Review – By What Standard?


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday, the 31st of January, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. A special Culture Friday today, in which we’ll do things a little bit out of order. So I’ll explain.

Typically, we have our guest and then we go to Megan’s review. But today, we’re reversing the order, with the review coming first, because the review sets the table for our Culture Friday guest, and that special guest today will be Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Seminary.

BASHAM: Right. There’s a major controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention over Resolution 9. This is the resolution from last year that embraced critical race theory and intersectionality as “analytical tools [that] can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences.”

The SBC defined critical race theory as a tool to explain how race has and continues to function in society, and intersectionality as the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience.

EICHER: It is extremely controversial, and the SBC is the largest protestant denomination in the country, so it’s a major cultural topic, and this week’s review is of a documentary that is highly critical of Resolution 9.

BASHAM: Yes, the documentary asks, are critical race theory and intersectionality the kind of “hollow and deceptive philosophies which depend on human tradition” that Colossians 2 warns us about? Or are they useful secular tools by which we can explain Biblical principles? Something like Paul quoting pagan teachers to reason with the Epicureans in Acts 17?

All this is at the heart of a fraught debate taking place among Southern Baptists and those who love them.It’s also the subject of a new documentary from Founders Ministries, By What Standard?

CLIP: And so how do you repent of your individual racism? If you have been or exercised a racist attitude or action toward a person and you’re convicted of that sin and you turn away from your sin of partiality well then you’re going to make things right with that individual. How do we repent from systemic racism? There is no solution to systemic racism except for political revolution. It’s got to be a political answer. Well we’re way beyond the boundaries of Scripture now.

The film begins with the vote on a controversial resolution at the 2019 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Resolution Nine passed, so the SBC adopted critical race theory and intersectionality as “analytical tools [that] can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences.”

In the film’s first moments, we see pastor and president of Founders Ministries, Tom Ascol, slump in defeat outside the convention hall.

CLIP: I got people all over the country texting me asking, what happened? Can I talk to you? “What happened? What happened? What happened—We’ve been played. We’ve been played.

From there, the film fills in some context for what critical race theory and intersectionality are, arguing all Christians should mourn their introduction into the Southern Baptist toolbox.

CLIP: The basic concept of intersectionality is that all oppression is the same. So, homophobia is the same as racism is the same as sexism is the same as Islamophobia is the same as transphobia and so on. All of these things are connected and, by the way, it’s also worth noting that if you go to the Santa Barbara Integrated School District they’ve got a handout that shows oppressors and oppressed and basically one of the things that they list is Christianity as an oppressor. So you should be aware that that’s where intersectionality does lead.

Ascol told me he and his team originally intended to produce a response to a well-known PBS documentary about feminism in the SBC. But in their last half hour of shooting, Resolution Nine came to the floor. He says it ironically illustrated the Founders’ thesis that forces within the church are using legitimate dialogue about racial division and sexual abuse to move it in a progressive direction.

As the film demonstrates, critical race theory and intersectionality touch on the most hotly contested topics in our culture. That includes white privilege, LGBT identity, and women in the pulpit. Their adoption by a denomination so traditionally minded as the SBC proves all Christians need to grapple with what the Bible says on these matters and how it asks us to respond.

CLIP: If, in fact, you can push this into the Southern Baptists, who by popular stereotype are practically troglodytes because they have held to traditional marriage and they’re homophobic and on and on and on. And by the way, by reputation as well in the general public of being racist, none of which I think is entirely accurate, certainly, but this is their reputation. If you can get that denomination to change, you’ve got everybody.

The film includes plenty of engaging interviews with theologians and academics. But less time on opinions and more time investigating what happened behind the scenes with Resolution Nine would have better served viewers.

How did a resolution that went into committee with language expressly condemning critical race theory and intersectionality come out tacitly endorsing them as a lens through which we can view some social issues? Tracking that development would have given greater insight into the methods and motives of those the Founders feel they must sound a warning about. 

By What Standard? is most effective when it allows those arguing for more liberal doctrine to speak for themselves. Like here, where Beth Moore links long-established standards about women preaching to sexual abuse within the church:

CLIP: Complementarian theology became such a high core value that it inadvertently, by proof of what we have seen, look at the fruit of what happened, became elevated above the safety and well-being of many women.

It seems a pretty far bridge to argue that believing the pulpit is reserved for men—a position endorsed by countless pastors and theologians never embroiled in an abuse scandal—is responsible for abuse. So when the film cuts to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, it takes him only a line, not a lecture, to rebut.

CLIP: I had a major newspaper call and accost me with that, asking, can you deny that complementarianism is behind a lot of abuse. I said well clearly it was not motivating Harvey Weinstein.

Even those who aren’t inclined to agree with Founders or other conservative leaders in the film can benefit from viewing By What Standard? Because, as the American church at large will soon discover, this is likely only the beginning of the conversation.


(Photo/Founders Ministries)

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