Critical [G]race Theory: The Promise & Perils of CRT

December 17, 2020

We often have a misunderstanding of scholarly work because of the way it is spun, often divisively,  in the various media outlets.  Additionally, our perspective as Christians often takes truth as it is discovered by scholars and gives it a larger reframe and corrective such that we recognize the way God is preveniently at work in the world.  In this article by pastor Rasool Berry, we not only are given an academic understanding of Critical Race Theory, but are given insightful observations about how God’s Grace is at work.  In his article Pastor Berry also imbeds a compelling video of his own.

Pastor Berry writes in part:

“Critical Theorists and Christians often disagree on the answers to key philosophical questions such as the existence of truth or the moral grounding of social justice, BUT we do agree that questions surrounding these issues are crucial. Both the critical race theorists who don’t identify as Christians (contrary to popular belief some do as we will see below) and Christians who uphold the Scriptures agree that human liberation from tyrannical oppression is good, and that our justice system should treat everyone fairly regardless of their economic status, race, ethnicity or gender. We, no doubt, disagree on some aspects of what “human liberation” or “justice” look like. But we all agree that racial discrimination is wrong. C. S. Lewis wrote “The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our friend. He need not agree with us about some answer.”…

“Why is it that when it comes to theories of justice, postmodern theory, psychology or the Declaration of Independence we can use conceptual integration but when it comes to CRT, or the Black Lives Matter movement, the typical reaction by some Christians is to reject them wholesale and denounce anything or anyone associated with them? Why can’t many Christians see that common grace belongs to theorists who critique racial injustice? A common error is to conflate CRT with Marxism because many scholars and activists who endorse CRT find value in Marxist critiques of power. Ironically, many Christians seem to believe that when it comes to critiquing power, Marxists have a monopoly. But the Scriptures clearly offer a Critical Theory of the world that shines a light on oppression…

What Are Critical Theorists Critical Of?
To put it simply, critical theorists offer critiques on what they see as oppressive abuses of power. The abuses of power critical theorists challenge can be the result of wealth, ideological dominance (hegemony), or the power to shape language and/ or physical domination via state sanctioned violence, to name a few. Critical theorists seek to critique and undermine traditional theories because they see these narratives as part of the establishment’s abusive power…

Critical race theory sprang up in the mid-1970s, as a number of lawyers, activists, and legal scholars across the country realized that the heady advances of the civil rights era of the 1960s had stalled, and, in many respects, were being rolled back. Realizing that new theories and strategies were needed to combat the subtler forms of racism gaining ground, early writers such as Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, and Richard Delgado put their minds to the task.

Like Critical theory, CRT sought human liberation, with a particular focus on race and racism. It was relatively unknown by those outside the legal studies and activist communities until recently. Contrary to what some assume, while every critical race theorist sees systemic racism as a problem to confront, not everyone who sees systemic racism as a problem to confront is a critical race theorist.

One important thing critics of CRT often overlook is that theorists are not monolithic, nor ideologically aligned in their approaches to ending racial injustice. They are unified more by what they are against (what they see as racist abuses of power) than by a common worldview or methodology….

Some Christians argue that recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and activism should be rejected by Christians because the BLM organization may be influenced by Critical Race Theory. They conflate the spontaneous movements of outrage against racialized violence with the young organization, even though the movement includes millions of people from all over the world, unaffiliated with the BLM organization. To these observers, the entire movement to end racism is considered guilty by association of being unAmerican and evil. This is a well-worn tactic with great effectiveness many times before….

There are legitimate concerns and critiques to be leveled against any organization, including BLM, when that organization’s version of human liberation contradicts the Bible. However, the structural inequality and race-based oppression CRT decries are historical truths that are part of our nation’s past and present. That is a fact. The oppression of the poor by the rich, the foreigner by the secure citizen, and the racial minority by the ethnic majority are all particularly egregious to the Lord (Micah 6:10–13). And yet, the problem of sin as described in the Bible is actually much worse than a power play of the elite over the poor. Christianity’s analysis of sin says that the problem is within each of us as well (Romans 3:10–19). Sometimes those with less power can sin against each other.

There are legitimate criticisms of the story CRT tells, but much like with the postmodernism that informs it, the church focuses on seeing the faults of CRT. But why is it so hard for some Christians to see the value of CRT’s critique of racism?…

For example, anti-racism author, Ibram X. Kendi, notes in his book, STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, that On April 18, 1688 a group from the Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, made an appeal to end slavery. “They wrote: ‘In Europe there are many oppressed” for their religion, and “here those are oppressed” for their “black colour.” Both oppressions were wrong. Actually, as an oppressor, America “surpassed Holland and Germany.’[13] In what was the first known written argument that slavery was morally wrong, the Mennonites made an argument that America was systemically racist. African American Christians would make the same arguments themselves.

In 1787, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones left the Methodist Church which used its power to marginalize them so they started the first black church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. They had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court in order to be allowed to worship independently. Allen recognized systemic racism in the American church that necessitated the founding of the Black Church and used the legal system to challenge it.

From Nat Turner, to Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, Black Christians critiqued the prevailing theories that dehumanized and marginalized them; and called out racial injustice. A helpful map to guide them to liberation was the Bible.

Herman Bavink, the Dutch Reformed theologian noted systemic racism when he traveled to the USA in 1908. Upon reflecting on his observations and readings of W.E.B. DuBois, Bavinck wrote, “In the future, there truly lurks a danger, and in the future a struggle will doubtless be fought between black and white, a heated struggle, fanned into flame by the strong antipathy on both sides.”[14] Bavinck essentially predicted the social unrest we’re experiencing today over 100 years ago.

And writing over 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., writing from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, because he opposed systemic racism, appealed to traditional theories of justice when he wrote: “The God we worship is a God of justice and he has ordered human beings toward justice and this [America’s] systemic racism dishonors God and violates human nature.”[15] In other words, Christians got a very long head start on CRT .Before anyone conceptualized CRT, the need for black liberation was clear. But CRT has been helpful, for instance, to point out the particular ways that white supremacy has mutated from legalized de jure institutional racism (explicit laws like “separate but equal”) to de facto institutional racism (implicit ways discrimination continues illegally). but attempts to use CRT to discredit anti-racism work is ahistorical and inaccurate. CRT is actually critical of previous movements for human liberation and only exists because of them. For example, even though the Fair Housing Act of 1964 made housing discrimination illegal, CRT helps us understand how housing discrimination still happens.[16]

The Black Church began to speak and act in opposition to the injustices and abuses of power they experienced in America long before Karl Marx, Max Horkheimer or the Frankfurt School founders were even born.

Criticism of racial injustice is not the same as Critical race theory (and even CRT is not monolithic). Those of us who have experienced the oppressive force of institutional racism have learned how to gain insights from CRT and also reject the aspects that contradict a Biblical worldview….”

To watch the video and see the entire article click here.