I’ll be honest right from the start, I’m growing weary of hearing about Critical Race Theory and the debates swirling around it. I think far too much time is spent on either debunking or supporting it. In my honest opinion, it is jeopardizing our focus on Christ and kingdom matters in the manner prescribed in Scripture. From what I’ve observed, the arguments are rife with lazy and uncharitable assessments that have pit members of the family of God against each other. This also has made it harder for pastors who are striving to be faithful and navigate through issues of race and justice from a biblical perspective. I’d really not even write about it any further especially since so much ink is being spilled already.
However, there is one argument that keeps emerging that I feel compelled to address because I think it is a generalized and unfair allegation that misses the mark on why many Christians are opposing CRT. It’s simply this: those who claim that CRT has some compatibility with Christianity or at least can be used as a tool to diagnose the problem of racial stratification, tend to repudiate any claims of opposition as an endorsement of white supremacy. Why? Because the idea of CRT is to address white supremacy that has had its tentacles wrapped in the warp and woof of American society (I’ll expound on this in a minute). So it was no surprise to me when six SBC seminaries released as statement clarifying their position against CRT, that it was immediately met with charges of perpetuating white supremacy with pastors actually leaving the SBC over it.
Now in fairness, I do think that some of the opposition against CRT is based on strained and superficial arguments from those who see addressing any issues of race and justice as a deviation from the gospel. For this group, the SBC statement only adds further fuel to this opposition. I do think it makes it easier to dismiss raising any concerns related to race and justice. And we should be honest that a sub-group actually do want to maintain some sense of racial superiority and use opposition to CRT as a mask to cover it up.
But that is not the entirety of opposition. From my own perspective based on some extensive observation and interactions, I believe the lion’s share of criticism comes from Christians who strive to be faithful to Scripture and believe that addressing issues of race and justice should be sifted through its lens. These are ones who would not be quick to sweep racism under the rug and are honest about the travesty of our historical record. But they also see the how the framework of CRT produces fruit that is at odds with Christian practice according to Scripture, and in some cases can be a deviation from the gospel. God has provided the means by which we can analyze and address the underlying sins of race and injustice and CRT is seen as incompatible. I am one of those people.
Because we have this wretched history of racial oppression, it’s not lost on me why some Christians want to hang on to the premise that CRT provides a framework for addressing issues even while acknowledging that parts are incompatible (though I’d love to know which parts exactly). I suspect one good reason why CRT friendly Christians are quick to dismiss opposition, citing some kind of compatibility, is that CRT is addressed as a theoretical framework–the idea that white supremacy has reigned and continues to reign, subjecting black and brown people to persistent subjugation. Though I do think there can be some hyperbole in this charge. Even the proponents would have to admit that surely we’ve some some significant progress since the Civil Rights Movement even though it was only 60 years ago.
But CRT is more than just an idea. When implemented it has feet and affects dynamics of situations. When carried out to its logical conclusions, CRT, and it’s application of anti-racism, has ramifications for our interactions and relationships that many are seeing at odds with Christianity. This is what I believe is missing in the pro-CRT’s evaluation and dismissal of those who have issues with this paradigm. So I thought it might be helpful to take CRT from the idea realm and see what happens when it has boots on the ground.
In full disclosure, I’m not an expert on CRT so I won’t make that claim here. I do recognize that there are some who will differentiate what has been derived from Marxists thought in Critical Social Theory and filtered through academic circles vs. what has been the fruit of critical legal studies. Those nuances are not pertinent to this exercise because the foundation has become so mainstream that it’s origins become a moot point. In fact, by the time I even knew what CRT was, I was familiar with its ideas because of how much they had been filtering through society and even the church replete with a specified language set. So I think it’s important to lay out the underlying framework of CRT for the sake of demonstrating why myself and others have issues with CRT that have nothing to do with affirming whiteness and perpetuating racism.
At it’s core, CRT is concerned with the cultural hegemony wrought by white dominance in society that has, and continue to have, suppression of minorities, namely Blacks. This whiteness has permeated American society, its cultural artifacts, and its institutions and defines what is normal according to a standard wrought by this dominance to which all must bow. The only way to have true equity is to dismantle this system of whiteness so that minorities have a fair shot at thriving. CRT is not concerned with individuals of European decent as much as a system of whiteness that has been erected.
Now there has been debate on whether CRT is a worldview. I’m not going to call it such. But even used as a diagnostic tool, the framework of CRT must necessarily render judgment according to its premise. This judgment will extend to any infrastructure where majority white culture has reigned, including our churches. If you’re operating under this premise, here is what you’ll find;
CRT creates suspicion
While proponents of CRT indicate that individual white people are not the source of grievance, you can bet when they are in the majority, CRT tempers you to believe this group could be hostile towards minorities. It’s a pre-set conclusion that makes predominantly white churches automatically suspect. Let’s say you start visiting one or are already in one. The pastor preaches faithfully from the text week after week with a Christ-centered focus. A tragic police shooting happens and the pastor does not devote a sermon to it. The suspicion already in play leads you to conclude this pastor and this church do not care about black people. This is especially heightened when other members don’t seem to demonstrate the same care and attention you believe they should have. This may or not be the case, but suspicion has already led to conclusions about people.
“Mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:13b)
CRT robs individual love
CRT categorizes people according to identity groups. You’re either part of the dominant group or the sub-dominant group. This overshadows individual traits and assigns people to a group based on these characterizations and treats them accordingly with a moral agency assigned. It’s actually ironic considering that is what was done to black and brown people for centuries. When labels are swiftly applied, there is a lessened desire to treat a person as an individual. So if that white brother or sister does not act in accordance to our expectations, that person is viewed according to the identity group, not as an individuals.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Rom. 12:9-10)
CRT incites partiality
Because CRT ascribes to identity groups, the impetus for correction is to provide favorable treatment to those who have assigned to the marginalized group. If you are a member of the dominant group, there is a different expectation ascribed to characteristics of an individual according to the group, i.e. oppressors, marginalized.
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” (James 2:1)
CRT imposes legalistic standards for correction
The only way to overcome the sin of whiteness is for white people to repent of it, to lay down their privilege. It doesn’t matter if they have not personally sinned against you. It doesn’t matter if the main goal is to love you as a member of God’s own household. There are performative acts that must be accomplished, including bearing guilt for sins of their ancestors and demonstrating in tangible ways that white people are not racists. There is also the demand that white people accept this paradigm or they are guilty of the sin of racism. This actually leads to a binding of Christian conscience in areas not readily addressed in Scripture.
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8)
CRT can impose barriers to the gospel
This one is serious and not a conclusion I like to jump to immediately coming from professing believers. But if you think that whiteness must be overcome or repented of before one can actually be regenerated, that my friend is a false gospel akin to what Paul addressed in Galatians. We’re just trading white repentance for circumcision.
“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3)
But what about the systematic racism in society? Ok, we really need to define that first and identify the actual infractions within a complex matrix of other factors at work. A different post for another day.
For this exercise, I hope people see the opposition to CRT cannot be so swiftly reduced to a charge of wanting to maintain white supremacy. I would challenge anyone who claims authority of Scripture to explain how any of the above traits demonstrates a compatibility with Scripture that our churches should operate under. We do have an obligation to deal with the sin of racial partiality and to look upon the interest of others (Phil. 2:3-4). That needs to be encouraged and modeled. But we must do so according to Scripture, not incompatible methodologies of the world that ultimately do nothing but frustrate genuine fellowship of the saints.
In closing let me say this. I don’t write this as one who rejects that we can glean from the social sciences and other academic disciplines. But that doesn’t give common grace a license to utilize methodologies that run contrary to Scripture. While it may be believed that one can use CRT as a tool, the very paradigm itself won’t let it stop there. For it insists on considering its framework within all society. We can look at history honestly without needing a tool that bears no Christian fruit.