Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become the hottest issue of our day.
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Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become the hottest issue of our day. It seems to be everywhere: our politics, the nightly news, DEI training; the 1619 project; the BLM craze from businesses & professional sports; the Smithsonian; university campuses and now K-12 school curriculum. All this in addition to the endless and ubiquitous presence of CRT ideas on social media.
CRT and race issues were on the margins of my radar until George Floyd became a household name. People were blacking out their social media, joining in BLM protests, raising a fist and engaging in all sorts of other rage against the machine. Then BLM support exploded all over the place. You couldn’t watch a show, a game, surf the net, or scroll social media without seeing the BLM logo, a pop art picture of George Floyd or reading “I can’t breathe”. Seemingly overnight, orthodox outrage over George Floyd became one and the same with outrage over systemic racism. In some sense, George Floyd the man was obscured while his name was co-opted as the most recent slogan in the fight against our haunting “original sin”.
Closer to home though, in my Evangelical world, I learned that antiracism was fast becoming the new esprit de corps. Previously, I was annoyed and confused when I saw the MLK50 conference glorifying a man with heretical doctrine and who was adulterous his whole marriage. But after George Floyd I first woke up to how aggressively Social-Justice-minded the EFCA, my own denomination, had become. I began feverishly re-reading previous articles on race along with the push of fresh post-Floyd articles rebuking me as a white evangelical. “My majority family members,” Cedrick Brown, a black pastor and EFCA Eastern District Superintendent said to white evangelicals in his article The Unmuted Gospel,
“I challenge you today to unmute your lives….So, ‘majority church,’ family of God, I need to have your ear for a moment…. What will you do for other men and women who do not have the same privileges granted as you?”
Will Turner,in his review of the book Under Our Skin said, “The problem often faced in the white evangelical world is that we give lip service to the problem of race, but very little action…”
The EFCA wasn’t alone though. Within the broader Evangelical world the cause of CRT has been taken up with Great Commission vigor. Famous leaders like Matt Hall, Matt Chandler, Thabiti Anyabwile, Mark Dever, David Platt, Ligon Duncan, Tim Keller, Russel Moore, Phil Vischer (VeggieTales creator), Beth Moore, LeCrae, and many more are very vocal in support of CRT ideas. The largest and most influential leading Evangelical organizations are all-in too: TGC, 9Marks, CRU, Intervarsity Press, ERLC, EFCA, TEDS, Southern Baptist Seminaries and more can be heard often denouncing American systemic racism, holding lament sessions and calling on the white church to repent. There are endless quotes from articles, tweets, blogs, video conferences and statements to demonstrate how much CRT has become not just de rigueur, but Gospel.
At this point, you probably feel as though you should get to know this CRT issue. And you should. You may be ignorant of it but you’re not insulated. Politicians espouse CRT doctrines. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training may be required at your work. On social media you may be called a racist and be confused why someone would say such a thing. At school your kids will be indoctrinated into CRT views – in both public and increasingly private Christian schools as well. If they go to a university they will be inundated with CRT at every turn. Sadly that includes more and more Christian colleges. If you go to church, there is a growing chance that the pastor is adopting CRT views and incorporating them into sermons, classes, and the overall mission of the church. You might have lament services, be told America is a racist country, that racial reconciliation is the job of the Church and see new staff brought in to help diversify the ministry.
The pressure to imbibe these CRT views is heavy. Before you do, like anything else you need to examine and evaluate them first. “Test everything” the Bible tells us (1 Thess. 5:21). “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn 4:1). We Christians should not let anyone deceive us by “fine sounding arguments” (Col. 2:4). Nor are we to be “taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col. 2:8) Rather than being “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in the their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14), Christians are to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
Now those verses do not tell us if CRT is right or wrong. They command us to find out.
Anyone who has had a baby knows one of the most common things a parent blurts out is “Don’t eat that!” Babies crawling around want to put everything in their mouths. They don’t know what they should eat and what they shouldn’t. Too often we Christians seem that way when it comes to worldly ideas. We grab everything we hear and swallow it. Hebrews 5 explains that if that is the case, then we don’t have the spiritual maturity to tell the difference between good and evil. When it comes to CRT we need to find out if the right response is “Don’t eat that!”
As guardians of the truth once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3) we’re obligated to examine everything we hear and find out if it accords with Biblical truth. This is called discernment. Discernment means using sound doctrine to evaluate ideas. Many have good doctrine. Let us strive to have good discernment.
So what is CRT? There really isn’t a dictionary definition. Actually, it has to be described. The leading scholars of CRT will list a number of core ideas that are essential to making CRT what it is. Nonetheless, lets try and at least offer a definition. Afterwards we can unpack those essential ideas. In Time Magazine’s article What Is Critical Race Theory, definitions were presented from leading CRT scholars.
….studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power
Critical race theory offers a way of seeing the world that helps people recognize the effects of historical racism in modern American life.
is a practice—a way of seeing how the fiction of race has been transformed into concrete racial inequities.”
It’s an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it
These definitions emphasize that CRT is a view, a way of seeing society, a lens to look through and interpret the world. CRT is an approach to how someone tries to make sense of the world they live in. I might attempt to summarize CRT in one sentence like this:
“CRT is a way of seeing how past and current racism in our society is responsible for the inequalities we see between whites and people of color.”
That seems like a fair summarization to start with.
Now you have to understand something else about CRT: not only does it show you how to see the world, but, it is also shows you how to act in that world. Look again at that first definition in the Time Magazine article, “…studying and transforming…”. In other words, if you merely awaken to unjust inequalities it is not enough. You must act and do something about them. Social activism is the necessary next step of this new awakening (“woke”). Now think back to the first article when we formed a definition of social justice. We said that social justice was the idea that:
certain groups in society are oppressed and disadvantaged by some kind of injustice. The solution is to redistribute money, power and other resources to these groups so we can achieve more equal outcomes.
Our definition of CRT works within this social justice definition. Racism is the injustice that has produced unequal outcomes between racial groups and unfairly disadvantaged people of color. Something must be done to bring about more equal outcomes.
Now I mentioned that a single-sentence definition does not come close to giving us the understanding of CRT that we need. It’s a good starting point, meant to launch us into the more detailed study of various core ideas that combine to make CRT what it is. The number of those core themes can range depending on which author you’re reading. The most common themes in CRT will certainly include:
- Racism is normal and everywhere in society.
- Lived experiences of marginalized people
- Interest convergence.
- Race is socially constructed
- Revisionist history
- Anti-liberalism (individualism, individual rights, meritocracy, colorblindness)
Again there are more, and we’ll touch on them in the next article. But no CRTist would deny these six are essential to understanding CRT. With that said, what do those six ideas mean? For the remainder of this article let me give very brief descriptions of each one. For this purpose, I am drawing from Neil Shenvi’s article “What is Critical Race Theory?”, and Bradley Mason’s “In Short What Is Critical Race Theory?”. Both are very helpful since each compiles the explanations of CRT scholars in one location. In the next article we can expand those descriptions, draw on more sources and offer a detailed evaluation from Scripture.
The first tenet of CRT is that racism is everywhere in our society. Consider: “…race and racism are central, endemic, permanent and a fundamental part of defining and explaining how US society functions.” Also, “Racism is a normal part of American life.” Racism here does not mean individual attitudes, but the way social structures are set up to favor whites over people of color (POC).
Secondly, CRT prioritizes the lived experiences of marginalized people. “…CRT gives voice to the unique perspectives and lived experiences of people of color…” “CRT recognizes that the experiential knowledge of People of Color is legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, analyzing and teaching about racial subordination…” How have people of color experienced life from their social location? What are their perspectives? The ways they subjectively interpret the world and the lens through which they look out at the world based on their experiences must become prioritized.
Another essential tenet of CRT is interest convergence. Basically this is the belief that whites will only be motivated to help people of color advance in society when there is something in it for them. Interest convergence “is the idea that white people will only work to help black and brown people’s situations, or tolerate their advancement, when it is beneficial for white people…..the white power structure ‘will tolerate or encourage racial advances for Blacks only when they also promote white self-interests’...”
Fourthly, CRT asserts that race is socially constructed. This means there is no biological basis for racial categorizations and “the characteristics ascribed to a particular race can and will change to fit a dominant group’s interest.” Additionally, in the Scientific American’s article “Race Is A Social Construct, Scientists Argue” it is stated “the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning”. Essentially, the dominant social group has created unscientific racial categories in order to maintain their dominance.
A fifth core idea in CRT is the importance of revisionist history. This means that what is taught about American history is not blindly accepted, but, closely and critically examined. The assertion is that the full story of history has not been told and this is for the benefit of the dominant group to preserve its power.
Lastly, CRT is very anti-liberal. “Critical race theory expresses skepticism toward dominant legal claims of neutrality, objectivity, color blindness, and meritocracy.” Also, “…critical race scholars are discontented with liberalism as a framework for addressing America’s racial problems… Colorblindness can be admirable… But it can be perverse…Crits are suspicious of another liberal mainstay, namely, rights.”
Together these ideas combine to form the CRT worldview. What do each of these ideas have in common? What theme pulls them together and makes them all bound together under CRT? The answer is oppression. Each of these tenets of CRT explain that race relations in America can be reduced to the basic Marxist worldview (explored in previous articles) of oppressors and the oppressed. America’s institutions and structures are fundamentally racist and, according to CRT, perpetuate white dominance over people of color. Who has power and who doesn’t are the optics of CRT and each tenet explains an aspect of this power dynamic. Yet, as we’ve seen, CRT is more than a pair of glasses. It is also a tool for changing who has power in American society. Therefore it is important to understand that CRT is both analytical and activist.
The question for us Christians is this: “Is looking at the world with a CRT perspective compatible with our Biblical outlook of reality?” Also, “Is the Mission of CRT to transform society compatible with the Great Commission we are given in Scripture?” We’ll explore those questions next as we bring each CRT tenet under the light of God’s Word.