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Southern Baptists Head for Annual Meeting at a Crossroads on Race and Gender

In late December, Southwestern Seminary President Adam Greenway acknowledged the pain the statement had caused many African Americans and conceded that critical race theory “does rightly decry racism and injustice.”

However, Greenway went on to defend the exclusion of African American leaders from the process and dismissed such criticism as itself part of the critical race theory worldview. This rebuttal in the guise of an apology — a rhetorical pattern so predictable among white evangelical leaders that I have described it elsewhere as “the white Christian shuffle” — did little to mitigate the damage.

Two months later, McKissic reluctantly left the Texas Baptists, concluding: “I have decided it is time to ‘get off the bus.’ I no longer want to ride, and I certainly do not want to drive.”

The Moore and McKissic stories are symptomatic of a cultural crossroads we face as a country. Demographic changes and social upheavals of the last decades have created a climate in which every major American institution is being asked to reevaluate the norms of the past through the lenses of gender and racial equality.

In this moment of reckoning, white evangelical Protestants — the denominational family to which Southern Baptists belong — are increasingly out of step.

In  2016, nearly 6 in 10 (58%) white evangelicals, compared to fewer than 4 in 10 (39%) Americans overall, agreed that “society is better off when men and women stick to the jobs and tasks they are naturally suited for,” according to a survey by PRRI, where I serve as CEO.

In 2018, nearly half (47%) of white evangelical Protestants, compared to only 29% of the public,  disagreed  that the country would be better off if we had more women in political office.

Similarly, in 2020, a majority (53%) of white evangelicals, compared to 38% of the public, agreed that “these days society seems to punish men just for acting like men.” A majority (56%) of white evangelical Protestants, compared to 39% of Americans, agreed that “society as a whole has become too soft and feminine.”

White evangelical Protestants are even more at odds with their fellow Americans on issues of systemic racism. According to PRRI’s  2020 American Values Survey, 7 in 10 (70%) white evangelicals, compared to 43% of Americans overall, believe that the recent killings of Black Americans by police are isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern. Three-quarters (75%) of white evangelicals say they oppose the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, compared to 41% of the public.

Instead, white evangelicals increasingly see men and white people as the primary victims of oppression. A 2018 PRRI survey found that a majority (56%) of white evangelicals believe discrimination against men is as big a problem as discrimination against women. The 2020 PRRI survey cited above found that more than 7 in 10 (71%) white evangelicals believe that discrimination against white Americans has become as big a problem as discrimination against Black Americans and other minorities.