FAIRFAX STATION, Va. (BP) – Saying they remain committed to working “in harmony with the Southern Baptist Convention and our entities to address the concerns of the African American community,” the National African American Fellowship of the SBC issued a statement Wednesday (March 24) asking presidents of SBC seminaries to take steps to help defuse current racial tensions within the convention.
The statement encourages all Southern Baptists “to unite around the essentials of our faith, and in the nonessentials, maintain a spirit of charity,” focused on living out the Great Commandment in pursuit of the Great Commission. Marshal Ausberry, who is NAAF’s president and also first vice president of the SBC, said the fellowship is “trying to make a pathway forward that works for all of us.”
Ausberry, who is pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Virginia, said the statement released Wednesday was a response to questions he and others have been asked by African American pastors since a meeting in January of a multi-ethnic group of Southern Baptist leaders. During that meeting, held virtually, NAAF officers and the seminary presidents addressed turmoil resulting from several statements that had been issued by SBC-affiliated groups concerning Critical Race Theory and race relations.
“We felt we really needed a public comment that expressed where we are,” said Ausberry of Wednesday’s statement.
The conflict was initially sparked by a statement issued Nov. 30, 2020, by the Council of Seminary Presidents saying that “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.” On behalf of NAAF, Ausberry issued a response Dec. 11 affirming the Bible as supreme and sufficient, but recognizing “there are ideologies from a sociological and anthropological perspective when used appropriately, help us to better understand the inner workings of a fallen and sinful world.”
Full March 24 Statement from the National African American Fellowship:
One of the National African American Fellowship’s purposes is to sensitize SBC leaders to concerns in the African American community. In this spirit, NAAF met with the SBC Council of Seminary Presidents on January 6th, has communicated with written letters and submitted recommendations to the Council of Seminary Presidents to provide a pathway towards restoring unity within the Convention. Accordingly, NAAF releases the following statement:
On December 9, 2020, The National African American Fellowship expressed its objection to the Council of Seminary Presidents’ statement asserting CRT’s incompatibility in all its forms with the Baptist Faith and Message in a published statement on November 30, 2020.
We believe that certain limited insights from CRT, not as an ideology or worldview, can be useful to identify and repudiate racial bias and systemic racism in organizations and institutions. We believe that discussions on systemic racism and racial injustice requires understanding, patience, and grace.
The CSP statement has the effect of delegitimizing and dismissing the lived experiences of African Americans and other ethnic groups. We strongly believe that any discussions on systemic racism must consider the lived experiences of Blacks and other ethnic groups.
In light of the above, and as a way forward in bringing healing and a better understanding among Southern Baptists, we have asked the seminary presidents to:
1. Join the NAAF in co-hosting a series of open forums to facilitate conversations among Southern Baptist on biblical approaches to addressing systemic racism in our institutions, organizations and churches;
2. Require a course related to the historical and theological understanding of race and racism in America and its impact on society to be included in their standard curriculum; and
3. Acknowledge that the CSP was speaking for their seminaries and not for the SBC.
We have also asked the CSP to create safe spaces on their campuses and in their curriculum, where race and racism can be discussed and studied. These discussions would help create cultural competencies in our future pastors, church leaders, and SBC leaders.
We further recommend that in light of the ongoing realities of racism, the CSP should develop biblically-based methodologies designed to identify and address systemic racism.
We are deeply disappointed that the CSP has not moved from their original statement of CRT’s incompatibility in all its forms. We feel that the tone, tenor, and timing of the CSP statement has undermined the extraordinary efforts put forth by many Black and White Southern Baptists to build unity in the body of baptized believers and has placed many African American Southern Baptist pastors, leaders and students in an untenable position. We further believe that the CSP should publicly acknowledge the pain and harm caused but their statement.
Over the last year, there has been much division and tension in the SBC. As we continue to work with the CSP and SBC leaders, we call on all Southern Baptists to pray that the spirit of Christ will enable each of us to demonstrate greater sensitivity in our interactions with every tribe, language, and peoples.
We remain committed to our purpose to work in harmony with the Southern Baptist Convention and our entities to address the concerns of the African American community.
We encourage all Great Commission minded believers to unite around the essentials of our faith, and in the nonessentials, maintain a spirit of charity as together we live out the Great Commandment in pursue the Great Commission.