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Staying Calm About Critical Race Theory

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and subsequent protests drawing attention to our nation’s scandalously wide racial disparities, some American Christians appear to have become convinced that we must rise to meet an urgent threat: Critical Race Theory. Last week, for example, Southern Baptist seminary presidents issued a joint statement condemning racism but affirming that “Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.” It’s hard to know precisely why the presidents felt compelled to disavow Critical Race Theory (CRT) in particular, though Jason Allen, president of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, explained that “Confusion abounds on [CRT], but one thing is clear: the closer you look into the history, advocates, and aims of Critical Race Theory the more troubling it becomes.” Dr. Allen is correct that confusion abounds, with vague accusations of “Marxism” at the core of many criticisms, so let’s take that closer look.

Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, two CRT pioneers, explain that the wide-ranging and loosely organized movement is united by five key propositions. First, racism is “ordinary, not aberrational,” and so it is difficult to root out apart from the most glaring examples (i.e., we can end lynching, but it’s much more difficult to end employment discrimination). Second, because racism can advance the material and psychological interests of white people, there is limited incentive to eradicate it. Third, race is a product of social thought, not biology, and societies racialize different people at different points in history. Fourth, no person has a single, unitary identity, and “everyone has potentially conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties, and allegiances.” (This is intersectionality.) And finally, because of their different life experiences, people who are Black, Indian, Asian, or Latino/a may be able to communicate insights that white people are unlikely to know on their own.

A faithful Christian can disagree with one or more of these core tenets, but Christian orthodoxy does not compel disagreement with any of them. Are there particular arguments made by particular advocates who invoke CRT that are in tension with Christian beliefs? Yes, including arguments, for example, grounded in cynicism about the efficacy of free will or the possibility of objective truth. Occasionally statements are made implying that historically oppressed populations not only have important insights to offer, but a sort of moral superiority as a result of their oppression. However, suggestions that the entire school of thought holds zero educational value for Christians is unjustified. Indeed, CRT offers insights that may take Christian teaching more seriously than many Christians do. Consider, for example, the contentious issue of systemic racism. If the Fall tainted only individual choices and left our human-created systems untouched, that would be a surprisingly weak – and unbiblical – understanding of Genesis 3’s far-reaching effects.

Moreover, some Christians have rooted their opposition to CRT in what amounts to a radical individualist worldview – i.e., “I didn’t engage in slavery or Jim Crow, so what does racism have to do with me?” The Bible is filled with stories of sin’s collective consequences extending across generations, and the Christian understanding of the human person is rooted in mutual dependence. Those truths are not lost on CRT. Compare the Christian response to another school of legal thought that is arguably more influential than CRT: Law & Economics. Put simply, this movement has shown the extent to which the function of our common law system aligns with economic principles. These insights have helped us design legal rules that promote economic efficiency, which is, generally, a good thing. But when it comes to putting a price on a human life, for example, Christians will (and should) start to squirm. When Ford decided not to fix the Pinto’s susceptibility to rear-impact explosions because paying jury verdicts for the ensuing deaths would be less expensive, that decision is tough for Christians to defend given our commitment to human dignity. I have not seen many joint statements from Christian leaders making sweeping condemnations of Law & Economics. Such a condemnation, in my view, would also be imprudent. Here’s why: for Christians, no theory of society captures reality more fully than the person of Jesus Christ. Resting secure in that knowledge, though, does not mean that Christians have nothing to learn from human efforts to make sense of the world. Especially when our churches still meet during what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the most segregated hour in Christian America,” it is unfortunate that those who train pastors chose to condemn a school of thought that has emerged from the lived experiences of our black and brown brothers and sisters. We should be listening, learning, and discerning truth – even when the truth is incomplete. CRT is not a comprehensive Christian theory of the world, nor does it aim to be. It is also not a reason to panic.

Robert K. Vischer is dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The views expressed are his own.

12 Comments


vynnie77
vynnie77
Aug 29, 2021

In Luke 19:27 -40 Jesus pointed out that if the people keep quiet (their praise & honor of him), the stones will cry out. I have heard people remark "I don't want any stone rendering God my portion of praise. I'll do it myself." What if the same was true for honoring God in doing justice & standing for righteousness? Should we stand idlily by while non-believers, (metaphorical stones, if you will), honor God by doing justice in our stead?

Many White evangelicals are fearfully suspicious of CRT & BLM, just as they were against MLK & integrated schools. But they're failing to ask "Why did it take an organization (BLM) founded by a Marxist lesbian to alert our nation…


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“Staying calm“ about the 5 tenets of CRT is easy enough; it’s staying calm about their application that is difficult. But consider ideas such as Ibram X. Kendi’s call for a constitutional amendment that creates a non-elected committee to approve or disapprove all legislation and administrative policy, determining if it is or isn’t racist, and having power to punish those who won’t voluntarily comply to this all-powerful committee’s judgements. That is scary. Consider the application in education, where students must not just learn about White racist ideas, but must ”critically” examine their own involvement and confess it and profess to do better, including relegating their own ideas of whether or not something is objectively racist to the knowledge of tho…

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Moses Ukeka
Moses Ukeka
Jul 29, 2021
Replying to

None of this is CRT. Dr. Vischer addressed this very thing in the article, "Are there particular arguments made by particular advocates who invoke CRT that are in tension with Christian beliefs? Yes...However, suggestions that the entire school of thought holds zero educational value for Christians is unjustified." What you're trying to do is conflate what ppl say with CRT, and throw the baby out with the bath water, and that's just not smart.

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Well written article.


I don't know where else to put this, so I will just leave it here. If you would like a good interview for CRT podcasts, Vida Robertson is a brother in Christ (and my best friend) and is the Director for the Center for Critical Race Studies at University of Houston-Downtown in Houston, TX. We have been doing some small interviews on Facebook under the name: Christianity and Racism - A Conversation Worth Having.

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vynnie77
vynnie77
Aug 29, 2021
Replying to

Thx, will check it out

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Dopple Ganger
Dopple Ganger
Dec 28, 2020

You write:

"...some Christians have rooted their opposition to CRT in what amounts to a radical individualist worldview – i.e., “I didn’t engage in slavery or Jim Crow, so what does racism have to do with me?”


This is not radical individualism. Read de Tocqueville if you care to learn. Radical individualism is dangerous and when it reaches a critical mass, the blood flows. It has done so several times already in the last few hundred years. Those times are returning again. We ain't seen nothing yet.

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Mick Sheldon
Mick Sheldon
Dec 11, 2020

CRT originally was built on some premises that promote an idealogy and world view that is inconsistent with Biblical views. The claim CRT takes Christian teaching more seriously than Christians do shows a lack of knowledge or integrity. I guess we will find out. One is we all are in need of a Lord and Savior. All of us, and we all need to repent. We all have suffered from racism, different ways, especially the church. You fail to see the nature of all of us, almost racist in your thought process. If you think the blacks have not been incredibly harmed by racism to the point they may see racism where it is not as an example you…

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Moses Ukeka
Moses Ukeka
Jul 29, 2021
Replying to

I cannot help but wonder if you even know what CRT is. 😂😂🤣

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