I first heard about Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. A friend on Facebook asked my opinion on CRT and I said something to the effect of not having heard it before and not having a position on it.
A few days later, a pastor at my church sent some of the leaders an email informing us about the rise of a new area of concern in Christianity and linked us to some articles as resources in case it came up. I was grateful for the resources, but didn’t immediately bother to read the articles or watch the video I was sent as this hadn’t come up related to my duties at church yet.
However, I did want to give my FB friend a more reasoned response, so I began to look into it. The articles and videos condemning it made very biblical arguments that any Christian would be easily swayed to agree with it. On the other hand, these resources were seriously lacking in anything resembling a solution to the problems that they agreed CRT was pointing out. They argued that CRT is an unbiblical worldview that seeks to answer our most basic questions: “Who are we? What is our fundamental problem? What is the solution to that problem? What is our primary moral duty? How should we live?” (The Incompatibility of Critical Theory and Christianity by Neil Shenvi & Pat Sawyer). Any believer will find such a prospect as dangerous as only Scripture can answer these kinds of questions honestly.
While it was super easy to find articles from Christians condemning CRT, it was an absolute struggle to find anyone arguing for it. Which makes you wonder why are people so concerned about it?
I’m pretty well trained in google-foo, but it still took me a considerable amount of time to find anything complimentary of CRT. When I did, I was surprised at what I found. The arguments for it sound nothing like what was being condemned. In fact these people often condemned the same things and said that those condemnations had nothing to do with CRT.
Part of what I wrote in reply to my friend was this:
“They (anti-CRTers) create a straw man of what CRT is and then destroy that fictitious creation. They say things that Christians have to agree with by default when attacking CRT. For example: Sin is an individual problem so only the Gospel can correct for it. There’s nothing wrong with that statement, sin is an individual problem, and the Gospel is the only way to fix sin. BUT, what happens when a bunch of sinners get together and create a society? That society then mirrors the strengths and weaknesses of those sinners. The laws and rules they put in place will be strong against the sins they’ve learned control over and will enable the sins they’re blind to. So while the Gospel is the ultimate cure for sin, society needs a makeover to correct for the sins our forefathers have built into society.”
In reviewing all of this, I found it off-putting that one group condemns another and the other says “you don’t know what you’re talking about.” It left a weird taste in my mouth. I committed myself at that time to read more source material on CRT and see what I learn. At the same time, I still wasn’t invested in the topic. Literally, no one I knew was talking about it except to condemn, so it seemed weird to research the topic to gain knowledge about a conversation that wasn’t even happening.
This book is a bit shy of that thousand pages intro Mestizo Meditations says it takes to begin understanding, but it was a much more thorough intro into the discussion than the few articles I was able to find online.
As I began to read this book, I found that CRT is a legal discussion, not a worldview. It’s a tool to look at how laws overlap to affect certain people in profoundly unfortunate ways. There is nothing in this theory that tries to extrapolate the answers to the basic questions of life. Instead, this book focuses narrowly on laws and how they negatively impact certain groups of people.
No tight-knit definition of CRT can be made because CRT scholars vary widely on what they believe. While the CRT “movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power” there are a lot of different aspects to that and ways in which to analyze and respond to what is discovered. In many ways, the Evangelical Christian response to condemn CRT is akin to someone attacking French Cuisine by saying: “all cooking is bad.” Are there parts of CRT that a Christian should object to? Yes, just as there are some french foods that a normal person should object to (snails, seriously?). But are there things that a Christian should embrace? Also yes, just as we can acknowledge that crème brûlée is the best dessert of all time (thanks be to the French!).
Delgado and Stefancic inform us of six basic tenets of CRT and it’s noteworthy that CRT proponents don’t necessarily believe all of them nor is this list the end all be all. Some scholars hold more or less of these tenets as seems intellectually and logically correct to them. Their list they boil it down to is: Racism is common, interest convergence, social construction, social construction, differential radicalization and its consequences, intersectionality and antiessentialism, and the unique voice of color.
Now those are big words, and to most of us laypeople, they sound like mumbo jumbo. As I was reading it, I found myself thinking what does that even mean? But this is an intro, so Delgado and Stefancic lay out their definitions clearly using legal examples from history. I won’t define them all here as I think Delgado and Stefancic’s definitions and examples are necessary to begin to understand the topic. And their definitions require a strong understanding of American history and a bit about historic legal cases. To define the terms here adequately would take a lot more unpacking than I have time for in a review.
The further I dove into this book the more I wondered what all Neil Shenvi, Pat Sawyer, and Natasha Crain were talking about. Their critics don’t come close to talking about the actual purpose and drive of CRT. As one reviewer of a new anti-CRT book wrote:
“The result is a standstill,” he writes, “a demilitarized zone that exists, not because hostilities have ceased, but because we all tacitly believe there is no solution” (pg 137). It is over this demilitarized zone that Baucham fires mortar after mortar. Unfortunately, too many people will be distracted by the sound and fury to realize most of his projectiles are duds, crediting him with strategic hits on his opponents, when, in fact, there are few explosions. It is a Herculean effort with Sisyphean results. Fault Lines, by Voddie Baucham—Book review, Part 1 by Marty Duren
This is the perfect analogy for the attacks on CRT. Firing mortars at a nonexistent enemy. Should we as Christians fully embrace this approach? No, but neither should we abandon it entirely. French cuisine has winners and losers, and this analytical tool for looking at the effects of power in our society can teach us much about what we need to change. Chris Rufo even claimed that this is the goal of his relentless attack on CRT, arguing that he wants people to hear things they disagree with as CRT even when they’re unrelated:
For those of you wanting to look into this yourself, but not wanting to pick up this book here are some resources for you:
As you read these you’ll see them build their straw-man and destroy it. When you move to read CRT sources, their definitions of words and the purpose behind them is entirely different than what you’ll see here.
*The Incompatibility of Critical Theory and Christianity by Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer
*5 Ways Christians are Getting Swept into a Secular Worldview in This Cultural Moment by Natasha Crain
*Fault Lines by Voddie Bauchum – This one, in particular, has two well-written responses that are more than worth your time: Fault Lines, by Voddie Baucham—Book review by Marty Duren (2nd part) and The Faulty Lines in Voddie Baucham’s “Thought Line” by Brad Mason.
*Race, Injustice, and the Gospel of Critical Theory by Monique Duson and Alisa Childers – This one will have you wondering what Biblical Justice is, if you’ll allow me to humbly recommend this article to help define it: Defining Justice in an Unjust World.
Resources on CRT:
*Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics by Kelly Hamren
*A (Relatively) Brief Introduction to Critical Race Theory by Brad Mason
*What is “Critical Race Theory”? A Meditation on Several Answers. (Part I) by Dr. Nathan Luis Cartagena – Dr. Cartagena is a deep and well-thought-out man. He’s about the only Christian scholar I can find that actually teaches CRT and it will take some time with his work for what he’s saying to sink in. Go slow. Go deep. Seek to understand, and read his whole CRT series.
Overall I give this book 4 stars. This book defines Critical Race Theory and that definition is starkly different than what Evangelicals are condemning.
Up Next: What is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and ThUSA Gymnastics by Rachael Denhollander