Following up on yesterday's post, Deans Of All Five University Of California Law Schools Defend Critical Race Theory Against Trump's Attacks: David French, On the Use and Abuse of Critical Race Theory in American Christianity:
Three months ago I published a Sunday newsletter in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing called “American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go.” As best I can tell, it went more viral than anything else I’ve ever written, and it spawned a flood of follow-up questions. Among the most common? “David, as a Christian, what do you think of critical race theory and intersectionality?”
My answer is complicated, but the bottom line is relatively clear—it’s more useful and interesting than many of its critics contend, but it ultimately fails as both a totalizing theory of American life and as a philosophy truly compatible with the Christian gospel.
I was first exposed to critical race theory (CRT) almost 30 years ago, during my first year at Harvard Law School. During my entire 1-L year, only one of my professors wasn’t a so-called “crit,” an advocate for CRT. In fact, more than half of all my law school classes were taught from a critical legal theory perspective, and I’ve encountered (and debated) crit-informed legal arguments virtually my entire career. ...
A critical legal theorist will often deconstruct any given story or narrative to look for hidden ways that power, privilege, and assumptions about language color our decisions and our discourse. I’ll get to the problems of this framing later, but let me first show how it can help illuminate important truths. ...
CRT-infused analysis helps me not only understand the reason for persistent disparities, it should also build empathy and motivate action. What can we do to ameliorate the effects of this disparate power and privilege?
So does this mean that critical race theory is entirely good, useful, and worthy of Christian embrace? Not so fast.
Go back to the definition above—as practiced, it quite often creates a virtual irrebuttable starting presumption that “existing power structures” can be accurately analyzed primarily (or sometimes exclusively) through the prism of race.
The end result, ironically enough, is both reductive and complex. Quite simply, race (or gender or gender identity) are not always material factors in any given historical development or cultural phenomenon, and the desire to attempt to racialize any given power structure can lead to radically-strained analyses. CRT is biased in favor of viewing much of life through a racial lens, and that lens does not always see reality clearly.
Moreover, the explicit rejection of liberalism in some (but not all) quarters of critical race theory, combined with the premium placed on experiential authority—for example, who is a white man to question a black trans woman about the validity of her experience?—results in the kind of subjective authoritarianism we see in the academy and “woke” corporate America. ...
What do I mean by “subjective authoritarianism”? The perfect example is the college speech code. ... A speech regime that replaces neutral rules with punitive personal perceptions cannot be anything but authoritarian. But from a Christian perspective, extreme versions of critical race theory suffer from an even worse defect—they wrongly place race at the center of human identity.
Galatians 3:27-28 declares that “those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.” At one stroke, Paul sweeps away race, class, and sex as controlling identities. It’s not that you’re a “Greek Christian.” It’s that you’re all Christian.
Indeed, this is the logical consequence of the death/rebirth pattern of Christian conversion. Our old self is “crucified.” The new self is fundamentally, eternally defined by Jesus Christ. Our identity rests in him and him alone.
To state this fundamental spiritual truth is not to deny that a broken, sinful world (including an often broken, sinful church) persists in wrongly elevating race, gender, or class and often making those identities primary and central to their perceptions of others. But the role of the church is to oppose that false construct. All human beings are defined most principally by the shared reality that they are made in the image of God. All Christians are defined by Christ.
In that construct, critical race theory can be an analytical tool (one of many) that can help us understand persistent inequality and injustice in the United States. To the extent, however, that it presents itself as a totalizing ideology—one that explains American history in full and prescribes an illiberal antidote to American injustice—it falters and ultimately fails. Moreover, as a totalizing ideology, it contradicts core scriptural truths.
This is difficult ground to stake out in polarized times. On the one end, many conservatives reject any respect for any aspect of critical race theory. There’s a virtually irrebuttable presumption that no real truth can come from the far-left. On the left end of the spectrum, critiques of critical race theory are often characterized and perceived as fundamentally racist. CRT is the way to view the world. As I outlined in a previous newsletter, critical race theory and its associated anti-racist ideologies can veer into a version of religious fundamentalism, one that is singularly intolerant of dissent.
Christians who seek to stake out this difficult ground are not alone. On June 1, 2019, the Southern Baptist Church—the nation’s largest Protestant denomination—adopted a resolution on critical race theory and intersectionality. It’s an excellent document. I’d urge you to read the whole thing, but I’ll highlight three key principles.
First, truthful insights can come from secular sources:
WHEREAS, General revelation accounts for truthful insights found in human ideas that do not explicitly emerge from Scripture and reflects what some may term “common grace”; and
WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality alone are insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify, which result from sin, yet these analytical tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences…
But still, our identity is derived from and through God, not from and through our race:
WHEREAS, Humanity is primarily identified in Scripture as image bearers of God, even as biblical authors address various audiences according to characteristics such as male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free; and
WHEREAS, The New Covenant further unites image bearers by creating a new humanity that will one day inhabit the new creation, and that the people of this new humanity, though descended from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people, are all one through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And finally, that means critical race theory can be useful, but our ultimate hope is in Christ alone:
RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the gospel of Jesus Christ alone grants the power to change people and society because “he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”
By God’s grace, critical race theory has on occasion helped me to identify the reality and effects of oppression and motivated me to follow the dictates of Micah 6:8 and “seek justice.” But we cannot lose sight of the fact that it’s ultimately Christ who ushers in the new creation—by elevating us beyond a broken world’s framing of black and white and into the kingdom reality that there is but one identity that truly matters, child of the living God.
Brandon Paradise (Rutgers), How Critical Race Theory Marginalizes the African American Christian Tradition, 20 Mich. J. Race & L. 117 (2014):
This Article offers the first comprehensive account of the marginalization of the African American Christian tradition in the movement of race and law scholarship known as critical race theory. While committed to grounding itself in the perspectives of communities of color, critical race theory has virtually ignored the significance of the fact that the civil rights movement came out of the Black church and that today more than eighty percent of African Americans self-identify as Christian. In practical terms, critical race theory’s neglect of the Christian tradition has meant that arguments developed in race and law scholarship are sometimes incompatible with the deeply religious normative frameworks that many Black Americans bring to bear on issues of law and justice. As a result, there is a significant disconnect between race and law scholarship and the comprehensive normative commitments of the community whose concerns that scholarship seeks to address. By offering the first comprehensive account of this disconnect, this Article supplies an important foundation for scholars who wish to close the gap between race and law scholarship and the larger African American community.