The broader evangelical world is currently in turmoil over how to evaluate Critical Race Theory. In fact, six Southern Baptist seminary presidents signed a statement declaring Critical Race Theory to be incompatible to the non-binding doctrinal standards of their denomination.
Because the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is a confessional denomination, such a statement, or counter-statements, would be unnecessary because the Bible, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the Presbyterian tradition, and covenant theology allow Presbyterians to take an “eat the meat and spit out the bones” approach to cultural theories like Critical Race Theory and other legal or social science theory that attempts to give a secular account of evil. The Christian tradition offers something better.
What is critical race theory? Professors Antonio de la Garza and Kent Ono explain that “Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an intellectual movement that seeks to understand how white supremacy as a legal, cultural, and political condition is reproduced and maintained, primarily in the US context.” CRT wants to centralize the issue of race in ways that drive how we interpret the histories and struggles of people of color in America. CRT scholars scrutinize how “the production and maintenance of white supremacy against racial minorities is normalized,” and, in their view, how white racism is taken as a given in America’s past and present.
CRT proponents believe that white supremacy must be dismantled wherever it is found. They propose doing this by rigorously interrogating white racism, using personal narratives of experiencing racism, focusing on immediate structural reform, pledging commitments to social justice, and calling into question the ways that all academic disciplines maintain white racism. For many CRT scholars, white supremacy is everywhere and naturally explains many, if not all, of the negative disparities between whites and blacks.
As controversial as this may be to some, at the end of the day, CRT is merely one account of how racism has operated in American society. One can (and should) learn what one can from it while rejecting what is wrong. CRT is an attempt to give an account of the historic phenomena of racism in America and the vestiges of how racism may linger in how we treat our neighbors and how institutions may operate today. But it is not an account we must accept or reject wholesale. This is an essential point as many progressives today treat CRT as a complete doctrine that must be applied through every level of society while conservatives react against this and reject CRT in its entirety. Both approaches are wrong-headed and simplistic.
As a Christian, I can understand the impulse to find causal narratives to make sense of a broken world. It makes sense in the secular West to seek such a story given the role that Christianity used to play in providing that story. The social sciences are simply attempting to provide replacement narratives. Without seeing the world through the lens of God’s redemption of the entire cosmos, it is simply human nature to invent a story to that end.
However, if you are Presbyterian, believe in the authority of Scripture, and have a theology that summarizes the Bible’s teachings in the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and understands covenant theology, one could easily see the strengths and limitations of CRT and propose something even better to account for what we see in the world today on the intersection of America’s racial history with contemporary culture.
A series of questions and answers could guide such a cultural analysis: Does racism exist in America? Absolutely. How do we know this? Because the fall happened (Gen 3) which set the stage for slavery in the Americas and the institution of Jim Crow at the close of Reconstruction. American history is a history of individual and structural racism. Does racism exist today? Yes. People are still affected by the fall (Gen 9:6). Moreover, the devil is real and works through people (Luke 8:29). Does racism exist in institutions and structures in 2020? It depends. Because of the fall and reality of the devil, it is not inconceivable to believe that structures of sin exist but the evidence will need to make that clear on a case-by-case basis. Does white supremacy explain everything that is wrong in America? No. Does racism explain all racial struggles and racial disparities that non-white faces in America? No. That view is overly simplistic, unsophisticated, and monistic. The world is too complex for one theory to explain all of the differentiated ways we see the implications of the Genesis 3 reverberate throughout American culture where class and race intersect.
What are we do with all of this in the PCA? My answer: Do not pledge allegiance to the secular conservative hysteria over CRT. Eat the meat, spit out the bones, use the resources of the Christian and Presbyterian traditions for analysis and proposals for solutions, and pray. With that foundation in our own tradition and our own resources, we can then approach other schools of thought in a careful, wise way that discerns true insights and rejects false claims. CRT can be and is useful in some limited contexts for identifying where race may be a variable just as other forms of secular theories (including much classical philosophy!) can be useful as tools for analysis.
Because of the history of redemption, Presbyterians believe in the goodness of creation, the reality of the fall of Adam, and the power of the Resurrection (Philippians 3:1-14, Colossians 3:1-17). The Resurrection gives us hope that although things are not the way they are supposed to be today, evil will not always undermine the goodness of creation.
The work and person of Christ, and our union with Christ, means that we are free to acknowledge evil where it exists but also acknowledge evidence of mercy, hope, and grace wherever God the Father is sustaining goodness, justice, mercy, and peace. We are free to protest and invest by unlocking the goodness of creation, blessing our neighbors, and fighting evil.
The Value of Scripture and Tradition
While I am able to see that CRT may have a certain limited usefulness in pointing out analytical blind spots in examining the role of race in American life, as a theologian, it is clear that there is a sense in which I do not really need CRT to interrogate racism. In fact, I am free to see how CRT may identify racial issues without having to pledge allegiance to its presuppositions about the nature of reality.
As a covenant theologian, I need not wholly accept or reject secular frameworks for understanding reality. I can eat the meat and spit out the bones. Because of the fall, I am looking at society to see where the curse is found (Gen 3:14-24) and where the devil is at work (Eph 2:2). This curse and work includes racism and much more.
In the book From Creation to Consummation, Gerard Van Groningen explains the reality of the parasite kingdom of Satan wreaking havoc in the world. The Bible uses terms and phrases like powers (Romans 8:38; Eph 6:12; Col 2:15), authorities, and spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:12; Rev. 16:10; 17:17) to talk about Satan’s strategies in the past and the present. Van Groningen observes,
The kingdom of Satan, however, is a parasitic kingdom. A parasite is an organism that is totally dependent on another living organism…Satan’s kingdom is a parasite because it cannot exist independently. It is totally and completely dependent on the cosmic kingdom of Yahweh. Satan as a created being is not autonomous; he draws all the essential aspects of his existence and activities from his source, the Creator and Ruler of the cosmic kingdom (103-104).
In other words, wherever we see God’s mercy and grace at work, we should not be surprised when the parasitic work of Satan may be adjacent. We see these parasitic realities in individuals as well as systems and structures. CRT is attempting to give an account of evil and salvation. It is merely a form of Gnosticism. CRT’s version of Satan is “white supremacy” and, instead of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, CRT simply wants to dismantle racism in an attempt to achieve cosmic salvation from their perception of the worst of all evils. For CRT, anti-racism will set us free.
As a Christian, I can acknowledge that racism is part of the American story but I also know that parasitic work of Satan is much, much more expansive than racism as well as any other social phenomena that intersect with race. In the end, then, by centering racial injustice as the prime evil in American society, CRT is a reductionistic theory of human evil and suffering. It is precisely for this reason that CRT is not a threat to the PCA! It is woefully inadequate to explain the nature of reality and to offer non-coercive solutions. That is, CRT is not good enough.
In contrast, the Presbyterian tradition introduces an exponentially more comprehensive way of looking at human goods, motivations, failure, and evil. To start, the WCF teaches that “after God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it” (4.2). This tells us something about the importance of human dignity in our conceptions of justice and human flourishing. Therefore, one of the ways that we know where injustice occurs is to identify where the parasite kingdom is preventing people from being truly human and bearing the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28) either interpersonally or through structures of sin. Neither individual Christians nor the Christian church can remain passive or turn a blind-eye to aggressive assaults to the image of God.
The Church of Scotland makes this very clear. The Church of Scotland believed that acting on behalf of others made in God’s image was the church’s calling. In the second edition A Manual of Christian Church Doctrine: according to the Church of Scotland (1960), Scottish Presbyterians say that the church is to be correlative of the three mediatorial offices of Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King (Westminster Larger Catechism 34-45; WCF 8.1). By extension, according to the Church of Scotland, the church mirrors Christ’s kingly role as watching over the Kingdom as a shepherd. To those inside the church there is a pastoral role to feed the sheep, and, for those outside the church, the Church’s calling to social responsibility is a calling to mercy. The Church of Scotland explains,
Representing Christ in His fullness, it has a ministry to need, bodily as well as spiritual. All works of charity lie within the Church’s duty. Every work of reclamation or of preservation, all protection of helplessness, or prevention of evil, or defense of the oppressed, or rebuke of injustice, is proper to it. The Church is called to speak and to act for Him who had compassion on the multitude because they were as sheep not having a Shepherd, and it works must agree with its word” (6).
CRT cannot compete with the culmination of over 460 years of reflection on the intersection of human goods, motivations, failure, and evil with the power of the Resurrection. Dismantling racism will not rid the world of the evils CRT seeks to purge. It might be helpful in identifying some aspects of some forms of evil but Christians need something better. Christians need something more robust, comprehensive, and differentiated. CRT is a limited analytical tool, not a solution framework.
Therefore: CRT is not a real threat to the work of the Presbyterian Church in America. It does not tell us any more than what the Bible and the Christian tradition already acknowledge as a point of fact—namely, that people can be evil and that the parasite kingdom is wreaking havoc as far as the curse is found. There is racism in America and, at times, that racism can take on structural forms. It is proper to the work of the church to actively seek to bring solidarity and peace where there is racial conflict because of the hope of Resurrection. Presbyterians, then, can eat the meat and spit the bones of CRT, or any other secular social theory that does not presuppose the Triune God because the real war is against any manifestations of the principalities and powers (Eph 6:12) at work parasitically undermining the goodness of God’s creation.
What really matters for Presbyterians in the 21st-century is whether or not they are willing to reflect the mediatorial offices of Jesus Christ and protect of helpless, work to prevent evil, defend the oppressed, and rebuke injustice like Presbyterians are positioned to do or are they going to follow American evangelicalism which tends to allow secular political ideology to direct how it understands the work of church until the return of Christ.
What good is centuries of “reflection on the intersection of human goods, motivations, failure, and evil with the power of the Resurrection” if it can only ever see systemic abuse in retrospect?
Therein lies the point. Mr. Bradley can’t see that CRT proponents want to use retrospective excesses and abuses as a rationale to tear things down.
P’haps if conservatives had a better record of preventing those retrospective excesses and abuses, ‘CRT’ wouldn’t have much of a rationale.
Well when can we expect excesses and abuses to stop? If “things” are okay as they are, why does racism exist?
Good contribution. The conservative hysteria over CRT indeed seems to be misplaced. For the most part, critical theory is a useful tool for understanding how various institutions function in society, particularly in the deployment of power. It’s especially useful because institutions often don’t deploy power in explicit ways. In fact, many of the most powerful institutions exert no power explicitly. And the exertion of this power can be probed and assessed through mathematical models.
My concern with CRT has nothing to do with CRT itself. Rather, my concern rests on the fact that many who wander into this field focus too much on the race piece and not enough on the critical piece. In many instances, one simply sees progressive slogans rephrased in the lingo of critical theory without undergoing any critical probing. But, instead of attacking such uncritical BS on the merits, white conservatives attack the tool itself. Of course, once people fall into the trap of attacking the tool, they deprive themselves of the principal means by which they could critique mush of what is passed off as the alleged conclusions of CRT. Such an approach suggests that white conservatives indeed have something to hide on the issue of race, as critical analysis would likely suggest that progressives are right about some things.
Unless you’re someone who’s wielding power behind the scenes (and have a vested interest in ensuring that everyone focuses on explicit exercises of authority), you’ve got little reason to fear critical theory. When white people flip out over CRT, they therefore prove the very point that progressives are trying to make. I don’t know that being a Presbyterian or not makes a big difference here. Opposing CRT seems to make as much sense to me as opposing the use of thermometers because some thermometers are poorly made and give inaccurate read-outs.
Unfortunately for you, not every one of your intellectual critics is hiding behind racism and power, and “white conservative” does not translate to “boogeyman”. It would be much easier for you to dismiss ideas you didn’t like if that were the case. Sometimes, there are two sides to an argument, and one side may think you’re wrong.
Yes, “white conservatives” (as if race has anything to do with arguments and ideas), along with people from across the political spectrum are suggesting that CRT is a tool. But to extend your analogy, it’s a tool that’s fatally radioactive.
It’s only radioactive if its read-out undercuts the veracity of the established narrative. After all, established narratives tend to pass themselves off reflecting natural, merit-based outcomes. So, an analytical tool that discloses that the game’s been partially rigged is indeed radioactive to those whose apparent merit is propped up by the rigging.
My principal concern is that the lack of critical analysis in much CRT work leads to a lack of granular analysis. Sweeping conclusions are rarely actionable. If we really want to redress systematic injustice in our society, we need to understand the subtlety and granularity of how social power is redistributed. If conservative whites truly believe that their privileged position in society isn’t dependent on a system that rigs the outcomes, then they have nothing to fear from CRT.
Ah yes, if one disagrees with you, it’s because they’re personally threatened.
Your arguments are rational and based on justice. Your opponents’ arguments are based on power, racism, and oppressive instincts.
You’re not having a rational debate. You’re delivering a theological verdict and your style happens to be totally arational. Good luck sustaining intellectual culture that way.
I’m not the one who’s excluding the use of an analytical tool for purported theological reasons. I’m simply saying that people should feel free to use it, but to be critical about what conclusions you draw.
For example, if my landlord banned the use of thermometers indoors during winter, I’d wonder if he wasn’t planning not to maintain my apartment at the legally mandated 68 degrees.
For some reason, the “smart kids” in the room devote plenty of time to dismissals of conservative concern regarding CRT. Never mind the fact that those dismissals almost always swap substance for condescension. Mr. Bradley’s dismissal is no different.
For the pomposity towards critics of CRT, Mr. Bradley can’t even define why CRT is a necessary tool to examine the history of race in America. Mercifully, he’s capable of admitting that America’s history is not entirely about White racism, something his peers debate with vigor, I’m sure.
Nonetheless, by refusing to engage with legitimate criticism of CRT and dismissing conservatives as hysterical, Mr. Bradley seems to ignore the fact that CRT doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Kendi et al are hardly shy in their belief that people are their skin color, which looks frighteningly similar to the racism which the left claims to despise. Perhaps Mr. Bradley intends to sidestep this glaring contradiction by further dismissing it as conservative hysteria.
There is a reason, a real reason, why the Weinsteins, James Lindsay, and Glenn Greenwald, all atheists, all of the left, are alarmed by the ascent of CRT. Evangelical academia, including many of this website’s authors, are too ideologically oblivious to put the pieces together.
Do conservative whites engage in any form of dialogue these days besides trying to lay claim to the mantle of victimhood?
Do leftists engage in any form of dialogue outside of hyperventilating about secret racism in their opponents?
See, it’s not hard. You could have a real discussion, but you chose to do this.
I’m not a liberal. My politics are center-right of the WSJ variety. I’d basically view myself as a data guy, whose interest in this subject lies in the area of using game theory to predict and analyze social behavior.
That said, I’m not a traditionalist. I believe that traditional practices sometimes reflect practices that result in the efficient allocation of social and economic goods. But they’ve often outlived their utility, and need to be deconstructed and eliminated. Ultimately, I’m interested in following the analysis, and letting the numbers dictate my conclusions. That said, when someone’s trying to take away a tool that’s in my toolbox and the reasons for confiscating it are pretty flimsy, it’s reasonable to conclude that someone may be afraid of what that tool may reveal.
Or you can respectfully engage with people as individual children of God, which CRT does not allow. Your toolbox has at least one broken tool
That’s simply another way of trying to take away analytical tools with a flimsy excuse. CT principally focuses on the role of institutions in society. So, if you’re only going to permit the use of tools that examine individual action to the exclusion of how such action may be coordinated and shaped within the context of institutions, you’re effectively insulating such institutions from critical examination. So, if you’re seeking to insulate something from critical examination (and suggesting that it’s morally improper to examine it critically), then it’s reasonable to wonder why that’s the case.
How does God deal with us? As individuals. Individuals make up systems and groups. Deal with people as people in those identified groups and systems and stop assigning them a group identity. That rightfully gets resistance. Judge on character of the individual. Character has no race. Your tool is broken
That’s close to what my former landlord said about my thermometer one winter in Chicago when the furnace wouldn’t heat the apartment to a temperature above 58 degrees.
Besides, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all suffer from flawed character in various ways, and are prone to create systems that tell us that our vices are actually virtues. If we’re not continuously mindful of that, we’re more prone to err.
There are many examples in the Old Testament where God deals with Israel as a group. He visits the sins of the fathers on the children for just one example.
This claim just isn’t backed up with anything:
… engage with people as individual children of God, which CRT does not allow.
The casual racism is gross, by the way. Replace “conservative whites” with any other political and ethnic group and you’d be up in arms. It’s below Christianity.
No, we are all the same. Good grief!
Any totalizing ideology is dangerous. Most ideologies are not dangerous, unless they become totalizing. The question that I think is important with regards to CRT is, does it have an intrinsic tendency to become a totalizing ideology?
That is where the discussion usually comes down to. And pretty much only opponents to CRT say that it is.
I think part of the problem is that many of those that are opposing CRT as antithetical to the gospel are approaching it as a worldview as apologists and not as a legal/sociological/philosophical framework.
Those that are sociologists/philosophers/legal theorists tend to not view it as a totalizing ideology but a framework for evaluating how systems work with limitation that all frameworks have.
I think that part of the problem is that some of the loudest proponents of CRT (e.g. Kendi) do propose it as a totalizing ideology, and it is adopted in that spirit in many areas
How are you using totalizing here? Because if what totalizing ideology means is that there are ways that it impacts the world systemically, then I guess that it totalizing in that sense. But that seems to be an odd way to use totalizing.
I don’t like using science illustrations because physical and social science work in different ways. But acknowledging the weakness of this illustration, I do not believe that it is totalizing to understand that gravity impacts all of us, but rather that gravity is part of the way that the system of the world works. There are places where the standard understand of gravity starts to break down a bit in regard to time, etc.
But we do not view the claim that gravity impacts all of us to disqualify the idea of gravity. But totalizing is a common critique of CRT in that it seems to be used to argue that the claim that racism is systemic disqualifies it from being compatible with Christianity.
The fact that there are systems with wide impact that are influenced by racism should be fairly uncontroversial, and I agree that the comparison with gravity is can be somewhat helpful. In my understanding, gravity is considered to be a law of the universe. There is no understanding of any facet of physics (that I’m aware of) that can fail to account for gravity. And I agree that many proponents of CRT consider it to be an essential consideration in every facet of understanding both society and anthropology, and even, in Kendi’s case, ethics (every decision a person makes is either racist or anti-racist).
I would be more agreeable to CRT (to continue to use loose science metaphors) in the role of something like, “Properties of a liquid: A liquid’s shape is dictated by the shape of the container it is in.” That is, when looking at areas of society where CRT is relevant, it can help explain some of the observations we would make. The difference is, I don’t believe that CRT is relevant to every area of society.
For example, I could make arguments according to CRT that I am in my job for reasons of white privilege, I own my house for reasons of white privilege, and have a stable and happy marriage for reasons of white privilege. I could also make arguments according to CRT that the gospel, by offering grace to sinners and asserting that personal transformation happens through the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer, perpetuates white privilege. I don’t believe I’m constructing a strawman here, because these arguments that I could make in these areas are, I believe, quite persuasive if taken on their own terms. But I would deny that CRT is the appropriate lens by which to understand these areas of life. Others, again citing Kendi as the most prominent example, would disagree.
This is what I mean by totalizing. It’s OK, for me, for gravity to have a prominent role in our understanding of physics. I believe it ultimately sheds light on God’s glory to be able to articulate the role of gravity in that it demonstrates that cohesiveness of his creation. But I believe that giving CRT a similarly prominent role in our understanding of the individual and the society is anathema to Christian teaching.
“But I believe that giving CRT a similarly prominent role in our understanding of the individual and the society is anathema to Christian teaching.”
This is the step I don’t understand.
First, Kendi is not a CRT scholar. He is a historian that has been influenced by CRT. But that isn’t the same thing as being a CRT scholar and there are all kinds of CRT scholars that disagree with Kendi pretty significantly in many areas.
Second, if we do use Kendi his definition of anti-racism is something like, the empowerment of all people. So if you do something to empower people you are anti-racist. If you do something that disempowers people you are being racist. He explicitly is not saying that race itself exists in every interaction, but that racism is a type of disempowerment that he is working against and that has made him realize that there are disempowering aspect in other areas outside of race. So the pervasiveness of his view would be like a Christian saying all people are made in the image of God and therefore we have to be for all people. He is not saying the only thing that matters to how people are empowered or not empowered is race.
Third, I think your disagreement is that you do not think that race is the ultimate influence on all things and you are calling that the totalizing nature of CRT that you are objecting to. But CRT doesn’t say that race is the ultimate factor that influences everything. CRT says that race is one of the repressed factors that is hidden or underneath and needs to be unearthed to that we can openly discuss it. The concept that CRT uses to say that race is not the all pervasive factor in everything is intersectionality. The point of intersectionality is to explicitly point out that there are other factors in the disempowerment of people than just race and they work differently and compound with other areas of disempowerment in a variety of ways.
So in physics you always have to account for gravity, but no one, including people that primarily focus on gravity say that the only force in the universe is gravity.
Actual CRT scholars do not say that there are no other factors in life other than race. They say race is an important factor that has implications to most areas of life, but because of our reluctance to deal with it, we repress how race works in the world and hide the ways that it influences policy and actions that are not explicitly about race. And so we have to retell our history and or conception of the world, not because race is the only factor that matters, but because race is a repressed factor that needs to be surfaced so that it can be accurately assessed and dealt with.
It is not totalizing because you disagree with how pervasive race influences the world. You just disagree with how pervasive race’s influences are.
So again I am not sure how disagreeing with how pervasive race’s influence is gets to “anathema to Christian teaching.”
I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me on this. I admit that I’m not an expert in the area and my understanding is mainly from mainstream sources like Kendi and Hannah Nicole Jones. It seems you are more well-read in this than I am. Would you say that CRT is an expression of an ideology that claims that the most important characteristic how we understand people and their circumstance is how powerful or oppressed they are?
I would say that CRT is not an ideology. And that is really the most important factor that is a mischaracterization.
May christians have oriented around worldview theory but that is not something that most secular theorists would accept. There probably are some CRT theorists that would, but CRT people primarily view what they are doing as a legal/sociological framework. It is a broad area of study, not a singular ideology. There are significant internal disagreements that make a number of streams of CRT that are not compatible with one another.
Again going to the rough illustration of physics. Some physicists are string theorists. But within string theory are several different models of how that works. Several of those string theory models are incompatible with other string theory models. They are still string theorists, but if you complain about M-theory as being wrong for a particular reason, that does not disprove all string theories because some string theories work differently from m-theory.
Hannah Nicole Jones is another example of someone that in her 1619 project isn’t saying that there are no other factors that impact US history but that 1619 is an under appreciated factor and has influence regardless of the level of importance that other believe that it has.
“Hannah Nicole Jones is another example of someone that in her 1619 project isn’t saying that there are no other factors that impact US history but that 1619 is an under appreciated factor and has influence regardless of the level of importance that other believe that it has.” See, I just can’t see that in her writings…. When I read her preface to 1619 I did not understand her to be saying, “We mustn’t forget about slavery when we think about the founding of America.” Indeed, how could we (forget about slavery)? Of course it has importance!
But then her presentation of her case laid it out as THE most important, most defining, reality in the founding of America.
That’s why I asked about the relative significance of power and oppression within the worldview that CRT is situated within. Because it seems to me that even if there are (and I do believe there are) legitimate understandings that CRT can help us to reach, it is still an idea that we need to keep at arms length. Maybe CRT theorist would reject the whole premise of the question, that worldview is a significant consideration when understanding ideas, and that this is the debate that we need to be having — “Does worldview matter?”
How you conceive of the world does matter to how you interpret the world. What I am am objecting to in worldview language is that the type of presentation of worldview as a type of universal coherent perspective is too complete and static to the reality of how we are in the world. We are influenced not just by our explicit ideological perspectives, but also a variety of other factors as well.
Making the case that 1619 is the most important is a perspective and that is part of how the process of historiography works. You can to lay out a perspective and then others respond. Many dispute her perspective and many agree. But what she didn’t do is suggest that only her perspective should be taught. On the other hand the 1776 project did propose that no other perspectives should be taught.
I bring this up, not assuming that you agree with 1776 project, but to note that generally other perspectives are not critiqued in the same way and that part of the problem is that restricting discussion because of concerns about worldview or a totalizing ideology doesn’t actually solve any of the problems of what it means to be in a pluralistic world.
It’s interesting that you bring up that as the purpose of the 1619 Project. I’m sure you are aware of the controversy over how the project was presented. When I read it originally, the first words I was presented with was the claim that “1619 represented the true founding of the United States”. My experience of Nicole-Jones’ essay was heavily colored by that introduction, which led me to understand the piece to be intended as an authoritative statement that the US was not a country sincerely founded on ideals that it failed to live up to, but which strove towards over the course of its history (the view best expressed by MLK), but a country that cynically claimed high-minded truths that it never had any intention to abide by. Of course, that text has now been removed, though the question remains if it was removed because this view turned out to be less “politically correct” than they had expected it would be when they wrote it, or if they truly miscommunicated their intentions on the first draft of the publication.
What I’m saying is that CRT does not always express itself as one view among many in a pluralistic world, but as an authoritative and binding framework that bears no dissent. If I, for example, as a teacher, were to claim that the definition of white supremacy that CRT offers does not fully capture the dynamics in play between races, there is no doubt that I would face a backlash.
Perhaps the “does not always” is the key to finding some agreement here? CRT does not always become a “totalizing ideology,” but it sometimes appears to manifest as one. in the mainstream. In my opinion, to follow Adam’s physics example, it sometimes looks more like “what hath string theory to do with GameStop?” We don’t see the different “string theorists” in debate with each other in its most popular appearances, but we do find authors saying you can’t be anti-racist without embracing the sexual revolution. I can see Adam’s point that academics often look very different from its portrayal in any form of media. How that plays out with CRT, I don’t know.
These are not the loudest proponents of critical theory unless you’re stuck in some right-wing bubble. Critical theory, including critical race theory, is a widely used framework for analyzing social and institutional behavior. It’s relied upon by conservative scholars as well as liberal scholars. The evangelical hyperventilation over CRT simply displays how anti-intellectual the movement has become and how little time its members spend reading and discussing scholarly literature.
When I say, “loudest” I mean within mainstream society. I’m not an academic. I would characterstize Kendi and DiAngelo as two of the loudest CRT-adjacent authors because they have sold more books than anyone else writing in this field (Ta-Nahsi Coates as well I suppose).
Note that a number of Presidents of SBC seminaries have criticized CRT as counter to the Gospel. Presumably, one could not become a seminary president without having significant academic accomplishments. I’ve met the presidents of YDS, PTS, and DDS. They seem to be able to discuss these topics maturely, despite heading fairly conservative institutions. Does the SBC have lower academic standards for its seminary presidents?
Did you intend to reply to my comment with this? How would I know what kinds of academic standards the SBC has for its presidents? Do you expect for some reason that, since I don’t claim academic expertise, that I should defend SBC seminary presidents for what you perceive to be their lack of expertise? This is a bizarre comment to me and I’m not sure what point you are trying to make to me through it, or what thoughts you are asking me to share. You start by saying, “Note that…” but I’m not sure what the relevance of this observation is to the discussion we are having.
I think by “totalizing” what is meant is that there is no standard by which to counter/refute/check the ideology. So for example, the PCA understanding of God’s Word is totalizing – meaning there is no standard outside of God’s Word by which God’s Word can be objectively justified/verified (of course, there is the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, but that is not about objective justification/verification/interpretation).
I have not studied CRT itself enough to speak directly to the theory, but I have seen it often applied as a totalizing theory. In other words, there is no standard outside of itself by which it can be objectively justified (or criticized) / verified (or debunked). To try to debunk / criticize CRT only reveals how deeply entrenched you are in your privilege or blindness, etc.
This is what I think it means that CRT is a “totalizing” ideology – not that it tries to explain everything , or that it claims that there is no truth outside of it, but that there is no way to question it.
If this description is correct (of what “totalizing” means) then CRT as a theory needs to be rejected, for it competes with Scripture (since only Scripture can be totalizing). But that doesn’t mean that there are not components of CRT that can be helpful. For example, CRT helping us to see how structural racism works (which reminds me of Eph 6 powers and principalities), and shows us how deep our sin of racism can go that we don’t even see it (which reminds me of Rom 1 how we can suppress the truth).
Hypothetically, I find myself in agreement with Dr Bradley—we should be able to distinguish between the good and bad in any ideology. Given the influence of “Political Visions and Illusions” on the author, this thinking is in line with the idea the ideologies essentially elevate one facet of creation to an idolatrous state. If that is true of CRT, then one should be able to find the goodness in the kernel of creation before it was distorted. Bavinck, another known influence on the author, was able to interact with doctrine/persons in a manner that would likely cause scandals today. By my own estimation, he did so quite well.
In practice, I struggle at two points. First, I simply don’t see, concretely, what the “limited usefulness in pointing out analytical blind spots” is. In Dr Bradley’s own words, there is a sense in which CRT is not necessary in addressing racism. Given this sense, I’d like to understand how it’s supposed to be useful in more than abstract terms.
Second, the effect of CRT plays out very differently in each person’s thinking. It is clear that some are able to leverage CRT to their benefit, while still having clear criticism about its idolatrous nature. I think Dr Bradley has demonstrated that with this article. However, it’s not clear to me that the same can be said of all presbyterian ministers. I heard the other day of a PCA minister who sounded like he was re-evaluating the entire story of redemption in light of whatever he had learned from CRT. Maybe it’s an overblown story, but it certainly doesn’t alleviate worry.
All this to say, perhaps it shouldn’t be a threat in theory. In practice, I wonder.
There are deep, inherent contradictions in this article. The author states this:
>>But it is not an account we must accept or reject wholesale. This is an essential point as many progressives today treat CRT as a complete doctrine that must be applied through every level of society while conservatives react against this and reject CRT in its entirety. Both approaches are wrong-headed and simplistic.<<
But then he goes on to (correctly) identify CRT as "Gnostic" (!!!), as "monistic," and as "reductionistic." How on Earth is it wrong to reject Gnostic, monistic, and reductionistic movements?
If the author's own descriptions of CRT are correct, his criticism of those who reject it makes no sense.
As a PCA elder the on the ground problem in our large suburban church is that young professionals are so unfamiliar with any form of critical thinking and with covenant theology that they eat the meat and swallow the bones wholeheartedly.
Right. It’s us young professionals who are the problem. It’s not the bevy of MAGA types who tend to occupy church sessions.
The right of every child to be born to mature, responsible, committed parents, nevertheless, exceeds all other human and civil rights issues in the West by a wide margin. Nothing comes even close because it is so utterly pivotal to the child’s life.
Everyone fastidiously avoids this fundamental human right.
So many of these children born outside of the traditional commitment of marriage are seriously disadvantaged: starting with prenatal drug and alcohol exposure, suffering emotional and psychological damage, sociologically handicapped, lacking the work ethic of traditional culture making them nearly unemployable, and worst of all — the intra-generational loss of that religious/ cultural operating software that makes civilization possible.
These brutalized children are alienated and unsocialized, hostile, seething with anger, and some of them go over the brink and commit heinous acts of mass murder. All of this, to a large degree, stems from the cultural revolution of the 60s – – the abandonment of personal responsibility in the pursuit of the self
If a person thinks black or white or Hispanic — it has nothing to do with the color of his skin, but a set of fundamental ideas, or perspectives, that is unconsciously transmitted to him from his environment, which will define his identity.
Postwar American blacks were on the same trajectory as assimilating immigrants into American society until those WHITE secular humanists (calling themselves social scientists) steered them into the quicksand of welfare dependency that broke up the black family.
Disaster of post-Christian social engineering is making the secular humanist wanting to place blame elsewhere: the Protestant ethic of responsibility, conscientiousness, thrift, hard work, honesty and that the meaning and purpose of life was something larger than the self.
The Confucius culture of the Orient is similar to the Protestant work ethic. The Orientals very easily adapt to the American system and they excel to the extent that they are discriminated against. It’s not about pigment on the skin.
I would very strongly support additional funding for black families that would strongly incentivize the stability of the nuclear family. And equally important, educational vouchers to schools of choice, including schools operated by the African-American church.
African-Americans who care about the future of their generations to come need to have their choice of schools to shelter their children from the utter chaos of post-Christian nihilism in the public schools and counter the disastrous effect of 60s social revolution destroying the family. In many ways those public institutions resemble the history of children in the gulags of the Soviet Union – – perhaps not to the cruelest extent.
In a fully Christian environment, a community of black people would be able to administer civil authority in their own communities effectively and justly without discrimination to either black or white. This has to be rooted in the belief that everyone is equal before God and equally responsible regardless of race or creed.
The reason Democrats are getting so hysterical about race is because it appears that a significant segment of black voters are reassessing their political allegiance.
[…] Critical Race Theory Isn’t a Threat for Presbyterians […]
[…] The following is a response to a thoughtful article written by Dr Anthony Bradley, pastor of Redeemer Lincoln Square and professor at King’s College. I encourage you to visit him on Twitter. The article can be accessed at the following link. […]
A really disappointing article. It reads like a senior undergraduate paper or maybe a (poor) masters level paper (I teach at the masters and doctoral level): “Does racism exist in America? Absolutely. How do we know this? Because the fall happened (Gen 3) which set the stage for slavery in the Americas and the institution of Jim Crow.” Really? The contrast in academic knowledge, precision of logic, and original insight between this piece and the recent piece by, say, Carl Truman is glaring. I say that not (primarily) because of any difference(s) in their conclusions but because of the difference in its quality of scholarship.
The second paragraph’s claim that the Bible, the Westminster Confession, the Presbyterian tradition et al . . . somehow protects and ensures that the PCA need have no fear of doctrinal drift as a result of pastors imbibing critical race theory seems to be naive in the extreme.
The problem I see is that it is a bit like heresy. There is a lot that is correct about heresy. Usually it points out pressing issues. However, there is something wrong with it that can lead to other important errors. It is not a simple reject/accept. It should be engaged with and help reshape blind spots, but if it is wrong, it cannot be accepted.
My guess is that the loudest voices for and against CRT, are not working with a full understanding of what it is and is not. I’d say the same issue hold for Christianity. A lot of people don’t have more than an elementary understanding. Those for it often don’t know how to make a defence of it to those skeptical of it. Their proposals will scare those who don’t like it.
It seems we have a great desire to place responsibility in an individual level, while now there is a push to take it to the group level. A Christian response would be, that it has to be both. Making the case for one virtue can cause damage, if the resulting action goes unchecked to the detriment of other virtues.
I think CRT should be engaged with, but it cannot truncate the Gosples. The message of the Gosples is so much more complex.
I’m not sure that the Gospel is all that complex. It is fairly neatly summarized in the Nicene Creed. It’s not due to the Gospel’s complexity that only about 25% of white evangelicals can give a reasonably orthodox account of it. No. It’s due to the fact that about 75% of white evangelicals identify as such because of social and cultural factors.
That’s one of the reasons why I favor construing constitutional protections for religious free exercise rather narrowly. I speak mainly of white evangelicalism, as it’s the only religious movement with which I have first-hand experience. Most white evangelicals identify as such for political reasons, not for religious reasons. I’d guess that the numbers break down something like: 75% purely political reasons; 15% mix of political and religious reasons; and 10- for purely religious reasons. The number of devoutly Christian people in the US is quite small, probably about 5%. That makes us about equally as secular as other Western countries. The difference here is that the absence of state control permits one to market a variety of political and social ideologies as Christian. But within white evangelicalism, politics is the chief litmus test of orthodoxy.
In my old denomination, the PCA, tribal loyalty to traditionalist political causes is the main test of orthodoxy. For example, Greg Thompson was recently stripped of his ministerial credentials by the PCA. There were no allegations of wrongdoing against him, his chief crime was his advocacy of views on race that ruffled the feathers of the denomination’s conservative, Boomer-era, white (and largely pro-Trump) support base. His review of Rod’s recent book was what likely put things over the edge. In fact, over the last few years, there’s been a coordinated effort in the PCA to run out anyone who advocates progressive views on race.
[…] https://mereorthodoxy.com/critical-race-theory-presbyterian-church-in-america/ Archive Link […]
[…] those “one big solutions,” and no matter how flawed, we can find some benefit in them. In a recent article, Professor Anthony Bradley gives some guidance about how Christians can participate in national […]
[…] I’ve seen the appropriation of Critical Race Theory in the PCA justified on the basis of the “eat the meat, spit out the bones,” theory. There are good reasons for rejecting this line of […]
CRT is antithetical to the gospel. There is no need to bring this poison into the church. Jesus is enough. Love one another. Believe the Bible, preach the gospel. CRT is a trojan horse that will bring ruin and devastation into the church. Dr. Bradley is misleading God’s people. Repent, Dr. Bradley. Repent.
Why are you telling him to repent? Does your view mean that you believe slavery was not a sin and never should have been raised as an issue? It wasn’t raised as an issue. But it is clear in there is no better place to discuss CRT, the treatment of your neighbor, enemy, alien, love, and social justice, and Word of our Lord, Jesus Christ, than in the Church. There was a dominate group who oppressed a poor group for their benefit at the detriment of the oppressed group. This is where CRT took root. It’s part of our history. Dr Bradley is not misleading anyone. Either you know the history of the U.S. or you’re ignore. God is not going to reject or ignore our sins. We must all repent for our sins and those of this nation.
[…] In a recent essay at Mere Orthodoxy, Anthony Bradley writes: […]
CRT is dangerous. It says that man’s original problem is not sin, but racism. Racism is elevated to a level way above other sins and becoming anti-racist by denouncing your whiteness, lamenting, and reading prescribed books is almost some sort of 2nd salvation. The biggest problem with CRT is there is zero room for disagreement among its adherents. If you disagree with any part and you are white, it is your white fragility. If you disagree and you are African American or another minority, you aren’t being your true self and have probably capitulated to white culture because of experiencing so much racism. Galatians 3:28 says our identity is in Christ, not in our race, gender, or any other category. God judges by the heart, not the the outward appearance, but CRT does nothing but judge by outward appearance. CRT splits churches, schools, sports teams, and businesses. It is poison to society.
One the largest problems with the church today is our acceptance of racism as a sin, and this is shown clearly in this article. The concept of racism is something completely foreign to the scriptures, and to the WCF/catechisms. As far as I can tell the word itself was introduced post WWII and before that the word, and concept, didn’t exist. It is a sin unknown to Christianity until post WWII, meaning that all Christian theologians somehow missed it in the past. Racism was most likely introduced by university professors/sociologists and then popularized by the media. Racism is sinful according to the morality of the world, and Christians bought into it.
Racism and CRT are the same thing at their root. If we, as Christians, accept racism as a legitimate concept then there is no point in putting up a fight against CRT, we have already lost.
[…] Although I’ve read his Liberating Black Theology a while back and have an edited volume (Aliens in the promised land) on my to-read-soon list, I think that, in terms of current conversations I’ve mainly been peeking in on lots of his twitter comments etc.But here is one, more recent, article: https://mereorthodoxy.com/critical-race-theory-presbyterian-church-in-america/ […]
I do not understand how one can attempt to discuss Critical Race Theory without even acknowledging it’s root, Critical Theory. Critical Theory’s purpose is to deconstruct absolutes to where they can be examined and understood as simple subjectivity. When one does this with Christianity, the desire is to attack it because Christianity presents absolute truth. When any theory attempts to reduces absolutes it, in it’s exercise, reduces the claim of a Savior as subjective and open to dismissal. That would be a lie.
Not accurate. It is not “merely an account.” Critical Theory, an invention of the Frankfurt School Marxists, must be understood to understand its subset, CRT. Critical Theorists never set our to be an “account” of anything, but rather set out to construct a method of achieving what economic Marxism failed to do.
Why does this article not address the Marxist origins of CRT, and how Marxism is a working out of the antichrist world system that is identified by the author of Revelation (the Beast from the sea)? The article ignores that CRT is an application of Marxist principles to the relationship between races in America (power=oppressor=white=racist, non-white=oppressed, the result being that all whites are oppressor racists and that a non-white cannot be racist. The argument is factually absurd and racist in and of itself by identifying all people essentially by the color of their skin). Presbyterians (biblical, spirit-led ones) know that our identity is in Christ, REGARDLESS OF OUR RACE! There are only two identities: in or out of Christ. That and only that.
[…] what is critical race theory and why are wealthy politicians, megachurch pastors, and conservative theologians trying so damn hard to turn the masses against […]
[…] what is critical race theory and why are wealthy politicians, megachurch pastors, and conservative theologians trying so damn hard to turn the masses against […]
As a Christian Fundamentalist who leans toward Marx, I find CRT to have the following similarity with what Marx wrote. Its analysis of a problem is better than its proposed solution. Here, we should note that CRT’s analysis of the problem is first based on observation. And so the value of CRT’s analysis should be measured in how accurately it reflects and reports on how racism is experienced by many, but not all, blacks in America.
That is why I like what Dr Bradley said about being able to ‘eat the meat and spit out the bones.’ But that ability isn’t monopolized by Christians, especially those Christians who belong to a confessional denomination. In fact, sometimes belonging to a confessional denomination, like ones that adheres to the Westminster Standards can sometime infringe on our ability to understand reality and use the Scriptures to see the good and bad in some theory or ism. That can happen when we put our pet standards and confessions on too high a pedestal and forget that they are the mere writings of people whose personal issues and cultural influences have corrupted their views of what God is saying. That is part of what distinguishes God’s Word from our confessions and catechisms. BTW, I saying that as a former Westminster Theological Seminary student.
Too many times, we religiously conservative Christians rely on using our understanding of what God’s Word says to deduce what all of reality must be. When we do that, we become blind and deaf to the testimony of others who are telling us what they are living through. The same can occur when when we or unbelievers become ideologues. In that case, we imply that our pet ideology is omniscient when we refuse to read or listen to voices of people or the insights that other ideologies and theories provide.
Though I appreciate a significant amount of what Dr. Bradley wrote in the above article, I believe that the value of CRT lies somewhere between where Dr. Bradley places it and those who totalize CRT by believing it is omniscient. But lest we look down on those who have elevated CRT on too high a pedestal, we should note that when longstanding social injustices are addressed, because of the desire to eliminate and forever prevent those injustices from occurring, we often experience a phobic-like reaction to those injustices so that everything that is accidentally associated with those injustices is seen as being indistinguishable from those factors that actually contribute to those social injustices. And part of that phobic-like reaction can include viewing a single theory or ideology as providing salvation from that problem. And so it takes time for many to be willing and then able to distinguish what actually contributes to a given social injustice and what doesn’t. And depending on the severity of the social injustice, such is a very understandable, and perhaps sometimes a necessary, reaction.