I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. -Colossians 2:4
Over the last couple of years, I have mostly been vocal about the dangers and idolatry of much of the evangelical conservative church wedding themselves to politics and its damage to our witness. I have also been vocal about our call as believers to serve the most vulnerable, whether refugees, immigrants, the disadvantaged, persecuted, or the oppressed. I have preached that racism has no place in our hearts, lives, families, or churches, even when it has cost me relationships and support.
However, there is another philosophy on the other side making a lot of inroads among a portion of the church and believers in the US. That philosophy is one called critical race theory (more commonly referred to as social justice or “wokism”). If you are not familiar with critical race theory, it is a worldview important to understand because it will help make sense of much of the rhetoric and current movement taking place under the banner of social justice. Many Christians have seemingly been embracing all or much of the underlining assumptions, terminology, worldview, and ideological framework by which this operates. Granted, I suspect many are not consciously aware of the philosophy under-girding it or how it conflicts at points with Scripture. Others may be lacking a theological framework to filter it. Still more may understand social justice differently and wouldn’t subscribe to what I describe below. In this article I am not attacking the people who have bought into critical race theory; but I do want to address the ideology and assumptions under-girding what we are hearing and seeing today.
Before I dive in, I will admit that I was more sympathetic towards this type of rhetoric because I identify with language such as “justice” and believe the Bible calls us to pursue justice, especially on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed. However, what has shocked me as I dove deeper into studying critical race theory, is the redefining of specific terms to mean something different from what they have traditionally meant or that I believe Scripture teaches.
For example, racism is no longer defined as a discriminatory attitude or action towards others because of their skin color. Instead, it is now being equated with being white (being the dominant cultural group in the US). This means a white person such as myself, is implicitly racist and complicit in the plight of minority groups. For those who adopt a critical race theory worldview, there are only two groups of people: the oppressed and the oppressors. If you are in the dominant cultural group, then you are automatically in the oppressor category by the nature of your skin color. Ironically, this is the traditional definition of racism in discriminating against people because of their skin color. In a sense this worldview is leading some to reverse racism. That is partly why I find this ideology so dangerous and divisive.
In fact, as a white person, under this worldview, I should not be writing this or pushing back on any of this framework. By doing so, I am confirming that I am racist in the eyes of those who hold to this worldview. This is what is being labeled as “white fragility.” There is a popular book precisely titled that, that I have taken the time to read recently. Under this view, if I stay silent about my racist problem as a white person and do not do XYZ (yes, there is a rule-book for what white people must do and not do), then I am complicit and guilty. But if I challenge any of the assumptions underlining what any “woke” person says, I only prove my white fragility, and my racism is exposed. Only people of color or “woke” white people can clearly “see” this.
Under this framework, the only pathway forward then for me as a white person, is to confess I am racist because I am white, repent of my racism to people of color, surrender my “white privilege”, accept the narrative and experiences without critical thought, listen without defense despite charges, accusations, or perspective articulated, and follow the rules of “whiteness 101.” When studied carefully, these rules hold white people to a different standard than people of color, simply because of skin color.
There is so much more around all this than I will get into in this article but suffice to say it is sad to see how this framework for viewing the world is not only deceiving another part of the church, (many of whom are rightly frustrated and disillusioned with so much of it being usurped by political conservatism); but how it is also driving a wedge in relationships while I would argue distracting from real issues of racism and creating an inability to have honest discussions that are not one-sided.
There is no doubt real racism and inequality exists in the United States. There is no doubt that many evangelical Christians have especially worshiped at the foot of a golden political calf in extremely dangerous and damaging ways. There is no doubt there are many cultural blind spots and situations where we have stayed silent when we should have spoken up more courageously. There is no doubt there is some noble work being done to address these issues. I’ve had some of those conversations with people of color who do not subscribe to critical race theory. There are real issues.
But the influence of critical race theory, wokism or identity politics is not the solution. We can learn from aspects of this lens and understand the experience that many people of color have is quite different than others. But we must do so understanding that the underlining worldview, assumptions, and framework of critical race theory are fraught with contradictions, double-standards, and produces some bad fruit if we are not careful. I would go as far as to agree with others who have noted it is becoming a religion and religious movement itself (filling the vacuum created by the deconstructing and dismantling of prior grand narratives) but leading to isolation, new walls being erected based on skin color, and a view of the world without much, if any, nuance.
So what is the solution if it is not conservative evangelicalism or critical race theory?
Well, let me articulate what I think is needed first and is a major contributing factor. We need to be aware and discerning of all philosophy we come across and understand the underlining assumptions and worldviews. We cannot just accept anything at face value. However, in this case of critical race theory, that is essentially what is being called for if you are white. To push back at all would be to confirm you are racist, which is partly an intimidation tactic even if sincerely believed. Right now, this may not be popular, especially as “social justice” might sound like a positive thing, but I believe we need to be wary of all causes or movements and exercise great discernment in every case. Read Colossians chapter two carefully as this is what I am talking about and see as the danger here.
But how do we discern various philosophy’s as to whether they are genuinely biblical or not? Aren’t we, or others, prone to have our faulty interpretations or understanding? Absolutely. We must also be careful of reading into Scripture our cultural meanings, regardless of which culture we might be a part of. We all naturally do it, which is why the study of Scripture is so important, especially when you can do it with others diverse in culture, to help with cultural blind spots. But cultural blind spots are different than being labeled racist. Additionally, understanding Scripture’s use of terms like justice (and comparing to modern usage and meaning under critical race theory) and paying attention to the overarching narrative theme is critically essential. Being able to question interpretations or understanding and getting to the truth requires time and effort. Viewing the world from multiple lenses, not just one, will also aid in not becoming narrow minded in our focus.
For example, justice is undoubtedly a critical part of the theme of Scripture. Seeing the oppressed set free is part of the mission of Jesus. Serving the most vulnerable is a critical part of why Jesus came. But any of these isolated from the rest or when it is the only lens through which we view the world, form a different picture, and become something not entirely whole or even biblical. It easily leads to a new form of self-righteousness and works-righteousness that is exhausting in it’s demands and burdensome to it’s adherents.
While justice is a theme of scripture, the overarching narrative of Scripture is that of redemption from sin. Jesus came to redeem us and reconcile us to God. That is the Gospel message. Out of that does flow a thousand other Gospel implications and applications. For example, one implication is that by being reconciled to God, we are also reconciled to one another regardless of the color of our skin or any other distinction. Therefore, racism or any other “ism” has no place in the church is the application. But original sin is not racism or broken human relationships because of racism. It is rather, broken relationship with God because of sin. Racism is one of many forms or manifestations of sin. We all (not just certain races) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) being separated from him and needing a Savior.
But when justice (or seeing the world divided in two groups of oppressed and oppressors) becomes the singular lens by which we view the world, the message becomes less about the Good News of what God did for us in Christ; and more about what I need to do to free myself (and other white people) from being racist. When the world is viewed this way, every interaction, every situation, every event, every relationship is then about race. Confirmation bias begins to settle in because you start to see race everywhere when only this lens is used. Much of what could be cultural/personality differences becomes amplified and intensified as issues of racism. The intent of someones heart, or content of their character and actions are no longer relevant.
I have also noticed a formula begins to emerge from “wokism”/social justice/critical race theory. There are rules, commandments, and expectations (some unspoken, some articulated) that must be followed, especially by white people. However, many of those are vague as to how much, for how long, and how often. Confessing our “whiteness” (sin of racism) to people of color, lamenting our racist history, and making reparations, for example, are specific actions called for. But these calls are not specified as to how long, or to how many people of color, or how many white people must do so, to atone for our collective and personal sin of racism before forgiveness is extended and healing can happen. The past, while certainly tied to the future and even still impacting the present in some harmful ways for people of color, binds us all from being able to move forward in the present and celebrate any progress. We are always guilty because we are white and so must be “vigilant” to stay “woke” about our whiteness. But this is circular reasoning and one that cannot be proven except by antidotes, personalized stories, and generalizations.
To be abundantly clear, none of this is to say racism is not real, that racism is not a part of our history, or that justice is not important. It is. We are called to pursue justice. But true justice flows not from a critical race theory worldview but as an implication and application of the biblical narrative. Neither conservative evangelicalism wedded to politics nor social justice wedded to critical race theory is the way forward. Both are identity politics that are dividing the church, relationships, and families verse uniting us in Christ.
Instead, I believe we need to stay centered and grounded in a biblical worldview that recognizes the world is in a fallen condition (racism being a part of that fallen reality but not the definition of sin) and the greatest need is transformed hearts and lives whereby we find our primary identity as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of race or cultural distinctions. Where possible, we also should come to appreciate and demonstrate the beauty of that diversity that is representative of what heaven will be like when every tribe and nation worships together under the banner of unity in Christ. A new heaven and new earth is our ultimate hope when Jesus rights every true wrong and restores that which was broken by the fall for the redeemed.
That reality of modeling something of the beauty of heaven needs fleshed out more in each context and is worthy of deeper reflection and discussion. This side of Jesus’ return it will be messy because all people are messy. But for the purpose of this article, I wanted to at least articulate a cautionary warning about the worldview upon which critical race theory is founded and how as believers we need to understand and exercise discernment when it comes to the tenants and assumptions upon which it is built. For more on critical race theory from a biblical perspective I encourage you to check out the blog page of Neil Shenvi, an Indian-American: https://shenviapologetics.com/critical-theory-all-content/.