Disappointment. This is the only word that stuck with me as I read and re-read the recent statement from the six Southern Baptist seminary presidents rejecting Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.
On the one hand, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I know these institutions have a long history of opposing LGBTQ inclusion and the ordination of women. Still, I can’t help but be disappointed at the historical shortsightedness of this statement.
From the perspective of history, I believe the Southern Baptist Convention will one day come to regret this statement. I believe it is something for which the convention will one day be issuing an apology. I’m sure its signers may not think so right now, but weren’t the original Southern Baptists equally confident in their pro-slavery position when they split off from Northern Baptists in 1845?
It seems so obvious to us now. Who could possibly defend a system of ownership over another human being? How could someone claiming the name of Jesus turn a blind eye to the dehumanizing brutality of it all? Somehow, they were able to ignore the human suffering behind the issue and stand on principle for 150 years until the great-great-grandchildren of the original Southern Baptists finally approved a laughably belated apology in 1995.
Now, these six Southern Baptist seminary presidents have done it again — white-knuckling theoretical principle at the expense of real, flesh-and-blood people.
As a former conservative Southern Baptist pastor, this is more than just a denominational embarrassment; it is a personal one as well. For years, I blindly clung to my principles rather than doing the hard work of trying to understand the people behind the issues. Like these six seminary presidents, I never imagined that my straight, white, male experience was anything other than normative, which is precisely why it’s so critical for Christians to understand CRT and Intersectionality in the first place.
“For years, I blindly clung to my principles rather than doing the hard work of trying to understand the people behind the issues.”
I can’t think of a better illustration than six influential white men, on the grounds of principle, delegitimizing pieces of the Black, female and LGBTQ experience without even attempting to understand how they might be different.
Does anybody really believe there isn’t a fundamental difference in how young Black men and young white men experience American society? Can anyone argue, in good faith, that the male and female American experience is essentially the same? This is at the core of what Intersectionality is all about. The Black male experience is not equal to the white female experience is not equal to the gay Hispanic experience. It seems like it ought to be self-evident that to dismiss it as unbiblical is irresponsible both toward the sacred text and those with whom we share it.
The Bible says nothing about Intersectionality; it doesn’t have to. Intersectionality is the fundamental reality in which we live. Whether we like it or not, our experience of the world is determined by a complex combination of different factors from race to sexuality to socio-economic status and much more.
“We can’t deny that our nation has been built on a foundation of racism.”
This is especially true when it comes to race. We can’t deny that our nation has been built on a foundation of racism. This fact alone doesn’t make America immutably flawed, but it does mean that racialization has been systematically and intentionally baked into American life over hundreds of years.
If Christians are to take the biblical exhortation to promote justice and equity seriously, we must stop denying reality and start facing it. And yet, in this moment that calls us to relax the rabid defense of our principles and make an effort to understand the experience of others, these six seminary presidents doubled down.
A lot has changed for me in the past few years. Like the 1995 SBC, I still have a lot of work to do, but I am learning to own my past insistence on principle over people. I am making peace with the harm some of my views have caused and finding redemption in the acceptance of people I once rejected.
Accepting this statement would be a devastating setback to me and a betrayal of those who are helping me grow into a lover of mercy and compassion. I genuinely believe future generations of Southern Baptists will one day be apologizing for this statement, and I’ve come too far to align myself with those who insist on perpetuating a history my grandchildren will one day be ashamed of.
Jason Koon is an ordained Baptist minister who writes at the intersection of faith and politics. He lives in Western North Carolina with his wife and two teenage daughters. His “Almost Exvangelical” blog is at www.jason-koon.com.