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Racism and Critical Race Theory Part 2, Social Unrest

Volume 27, Issue 2, February 2021

In Part One of this series on racism and Critical Race Theory (CRT), we examined the current conversation, including many of the terms now in vogue, to try to get a handle on the worldview of critical theory.  As stated at the close of that article, once a person accepts CRT, it becomes the lens through which he or she views and understands all social justice issues, and in many ways all of life in Western culture.  According to critical theory, only the woke will be able to grasp the meaning of racism, intersectionality, whiteness, and all related concerns, and only by becoming woke is there hope for our society and churches.  We need to shine the light of Scripture on these theories in order to discern whether they are congruent with the Word of God. But before doing so, it would be instructive to document that many of these ideas have a history, not only in secular ideology but also in the church. This paper, will focus on one slice of recent church history, and then detail one area of social unrest in the present.

Roots of social unrest as related to the church

Jon Harris’ Social Justice Goes to Church is an important book documenting the history leading up to the modern Social Justice Movement, especially concerning its infiltration of evangelicalism. He traces the roots to the progressive radicals of the 1960s and 1970s, devoting separate chapters to the key leaders: Jim Wallis, Richard Mouw, and Ron Sider. Others mentioned include: Tom Skinner, Anthony Campolo, Sharon Gallagher, John Anderson, Mark Hatfield, and the editors of Christianity Today. These early left-wing Christian leaders summarized their views in the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern published in 1973. Harris identifies the key ingredients of the declaration:

The Declaration itself acknowledged Christians’ failure to demonstrate the “love of God to those suffering social abuses,” notably the American church’s complicity in a racist “economic system” and “institutional structures,” the “imbalance and injustice of international trade and development,” and the “prideful domination” . . . of men over women. The document called for attacking “materialism . . . and the maldistribution of the nation’s wealth and services,” rethinking living standards, promoting “a more just acquisition and distribution of the world’s resources,” challenging “a national pathology of war and violence,” and calling men and women to “mutual submission.”[1]

Almost all of the early progressive leaders came from fundamentalist or conservative evangelical backgrounds, were influenced by the social revolutionary ideas of the times, and sought eventually to incorporate those ideas into Christianity. For example,

  • Jim Wallis rejected capitalism, taught that the world was poor because Americans were rich, and spread his ideas through his Sojourners magazine;
  • Sharon Gallagher challenged what she called the sexist interpretation of the Bible that oppressed women;
  • John Alexander was radically anti-capitalist and used his magazine, The Other Side, to spread his views;
  • Rich Mouw would be instrumental in bridging the gap between the left and more mainstream evangelicals, especially in his role as president of Fuller Theological Seminary; and
  • Ron Sider promoted the redistribution of wealth, opposed the individual’s right to own property, and even claimed, “God is a Marxist.” His book Rich Christian in the Age of Hunger would be the most important book published on Social Justice from the evangelical left, perhaps even to this day.[2]

The radicals of the 1970s espoused many of the same ideas we hear today from social justice progressives: redistribution of wealth; normalizing of homosexuality; popularizing the idea of corporate sins in contrast to individual sins; and denouncing Americanism, the police, and the wealthy.[3] Also, the revolutionary concepts of Gustavo Gutierrez and South American Liberation Theology gained traction.[4]

By far the most damaging concept advanced was that of the “whole gospel.” Until the 1970s, most evangelicals defined the gospel as the good news of Jesus’ work on the cross which provided the means by which sinners alienated from God could be made righteous. It was not the job of the church, therefore, to reform society except through the influence of those whose lives had been changed by the gospel. This message was not sufficient for the young radicals who saw a need to redefine the gospel, often using the phrase the “whole gospel,” which became the hallmark of progressive evangelicalism.[5] The whole gospel was an infusion of the social agenda and the salvation of culture into the biblical gospel. Both society and individuals needed to be redeemed. Harris writes:

Members of the evangelical left adopted a watered-down theology of liberation which attempted to undergird Marxism with a biblical foundation by extending the gospel into the corporate world while still retaining a concept of personal redemption. The gospel was “good news” not just for individual souls, but also for political and social systems that existed in modern states. Christ’s death not only made a way for sinners to be in a right relationship with God, but it also paved the way for temporary physical liberation from unjust earthly structures.[6]

During the last two decades of the twentieth century, the popularity of these left-leaning influencers waned, as other, more pressing issues arose. At the beginning of the 21st century, suspicion concerning the left and its views began to evaporate as “a new generation of Christian leaders, accommodating progressive ideas, started new ministries and were granted leadership within mainstream evangelical organizations. Remarkably, early members of the evangelical left like Ron Sider, Richard Mouw, John Perkins, and Jim Wallis gained a measure of acceptance within mainstream evangelicalism forty years after they signed the Chicago Declaration.”[7]

The final chapter and appendix of Social Justice Goes to Church focuses on the present, demonstrating how many of the ideas advanced by the founders of the radical progressive movement during the twentieth century, have been given a new voice by those who have more mainline evangelical credentials.  To various degrees, Harris implicates Russell Moore, John Piper, 9Marks, Southern Theological Seminary, David Platt, The Gospel Coalition, Matt Chandler, J. D. Greear, Eric Mason, Aimee Byrd, Jen Hatmaker, Francis Chan, and especially Tim Keller.[8]

Devoting much attention to Tim Keller, Harris quotes Keller claiming that “the whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify the material world.”[9] “Keller’s contribution to moving evangelicals in a leftward direction,” Harris contends, “cannot be underestimated. The impact of his teachings will be felt for years to come.”[10] The vision statement of Keller’s church is reflective of his views:

The vision of Redeemer Presbyterian is “to help build a great city for all people through a movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, the world.”[11]

Strangely, what appeared radical and was deemed rank liberalism until recently is now being accepted as mainstream, even conservative, evangelicalism today. Harris’ great concern is that “mainstream evangelicals were not only partnered with 1970s era progressive evangelicals, they were also speaking their language.”[12]  All these trends could serve as an “off-ramp” from Christianity itself,[13] the author laments. Harris warns:

If anything is certain for the future of evangelicalism, it is that lasting changes are happening now. The most important question for Christians themselves is if they will be able to hold on to their orthodoxy while combining their faith tradition with ideas stemming from neo-Marxist ideology. The myriad of empty churches belonging to mainline denominations in the United States are monuments to what can happen when a social gospel that downplays defining Christian doctrines, replaces the personal message of Christ’s sacrifice for individuals.[14]

Black Lives Matter

There are some unique ideologies at the root of many social concerns today, and none are more prominent than those espoused by the Blacks Lives Matter (BLM) movement. We need to take a careful look.

While the simple slogan, “black lives matter” is self-evident to Christians on the surface, the BLM platform indicates that the movement is much broader.  Everyone can and should agree that the lives of those of color matter. All people, including all black people, are made in the image of God and their lives matter to Him and should matter to all of us made in God’s image.  However, when someone affirms that black lives matter, then adds that all lives matter, or blue lives matter, etc. there is immediate push-back, often of a hostile nature. This response is understandable to those who believe that whites, in particular, have not valued the lives of blacks.

It does not take a history major to know that African Americans have endured slavery, the KKK, violence, Jim Crow laws, and racial discrimination of all sorts virtually from the country’s inception.  Although there have been vast improvements, especially since the civil rights movement, much work still needs to be done and recent examples of police brutality serve as a reminder that all is not well in our society concerning racism.  The way forward is complicated and filled with pitfalls and detours, some of which will not only delay any significant progress but also exaggerate the problems. Unfortunately, Critical Race Theory, which has been rattling around in academia for years, was lying in wait for such a time as this. CRT has come out of the academic closet, and has captured the minds of multitudes who had never heard of it before, and cannot explain it now.  Many are simply angry over recent injustices and are being told that the CRT has the remedy.

Once a worldview, any worldview, becomes the lens by which all of life is understood, it becomes difficult to remove the blinders and see things differently.  Yet all worldviews, except the biblical one, are deceptive.  When Paul warned of deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1), he was not exclusively referencing cults, but rather all “speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5). CRT is just the latest in a long string of lofty worldviews raised up against the knowledge of God, which Christians are commanded to expose and “take captive to the obedience of Christ.” We are not to run or hide from “lofty things”; rather, we are to “destroy” them (2 Cor 10:5). But to destroy them, we must first understand what Scripture teaches and, secondly, comprehend what the false worldviews are saying.  To that end, we must understand the Black Lives Matter movement.

Most Americans and all Christians should agree that black lives matter, but BLM’s platform presents a radical and clearly unbiblical agenda.  Adhering to this agenda will not only cause further divisions in America, but will also doom many in the black community to a life of poverty, crime, corruption, and spiritual and moral failure.

The BLM Platform

Below is part of the official statement for the BLM movement, with paragraphs numbered for ease of reference:

  1. We are unapologetically Black in our positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter, we need not qualify our position. To love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a prerequisite for wanting the same for others.  We see ourselves as part of the global Black family, and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black people who exist in different parts of the world.
  2. We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.
  3. We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead.
  4. We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
  5. We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered.
  6. We practice empathy. We engage comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.
  7. We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.
  8. We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.
  9. We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so intending to free ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking or, rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).
  10. We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with the capacity to lead and learn.
  11. We embody and practice justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.

An Evaluation:

The second through fourth, and the ninth paragraphs above, make it clear that this platform expands far beyond black-specific – issues to incorporate LGBTQ+ agendas as well. Following the script of intersectionality, since blacks see themselves as marginalized people, so too are the LGBTQ folks disenfranchised.  According to CRT, the cure for such minority groups is for people of power (mostly straight white males) to yield power to them.  Yet not only are those in the LGBTQ community given equal status with blacks, the disabled, and the economically disadvantaged, they are singled out as those who especially need to be recognized and empowered. Thus, those who are living a morally sinful lifestyle are lumped in with other minority groups, because they are linked by a lack of empowerment.

The fifth, seventh and eighth paragraphs attack the nuclear family structure which is vilified as a Western-prescribed creation. In analyzing this statement, we must first recognize that the nuclear family is not a white Western construct but has been the central foundation of society going back to the beginning of time.  The Old Testament Scriptures, which were written by dark-skinned Jews living in the Middle East, honor the nuclear family, and outline how it is to function.  One of the recognized and most troubling concerns in the black community in America today is the breakdown of the family.  With approximately 75% of black families led by one parent, usually a woman, and with the absence of responsible males in these homes, many black families and communities are doomed to poverty. Children often do not have a male role-model or an adult man in their lives to guide, protect, teach, and love them.  In the absence of such figures, these children make many poor choices as they grow up.  Instead of recognizing this basic problem in the black community, the BLM movement wants to condone and even recommend continuing this same pattern.  Further, it wants to “disrupt” the nuclear family and replace it with “villages” that collectively care for children.  This approach is a recipe for disaster, as has already been demonstrated in the corruption, moral decay, crime and general dysfunction found today in much of the black, white, and brown communities. Rather than calling for a renewed emphasis on the family, insisting that men take responsibility for the children they father, and provide them with sound, loving, leadership, BLM, incredibly, is calling for more of the same.

The ninth paragraph returns to “foster[ing] a queer-affirming network.” BLM has so associated itself with the queer ideology and lifestyle that they seem inseparable.  While the simple slogan “black lives matter” has value, the BLM movement is entrenched in immorality, especially that of the LGBTQ+ community, rejects the nuclear family, blames its problems on those it perceives as empowered, and refuses to take responsibility for self-inflicted wounds.  That the empowered have often abused blacks, leading to issues and concerns that need to be addressed in our society as a whole, is not in question.  But when any people-group casts itself as being made up solely of helpless, innocent victims and refuses to take corrective action except those that undermine the very fabric of our culture and runs against the grain of God’s Word, constructive paths forward are not going to emerge.

Response

Even within the evangelical Christian community, the responses to CRT and the way forward vary widely.  In a recent web-only article published by Christianity Today, Dr. Christina Barland-Edmondson, a black Dean for Intercultural Student Development at Calvin University, claims that “White Christianity’s very design exists to maintain false piety and sear the consciences of white people against the oppression and exploitation of blacks.” She believes there is more than one biblical worldview Scriptures can be interpreted in different ways, depending upon ethnicities and/or culture. Her thesis is that racism requires violence and she sees the black community combating the violence perpetrated by whites “by nonviolent and steadfast resistance.”  Concerning white Christians, she writes, “Will your shared humanity and Christianity move you from violence and violence-denying to the nonviolence of empathy, solidarity, and repair?”[15]

Edmondson’s approach would represent many in mainline evangelicalism, such as, apparently, the editors of Christianity Today. That approach is to accentuate the atrocities of the past, especially slavery’s brutal violence; minimize progress made in recent years, especially since the civil rights movement of the 1960s; cast the black community as passive victims and whites, especially white males, as aggressive suppressors of all other ethnicities, in particular blacks.  The way forward is for present-day whites to recognize their inherent racism (all whites are racist by virtue of having been born white), listen to what blacks are saying, repent of their belief in white supremacy, and, repent of all injustices against the black community in the past.  This approach addresses neither the root causes of racial issues and inequalities, nor the solution, beyond white attentiveness and repentance.  This stance leaves little room for discussion.

The white community does need to listen to the stories of African Americans and understand why they feel oppressed and marginalized. In many cases, whites, raised in almost exclusively white environments have a difficult time understanding the perspectives of many blacks, especially those coming from inner-city environments of poverty and crime.  Taking the time to listen without becoming defensive and to understand can put a face on cultural issues and foster empathy and appropriate actions – once those solutions are identified (more about this in the next paper).

Toward that end, I would recommend the 2014 book Just Mercy, a New York Times bestseller written by black attorney Bryan Stevenson to expose unjust incarcerations and mistreatment of the poor and discarded in our society, primarily, but not exclusively, blacks.  It has also been made into a 2019 film of the same name. Stevenson’s book is thoughtful and compassionate, and demonstrates how changes can take place.  Stevenson suggests that four periods in American history have shaped our approach to race and justice but remain poorly understood: slavery, the reign of terror from the collapse of Reconstruction until World War II, Jim Crow laws, and mass incarceration.[16] The accumulated effects of these acts of violence and humiliation on blacks have left them understandably suspicious of whites. While much progress has been made and three of these institutions are in the past, they have shaped the consciousness of the black community, even though whites rarely notice or remember them.  Saying “things are different now, so get over it” serves no one well.  Whites do not need to agree on every detail to try to understand how America got to this point.

Still, we are ignoring the real elephants in the room.  Logically, while we can listen, emphasize, and seek to do better, few, at least in mainstream evangelicalism as far as I can tell, are identifying the fundamental issues that have caused a chasm between the black and white communities.  Racism, defined historically as hatred, antagonism, and dismissiveness of those of different ethnicities and cultures, is engrained in our sinful nature.  Does systemic racism exist?  Certainly, racism will not be eradicated until our sinful hearts are replaced with new hearts in the age to come (Ezek 36:26).  Like all sins, racism must be recognized for what it is, confessed, repented of, and actively resisted.

Contrary, to what some in CRT believe, racism is not a sin that only whites commit; it is common among all humans. It takes different forms, depending on circumstances and it is an ugly, hideous part of our sinful nature that must be dealt with forcefully. None of us should be too quick to pronounce ourselves free of racism, as it tends to hide and resist exposure.  But where it is found it must not be ignored. The gospel of Jesus Christ, with its life transforming message, is the means the Lord has given us to uproot the stranglehold that sin, including the sin of racism, has on our lives. It is to that message that we turn in part three in this series.

  

[1] Jon Harris, Social Justice Goes to Church; The New Left in Modern American Evangelicalism (Greenville, South Carolina, Ambassador International, 2020), p. 47.

[2] Ibid., pp. 21-42.

[3] Ibid., pp. 55-94.

[4] Ibid., pp. 65-67.

[5] Ibid., pp. 63-75.

[6] Ibid., p. 69.

[7] Ibid., p. 137.

[8] Ibid., pp. 140-151.

[9] Ibid., pp. 144, (see pp. 161, 165).

[10] Ibid., p. 171.

[11] Ibid., p. 170.

[12] Ibid., p. 150.

[13] Ibid., p. 153.

[14] Ibid.

[15] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/october-web-only/shocking-necessity-of-racist-violence.html

[16] Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, (New York: One World, 2015), pp. 299-301.

by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher, Southern View Chapel