(RNS) — A pastor pursuing a doctorate at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, announced in an editorial Wednesday (Dec. 16) that he was withdrawing from his degree program and severing his megachurch’s affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention over a recent statement by its seminary presidents on critical race theory.
The move by Ralph D. West, founder and pastor of Church Without Walls in Houston, is the latest backlash from the Nov. 30 statement by six Southern Baptist seminary presidents denouncing critical race theory and intersectionality.
The presidents, all six of them white men, issued the statement saying the race theory is “incompatible” with the denomination’s central affirmation, the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. West, a Black pastor, is just the latest to criticize the statement from leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant body with 14.5 million members.
In his commentary in the Texas SBC publication the Baptist Standard, West writes: “In this time, these men chose to castigate a framework that points out a truth that cannot be denied. American history has been tainted with racism. America codified it. And more, our public and private institutions propagated it.”
West said that while he is keeping his affiliation with Baylor University, which is not affiliated with the SBC, he was withdrawing from Southwestern Seminary and severing any relationship between his church and the denomination.
Last week, the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention asked for a meeting with the seminary presidents, saying their statement was insensitive to Blacks.
Others have also criticized the statement, pointing out that the Southern Baptist Convention, founded in 1845 by Christians who believed that missionaries could own slaves, still cannot shake off its troubling racist past. (In 1995, the denomination formally apologized for slavery, saying, “we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty.” )
Critical race theory has come under fire in conservative and right-wing circles that reject the idea of systemic racism and find fault with the Black Lives Matter movement. In September, President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning critical race theory from government-sponsored race and sex-based training.
In their statement, the seminary presidents did not explain how critical race theory clashes with the core beliefs of Southern Baptists. The theory is used in many academic circles to explain how racial inequality cannot be understood apart from social, economic and legal systems that benefit white interests.