In 2006, Dr. Jim Richards, the recently retired (2020) executive director of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC), made a startling statement regarding pastors in the SBT—which included me—who believed in the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit listed in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and I Peter 4, and their practice in the life of believers and churches today, gifts that are particularly often exercised in private worship. The backdrop of Dr. Richard’s comment was in response to a sermon that I preached in chapel at Southwestern Seminary in August 2006 entitled, “The Baptism and Filling of the Holy Spirit.”
In this message, I challenged the International Mission Board of the SBC to rescind their policy adopted in 2005, that placed absolute restrictions on the SBC missionaries from praying and praising in tongues in private, because their policy was simply in direct contradiction to the plain teaching of Scripture; and it violated the religious liberty and conscience of the missionaries who were gifted by the Holy Spirit to pray, praise and give thanks to God in tongues, as practiced and preached by Paul (I Corinthians 14:2-5).
Dr. Paige Patterson responded to the sermon by releasing a public statement declaring my message was “harmful to the churches”; and he removed the recording of the message from the seminary archives, making it unavailable to the public. No chapel message in SWBTS chapel history had been treated like mine, not even the one preached by Dr. Karen Bullock in chapel, prior to Dr. Patterson’s arrival.
In 2015, under David Platt, President of the IMB at the time, the SBC-IMB reversed their anti-tongues policy and permitted missionaries to pray in tongues in private. In 2018, Dr. Jeffrey Bingham, then Interim President of SWBTS, restored my sermon to the seminary archives. Dr. Adam Greenway said to me, that if Dr. Bingham had not restored the sermon, he would have restored it upon becoming SWBTS’ new president. I love and appreciate Southwestern Seminary.
Back to Dr. Jim Richard’s statement: In 2006 in response to my chapel sermon, he stated, “If you have a private prayer language, you may ride on the bus at SBTC, but you will not be able to drive the bus.” I found that statement incredibly offensive as an African American and as one who has been spiritually gifted to pray, praise, intercede and give thanks in tongues, under the inspiration and influence of the Holy Spirit, as is taught in I Corinthians 14. I shared my pain and disagreement with Dr. Richards. He assured me that his comment was not intended to imply a racial connotation, only a theological one. Dr. Richards was gentle, respectful, and kind in his response to me, although he disagreed with my beliefs and practice. I visited him in 2006 to express to him why our church was withdrawing membership in the SBTC. However, I remained a member from then until today, simply to not break fellowship over a tertiary issue. I DECIDED TO STAY ON THE BUS FROM 2006 UNTIL JANUARY 2021. But, today, I have decided it is time to “get off the bus.” I no longer want to ride, and I certainly do not want to drive!
In November 2020, the SBTC adopted a strongly worded, anti-CRT policy that denounces all aspects of Critical Race Theory. There are certain aspects of CRT I also disagree with. For instance, if it is an accurate representation of CRT teachings that only Whites can be racists, I totally disagree with that premise. Racism is a sin. And there is not one sin a Black person is incapable of committing, including racism. However, there are beneficial aspects of CRT that cannot be denied. And because the SBTC, and it appears the SBC, are poised to deny any beneficial aspects of CRT, in a most dishonest fashion, I have decided to get off the bus. The purpose of this article is to explain why.
There is a current debate in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT). The SBC , in her Annual Session in Birmingham, AL, June 2019, adopted a Resolution regarding CRT (Resolution 9). The resolution committee was chaired by Dr. Curtis Woods, who at that time, was a professor in the Black Church Studies Department at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and also Associate Executive Director of the Kentucky Baptist State Convention, which is affiliated with the SBC. Dr. Woods is the most articulate person in SBC life about CRT, having completed his doctoral dissertation related to the subject.
Resolution 9 was passed by the “Messengers.” In the time since the 2019 Convention, there has been major opposition to the Resolution from various sources in SBC life. The opposition disagrees in totality with any beneficial aspects to CRT. Those of us who support Resolution 9 agree with aspects of CRT. Dr. Tony Evans, who is associated but not affiliated with the SBC had the following comment on the subject:
“Members of the 2019 Resolution Committee of the SBC, without my awareness or permission, used my name in recent Affirmation of Recent Statements from Christian Leaders on Critical Race Theory. Upon reading this affirmation, I need to state that their use of my name and what I said in a sermon titled Race & Reconciliation released on 11/15/20 needs clarification of what I fully said. They have referenced a portion without giving it the context of my sermon. I have a great deal of respect for the SBC and the work that they do around the nation and the world, and this misunderstanding does not diminish that in any way.
As I stated in my sermon, which I encourage everyone reading this to watch, I again affirm that the Bible must be the basis for analyzing any and all social, racial or political theories in order to identify what is legitimate or what is not legitimate. But I did not say, nor imply, that CRT or other ideologies lack beneficial aspects—rather that the Bible sits as the basis for determining that. I have long taught that racism, and its ongoing repercussions, are real and should be addressed intentionally, appropriately and based on the authority of God’s inerrant Word.”
The reason this is a major concern for me, and by extension, the Cornerstone Church family, is because of the practical implications and ramifications of what could happen if Resolution 9 is rescinded or a 2021 resolution supplants/trumps the 2019 resolution. The most respected and major opposition is coming from the Council of Seminary Presidents (CSP) of the SBC. It is unprecedented for the CSP to take a defiant position to the resolution committee’s decision and the majority vote of the messengers. This link contains the seminary presidents’ (CSP) full statement. The crux of the CSP statement, which is the last 25 words, is the point of disagreement. The rest of the statement is innocuous, and we agree with it:
“In light of current conversations in the Southern Baptist Convention, we stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”
The following are the reasons why the existing CSP statement (and the proposed SBC statement) could have impact upon our churches, and by extension, African American SBC churches, at large:
1. If this CSP statement is adopted in the June 2021 SBC Annual Session, in any form or fashion, thereafter when one addresses the subject of CRT or “race” from a seminary class, local church pulpit, or Sunday School class, “it could be interpreted” by the SBC/CSP policy as violating the SBC/CSP statement/policy on CRT, which could make any professor, pastor, preacher, or Sunday School teacher that is judged by this SBC/CSP policy, “incompatible with Baptist Faith and Message (BFM).” This could be used as grounds to disfellowship that church from the SBC or dismiss professors from their teaching assignments.
I am not willing to concede that type of power to the SBC/CSP based on an academic policy that originated with six Anglo seminary presidents.
2. The perceived image or impression by persons outside of the SBC/CSP will be to view Cornerstone and African American churches as being subjected to the SBC/CSP regarding what we can teach about CRT, and by extension, race, and remain in compatibility with the BFM2K based on the CSP existing statement, and what could become the SBC statement in June 2021.
I am not willing to allow them to dictate what the belief systems, definitions and authoritative binding, academic and ecclesiastical decisions regarding how race is to be communicated in the local church or be subject to SBC interrogations and investigations for having spoken outside of the CSP-SBC CRT policy.
3. We are not willing to sign-off on SBC seminaries and affiliated entities to be able to indoctrinate African American congregations and seminary students regarding CRT. Why? (A) Because this policy was developed without consulting with at least one African American in its origination; and (B) this policy fails to acknowledge that there are beneficial aspects to CRT. To affirm this policy is to affirm a dishonest approach to CRT.
4. The existing and proposed CSP/SBC policy empowers entity heads who happen to be all Anglo, to be in a final decision-making authority to determine the content of all literature that flows to our churches on the subject of CRT, and by extension, the subject of race.
5. Given the SBC’s history on race, it is preposterous to ask African American churches to blindly trust their interpretations regarding CRT—and by extension, “race.”
6. I have absolutely no clue what Dr. Malcolm Yarnell was addressing in the following tweet. However, it is applicable in my judgment to the Council of Seminary Presidents statement on CRT.
“Theologically speaking, to require an affirmation of something not addressed by Scripture or to require a condemnation of something not addressed by Scripture—both of these equally contradict the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.”
Make no mistake about it, I believe the Bible speaks with supreme authority in every area, including race. Where any racial theory contradicts Scripture, Scripture rules overall! This is applicable to the CSP/SBC CRT kerfuffle.
7. The SBC is openly rejecting the collective wisdom of men like Fred Luter, Tony Evans, Marshal Ausberry, The National African American Fellowship of the SBC, hundreds of African American pastors, and her own African American professors by dismissing our claims that there are beneficial aspects to CRT.
For these reasons, we are pulling out of SBTC; and if the CSP/SBC policy is ratified in June, we are discontinuing our affiliation with the SBC also. We are “getting off the bus”!
Finally, let me be clear: we are maintaining and strengthening our relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT); we are also maintaining and strengthening our relationship with the National Baptist Convention, which I am humbled for the opportunity to serve as a member of their Executive Committee. Furthermore, we may explore partnering with and launching a church planting, disciple-making, cross cultural fellowship—Kingdom collective, whose DNA is interracial from the outset.
A gentleman said to me, “Please pastor, wait for a season. Just as the SBC in 2006 rejected your message on respecting liberties in private worship, and reversed course in 2015 and 2018, they may reverse course and recognize certain beneficial aspects to CRT.” The gentleman could be right.
However, a better solution is to treat CRT in the same way we treat a bruised apple. If you cut out the bruised part, no matter how large it may be, and you consume the rest. If the SBC would take a “bruised apple” approach to this controversy, the division over CRT immediately halts.