Within hours of the MLK50 event going live, Southern Baptist church planters across the country had begun to complain online. For some, it was that Martin Luther King was hardly worth venerating, with his promiscuous and extra-marital sexual behavior (both heterosexual and homosexual) and his denials of Christian orthodoxy (including his explicit denials of scriptural inspiration, the deity of Christ and the Resurrection). For others, they were concerned with what they perceived as Critical Race Theory (CRT) or Cultural Marxism being espoused at the conference by some of the speakers. For nearly all of those church planters who mumbled and grumbled online, they were convinced that the conference would ultimately lead to far more division than unity. And so, some made comments about the event on Facebook and Twitter. What they didn’t expect is to be contacted by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) or NAMB surrogates, telling them to delete their criticisms of MLK50 or lose their funding.
One church planter sent us the correspondence between himself and the “church planting catalyst” who is the go-between the North American Mission Board and his state convention. The NAMB employee is responsible for deciding the stipend amount for the church planter, as funded through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. When the planter took exception with certain words of Thabiti Anyabwile online, he was contacted and told that being cooperative required not disagreeing with MLK50 in social media.
“Listen [name redacted], you need to remove your [sic] criticisms of Thabiti. On Facebook or your Twitter. It doesn’t matter to me or to NAMB or to your mother church if it’s your plant’s page or yours. If the media picks up on a Southern Baptist pastor disagreeing with what is being accomplished at the 50 event you will be sorry. I will be sorry. We will be sorry. Our funding agreement demands that you be cooperating. Your criticism of this SBC function is not cooperating.”
Another church planter spoke to Pulpit & Pen and said the following:
I got a call directly from one of the NAMB representatives who oversee our church plant. In no uncertain terms he demanded – he did not request, did not ask, but demanded – that we remove our article link on Critical Race Theory. He said that it was inappropriate timing, and that Southern Baptists had to stand together.
The planter continued, “He also told me that he had to call several other ‘young men’ that day and make sure that ‘church planters in our state’ aren’t going to make the Southern Baptist Convention look divided. Then he told me that Critical Race Theory was a ‘crazy conspiracy theory.’”
“When I tried to explain that MLK50 was being divisive and intentionally so,” he continued, “that that was the entire point of the political philosophy behind MLK50, I was told that ‘funding comes by cooperation; so cooperate’.”
Likewise, Pulpit & Pen has been contacted by a number of seminary students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and several enrolled in the Boyce College undergraduate program. All report that they were contacted by a professor (one in particular) or their student adviser who informed them that their criticism of MLK50 or any Southern Baptist employee (particularly Russell Moore) could be a violation of the student conduct code.
“I was like, ‘really’? You’re going to pull that on me? I have a single comment in a Facebook post and it’s reported to my professor who’s tasked with telling me to delete it or face possible consequences? I wasn’t annoyed by some supposed violation of the college or another. That can be handled by looking at the handbook. I was offended that they tried to tell me I was in sin for voicing my concern and tried to use Matthew 18 in a way against me that wasn’t following Matthew 18 themselves.”
Perhaps the worst accusations are those coming from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), which has been heavily interested in Critical Race Theory and Cultural Marxism. They had a Malcom X read-in earlier in the year and have a “Kingdom Diversity Department,” responsible for implementing an affirmative action type of program at the seminary. Several professors have left SEBTS recently, some citing the seminary’s undercurrent of progressivism as the reason for their transfer to another Southern Baptist institution.
Pulpit & Pen spoke to a professor at SEBTS and a staff member, both of whom said that employees were threatened to not publicly state any displeasure regarding the MLK50 event.
The professor told us via email:
It is very clear that if you challenge CRT [critical race theory] you will not have a place at Southeastern. Danny [Akin] has made that very clear. Political correctness is more important than having an honest discourse about the best ways to honor Christ and reconcile ethnic groups through the Gospel.
The staff member told us, “I was told that I’d have to receive ‘diversity training’ put on by the department [of Kingdom Diversity] if I didn’t remove my snarky remark about King. I removed it. I don’t think they saw the comments I made on other threads, so I left them and I hope they don’t find out.”
Both sources at SEBTS believed their jobs were in jeopardy for criticizing Critical Race Theory or Cultural Marxism. When asked if his job would be in jeopardy if Akin saw him as critical of Russell Moore or MLK50, the professor stated, “Absolutely.”
Pulpit & Pen reached out Dr. Akin and asked him about the diversity training or ban on criticizing MLK50.
Akin denied the accusations without further explanation and stated, “Unless you want to reveal your source we can conclude this conversation.”