The SBC "messengers" (delegates) left the 2019 annual meeting in sharp disagreement over a resolution allowing the very limited use of critical race theory (CRT) within the denomination. The divide has only grown over the last two years – there was no meeting in 2020 due to the pandemic – and the upcoming meeting in Nashville (June 13-16) will be the first chance Southern Baptists get to hash it out.
Dr. Ed Stetzer is a longtime Southern Baptist and current director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He acknowledges that the issue has driven a wedge in the denomination, but he's confident they'll work it out.
"You know, I think it's pretty divided. I've never known a time when Southern Baptists weren't divided," he shares. "But I do think at the end of the day there'll be continued missionaries sent around the world, seminaries will continue to train, churches will be planted in North America and more."
A coalition of black pastors has threatened to leave the denomination if CRT is abandoned, but Stetzer says it's unlikely to come to that. Nevertheless, CRT and some disagreements about some political issues – support of former President Donald Trump, for example – have some fretting that the denomination is trending left … and many see Nashville as an inflection point for the SBC.
Stetzer assures the Southern Baptist Convention is not going liberal. "I think there is a disagreement between the center right of the Southern Baptist Convention and the hard right of the Southern Baptist Convention – all of whom are inerrantists, all of whom are complementarians, at least in the leadership," he says.
Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, also sees it as a serious issue – and, like Stetzer, not one likely to split the denomination. In an interview with One News Now earlier this year, he said he fully expects the subject to come up at the convention.
"… The number of Southern Baptists who are upset about CRT is a lot higher than the number of people who would leave if we ditch it," he stated. "It's one side of a woke agenda that is impacting some churches, and a lot of Southern Baptists are upset about it."
Land argues that the key to reconciliation is for the SBC to return to its root focus of winning the lost to Christ. "That will solve all of our problems," he told One News Now.
Those gathering in Nashville will also elect a new president for a two-year term. Four candidates are vying for the position, and Stetzer says the issue will be whether a local pastor should head the denomination or someone already in leadership. (Related article: Pastor or theologian – which is better for So. Baptists?)