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Southern Baptist seminary presidents reaffirm their commitment to whiteness

Jemar Tisby

At the recent annual meeting of the Council of Seminary Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, leaders ostensibly met to recommit to their guiding statement: the Baptist Faith and Message. In reality, these seminary presidents reaffirmed and gave themselves over to another historic Southern Baptist commitment: whiteness. 

For those who may not be familiar with what is meant by the term “whiteness,” theologian Willie James Jennings offers a succinct explanation in his new book After Whiteness:

“…‘[W]hiteness’ does not refer to people of European descent but to a way of being in the world and seeing the world that forms cognitive and affective structures able to seduce people into its habitation and its meaning-making.”

Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness

Whiteness is the illusion that what is deemed “white” is better, central, and superior to the beliefs, cultures, and peoples coming from different racial and ethnic groups. The practice of whiteness can be overt, as in the heinous practice of race-based chattel slavery, or more subtle, as in the subordination of any theological tradition that is non-white or non-European. In this case, a commitment to whiteness shows up by naming a framework developed within legal studies as an imminent threat to the integrity of the Christian witness in the United States.

The seminary presidents could have simply acknowledged the 20th anniversary of the Baptist Faith and Message’s adoption and stated that they remain dedicated to its doctrines. Instead, they focused on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality. By highlighting “Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory” as particularly acute threats to Southern Baptist orthodoxy, the seminary presidents take aim at virtually anyone who advocates for racial justice beyond hugs, handshakes, and symbolic statements. 

In reality, these seminary presidents reaffirmed and gave themselves over to another historic Southern Baptist commitment: whiteness. 

For several years, fundamentalist Christians have positioned CRT as an epithet within certain Christian circles. It is the theological and ecclesiastical equivalent of the “Red Scare.” Slap anyone with the label “Critical Race Theory,” and they automatically become enemies of the church. 

There is no coherent understanding of the framework among the critics of CRT. Their main objections seem to be concerned with how Critical Race Theory explains race as a matter of power wielded by certain groups–namely white people–to exploit and subjugate other groups. Others have extensively written about fundamentalist Christian grievances with Critical Race Theory. Their work should be consulted for further background. 

It is important to note the significance of this particular statement from Southern Baptist seminary presidents. Their position does not arise in a vacuum. There is a deeper context that demonstrates SBC leaders’ capitulation to the most extreme voices in the denomination. 

Within the Southern Baptist Convention, a far-right group called the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN) has formed in response to what it perceives as a liberal drift in the denomination. It cites Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality as particular threats. The network “rejects worldly ideologies infiltrating the Southern Baptist Convention, including Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and other unbiblical agendas deceptively labeled as ‘Social Justice.'”

By highlighting “Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory” as particularly acute threats to Southern Baptist orthodoxy, the seminary presidents take aim at virtually anyone who advocates for racial justice beyond hugs, handshakes, and symbolic statements. 

This perception of threat has even reached the White House. Earlier this year, Donald Trump issued an executive order against “racial sensitivity training” that might use components of Critical Race Theory. Later, the Office of Budget Management distributed a memo that instructed its agencies to “cease and desist” funding for training that uses Critical Race Theory, saying that “[a]ll agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on ‘critical race theory.'”

An increasing number of Christians in the SBC seem to slap any stance on racial justice that they find objectionable with the label of “Critical Race Theory” or “Intersectionality.” 

Do you want to talk about systemic racism? That’s Critical Race Theory.
Do you support the Black Lives Matter movement? That’s Critical Race Theory. 

Do you think white men may have a blind spot about race because of their social location? That’s Critical Race Theory. 

Do you think that people who identify as both Black and female face racism and sexism’s compounding effects? That’s Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.

The Southern Baptist seminary presidents continue to affirm their commitment to whiteness by quashing any meaningful effort to address racism in their schools or denomination and making those who attempt to do so targets of criticism. Of course, they covered their backs by saying, “[w]e stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form.” Still, such statements have all the hallmarks of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.” 

An increasing number of Christians in the SBC seem to slap any stance on racial justice that they find objectionable with the label of “Critical Race Theory” or “Intersectionality.”

When it comes down to actual practices that address racism–renaming buildings so they don’t feature slaveholders, re-examining history to discover why America is not so exceptional, breaking with a political party whose leaders traffic in racist statements and xenophobia, changing policies that create or perpetuate racial inequality–Southern Baptist leaders side with the status quo over transformative change virtually every time.

It is worth noting that each SBC seminary president has made some statement or offered some gesture supporting racial equality. Danny Akin has supported the Kingdom Diversity Initiative at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. JD Greear has taken heat merely for saying the words “Black Lives Matter” as the current president of the SBC. While these men seem to have personal commitments to racial equity, their public statements as seminary presidents draw their institutions and their denomination as a whole into a vortex of complicity and compromise. 

If these men had taken their stated commitments to racial justice beyond simple statements and basic support, it would have led them to produce a very different statement than the one that came out of this annual meeting. A statement in support of racial justice would not have honed in on Critical Race Theory or Intersectionality. A more helpful statement would have cited what has been and continues to be the greatest threat to Christianity in the United States–Christian Nationalism. 

The Southern Baptist seminary presidents…covered their backs by saying, “[w]e stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form,” but such statements have all the hallmarks of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”

According to sociologists Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Christian Nationalism is “an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic belonging and participation.”
In their book Taking America Back for God, they go on to explain that “’Christian’ in this sense represents more of an ethnocultural and political identity that denotes a specific constellation of religious affiliation, cultural values, race, and nationality. 

It is Christian Nationalists who support draconian laws aimed at excluding immigrants from the US. It is Christian Nationalists who say Confederate monuments are about southern pride and not white supremacy. It is Christian Nationalists (even more than white evangelicals) who believe that the Republican party is the only Christian option for voting. It is Christian Nationalists who think Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality are the greatest threats to the gospel while doing nothing of substance about the racists and white supremacists in their midst. 

The greatest failure of this most recent statement from Southern Baptist seminary presidents is not its fixation with a threat that is not there; it is that it ignores the threat that is. 

In the year 2020–when a pandemic has ravaged Black and brown communities, when millions protested the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, when so many others have dedicated themselves to taking steps on the journey toward racial justice–Christians in the United States have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take bold steps for racial justice. 

Instead, these Southern Baptist leaders have chosen to prop up whiteness. 
It is ironic that in their statement, these Southern Baptist seminary presidents claim they are “standing against the tide of theological compromise.”

There is no form of theological compromise that is more American than vigorously opposing those who advocate for racial justice while remaining silent about the racism and whiteness running rampant in the church. 

18 thoughts on “Southern Baptist seminary presidents reaffirm their commitment to whiteness

  1. Pastor Calvin


    I think the issue is that CRT can be used as a tool in addressing racism. My frustration is that it’s condemned to hell as being the mark of beast when it very well may be useful. Like secular psychology which has a lot of useful bits in it though there is some junk too, I believe CRT can be used with discernment. Violent white supremacy is posing a greater threat to the church as John Earnest, who killed one Jewish person and injured several others in a synagogue shooting is an Orthodox Presbyterian. He used theology to justify his desire to kill Jews. Dylan Roof, who notoriously killed 9 Black worshippers at Emmanuel AME church, is a Lutheran and saw is actions as theologically justified. CRT is being vilified, but yet it’s white supremacy that’s tainting Christians and leading to murder. And the fact that you know more about the supposed evils of CRT and not the growing white supremacist movement within Christianity proves my point.

    I’m not calling you a racist and I appreciate your tone in your last post. Forgive me if I came off strong in my responses. We are obviously coming from different perspectives on this and this isn’t the best medium to get come to a middle ground position. If you feel that CRT is wrong, fine, but I ask that you see how much violent white supremacy is creeping into the church.

    Isaiah 1:17,
    Peace with you Brother,

  2. Josh Valentine

    Pastor Calvin,

    A couple of things of note, I will ask that you do not read any type of tone into my responses. I hate texting or even emails because things can be misconstrued. If you claim that the Jesus Christ of the Bible is your Lord and Savior then that makes us brothers. Even if that isn’t the case please know that everything I type here is out of a brotherly love that I am although commanded to, still joyfully share because Christ is my savior and I love because He first loved me. I get that these are sensitive subjects and that tends to make people think the worst about everyone posting online.

    Apologies for posting the same thing twice, definitely don’t want to appear to be some type of internet troll, I was doing that from my phone and apparently by the second accidental reply you had posted again.

    I do want to clarify a couple of things and giving some quick background of the original post. My wife sent me this article because someone she follows on Instagram had posted this and she (my wife) asked me what I thought. I had no idea that The Witness is a “Black Site” nor do I care. I do apologize for not reading the bio of the author or I would have picked up on the black Christian collective thing.

    So for the record, I am not attacking anyone because of their skin color, if anything, I am attacking a very flawed ideology that I think has no merit whatsoever or even a hint of a Biblical base and I believe CRT should not be recognized or practiced by those that claim Christ. That has nothing to do with someone’s skin color.

    As far as it being a racist website I have no idea because this is the only thing I have read from it. I think this article says a lot of racist things in it. If your claim that by my definition of racism (which I believe is the actual historical definition of racism not the definition that has changed in the recent years) that this website attributes some type of value to skin color then, yes I would agree with your premise and say I think it is racist. Just know I wouldn’t consider this attacking this website but more of my perception of what they are representing. This is also me admittedly not knowing any other articles on this website.

    For the claim to not answering your first question on citing where CRT is racist, I will admit I have not read a lot of the books that CRT is based on but what I have read from articles, heard from podcasts and news and seen personally through those that adhere to elements of CRT in the workplace and school system, it is my opinion that CRT attributes to division based on skin color. That’s why I would call it racist. This article even articulates whiteness being a thing so that would be to my point posting on here.

    This brings me back to my original post and the points that I apparently did not articulate well enough. First point is this, Skin color has no value. (Gen. 1,2: Acts 17:26, Gal. 3:28) By placing any value on it, you or me or a group of people, would be sinning because of the pride (thinking we are greater than God or someone else) that is attached to that division of the human race. God did not separate us into any type of categories based on appearance. God does separate us on the issue of sin. We are sheep and goats (Matt. 25:33) or the redeemed and the unredeemed race of people.(1 Peter 2:9) God’s Grace extends to those who believe, and his wraith extends to those who don’t. This isn’t a skin color thing and I think that is what gets lost when those that claim Christ start following a worldly lie (i.e. skin color having value, which CRT presupposes and therefore why I think it is racist) and a Biblical Truth (One Human race, in need of a Savior) to the world these will look like two completely separate things but they are not because racism can only be cured through the Gospel not more racism.

    As far as the white supremacy groups/websites/’churches’ that you mention above I had no idea they existed until you mentioned them, and to be honest I probably won’t go to their websites. This came across my path and I felt like sharing my opinion and a Biblical Truth on here in hopes that it may enlighten or intrigue someone to reading Scripture.

    You are correct in stating that race is fiction and racism does exist. I think that the cure for racism is the Gospel not further division or more racism. The Gospel is what addresses sinful pride which is what is at the core of all racism whether someone thinks it is systemic or not. (Proverbs 8:13) Sin is systemic in all things and only cured through the death and resurrection of Christ. (Mark 8:34, John 3:16-17, 1 Cor. 1:18)

    This was my actual first post on any article on any website and I didn’t mean to offend but the Gospel is offensive. I enjoy the back and forth, even if we vehemently disagree. If you read all of this, good on you because it’s a book.

    As far as you somewhat calling me a racist (without calling me one technically), I do take offense to that but forgive you for it. Hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas.

    I also understand that this last little bit could be read as sarcasm please know that it isn’t. Have a good one man

  3. Josh Valentine

    Sure the fact that it a attributes negative motive to one’s skin color makes it racist. The mention of someone’s color of skin and then attributing anything (other than a description of that person) to a person or group of people based solely on that person’s or group’s skin color would make it racist. Any search of the definition of CRT will show this anytime a race is mentioned it is more than a physical description.

    Also sorry apparently when I replied earlier it made it a separate comment.

  4. Pastor Calvin


    Sorry, that doesn’t answer my question and it sounds like you have never read anything on CRT. But I will ask you this. It’s clear you feel that The Witness website is racist by your definition. I wanted to know if you also go other more conventionally racist websites and attack them as well? I’m thinking specifically of supposed Christian white supremacist groups like World Church of the Creator and Kinism, which all espouse Christianity through the lens of white supremacy. Do you post on their sites as well or are you just targeting The Witness? Now, if you are only targeting The Witness, a Black site, and not Kinism, a White site, it would seem that your approach is unbalanced, maybe even racist. Before you reply, I would guess you spread your equal opportunity message with those on other sites.

  5. Josh Valentine

    Sure the fact that it a attributes negative motive to one’s skin color makes it racist. The mention of someone’s color of skin and then attributing anything (other than a description of that person) to a person or group of people based solely on that person’s or group’s skin color would make it racist.

  6. Pastor Calvin


    Can you please quote or cite where CRT is racist?
    Race is a fiction but racism is quite real and needs to be addressed.

  7. Josh Valentine

    Race is a social construct not a Biblical one. Christ came to save sinners not society. Even though race doesn’t technically exist scientifically (we all have melanin) or Biblically (Ethnicity is different than race) racism however does exist and it is pride plain and simple which is a sin. Every Christian should be addressing that instead of dividing on some worldly topic to make them feel superior than someone else (again pride). If you claim Christ and believe the Bible there is no logic to adhere to CRT(which is racists) or even to address someone’s color as more than just a description(which would also be racists). Acts 17:26, 1 Tim. 1:15, 1 John 3:8 are a couple of verses that come to mind.

  8. Pam

    Everyone is made in the image of God. Surely, then, it’s even more important to examine ourselves and our societies to see if they treat everyone in response to that fact.

  9. James R Wade

    The fact that the SBC was founded on the bedrock of the right to own slaves, and used Scripture as proof texts, more thought should be given to how the Gospel was preached in the South. Most of the preaching focused on personal salvation from Hell through faith in Jesus, but his teachings were given short shrift. When they were mentioned, often it was with the unspoken understanding that your neighbor was your white neighbor. Your slaves were your property which you could breed, abuse, injure, sell, or even kill without penalty.

    Since so much of a slave holder’s net worth was tied up in his slaves, giving them freedom was very costly, and led to a great deal of bitterness. Jim Crow laws were passed in state after state in the South to ensure that former slaves would never be accepted as equal to whites. The hooded KKK chapters operated at will to instill fear and create havoc. Many of these men in the KKK organizations were faithful members of churches. As late as the 1930s, there were public hangings of black men without trials or even hearings. These hangings were celebrated by large numbers of onlookers who often took photographs which some used to make postcards and send to friends and relatives.

    In the light of this history, It is incumbent of the Boards and Presidents of SBC Seminaries to acknowledge the egregious error of endorsing the use of Scripture to justify the institution of slavery, and/or its consequences. To do less, will be an admission that they do not deserve to be considered educational institutions devoted to training young men and women to be true to the teachings of Jesus.

  10. Pastor Calvin

    The election of Donald Trump and the racial injustices of 2020 has been a like the sun rising on a darkened landscape in that we can see very clearly now where people really stand. Mohler went from denouncing Trump in 2016 to endorsing him in 2020. The SBC couldn’t do a straight forward resolution condemning the Alt-Right, but the seminary presidents can come together to denounce CRT.

    As many have said, if only these Christians fought racism with as much vigor as they fight CRT. In like manner, imagine if all of the super Trump supporters had spent more time on the Gospel then defending Trump. The priorities of Evangelicalism are completely off. May God open their eyes so they can see.

  11. Crisanne Werner

    A pastor recently asked my husband’s opinion on an article criticizing CRT. Why is this conservatives’ favorite starting point? All this energy could be used to dismantle white supremacy and racism in our churches. My heart hurts.

  12. Michael Gonzalez

    A denomination built on slavery is still enslaved to whiteness. A parable.

  13. Elsa Shaver

    Makes my heart hurt and turns my stomach. May it also make me pray more.

  14. Andrew F.

    As a white pastor of an SBC church, the inability of key leaders to faithfully lament and engage with issues of racial injustice is grievous. Thank you for clearly and accurately communicating what the real issue is.

  15. K Hudson

    It’s not a “job” to criticize CRT, nor is advocacy for justice something you can (or should) switch off for a week like a wardrobe item.

    You can try to get inside someone’s thinking and empathize, but Jemar’s writing indicates he does that—he anticipates counterarguments and addresses them.

    If you can look at history of race in our country, up to & including our present moment, and conclude that your time is best used as a Christian in attacking academic social theories about how these huge problems exist—then you might be the one who needs to undertake some reflection and attempt to empathize with Black Christians.

  16. Anti Racist

    Or, instead of this both-siderism, maybe propping up whiteness is just plain wrong. These are not two equally-right (or wrong) positions. There is a clear right and wrong, and the SBC has put itself in the ignorant wrong, yet again. At least they’re consistent in how disappointing they are.

  17. Stacia Smith

    Excellent article that affirms my lived experience as a Black woman imho has attended a majority-white evangelical church for many years. When I was younger I would feel conflicted because of the “hug your neighbors” and MLK holiday quote in the program bulletin. No longer. After the four traumatizing years of 45, I could no longer pretend everything was ok. Thank you for this article. God bless.

  18. Antoine

    Amen, Amen, and Amen. There are few things that die slower than institutional and multi generational racism.

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