Black pastors are leaving or considering leaving the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant group in the US and one founded in defense of slavery. At its 2017 annual meeting, white resistance to a resolution condemning the alt-right was initially denied consideration–until support for the move began to stream in from overt white nationalists. Caught between its radical right flank and its many Black pastors, the SBC did vote on the resolution and it passed not-quite-unanimously. The tension between the overt white supremacists, quieter racists, and a substantial Black minority that has often been used to serve as evidence that the SBC is not racist has only grown. In November, six presidents (all white, all male) from major Baptist seminaries released a statement decrying intersectionality and critical theory, including all forms of critical race theory and calling them “incompatible” with the Baptist faith, a move that echoed Trump’s executive order banning the teaching of anti-racism. Delivered just after the election, it seemed a craven attempt to suck up to Trump and his racist base. Notably, it didn’t come from pastors flying Confederate flags in their sanctuaries but the esteemed intellectual leaders of the SBC–and they’ve adamantly not walked it back, which means that teaching critically about race, gender, sexuality, or other topics is unacceptable in their schools.
How did they decide that intersectionality and all forms of critical theory are “incompatible” with SBC teaching? Well, they don’t explain it in their statement. But I’ve been tracing conservative Christian anti-critical theory arguments for years, recently publishing a chapter on the topic in Intersecting Religion and Spirituality: Sociological Perspectives, edited by Sarah-Jane Page and Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip. “Crosses and Crossroads: American Conservative Christianity’s Anti-Intersectionality Discourse and the Erasure of LGBTQ+ Believers” begins this way:
As part of the contemporary political right, conservative Christianity in the US today is broadly mistrustful of the idea of intersectionality. Like ‘social justice’ and ‘white privilege’, the term is understood to be a threat to a social hierarchy that has historically awarded heterosexual, white, male Christians power…. American conservative Christians… construct intersectionality as a conceptual and political tool that disrupts and de-stabilizes a racialized heteronormative order, an ‘Other’ to be contained, if not obliterated. During a time of increasing perceptions of a threat to their status, such threats reinforce a sense of victimhood at the hands of secular culture and even martyrdom, metaphorically speaking, when conservative Christians view themselves as being punished for exercising what they believe to be their rights, including, for example, the right to discriminate against queer people.
While the chapter focuses on the anti-queer implications of rejecting intersectionality, I think it will be useful for readers interested in how and why the Christian Right scorns “social justice,” including the Black Lives Matter and #Metoo movements.
The chapter draws from the writing of Christian Right elites–such as seminary leaders–from 2008 to the present to identify three themes in their own writing, sermons, podcasts, radio broadcasts, etc: first, that intersectionality is an impossibility because an identity “in Christ” leads to the erasure of other identities; second, that intersectionality is viewed as a threat to religious liberty; and, third, that the end goal of social justice is to disrupt the God-ordained order of social relationships.
The collection includes great writing sexuality, religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, age, and disability in the lives of Muslims, Indonesians, Africans, evangelical women, queer Polish Christians, bisexual Christians, gay and lesbian Chinese and Taiwanese youth.