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Racism is wrong but...

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

On August 20th, 2020, Dr. Richard Land, the current president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, wrote an opinion for the leading Tennessee newspaper, The Tennessean. His piece is entitled, “A Southern Baptist Leader’s Response to the Black Lives Matter Movement” and is followed by the subheading “racism is wrong, but here is why evangelicals should reject the Black Lives Matter movement” [emphasis added]. As a widely accredited biblical theologian and Oxford graduate[1], Dr. Land’s work has influenced numerous Christian organizations[2]. Since his guidance is regarded as a scholarly Evangelical perspective, Land has expansive authority on the biblical interpretation of contemporary issues in Evangelical communities. To preface his opinion, Land makes strong critiques against “those who hijack the Gospel message” and is explicit that his aim is to bring “greater understanding to the discussion [of racism].” One of his core arguments is centered around Matthew 5:13-16, which he interprets as a Christian commitment to fight “the corruption and darkness of racism with the salt of the law and the light of the Gospel” (Land). His overall conclusion is that Christians ought to disavow from the Black Lives Matter Movement, reject “the fetid swamp” of critical race theory, and uptake a position that “all human lives are sacred” as one in this fight against the consequences of human pride such as racism. In this essay, I will first argue that his interpretation of the "salt of law" and the "light of the Gospel" from Matthew 5 is misleading because it goes against the literary context of the passage. I will do this through a close reading of Matthew 5 beginning with verse 1 and ending with verse 20 in an effort to bring a more holistic reading of the excerpt. Then, because he uses Matt. 5 as evidence to why the Christian commitment against racism is fundamentally different than the Black Lives Matter Movement, I will overall make the claim that Land actually fails in his mission to bring greater understanding to racism and, as a result, perpetuates Gospel hijacking that supports racism.

Matthew Chapter 5 is famously known as Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount”. According to Jonathan Pennington, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the message of the sermon is that “[God] cares about the heart, not just external righteous deeds and religion” [3]. The chapter begins with “The Beatitudes”, where Jesus identifies a series o movement is antibiblical due to their opposition to the nuclear family, promotion of same-sex marriage, and their transgender and Marxist ideologies a. Yet when one actually reads the language of the BLM mission it states that “d person in his prophecy. Following verse 10, Jesus shifts from referring to the blessed through an impersonal “those” to the second person mode of “you” and “your”. This transition occurs when Jesus goes from saying “blessed are those who are persecuted” in verse 10 to “blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account” in verse 11 (Matt 5:10-11). He follows this use of “you” throughout the remainder of the chapter. I make this distinction because there is no literary indication that Jesus is referring to something other than “those” people who he references in verses 1-10. Therefore, when he goes on to express in verses 13 through 16 that “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world” a reader can infer that Jesus is still referring to The Beatitudes. In other words, in these verses Jesus is directly addressing those who are persecuted, who mourn, who are poor in spirit, etc., as the salt of the earl and light of the world. Therefore when Dr. Land evokes Matthew 13-16 to describe fighting racism with “the salt of the law” and the “light of the Gospel” this