The six white men who lead the seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention released a joint statement on November 30th denouncing Critical Race Theory. Specifically, they “declare[d] that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith and Message.” I totally agree with them! The uncritical self-examination of the Southern Baptist Convention’s racism and the Baptist Faith and Message which undergirds its doctrinal beliefs makes these seminaries incongruent with any liberative analysis which might bring healing from the institutionalized racism these six seminaries maintain and sustain.
If these six white men were to seriously consider Critical Race Theory, they would have to confront their complicity with the institutional violence I—as an alumni of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary—experienced. To wrestle with Critical Race Theory would force these six white men to consider how the power, profit and privilege they and their institutions possess is masked by a rhetoric which hides the price their disenfranchised Others were and are still forced to pay.
Speaking about the joint statement, the president of my alma mater, Al Mohler, said, “such advocacy [Critical Race Theory] has no rightful place within an SBC seminary.” And, as I noted earlier, he is correct. If the seminary wishes to maintain its white supremacy, then such advocacy—led by scholars of color like myself—has no place in a white SBC seminary. Because all professors “must agree to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message,” any professor of color who seeks to understand the religion from their particular social location is muzzled. Denying those on Mohler’s margins the right to speak, the right to question, the right to challenge at his campus only reinforces the white privilege of controlling the conversation—what can be said, and what cannot. The search is on to recruit Black and Brown faces with white voices whose assimilation becomes proof-text proving that these six white men and their white institutions are not racist.
As you probably know, Critical Race Theory understands racism not as biological, but as a social construct designed consciously or unconsciously to further the power, profit and privilege of white people. These constructs are naturalized and legitimized through social structures and institutions. This allows individuals, like the six white seminary presidents for example, to passionately condemn racism—as they did when they said “we stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form”—right before ensuring that the institutionalized racism of the seminaries could not be questioned.
Among the unexamined powers these six white men hold is the ability to establish the rules on how a conversation will unfold. They can either silence or direct the discourse so perspectives voiced by the disenfranchised can be dismissed as unbiblical. They could feel good about the anti-racist proclamation they made, and even express righteous indignation if accused of being racist. In all honesty, not knowing the state of their souls, they very well may not be racist. However, by silencing communities of color, they’re not only engaging in racist acts (if it quacks like a duck, etc), but they’re also fortifying the racism of Southern Baptist seminaries so that these institutions can be racist for them.
There is no creed but the Bible—as long as it’s a Bible read with white eyes. Regardless of the best intentions of these six white men, the white Christianity they proselytize is life-denying for people of color. The Christianity taught at these seminaries, which they have now declared cannot be critically explored to uncover unexamined biases, has historically been an apologist for the raging white Christian nationalism we’re witnessing today.
Rather than seeking to understand the pain experienced by Baptists of color and issuing a clarion for justice, these seminaries through their proclamation perpetuate the cult of whiteness by embracing a white God, a white Jesus, a white liturgy, a white biblical hermeneutic, and a white theology which reinforce centuries of white supremacy.
The prohibition of questioning the inherent racism of these institutions only reinforces the supremacism that established a white affirmative action securing the power, profits, and privileges obtained within the Southern Baptist world through the sweat of others’ brows and the strength of others’ arms. With white feet firmly planted upon land acquired through genocide, living in houses constructed through the enslavement of Black bodies, located within an empire carved out of the cheap labor and natural resources stolen from the Global South, future seminarians at these six institutions can continue, without any pangs of conscience, to lift their eyes to the heavens in thanksgiving to their white God, who richly blessed them according to the loving mercies God holds for “his” chosen.
But woe unto us who lack faithfulness to whiteness and insist on making sense of our world through Critical Race Theory, for theirs is a jealous God who prohibits conversation. This white God whom these six white seminary presidents are seeking to protect from Critical Race Theory seems more appropriate for global conquerors who benefit from all that’s been stolen and through the labor of all those defined as inferior. And this is why Critical Race Theory can never be explored at such lily-white seminaries, for the deity they evangelize can never be the God of the conquered.