What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical Race Theory (CRT) has hit mainstream awareness ever since President Trump issued an executive order against teaching CRT through government-funded means. Until that point, CRT was mainly known only to those who have taken college and university courses in social studies. (Side note: I guarantee one of the first actions Joe Biden will likely take when sworn in is to overturn this order.) Nevertheless, CRT is a very specific thought-process that Christians need to be aware of not only because of the influence it is having in the culture (especially since the death of George Floyd and through Black Lives Matter) but also because it is being embraced by the Church. If you don’t know what CRT is yet, you will soon, and you likely have encountered it dozens of times already, especially if you use social media.
I had an exchange recently with someone who absolutely insisted that I did not really know what Critical Race Theory was. He was adamant that I was mischaracterizing CRT and that was because I was unfamiliar with the origins of CRT in the 1980’s by legal scholars. This is somewhat true. I am only vaguely familiar with the content of CRT from the 80’s. Yet I don’t really care, because we live in 2020, not 1980. CRT may have began one way but, as all ideas do, it has morphed over time. Though I’m not familiar with the legal end of things pre-2000, I am familiar with CRT in its mainstream modern form.
In this article, I want to define CRT for believers and lay out the basic tenets of this ideology. This is to help us understand and evaluate it in light of Scripture. As I will demonstrate, CRT is riddled with truth-claims that are alien to God’s Word. But before the analysis, first the definition.
This is how I define Critical Race Theory: It is an adapted-Marxist line of thought designed to critique racial dominance in culture and correct it by bringing about greater equity between races.
Sound confusing? Don’t worry, it is more understandable than you might think. Let me break it down by highlighting 8 core principles of Critical Race Theory.
1. People are divided into groups based on their racial identity.
A fundamental question of life is, Who am I? Critical Race Theory answers this question by placing great emphasis on your race. Such a great emphasis, in fact, that your race is more important than your uniqueness as an individual. This is extremely important to understand, because everything else flows from it. CRT is about broad-brush characterizations of entire races without consideration for personal differences between members of the same race.
2. One race is considered to be dominant in a culture, while the others are oppressed
Since our Western culture was founded by white people and remains predominantly white, CRT teaches that white people are oppressive, while other racial groups are oppressed. You may believe this line of thinking is far too simplistic, but CRT doesn’t budge. Regardless of other factors, including personal integrity, whites are oppressive and all other races are oppressed—end of story.
3. The dominant race retains its dominance through cultural systems and structures
While most people think of racism as words or actions done by individual people, CRT sees racism as systemic. The systems and structures of society are tools used to keep the dominant group in power. This is why there is so much emphasis today on the tearing down of Western culture; it simply follows logically if the premise is that the entire culture structurally imposes racist ideals.
4. Reality is best defined by the experience of the oppressed
Since white people are systematically advantaged in society, they become blind to their own privilege. From a CRT perspective, of course white people don’t think society is racist—because it isn’t racist towards them! Minority races, on the other hand, see more clearly the systemic racism that exists because they face it everyday. As a result, people of colour are considered to have a more authoritative take on these issues than whites do.
There is one exception to this rule, however. What happens if a person of colour rejects the idea that society is systemically racist towards them? Are they still considered to be an authority on this issue? Critical Race Theory has a convenient response. That person has either “internalized” their oppression, meaning they have simply made peace with it, or, worse, they are intentionally speaking that way in order to gain favour with whites. Either way, minority people are supposed to agree that culture is racist towards them.
It is also worth noting that CRT is very narrative-based. Many CRT advocates don’t like to discuss facts, statistics, or other objective measures of society—unless they support the idea of systemic oppression. Otherwise, those who raise objections against CRT using objective data are considered to be using tools of oppression to conveniently dismiss the lived experience of the oppressed.
5. Double-standards are applied to the dominant group vs. the oppressed groups
Moral demands are different depending on your group identity. If you are in the dominant group (white), you should “check your privilege”, take the posture of a listener on these issues, and work to undo your internalized bias. If you are in an oppressed group (people of colour), you should assert yourself and fight for “your people”. It is also generally assumed that people of colour have freedom to “bend the rules” if needed, since, after all, the rules were created by white people, for white people. How can you play the game fairly if it has already been rigged against you?
6. Racial discrimination intersects and compounds with other forms of cultural oppression
Critical Race Theory is actually a branch of a wider ideology known as Critical Theory. Critical Theory brings together cultural oppression from many different areas of life, not just race. Thus, although all racial minorities are oppressed, that oppression is worsened if one is a woman (oppressed by men), homosexual (oppressed by heterosexuals), transgender (oppressed by cisgender), poor (oppressed by the rich), disabled (oppressed by able-bodied people), or any religion other than Christian. These layers of discrimination sometimes compound the suffering of oppressed groups. Thus, all discrimination must be fought against simultaneously.
7. Disparities between races are understood to be caused by discrimination
The proof that discrimination is real in society is the existence of disparities between racial groups. CRT implies that if discrimination in society were non-existent, all races would end up at the same place, having exactly the same degree of cultural influence, power, and resources. Thus, equity is the desired goal. “Equity” here means “equal outcomes”. Often, CRT proponents use the term “equality” instead of “equity”, but almost always they still mean “equal outcomes”.
8. Oppressors must be actively anti-racist and work with the oppressed for the common cause
The first six points define the problem. The seventh defines the end goal. This final point calls for action to go from one to the other. Undoing systemic racism is everyone’s responsibility, and thus the call to social justice is for all: both oppressors and the oppressed. This work will never be finished as long as racial disparities of any kind still exist in society.
What are we to make of this?
My original plan in this post was to go through point-by-point the various claims of Critical Race Theory and compare them against Scripture. There is a good place for that kind of thorough analysis. One would have to point out some of the following flaws:
- Broad racial stereotyping is itself discriminatory and therefore sinful (James 2:2-4, Acts 10:34-35)
- Claiming that all whites are oppressive is, at least in many cases, bearing false witness against your neighbour (Exodus 20:16)
- Claiming that disparities prove discrimination lacks proper nuance, as there are many reasons for unequal outcomes for people, many of which do not constitute injustice (Proverbs 10:4, 12:11)
- Race itself is not a biblical category; God considers mankind to be one race (Acts 17:26)
- People are not morally responsible for the sinful actions of others that they had nothing to do with (Romans 2:6)
- God considers double-standards to be sinful (Leviticus 19:15)
- All people have inherent bias, including racial minorities; this sin is not unique to any group of people in particular (Romans 3:23)
- Truth is not determined by one’s perceived experiences (John 17:17)
- Racial harmony does not come through activism, but through unity in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29, Ephesians 2:14)
Among so many other things that could be mentioned, this last point is significant. Believers, in particular, need to reject Critical Race Theory because it presents a false path to racial unity. Racial unity does not come through racial stereotyping, dividing people in racial groups, casting around accusations, and demanding equity of outcome. Racial unity comes from our connection as family in Christ. Through Christ, we are individually redeemed of our sin and brought together as brothers and sisters under the care of our heavenly Father. Thus, through the gospel, we are reconciled—past tense. We may still need to learn to walk out our unity as a collection of people who differ from one another (in many more ways than just racially), yet our bond is already there, sealed by the blood of Christ. When we highlight racial division, especially in the Church, we are implying that the gospel is insufficient for this sin-caused problem. Such an attack on the power of the gospel is dangerous and need be denounced.
To illustrate the contrast between Critical Race Theory and unity in Christ: as I was writing this very article, one of our church members stopped by the church office to visit. This church member happens to be black. He came into my office and we chatted for several minutes. We talked about what is going on in each other’s lives, about work, about some of the struggles we each had been dealing with recently. We laughed at some of the stupid things I sometimes say on our church podcasts. Then we prayed together and he went on his way.
After he left, I returned to writing this article. I was struck by the contrast between how beautiful the harmony and brotherhood in Christ is verses the divisive, exhausting, and toxic culture placed between people of different races through Critical Race Theory. It was just so obvious to me how useless and nonsensical CRT is when people have such common ground as faith in Christ. He was not looking at me as someone who has hidden racial biases under the surface. I was not looking at him as someone I needed to confess my privilege to. We were just brothers, enjoying one another’s company and supporting and encouraging each other in the Lord.
Robin DiAngelo, who’s work perfectly exemplifies modern Critical Race Theory, says “Racism is always present in every cross-racial interaction. The question is not, ‘Is there racism?” but rather ‘How did racism manifest itself?'” Can you now see the kind of divisive poison CRT is, both in the Church and in society? Racism is real, but CRT elevates racism to a level where it infects every area of life. The Christian Church needs to reject this evil doctrine and instead elevate unity in Christ. Imagine how different the interaction between my friend and I would have been if we had allowed CRT to shape our thinking and our relationship. I am calling on my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord to stand up against CRT and refuse to allow it into the Church. There is already a battle being fought within many churches, denominations, and seminaries along these same lines. I hope and pray that the power of the gospel would not be cheapened or replaced by this disgusting alternative that has no place among the people of God.