Not a day goes by that I don’t open up social media to find some kind of spurious rebuttal of concerns about CRT, labeling it as a boogeyman conjured up with hysteria by people who really don’t want to address racism in this country. And yet, stepping back from the battle over CRT, which in my opinion, has turned into a battle over words that obfuscate the real issues about the ideas in play, even the casual observer has to see that something has fundamentally changed about the way race is not only being addressed but also the way racism is being perceived. In the past 5-6 years, we have drastically shifted from a desire to mitigate racism through fair treatment of individuals to making everything about race that actually works against the desired goals of the long struggle for civil rights.
To quibble over words and technical definitions of CRT severely undermines what has been taking place with the social justice paradigm over the past few years. Whatever you want to call it, real people are being swept up in this ideology and regurgitating its doctrine that unfortunately is even impacting the church and relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ. On that note, please consider this post from guest contributor Kevin Briggins that he originally posted on his Facebook page. I think it really spells out why so many people are raising concerns and why I wanted to host it here. It’s a bit longer than my usual posts but definitely worth the read.
By Kevin Briggins, Guest Contributor
It has been brought to my attention that I haven’t been very clear on my engagements on race and culture. Some have said my engagements have been one sided, so I feel the need to clarify some things and to paint a broader picture of my engagements on race.
The 2016 presidential election was a major turning point in the life of our church in Augusta. This coincided with our church moving from a suburban setting to an inner-city setting in late 2015. This change in setting put us in closer proximity to poverty and with the reality of true historical racial division. The church we merged with was a dying church that had become the victim of “white flight” and unfortunately had not engaged the new community around it. This was something we desired to change as we didn’t want to be a church that drove into the inner-city for Sunday services and then drove back out with no community engagement, which is the practice of many predominantly black and white inner-city churches. We had several church members and pastors move into the community and we were also thinking of ways to engage the community. At the time our church was predominantly white and middle class with a mixture of black, Hispanic, and Asian families. We were also a Reformed (non-traditional) Southern Baptist church. I’m saying all of this to lay the context for what begin to happen in 2016.
Just as the nation was polarized by the 2016 election so was our church as we had members on both sides of the political aisle as well as both sides of whether or not Christians should support Trump given his brashness, mean and bullying tactics. If I had to characterize the majority of our church members I wouldn’t describe them as pro-Trump but anti-Hillary with the Supreme Court being the #1 political concern. However, some of the black families didn’t see the election that way. They saw Trump as an existential threat to their lives and wellbeing. The racial undertones and his law and order rhetoric triggered memories of a not so distant painful past.
This difference in viewpoints started to create major rifts in once healthy and loving friendships. Some black families could not fathom how the people they worshipped and did community with could vote for someone they felt was a literal danger to their lives. Whether or not this threat was real is not relevant. What’s relevant is that their fear was real. This led some black families to begin reading more things from the past regarding race and justice. They began reading modern day books on social justice and in doing so developed more of what would be described as a black consciousness. They began to see the world, themselves, and the people around them through the lens of race. We were no longer brothers and sisters in Christ. We were simply representatives of blackness and whiteness.
This new lens of seeing the world came with accusations and declarations. It came with demands of justice and cries against systemic racism (as defined by them). This new “wokeness” caused them to see their white brothers and sisters as racists. In their minds that was the only explanation for voting for Trump. On the other hand, the white and more conservative crowd in our church began to push back against the accusations and declarations. They also expressed concerns that this new “wokeness” would lead to theological liberalism. So these two camps began to clash heavily on social media.
In the meantime, I was voted in as the first black elder (pastor) at the church. This was a great time as I took my oath to help faithfully shepherd God’s flock. This placed me right in the thick of this internal fight within our church as I had friends on both sides. I, along with the other elders of the church, took a discipleship approach to these issues. As the nation was struggling with the concept of social justice in the midst of high profiled killings of black men at the hand of law enforcement, we wanted to help our congregation navigate these national issues in a way that showed empathy, understanding, and longsuffering with one another. Our goal was to help each side better understand where the other was coming from.
When engaging with the white conservative crowd it was more about history lessons to help them understand why black people interpreted Trumps words the way they did and why an incident far away to a random black person is felt as an attack on the entire black community as a whole. When engaging with the woke black crowd it was more about helping them understand the perspectives of their conservative brothers and sisters and their concerns of what a Hillary presidency meant for the Supreme Court and why they typically viewed those high profiled shootings as isolated incidents and not as evidence of black oppression. The goal of our engagements were to affirm where both sides had valid concerns but to also pushback where we needed to.
This approach wasn’t good enough for either side as neither felt their concerns were fully being addressed. The woke crowd accused us of protecting “white supremacy” and the conservatives were concerned we were heading down a slippery slope of liberalism. Both sides wanted us to fully reject and discipline the other. [Side Note: The majority of the church was somewhere in the middle.] As the social media engagements became worse, the conservative crowd was more responsive to the elders’ chastisement of their engagements and behavior as not being Christ-like and to cut it out. However, the woke crowd interpreted those same calls to cut it out as “silencing their voice.” In their minds we were no longer their friends and pastors. If you were white you were simply protecting your power and interests and as for me I was simply a token. We lost all influence with them and they eventually left the church. This was a time of grief as these were friends we were close to and loved. We shed many tears and frustrations with the way things had gone.
A New Worldview
As all of this was happening we noticed a shift in worldview with the woke crowd and not only that; they were using language in a way that we weren’t familiar with. The terms whiteness, blackness, white supremacy, oppressed, privilege, fragility, and hegemonic power filled their vocabulary. And it wasn’t just the words. It was how they were used. Even words we were familiar with clearly had new definitions. One of my biggest regrets was at the time I didn’t realize what they were reading or what this new worldview was called. All I knew is everything had become about race and they all of a sudden were deeming themselves as being oppressed. It wasn’t until after I began researching and hearing others dealing with the same things that I was able to put a name to the root ideology at heart. It was critical race theory or at least the tenants of it. Here are a few listed by the American Bar Association.
– Acknowledgement that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicate racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.
– Rejection of popular understandings about racism, such as arguments that confine racism to a few “bad apples.” CRT recognizes that racism is codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy. CRT rejects claims of meritocracy or “colorblindness.” CRT recognizes that it is the systemic nature of racism that bears primary responsibility for reproducing racial inequality.
– Recognition of the relevance of people’s everyday lives to scholarship. This includes embracing the lived experiences of people of color, including those preserved through storytelling, and rejecting deficit-informed research that excludes the epistemologies of people of color.
So, in this ideology racism is the default norm and things like a police shooting is just a manifestation of the systemic racism. Racism also explains all inequities between blacks and whites. I intentionally say blacks and whites because if you add other races (ethnicities) to the equation or if you apply it to areas like the NBA the theory itself breaks down. So we must keep it to a black/white paradigm to understand their perspective. So this is why we see calls for “equity”. Equity is about getting rid of disparities within outcomes amongst blacks and whites. Do not confuse it with equality or equal opportunity. If the outcomes are not equal then the reason must be racism and oppression within the system or law. To overcome this we must tear down the system of whiteness and whites must give up their privilege and power to people of color.
Now take that worldview and dynamic and apply it to the Church. They wanted the elders to hand over “power” to them. They believed their voices needed to be lifted as a matter of social justice and that they should’ve been given the authority to make certain changes they believed were necessary. Remember, one of the tenets is to listen to and embrace the lived experiences of blacks. How they felt or perceived things was to be taken as truth. No matter what. Well, we know truth is not relative to experience and that the church isn’t run by a quota of ethnic groups. We as the pastors have a responsibility to shepherd and pastor the church because at the end we must stand before God and give an account. Needless to say, we did not give in to their demands and therefore they could no longer fellowship under the “oppression” of “white supremacy”.
One thing I’ve noticed about this ideology is there is no way to disagree with it. It is accept it or else. For example, if you’re white and push back against it or question it you are either fragile or you are using it as a tactic to maintain the status quo or in other terms maintain your power. If you are a person of color and you disagree with it you have either internalized your oppression or you are simply seeking the approval of whites for either acceptance or money. There is no room for criticism or debate. This makes the ideology very revolutionary. This is why Ibram X Kendi says there is no such thing as non-racist. You’re either anti-racist or you’re racist. Either you buy into the framework and ideology they present or you’re a racist. Raise your hand if you want to be called a racist. Of course, no one does so people began to feel bullied into going along with the movement. People are afraid to speak up and to speak against it for fear of being labeled or cancelled. As I noticed this, I began to speak up against it because I have seen how destructive it can be. I don’t believe it brings us any closer to justice or unity.
While the overall goal of this movement is to reshape America as a whole and all its institutions my primary concern is for the Church. My concern is for the unity of Christians from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Why? Because Jesus told us the unity and love we have for one another is key to the witness of who he is. In John chapter 17 Jesus prays these words,
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (Jn. 17:20-21)
And in Ephesians chapter 4 the Apostle Paul says,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:1-6)
The unity of God’s people is important to Him and He has given us instructions on how to live and walk with one another. The word of God tells us how to love our neighbors not secular sociology. The idea of racism didn’t exist during the time the bible was written but the elements of ethnic partiality are not new. Scripture gives us clear guidance that we are not to show partiality to anyone regardless of their social or economic status. We are to treat everyone equally and fairly.
Ethnic strife was a major issue during this time as Roman gentiles occupied Jerusalem. But at the same time within the Jewish synagogue, Gentile believers were only allowed in the outer courts and were separated from the Jews by walls. But in Christ these walls of division have been broken down. Paul tells us,
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph. 2:14)
So as Christians we are to no longer judge each other according to the flesh because we are all one family in Christ. For there is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither black nor white. This does not deny the reality of different ethnicities or cultures but that those things are secondary when we come together. This is why true white supremacy in the church is deplorable and why the history is so shameful. But thanks be to God that he has given us His word and His Spirit that we can overcome these things. Not by turning to social theories and judging one another by skin color but by living in community with one another while sharing and carrying one another’s burdens and griefs. This has been my message and why I felt the need to speak out against the ideology of CRT and anti-racism that has become so prevalent in our society and even in our churches.
I regret that I haven’t been totally clear on where I was coming from and in the process I hurt people I really care about. I never meant to dismiss anyone’s encounter with true racism as we all know racism does exist. I’ve posted about my own experiences with it but I believe it is important how we allow those experiences to shape how we view ourselves, others, and how we approach conversations on race. I pray that going forward I will do a better job explaining exactly what I’m challenging and why I’m doing it. I also pray those who truly know me will give me the benefit of the doubt to know that I have good reasons for bringing attention to certain things.
Along with this very poignant post that Kevin shared on Facebook, he also posted part 1 of a documentary about how this ideology played out at Evergreen State College back in 2017. The 3 part documentary–here, here and here–is definitely worth a look to know that when people raise concerns, they are valid. What happened at Evergreen is happening in many places throughout the country.