Condemnation of the six Southern Baptist Convention seminary presidents for their Nov. 30 statement against Critical Race Theory is the result of misunderstanding and misrepresentations, according to one of the six presidents.
Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, posted an open letter to the seminary community on the school’s website Tuesday, Dec. 22.
He pointed out that the seminary presidents actually made three declarations in the same document but only one has drawn the most attention. Those three were a reaffirmation of the Baptist Faith & Message as the doctrinal guide for the seminaries; a reaffirmation of “all SBC condemnations of racism in any and every form”; and the statement about Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality being “incompatible” with the Baptist Faith & Message.
Without owning any responsibility for stirring the controversy, Greenway lamented that “before a watching world we appear all the more determined to tear each other apart.”
He said in the letter that he “enthusiastically” signed the seminary presidents’ statement. Yet he is alarmed by the “complaint, criticism and condemnation that has come our way, both publicly and privately.”
Some of this, he said, was to be expected because “there are certainly those outside the SBC fold who seem to take some perverse delight in any real or apparent Southern Baptist infighting, particularly because they reject our convictional commitments.”
Others were more surprising, he suggested, and made a specific reference to a statement by Houston pastor Ralph West that he was withdrawing from a doctoral program at Southwestern and leaving the SBC.
Greenway says he called West after reading the piece and they had a cordial conversation. Yet the president expressed dismay that their private call didn’t somehow stop West’s piece — originally published in the Baptist Standard — to stop circulating. “Since our conversation, his op-ed has continued to circulate, being carried and cited by a number of media outlets, both Christian and secular.”
He also told the story of a Black student who recently wrote to ask, “Should I stay?” because of concerns that he no longer would be welcome at Southwestern in light of the six presidents’ statement.
“My heart broke over the fact that this student would even contemplate that he should leave our seminary.”
“My heart broke over the fact that this student would even contemplate that he should leave our seminary, but I also realized there are likely other African American and other ethnic minority students at Southwestern Seminary and Scarborough College who may be having similar internal deliberations but who haven’t sent me their emails,” Greenway said.
To such students and anyone else who wants to know, Greenway wrote that “some criticisms” of the seminary leaders’ statement “are simply based upon misunderstandings.”
Such misunderstandings are founded in the “feelings and sentiments” of those reading the statement, he asserted. In fact, he circled back to say that the phrase “feels like” is “the crux of the criticism.”
To those who “feel like” the seminary presidents are denying the reality of systemic racism, he said that’s not what was conveyed. Their statement “not only did not deny systemic racism but reaffirmed denominational condemnations of it such as the historic 1995 SBC Resolution ‘On Racial Reconciliation on the 150th Anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention.’”
On Nov. 30, when the six presidents announced their views of Critical Race Theory, Greenway was quoted in Baptist Press, news service of the SBC, as saying: “In these days of rampant confusion about biblical truth, Great Commission Baptists can take confidence that their seminaries are offering clarity and conviction when it comes to racism and other worldviews antithetical to the Bible and the only gospel that can save, such as Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.”
Anyone who “misconstrues” the seminary leaders’ statement as a denial of systemic racism
“is bearing false witness,” he said. “One of my colleagues has even written specifically about how Christians should affirm the reality of systemic racism.”
Again, he lamented that the “plain language” of the seminary presidents has been overshadowed by “feelings.”
To the criticism that all six of the seminary presidents are white males and received no input from persons of color in drafting their statement, Greenway said such a critique is symptomatic of Critical Race Theory itself.
“Theologically, neither the life experiences of the six seminary presidents nor anyone else in any segment or subset of Southern Baptist life has any direct relationship to or doctrinal bearing on the compatibility or incompatibility” of affirming the Baptist Faith & Message and saying Critical Race Theory is incompatible with it.
“Human experience neither determines nor falsifies biblical and theological truth.”
“Human experience neither determines nor falsifies biblical and theological truth,” he said. “The Scriptures are the spectacles through which our own experiences must be evaluated, not the other way around.”
Critiquing Critical Race Theory “is not about preserving ‘whiteness,’ but rather pursuing righteousness and justice as God says through the prophet Isaiah,” Greenway wrote.
He conceded that Critical Race Theory might offer some insights and “does rightly decry racism and injustice, not unlike Islam’s adherence to monotheism, Mormonism’s valuing of the family, and inclusivism’s emphasis upon Christ’s power to save.”
However, he added: “I doubt anyone would seriously argue, though, that Islam, Mormonism and inclusivism should therefore be embraced in the SBC. Is rejection of these three tantamount to a theological throwing out of the baby with the bathwater? Of course not.”
At the beginning and end of the open letter, Greenway accused critics of the seminary presidents of violating the ninth commandment against bearing false witness.
Criticism “should never be allowed to descend into … a disputation laden with inaccurate claims and irresponsible language, both of which take us further from settled conviction and enduring consensus during a time when our world needs the gospel message now more than ever.”
In conclusion, Greenway noted that “many of our African American brothers and sisters have experienced injustices — both individually and systemically — that I have not. I grieve for them, and I lament with them, any way in which our … statement unintentionally brought hurt and pain.”
He remains committed, he said, to a “high view of Scripture” and “confessional fidelity” in a “big tent vision” for Southwestern. “These two positions are not mutually exclusive or contradictory.”