Critical Race Theory, Culture Wars, and the Church
Critical race theory has become a hot button topic in media, social media, education, government, and more. It seems like every week another state is banning critical race theory from its state education curriculum or doubling down on its presence in its school curriculum. Every day my Facebook feed is bombarded by people arguing about the three letters “CRT”. It is rarely discussed without high emotion and for most it seems to be either the agent of redemption or the agent of destruction in our society.
After the killing of George Floyd took the headlines last year, it seemed like there was a glimpse of hope for racial unity regarding our country. By and large, both conservatives and liberals seemed to agree on the brutality of George Floyd’s death and a need for justice in the case. Around this time, there were marches, prayer rallies, and black boxes being posted in solidarity of black lives being lost. It seemed that there was some sort of turning point in the general conscious of a nation towards the issue of race. Businesses were changing policies, black voices were being highlighted, and black representation shot up in media. And right in the middle of all this, an ideology called Critical Race Theory started popping up in popular media, academia, social groups, church circles, and more.
The initial intentionality of black support began to wane, and the focus of many switched over to CRT.
It quickly became the hinge point of the ongoing culture war in the U.S.
So what is critical race theory? Is it helpful? Is it destructive? And how do we approach it?
WHAT IS CRITICAL RACE THEORY?
Let’s start with what CRT (Critical Race Theory) is. Since many don’t actually know what CRT is. I will do my best to give an unbiased definition of the worldview.
Critical race theory is an academic movement that is grounded in Critical Theory which was popularized by German philosopher named Max Horkheimer. “Critical Theory”, not to be confused with CRT, is an ideology that seeks to critique society and culture in order to reveal inherently oppressive power structures that exist throughout society and culture.
Critical RACE theory is an off shoot of Critical Theory that developed in 1960’s, but has a similar foundation. The major difference, is that CRT, in its critique of culture, sees race as a social construct of these oppressive power structures and a tool that is consistently used to oppress and marginalize people of color in the United States. For the true critical race theorist, to change society for the better means to change the dynamic of race in this country. CRT centers race at the center of all conversation about moving the country forward, being that racism is this country’s greatest offense.
MY THOUGHTS ON CRT AND CULTURE WARS:
I find this whole “war” very odd. It’s entry into public life at this moment is very interesting, considering critical race theory has been around since the 1960’s. I find it odd that at the moment of what seemed like the beginning of a cultural awakening on the issue of race, this theory became a tool of division that completely distracted from the reason it exists in the first place. It is foolish to say that race hasn’t historically been a deciding factor in how laws were made, in how wealth was distributed, and in how people were treated. When it comes to the state of black people today, although there has been progress…it is clear that many black people are still suffering as a direct result of systemic racism. In other words, the racism that historically existed (and in some cases still does exist) in the structures of power in the United States still has a direct negative impact on black people today. This is not an opinion as much as it is statistical, historical, and empirical fact. Three-Fifths compromise, slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, to name a few forms of racism that were perpetuated by the law making institutions of America.
Not only has racism existed structurally, it has been engrained into the psyche of a people. Our internal biases, our gut reflexes when we see certain kinds of people, our stereotypes weren’t formed in a vacuum. There was a narrative at play, that informed these things.
The only reason CRT exists is because racism existed before it. And we’ve still yet to see true and wide repentance on that issue.
Now with all that being said, I DO NOT identify as a Critical Race Theorist. The main reason why, is that I don’t believe solving the issue of race is the sole solution to American society’s ills. I believe racism is only a by product of heart issues like greed, idolatry, and hate. Would there be slavery without greed? Would there be discrimination without a deficit of love? Would there be political and social idolatry without a lack of true authentic faith in God?
These issues go beyond race and solving the issue of race starts at the heart, not the mind. Critical Race Theory hones in on academia, because they believe that an awareness of racism will lead to societal change. That hasn’t been the case in the past and isn’t the case today. The average racist knows racism but refuses to acknowledge it.
But I wholeheartedly agree with educating people. I just believe that the education has to be paired with an internal heart change.
MY THOUGHTS ON BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO RACISM:
There is an interesting story in Nehemiah 8-10. The people of Israel are exposed to the Word of God for the first time in a long time by Ezra. They had just gotten out of exile and were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. In the midst of this rebuilding, they heard the law of God for the first time in a while. Their response was immediate lament over their turning away from God and in chapter 9, they began to repent. But not only did they repent for their sins, they began to repent for the sins of their forefathers. They didn’t make excuses, they didnt try to deny the current reality of the impact of their forefathers‘ sin. Instead, they sought repentance, worshipped God and made a covenant with Him. This led to a revival in Judah.
The broader western (predominantly white) evangelical church has spent so much theological and preaching energy discrediting Marxism and CRT in culture the past year, but not nearly as much of that energy acknowledging and repenting for the role of the church in giving these institutions the soil to grow. I love the church DEEPLY and I still believe it serves as hope for the world. However to not acknowledge the role that the predominantly white Christian church has played in creating systems of oppression and racism, is not the whole truth. The reason there is a “black church” across many denominational lines, is because of white churches ostracizing black Christians from their places of worship. I hate that it’s true, but it is. I believe there hasn’t been true lament in the Church over this reality. Therefore repentance hasn’t been full. And it’s clear God has given us a moment to truly repent and gain back our voice to be a moral authority and voice for justice in our nation and world. However, it’s heart breaking to see that energy go to discrediting CRT and Marxism when Critical Race Theorists have been more vocal advocates for the victims of injustice then the church has. This is much bigger than CRT.
We don’t end racism by fighting culture wars, we end it by educating ourselves, fighting the prejudice/hate in our heart, getting in tune with God, and fighting for what’s been wrong to be made right. We’ve been given the ministry of reconciliation for such a time as this.