Posted on June 21, 2021

How Critical Race Theory Overran the Southern Baptist Convention

Chris Moody, New York, June 16, 2021

As they headed toward Nashville for the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, the cars with black pirate flags strapped to their windows — complete with smirking skulls and crossbones — were a good indicator that some of the passengers were spoiling for a fight.

These Protestant swashbucklers were followers of a coalition called the Conservative Baptist Network, whose leaders have warned of a leftward drift in a denomination known for its deep-rooted conservatism on issues both political and theological. {snip}


{snip} The Southern Baptist Convention’s power and influence rest on its size. Membership numbers clock in at more than 14 million people, making it the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.


On political issues, it is a time of division, as leaders grapple with deep-seated disagreements that have plagued the denomination for years. While some of the theological debates might seem obscure to outsiders, many of the denomination’s points of contention will probably sound familiar: Like the rest of us, they argue over critical race theory, white privilege, gender equality, the handling of sexual-assault cases, and who among them is deserving of “cancellation.”


The CBN’s chosen presidential candidate this year was Reverend Mike Stone, a pastor from Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia, who has spent months railing against critical race theory, which he claims has made its way into Southern Baptist seminaries and churches. Opposing Stone was Reverend Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, who is known for advocating racial reconciliation. Litton had the backing of many congregations of color and pastors like Reverend Fred Luter, the SBC’s first Black president. {snip}

In the modern fights over the future of the SBC, race has taken center stage. At issue at this year’s meeting was a resolution passed in 2019 that addressed critical race theory and intersectionality, stating that these schools of thought could be “employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture.” The CBN’s leaders contend that the elevation of critical race theory reduces the Bible’s teaching on the subject and is therefore heretical.

The anti-CRT message resonated with Southern Baptists like Reverend Michael Wilhite, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Newtonville, Indiana, who came to support Stone.

“It’s just the opposite of the gospel. Under critical race theory, there is no hope. If you’re white, you’re automatically a racist because of white supremacy. But with the gospel there’s hope,” Wilhite said. “I don’t need critical race theory to diagnose what’s wrong with mankind. I’ve got the Bible, and it does a fine job doing that.”

In the months leading up to the meeting, Southern Baptists were roiled by public in-fighting among its leaders, strategic leaks of secretly recorded backroom conversations, and departures of high-profile teachers and leaders. Late last year, some predominantly Black churches discontinued their fellowship with the SBC, citing intractable disagreements over the handling of racial issues. In March, Beth Moore, a renowned teacher, announced that she no longer considered herself a Southern Baptist; and Russell Moore (unrelated to Beth), the denomination’s chief ethicist and most public-facing voice, not only quit his job, but cut ties to Southern Baptists completely.

After Russell Moore’s departure, private letters that he had sent to denominational heads warning about sexual abuse and racism within the SBC began to leak to media outlets. {snip}


Early on Tuesday morning, before the election for SBC president, more than a thousand supporters of the CBN packed into a ballroom of a Marriott near the convention hall for a political pep rally. Speakers included representatives from the Family Research Council and Liberty University, as well as Carol Swain, a Black academic and author who has been a leading critic of critical race theory.

“Good morning. Are you woke?” Swain told the audience of mostly white men. “We are the ones that are truly woke … When it comes to apologizing for racism, I have lost count of how many times Southern Baptists have apologized, and I think it’s about time for someone to receive the apologies.”


Four candidates were initially nominated for the presidency. Stone and Litton received the most votes, which led to a runoff. In the end, Litton defeated Stone by a mere 558 votes.

The messengers also passed a resolution to base racial reconciliation on Biblical teaching, but fell short of the CBN’s call to address and reject critical race theory by name.


{snip} There’s no indication that the debates over critical race theory will subside any time soon, or that CBN has any plans to stop after one loss.