uncomfortable so let’s not teach it” is flawed. What if math makes me uncomfortable? Could I have gotten out of all those calculus classes over the years? LOL

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