Even if you believe that some interpretations of critical race theory have problematic, illiberal elements to them, it is hardly in danger of taking hold in the 47,000-plus congregations in the convention, which is more theologically and politically conservative than most denominations. What is ripping through many Southern Baptist churches these days — and it’s not confined to Southern Baptist churches — is a topic that went unmentioned at the annual convention last week: QAnon conspiracy theories.
Russell Moore, who was an influential figure in the Southern Baptist Convention until he split with the denomination just a few weeks ago, told Axios, “I’m talking literally every day to pastors, of virtually every denomination, who are exhausted by these theories blowing through their churches or communities.” Dr. Moore said that for many, QAnon is “taking on all the characteristics of a cult.”
Bill Haslam, the former two-term Republican governor of Tennessee, a presbyterian and the author of “Faithful Presence: The Promise and the Peril of Faith in the Public Square,” put it this way in a recent interview with The Atlantic:
I have heard enough pastors who are saying they cannot believe the growth of the QAnon theory in their churches. Their churches had become battlegrounds over things that they never thought they would be. It’s not so much the pastors preaching that from pulpits — although I’m certain there’s some of that — but more people in the congregation who have become convinced that theories are reflective of their Christian faith.
According to a recent poll by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, nearly a third of white evangelical Christian Republicans — 31 percent — believe in the accuracy of the QAnon claim that “Donald Trump has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.” White evangelicals are far more likely to embrace conspiracy theories than nonwhite evangelicals. Yet there have been no statements or resolutions by the Southern Baptist Convention calling QAnon “incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message,” which six S.B.C. seminary presidents said about critical race theory and “any version of Critical Theory” late last year. Too many Southern Baptist leaders, facing all sorts of internal problems and dangers, would rather divert attention and judgment to the world outside their walls. This is not quite what Jesus had in mind.
The drama playing out within the convention is representative of the wider struggle within American Christianity. None of us can fully escape the downsides and the dark sides of our communities and our culture. The question is whether those who profess to be followers of Jesus show more of a capacity than they have recently to rise above them, to be self-critical instead of simply critical of others, to shine light into our own dark corners, even to add touches of grace and empathy in harsh and angry times.
That happens now and then, here and there, and when it does, it can be an incandescent witness. But the painful truth is it doesn’t happen nearly enough, and in fact the Christian faith has far too often become a weapon in the arsenal of those who worship at the altar of politics.
Rather than standing up for the victims of sexual abuse, their reflex has been to defend the institutions that cover up the abuse. Countless people who profess to be Christians are having their moral sensibilities shaped more by Tucker Carlson’s nightly monologues than by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Perhaps without quite knowing it, many of those who most loudly proclaim the “pre-eminence of Christ” have turned him into a means to an end, a cruel, ugly and unforgiving end. And this, too, is not quite what Jesus had in mind.