Paul L. Caron

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Use And Abuse Of Critical Race Theory In American Christianity

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.

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Since Critical Race Theory views Jesus, as well as Christianity, as examples of patriarchal and racist white supremacy, for which there is no redemption from, I see quite a bit of incongruity with Gospel teachings.

Interestingly, CRT has no similar criticism of Islam that I'm aware of. It's fascinating, actually, given the prevalence of state-sanctioned discrimination against women, and anti-semitism in societies where Islam is the official religion.

Posted by: MM Classic | Sep 13, 2020 2:05:39 PM

We are not interested in any Maoist-style struggle sessions.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 13, 2020 10:38:07 AM

President Trump has your number. The OMB memo is spot on.
We the people will not tolerate racism or anti-Americanism of any kind.
Take your cultural marxism and diversity grift elsewhere.

The OMB memo is reproduced below for the TaxProf Blog reader:


September 4, 2020



FROM: Russell Vought

SUBJECT: Training in the Federal Government

It has come to the President's attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date "training" government workers to believe divisive, antiAmerican propaganda.

For example, according to press reports, employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that "virtually all White people contribute to racism" or where they are required to say that they "benefit from racism." According to press reports, in some cases these training have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.

These types of "trainings" not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce. We can be proud that as an employer, the Federal government has employees of all races, ethnicities, and religions. We can be proud that Americans from all over the country seek to join our workforce and dedicate themselves to public service. We can be proud of our continued efforts to welcome all individuals who seek to serve their fellow Americans as Federal employees. However, we cannot accept our employees receiving training that seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.

The President has directed me to ensure that Federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions. Accordingly, to that end, the Office of Management and Budget will shortly issue more detailed guidance on implementing the President's directive. In the meantime, all agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on "critical race theory/9 "white privilege," or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil. In addition, all agencies should begin to identify all available avenues within the law to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert Federal dollars away from these unAmerican propaganda training sessions.

The President, and his Administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals in the United States. The President has a proven track record of standing for those whose voice has long been ignored and who have failed to benefit from all our country has to offer, and he intends to continue to support all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or creed. The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 13, 2020 10:35:22 AM