Charlie dates about why his church is leaving the SBC for rejecting vital racial idea

(RNS) – Something happened in 2018 at the MLK50 conference in Memphis, an event co-hosted by the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Gospel Coalition. To my knowledge, it was the first time white evangelicals celebrated the life, memory, and work of Rev. Martin L. King Jr. together. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of his assassination, it was as if they had come to reckon with the ghosts of their past and the theological foundations that ignored his ministry.

I left this conference hopeful. The young people I met this week shocked me with the warmth and enthusiasm with which they took up the subject.

I returned to our Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago with a little sophomoric optimism. We were already working with the SBC on a training program in our church, and almost all the Illinois Baptist State and SBC leaders I had met seemed to understand that their ancestors sorely lacked any standard of biblical justice.

From 2016 to 2019, I also preached four SBC seminars on campus and had been invited to another. The backstage conversations at these gatherings promised a new era of progress in terms of race and theology.

CONNECTED: The presidents of the Southern Baptist Seminary have no critical theory of race

So we decided to work together and join our church in the SBC in what is known as dual membership.

The resistance, especially from some of our senior members, has been swift and genuine.

“They were the old Baptists of the South,” I promised them and others in our church. The specter of racial animation and theological arrogance sparked a new era in Christian leadership, I suggested. Sure, there were more battles to be won before legitimate change would warm the hearts of African American churches like ours, but that made our movement feel almost prophetic.

When the pandemic broke out, SBC donated to our emergency efforts to provide online delivery services for Chicagoers with SNAP benefits. Here it was, I thought, further evidence that old SBC was fading.

But in the course of 2020 I became more and more restless. When Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, said the only politically moral option for Christians was the Republican Party, I asked other SBC leaders, good Christian men, to challenge him. You would not. I was shocked but not surprised when Mohler supported President Trump and saw the two men celebrating each other on Reformation Day on Twitter.

And then, last week, one last straw.

On December 1, all six presidents of the SBC seminar – with no black president or dissenting opinion among them – declared to the world that a high view of Scripture necessarily requires an adequate and complete rejection of critical racial theory and intersectionality.

Logos of the six seminars of the Southern Baptist Convention. Image courtesy of Baptist Press

When did the theological architects of American slavery develop the moral character to tell the church how to discuss and recognize racism? When did those who have not yet hired multiple black or brown faculties in their seminars assumed ethical authority over systemic injustice?

How did they, who in 2020 still do not have a single denominational leader of a black denomination, rejected once and for all a theory that helps determine the real racial problems we face?

I had to tell my church that I was wrong. There are no “old southern Baptists”.

Conservatism is and always has been the god of the SBC.

For them, the belief in a lofty view of Scripture must mean an adjustment of republican politics and thus the rejection of critical racial theory and intersectionality for fear of “liberalism”. That is, our church has as high (if not higher) view of Scripture as any SBC church, but theirs is an inconsistent epistemology. You are selectively conservative.

But what is “liberal” in the history of American Christianity? What is Liberalism to Conservative Southern Baptists?

I tell you: abolition, women’s suffrage movement, civil rights movement, a black US president who originally opposed partial abortion, non-white male faculty in their seminars, and now a theory that exposes our nation’s jurisdiction and de facto segregation.

I learned that there is an unwritten rule in the SBC: Don’t criticize an entity leader.

It’s the same approach that President Donald Trump created that ensures that no Republican leader will publicly challenge him. This philosophy has weakened the prophetic potential of the SBC.

Mohler, to name just one example, advocated a philandering, racist president, betraying his black and brown Christian family. He urged his trustees to preserve the slave owner after whom his college is named. He hijacked the Baptist Faith & Message’s affirmation meeting and turned it into a conservative resuscitation. With all this, he can never be criticized in his ranks. This is the good old boys club. This is the old SBC.

To be clear, the SBC has some longtime, credible black pastors in their tribe, and I don’t mean the kind that tokens or assimilators are. Outstanding guest speakers and band speakers who were outside their norm were represented in their seminars. So I felt safe to make an alliance.

But there are others who sit close to power within the SBC and remain silent against the racism that plagues their own communities. You are ready to see their youngsters accept the traces of hatred that have enslaved us in the name of God’s authoritative Word. They are ready to send their young students to the seminars, which are both traces of racial animation and the places where these harmful attitudes persist.

I cannot speak for you. I envision them providing cover for the SBC leadership to further alienate black and brown Christians who do not attribute their inheritance of dangerous conservatism. This is your choice.

As for me and the Progressive Baptist Church, I keep hearing the words of Harriet Tubman, “We’re out.”

The harsh reality of the statement made by the presidents of the seminary is that blacks in the Southern Baptist Convention will never achieve full equality. My recognition is not a declaration of submission, but an act of defiance. The power structure of the SBC wants to maintain white dominance. They’re happy to have a Black Band spokesman, the occasionally conservative black professor whose classes are not taken seriously, or a black employee who never resists their notions of superiority.

And yet our departure is not enough.

When you feel uncomfortable about Christian denominations, then you are already longing for a new vision and a new standard. None of our denominations, black or white, are as relevant and biblically prophetic as our times require.

COMMENT: Six white men should not determine the position of the Southern Baptist in relation to race

They are to us what the electoral college is to the United States: an institution that no longer produces what it originally promised.

Pastor Charlie Dates speaks at the Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago. Courtesy photo of the Progressive Baptist Church

I respect the importance of Christian denominations, accountability, and the resources they provide to the larger body. So I propose to you that we need a new organism that is not entirely run by white men. a Christian collective that creates space for the essence of faith and the diversity of the church; A sturdy engine that finances the impoverished sides of the church, courageously brings justice to the government, and gently cares for the oppressed, marginalized and women.

(Dr. Charlie Edward Dates is the senior pastor of the Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago. The views expressed in this comment do not necessarily reflect those of the Religion News Service.)

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