A multi-ethnic group of Southern Baptist leaders described a meeting Jan. 6 as productive and trust-building, saying although they did not agree on all points, they were committed together to fighting racism and to honoring “our common commitment to the inerrant Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The meeting was called by Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, to address turmoil resulting from several recent statements issued by various SBC-affiliated groups concerning Critical Race Theory and race relations. Along with Floyd, the participants included officers of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, presidents of the six Southern Baptist seminaries, and SBC President J.D. Greear.
In a joint statement afterward, they called it “an honest and open conversation, hearts to hearts,” adding: “[W]e spoke candidly and respectfully about our perspectives and concerns related to” CRT and Intersectionality.
The discussion, conducted virtually, lasted approximately three hours. Marshal Ausberry, president of NAAF and first vice president of the SBC, said “seeds were planted by both sides in the face-to-face conversation — even if it did take place on a screen.”
“We believe they heard us,” Ausberry told Baptist Press, referring to the seminary presidents. “And, we sincerely heard them.”
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the current chairman of the Council of Seminary Presidents, said: “Brothers shared their hearts and concerns openly and graciously. The love and respect each has for one another was very evident.”
Participants pledged to continue similar conversations. Ausberry said they discussed plans for NAAF to work alongside the seminaries to increase the enrollment and continued engagement of Black students.
The Council of Seminary Presidents issued a statement Nov. 30 reaffirming “with eagerness” the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. The seminary presidents’ statement said while condemning “racism in any form,” they agree that “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith and Message.”
The statement was criticized by many Black pastors, who said it minimized the existence of systemic racism.
Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., issued a response Dec. 11 on behalf of the National African American Fellowship. It affirmed the high position of Scripture as “most sacred and dear to our hearts” and the Baptist Faith and Message as “part of our being Southern Baptists,” but also “recognize(d) that there are ideologies from a sociological and anthropological perspective [that] when used appropriately help us to better understand the inner workings of a fallen and sinful world.”
Ausberry added that those ideologies “do not supplant, by any means, the supremacy of Holy Scripture. And where such ideologies conflict with Scripture, it is Scripture that governs our worldview, our decisions, and our lives.” The NAAF statement also affirmed the existence of systemic racism.
On Dec. 18, a cross-ethnic group of Southern Baptists, including former SBC President Fred Luter and Mobile, Ala.-area pastor Ed Litton issued yet another statement, acknowledging that “recent events have left many brothers and sisters of color feeling betrayed and wondering if the [SBC] is committed to racial reconciliation.”
Several Black pastors announced they would no longer affiliate with the SBC. Through open letters, social media and other correspondence, several seminary presidents subsequently individually clarified their positions and again declared their commitment to fighting racism.
Floyd’s purpose for the meeting was to “find a way forward.” Afterward, several participants said the conversation was helpful.
“The seminary presidents shared the conviction that CRT will not be taught at their seminaries,” Ausberry said. “That’s their role to make those decisions, and we can respect that.”
NAAF representatives shared their insight and convictions that some aspects of CRT can be useful in detecting and identifying systemic racism in institutions and organizations.
Frank Williams, senior pastor of Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church in New York and vice president of NAAF — he’s set to become president of the fellowship in June — said “the interaction was mutually authentic and respectful.”
“We shared our beliefs and perspectives on CRT,” Williams said. “We really pressed into our differences on the usefulness of some aspects of CRT as a tool to help us identify and uncover systemic racism in our society.
“We differed on that, but what we did not differ on is that systemic racism exists. And, ultimately, we need to live the gospel of Jesus Christ to remedy this sin, both in the church and in the culture.”
Ausberry said the seminary presidents acknowledged that the perspective of Black pastors should have been considered before the release of the Nov. 30 statement.
“They said that had that conversation occurred, they may have addressed CRT in a different form or format,” Ausberry said. “We appreciated that.”
CRT/Intersectionality rose as a controversial issue in the SBC with the passage at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting of a resolution that affirmed the sufficiency and supremacy of Scripture and rejected the embrace of CRT as a worldview, while suggesting it “should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture.”
Greear, who had affirmed the Council of Seminary Presidents’ statement when it was released, apologized for how it hurt Black Southern Baptists. He said their insight and input was essential in considering “what a gospel-based response to racism in our country looks like.”
“Coming together, the CSP and NAAF were united around both the sufficiency of Scripture and the need to repudiate racism in all its forms, both personal and structural,” Greear said. “We all realized these are conversations that need nuance, grace and better efforts at mutual understanding.”
— Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.