Linda and I attended the SBC annual gathering in Nashville, TN in June. We experienced a gathering like none other. The meeting had tremendous build-up because of the racial concerns, presidential elections, cancellation of 2020 SBC, and the sexual abuse scandal involving the Executive Committee. We saw people running to the meetings and more than 1000 standing in the room because the seats were full. I walked away from that meeting with these reactions.
First, I was proud to be a Southern Baptist (Great Commission Baptist is a new name being used) because we celebrated 64 new missionaries being commissioned by the International Mission Board to go to the ends of the earth with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have more than 3,600 missionaries around the world. We celebrated more than 550 new church starts last year through the work of our North American Mission Board. We have close to 50,000 churches scattered in all fifty states with 22% of those churches being non-Anglo congregations (including 3,920 African American, 3509 Hispanic, 2095 Asian churches) making the SBC the most diverse convention of churches in the world. We heard amazing reports from our six seminaries training current and future pastors and missionaries. Our Guidestone Resources agency reported on their Missions Dignity program that cares for retired pastors and wives. We heard from all our agencies the great things our collective work does. We do so much more together than we could ever do separately. We never debated a single point of theology during the meeting. We are unified around our Baptist Faith and Message confession of faith.
Second, I did see more unity than controversy. The three main controversies were the election of a new President with four possible candidates, a resolution of race and the sufficiency of Scripture, and an investigation into sexual abuse. The election produced a runoff and Ed Litton won the vote. The media called him a moderate which is not true. The other candidate in the runoff, Mike Stone, claimed that the convention was drifting liberal, embracing a woke Critical race theory culture and accused some prominent men in agencies of the drift. He was awarded the media title of conservative or fundamentalist by reporters. His allegations about drift did not and do not appear true to me.
There are some areas where there is room for disagreement. The definition of Critical Race Theory is a debatable issue. Willy Rice, pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater, FL and preacher of the Convention message, said: “Never have I heard so many people talk for so long about something they know so little about.” Critical race theory is difficult to define because it is a very complex idea that has different streams of research and writing about it. Government agencies are now addressing CRT in the mainstream. It involves looking at society, laws, systems in society, and societal structure in terms of race. CRT tries to address justice issues.
The version of CRT being taught and advocated in many government settings is about analyzing culture and people in terms of power structures. They seek to identify who are the oppressed class and who are the oppressors. They determined that in our culture, white people have always been in the oppressor class and black people have always been in the oppressed class. The correction, according to the CRT of today, is to reverse the oppression – trade the races – fight injustice and racism with injustice and racism. This is a distortion of justice based on prejudice. A white person would now be considered a racist and oppressor simply because of the color of his/her skin.
While the definition of CRT offers room for disagreement, the condemnation of this type of CRT has been, in my opinion, universally rejected by Southern Baptists. The SBC in Nashville passed resolution #2 stating: “Resolved, That we reject any theory or worldview that finds the ultimate identity of human beings in ethnicity or any other group dynamic; and be it further resolved that we reject any theory or worldview that sees the primary problem of humanity as anything other than sin against God and the ultimate solution as anything other than redemption found only in Jesus Christ, and be it further resolved, We, therefore, reject any theory or worldview that denies that racism, oppression, or discrimination is rooted, ultimately, in anything other than sin.”
Justice is not getting even with another. Justice comes from God. Without God, real justice will not occur. If you are simply trying to get even with the oppressor, then one day you will look in the mirror and see the oppressor.
Social Justice has always been an issue in the SBC. In the last 30 years, the SBC has sought to correct a past of racism and racial injustice. In 2019, the SBC passed Resolution #9 that basically said that all these other ideologies out there need to be under the authority of the Bible as the standard of truth. The resolution named CRT and Intersectionality as possible helpful analytical tools but that they and all should be secondary and subservient to the Bible. The resolution greatly upset those who were warning people about the coming dangers of CRT. They read the resolution as an endorsement. The sixth seminary President of the SBC released a statement last year condemning CRT to clarify to the constituency the stance of our six seminaries. Willy Rice said: “Critical Race Theory offers a flawed diagnosis. It offers a hopeless prognosis, and it provides a powerless prescription that is rooted in materialistic humanism.” I do not know of one Southern Baptist who believes that CRT, as it is being put forth right now, is helpful.
In 2019, after the passing of Resolution #9, there developed a division of those who thought that the SBC was not standing against CRT but rather advocating it. For two years, loud voices have sought to convince people that the SBC was embracing CRT which was not true and never true.
Mark Vance, a pastor in Iowa, recently used a graph that helped my understanding of the racial issue in our churches. He presented a spectrum to look at the way people are approaching the issues. The spectrum has eight columns. On the far left is CRT and on the far right is white supremacy. Both views are outside of the bounds of orthodoxy. The 2nd column inside the left has a statement: “racism is everywhere.” The statement expresses a sentiment that every interaction, societal structure, disagreement, denial, and conversation involves racism. The 2nd column inside the right has a statement: “racism is nowhere.” The statement expresses a sentiment that no remaining interactions, societal structures, disagreements, denials, or conversations involve racism. Both ideas are unfounded. Racism is not everywhere, tainting every conversation and interaction. Likewise, who can say that racism is nowhere? These two perspectives are on extreme ends of the debate.
The inside four columns of the spectrum reveal four types of churches that are inside the bounds of orthodoxy with their different approaches to the subject of race. The third column from the left moving to the right is entitled “social justice.” This church has deep convictions about social morality and expresses them primarily in terms of social justice advocates. Abortion, marriage, and immigration are issues of concern but not to the extent of social justice. These churches tend to take the lead in exposing injustice and advocating change. The third column from the right moving to the left is entitled “fairness.” This church believes that everyone should be treated fairly and the same. No special effort is given to equality in the name of fairness. The center two columns are the final classifications in the spectrum: center-left is multi-cultural, and center-right is hospitality. The multi-cultural church has a diversity of staff and pastors, a diverse congregation, and an identity of diversity that recognizes differences, seeks to understand them, and has unity in the gospel. The hospitality church recognizes that minorities have suffered injustice, have struggled to feel welcome in many churches, and need additional effort to incorporate them into a healthy church.
These men went on to explain that when Christians attack the two extremes from different sides of the issue, the attacks often fall short of the extremists and land in the middle. Therefore, the social justice church is attacking the fairness church, or the fairness church is attacking the idea that racism is everywhere and hurting their friends in multi-cultural churches. Division and strife is the outcome. If the political leaders are allowed to frame this discussion, then they will drive people to the two extremes and the church will be divided. The church should define the conversation from the Scriptures to be unified and strong.
In 2020, the murder of George Floyd placed many pastors including myself in a place to shepherd our African American brothers and sisters in a state of trauma, extreme grief, and outrage over all the accumulated injustices experienced for centuries and to attempt to allow the church to lead the community to reconciliation and restoration. The racial tension was the highest that I have ever witnessed. I sought to lead our congregation to have conversations, a forum, a stand for equality, and advocate justice biblically. Many pastors and leaders across the convention did the same. Meanwhile, those who were so upset about CRT in the SBC monitored these conversations across the churches, the convention, and seminaries and took pieces of these conversations and forums and claimed that CRT had invaded our convention. Many were called “woke” and continue to be called “woke.” SBC leaders and pastors are being accused of drifting, going liberal, becoming woke, and capitulating to the powers of the culture by some of these loud voices. While you may find a statement or two that could be interpreted as such a drift, the accusations are false. I see nobody going that way.
As a pastor of a multi-cultural church, I have been hurt, surprised, and grieved by the challenge of it all. Hurt by those who refused to hear their brothers and chose to step away. Surprised that the loud voices from the two extremes of the spectrum have had such an influence on the conversation among my flock. Grieved by the injustice, collective hurt, and struggle our African American brothers and sisters have endured their entire lives. But these experienced have only proven to deepen my resolve to pastor a multi-cultural church that expresses the unity that Christ expects.
My convictions have deepened. My determination has strengthened. May God pour out His Spirit to bring a mighty movement to our community in Orlando.
Pastor Clayton Cloer