Black Pastors Consider Exodus From Southern Baptist Convention Over Race

Black Pastors Consider Exodus From Southern Baptist Convention Over Race

Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, and his wife, Vera McKissic, pray during services in Arlington, Texas, June 7, 2020. McKissic has been affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention for more than 45 years. Now he’s pondering whether he and his congregation should break away over race-related actions of some white SBC leaders. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Black pastors are unhappy with the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention and some are leaving the largest U.S. Protestant denomination over race.

Racial insensitivity from some leaders of the predominantly white SBC has become a concern for Black pastors, especially after a controversial declaration by SBC seminary presidents in late 2020. The church leaders made a provocative declaration against critical race theory.

They argued that “a fundamental concept in the struggle against racial injustice contravenes church doctrine,” AP reported.

Critical race theory acknowledges that systemic racism is part of the current American life, and also challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish, CNN reported.

“Critical race theory is a practice. It’s an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founding critical race theorist and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia universities.

Many Black pastors are wary that the conservative head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Rev. Albert Mohler, may be as the next president of the SBC in June at the national meeting in Nashville. Mohler’s actions have concerned them. While the seminary announced new scholarship funds for Black students, Mohler declined to change the names of buildings at his seminary named after slaveholders. A supporter of Donald Trump in the 2020 election, Mohler played a key role in the repudiation of critical race theory.

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 as a result of a split with northern Baptists over slavery. SBC became the church of Southern slaveholders, AP reported. Today, its membership is about 14.5 million and predominately white. Black churches in the SBC have a combined membership of about 400,000.

The SBC formally apologized in 1995 for its pro-slavery past and later condemned white supremacy. But racial tensions have exploded recently after a Nov. 30 statement from six seminary presidents, all white, who did not consult with Black church leaders before declaring that critical race theory was “incompatible with” central tenets of the SBC’s Scripture-based theology.

Virginia pastor Marshal Ausberry, president of the organization that represents the SBC’s Black pastors, responded. He wrote to the presidents and explained that concepts such as critical race theory “help us to see and discover otherwise undetected, systemic racism in institutions and in ourselves.”

“The optics of six Anglo brothers meeting to discuss racism and other related issues without having ethnic representation in the room in 2020 — at worst it looks like paternalism, at best insensitivity,” said Ausberry, first vice president of the SBC, in an interview with Baptist Press, the official news agency of the SBC.

The presidents later apologized for not consulting Black pastors and met with some of them Jan. 6. Despite this, they have not wavered in their rejection of critical race theory.

The critical race theory movement believes conventional legal strategies cannot deliver social and economic justice. The theory calls for “legal approaches that take into consideration race as a nexus of American life,” according to the First Amendment Encyclopedia.

The theory developed when legal scholars, lawyers, and activists realized that many of the advances of the civil rights era had hit a roadblock and were in fact being reversed.

Rev. Charlie Dates of the Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, has already left the SBC. The November statement by the six SBC presidents was “the last straw,” he said.

“When did the theological architects of American slavery develop the moral character to tell the church how it should discuss and discern racism?” Dates wrote in an op-ed for Religion News Service. “The hard reality of the seminary presidents’ statement is that Black people will never gain full equality in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Other Black pastors who have severed ties with the SBC include Rev. Seth Martin, whose multiracial Brook Community Church in Minneapolis had been receiving financial support from the Southern Baptist association in Minnesota, and Rev. Joel Bowman, who abandoned plans to move his Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, into the SBC fold, AP reported.

“I genuinely believe the SBC is headed in the wrong direction,” Bowman said. “White evangelicals have gotten in bed with the Republican Party.”

The SBC’s rejection of critical race theory is seen as part of a movement by conservatives across the country to discredit the theory.

Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden recently repealed Trump’s executive order banning critical race theory training from the federal government.

A network of conservative organizations and private attorneys are “launching a ‘war’ against critical race theory training across the country as President Biden rolls back the Trump administration‘s efforts on the issue,” Fox News reported.

The network wants to bring a complaint before the U.S. Supreme Court and “effectively abolish critical race theory programs from American life,” according to Fox.

Discovery Institute researcher Chris Rufo is heading the anti-critical-race-theory network. “Critical race theory is a grave threat to the American way of life,” Rufo said in a press release, echoing Trump’s previous statements on the training.

“It divides Americans by race and traffics in the pernicious concepts of race essentialism, racial stereotyping, and race-based segregation—all under a false pursuit of ‘social justice,'” the press release read. “Critical race theory training programs have become commonplace in academia, government, and corporate life, where they have sought to advance the ideology through cult-like indoctrination, intimidation, and harassment.”

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 73: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin makes the case for why this is a multi-factor rebellion vs. just protests about George Floyd. He discusses the Democratic Party’s sneaky relationship with the police in cities and states under Dem control, and why Joe Biden is a cop and the Steve Jobs of mass incarceration.

Critical race theory training has been praised by others.

“If we are going to live up to this nation’s promise — ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ — we have to see each other as human beings, and we have to do whatever it takes, including taking whatever classes make that possible,” attorney M.E. Hart told The Washington Post. 

Hart has conducted training sessions in critical race theory. “These classes have been very powerful in allowing people to do that, and we need them more than ever. There’s danger here.”