Critical Race Theory is quickly spreading through our country. But what is it? Should Christians accept or deny this rapidly-growing modern philosophy? Does it parallel or contradict the Biblical teaching on justice?
Critical Race Theory, also known as CRT, has made significant strides into American law and government-funded schools within the past few years. In recent days, CRT has gained entrance into the church. Some have subtly begun to teach CRT alongside Biblical teaching—many Christians are beginning to equate its principles with Biblical teaching on justice and diversity. We are standing on shaky ground.
What is Critical Race Theory?
To understand CRT, we have to understand its source, Critical Theory. Proponents of Critical Theory seek to critique society through the lens of power struggles. CRT proponents study the relationships between those “in power” and those “without power,” focusing on injustices and inequalities.
Critical Theorists separate groups of social identities based on “privilege.” CRT considers those in majority groups to have a higher level of privilege than those in minority groups who have a lower level of privilege. The majority groups are deemed privileged because their culture is considered “normal” in a society.
Each individual can contain different identifiers (I’m a married, mixed-race, heterosexual, Christian male). How these various identifiers react within that person and their surrounding culture is called intersectionality. But these identifiers also intersect between group divisions, not merely on an individual level.
Standard group divisions based on power include:
- Dominant: Men/Subordinate: Women
- Upper Class/Middle and Lower Classes
- Christian/Every other religion
- And yes, we see this based on race as well…White/Every other race
Studies on intersectionality dive deep into ethnicity, marital status, religion, class, location, age, gender, sex, and many other group labels. Key to the study of intersectionality is intersectional injustice. The systems, structures, and relations of power structures and intersections are the seeds of injustice in our broader culture. When individuals of minority groups manifest poor behavior, CRT often blames power structures rather than the individual.
CRT adopts Critical Theory and applies it to the field of racial studies. Doubtlessly, American history is replete with examples of outright and condemnable racist attitudes and actions. There are lingering effects of these atrocities in the present day. In addition to believing that the current power systems and structures are built on this historical racism, CRT advocates would say that existing laws, educational practices, and enforcement practices feed the continuation of underlying racism in our culture. They would call this modern-day issue “systematic racism.”
The question is not “Did racism take place?”Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagin, The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism
but rather, “In which ways did racism manifest in this specific
Either the oppressor or the oppressed
CRT redefines the traditional definition of racism. In CRT’s system of philosophy, discrimination or prejudice is not racism if it comes from a subordinate group. Racism is only racism if the dominant group enacts it towards a subordinate group (prejudice plus power). White people can be racist towards black people. Black people cannot be racist towards white people.
CRT advocates would say that if someone is in the dominant group, they are naturally racist because they are privileged by systematic power. By default, they are an oppressor. Those in subordinate groups are oppressed by default. As part of the privileged group, every action the dominant takes, and I mean every action, is either racist or antiracist. There is no in-between. They are either furthering their oppressive power over subordinate groups or relinquishing their control to support the oppressed groups. They are either a racist or an antiracist. Those in the underprivileged group are oppressed. They should recognize their status in society as disadvantaged. If they don’t and willingly play by the systems in place, they are ignorantly furthering the systems of oppression that keep them subjugated.
Within this framework, the dominant group must contemplate their every action to avoid racism and exemplify antiracism. They must be constantly vigilant lest at any moment their actions oppress a subordinate group. CRT teaches subordinate groups to see every act around them through the lens of race. A list of personal experiences begins to form of racist deeds committed against them that will carry as proofs of racism. Personal experiences trump objectivity or claims of meritocracy (both of which, they would say, are philosophies of the dominant).
(Racism is) everywhere, its like the air we breathe.Alicia Garze, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter
Within CRT, a privileged person’s (a white person) denial of racism is in and of itself racist. A white person cannot merely avoid racism. If a privileged person is not actively fighting CRT’s definition of racism, they are a racist. As a white person, that means upholding the power structure of white supremacy. That would make the person a white supremacist. As Robin DiAngelo writes, “White consciousness is deeply anti-black, and that’s for progressives and conservatives.” On the other hand, those are naïve who identify as an oppressed race and don’t actively fight CRT’s definition of racism. They are upholding the powers that keep them subjugated.
Critical Race theorists teach that systematic racism is involved in every societal interaction. Major manifestations are called macroaggressions. Manifestations that are harder to recognize are called microaggressions. Microaggressions are often considered more nefarious than the larger macroaggressions because they are harder to acknowledge by the majority group. The minority group will often feel ashamed to speak out because these microaggressions “seem so small to everyone else.” Manifestations of racism, such as microaggressions, are as common as the “air that we breathe” and happen while driving, shopping, working, or even lounging around the house. Those who are a part of a privileged group manifest racism regularly.
Manifestations of racism—such as macroaggressions and microaggressions—must be reprimanded wherever they appear. When someone from an underprivileged group does this, it is called “speaking truth to power.” This “speaking truth to power” is a very central tenet of CRT. CRT seeks to break down and distribute power equally amongst the underprivileged. People must always be aware of their level of privilege or underprivilege. Only a vigilant awareness of racism and a constant rebalancing of power will lead to peace among a group of diverse people. Society will never eliminate racism as long as there are power inequities.
The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
Those who see these systems of power and subjugation and the racism in everyday actions are awake to the problem, or “woke.” For the privileged, that means recognizing their white privilege, evangelizing others to do the same, calling out microaggressions, and doing other such works of activist righteousness. For the subjugated, this means speaking truth to power, breaking the chains of the dominant, and claiming privilege even if this means discrimination against the current majority.
Simple Definition of CRT
Critical Race Theory is a worldview that views every interaction through the lenses of power dynamics and racism. No act is neutral but either a manifestation of the racist system or in opposition to it. Racism has thoroughly encoded itself into every facet of law, politics, and culture. To eliminate racism, people of all races must be constantly vigilant in all of their actions. If someone in the dominant group is not actively fighting CRT’s definition of racism, they uphold white supremacy and are therefore racists.
Biblical Diversity Theology…What does the Bible say about diversity?
Interestingly, for most of history, “race” was not a category used to define humans. The advent of race classification is very recent. In the 1700s, society began labeling people groups by their physical characteristics. Scientists began classifying humans of different “races” as fundamentally different biologically. This false scientific study led to terrible consequences, such as the justification of slavery or the ideologies of Nazism.
But just because the concept of systemized race classes was a late arrival on the scene of history does not mean that the Bible does not speak to racial issues. People have always judged others who acted, thought, or looked different from themselves. In New Testament times, we see this tension between the Jews and the Samaritans or the Jews and the Gentiles, both sides viewing their nationality as superior to the other.
The Bible is clear on subjects of justice, partiality, and power. Instead of drinking from “broken cisterns that can hold no water,” we ought to drink from the deep full well of God’s eternal Word. CRT is not compatible with a Biblical worldview, and Christians ought to discard it in favor of God’s Word.
The Great Equals
How does God view equality and diversity?
- Every person, regardless of sex, race, ability, etc., is created in the image of God. God loves diversity. Diversity is not inequality. Humans reflect the beauty of God’s essence in love, creation, kingship, etc. Every person, regardless of origin, finds their ultimate origin in God. We are all of one blood. Unfortunately, humans sinned and brought the curse of sin to all people.
- Every person, by their natural sinful identity, is the most pitiful and contemptible of beings. Every person naturally seeks to raise themselves above others. Though sin affects others, sin is primarily against God. Because God is holy and everyone sins, sin damns everyone.
- Everyone is equally worthy of God’s judgment and apart from God’s mercy and grace, will be punished for their individual sins. Regardless of their “level of privilege,” no person is exempt from God’s righteous anger.
- Everyone has a chance to escape judgment. Every person has access to God’s general revelation and is therefore without excuse if they do not seek after God. Christ died for the world and now draws all men to Himself. No one is exempt from the offer of God’s love.
- Everyone who accepts His free gift of salvation, God places into the Body of Christ, the Church. The Church is a group of equal heirs to God’s riches. The Church is a diverse group made up of people from “every tribe and nation.”
Racism is not a phantom. Racism is alive and well in our world and in America. Our history is bloody with the stains of Native American, African, and African-American blood. Broadly, the historical racism of America has touched people of many ethnicities. I don’t doubt that historical racism has affected modern disparities between races on a general level.
In America, the white church also has a dark past—and in some churches, a present problem—with racism. White Christians of times past were involved with slave ownership, lynching, the KKK, segregation, Jim Crow laws, etc. I think modern Christians ought to grapple with these issues, and I think many of us do. Some Christians view racism as a red herring. To those, I would urge you to study our nation’s very recent history. Recognizing the reality of sin does not make you a CRT advocate.
While the term “racism” is not mentioned in the Bible, racism falls squarely under the sin of partiality:
- Leviticus 19:15*, “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”
- Acts 10:34-35, “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
- 1 Timothy 5:20-21, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”
- James 2:2-4, “For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?“
- James 2:8-9, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.“
- Many, many more passages on the despicable sin of partiality
That partiality is a sin frequently addressed in Scripture correlates with its reality in human nature. I have no qualms against believing that manmade systems would propound sinful behavior, that the systems sinners build are sinful. In reading the Bible, seeing the beasts of Daniel, the Roman and Jewish governments at the time of Jesus, and the great beast of Revelation, this fact is blatantly obvious.
But a movement built on discrimination and violence will only lead to more discrimination and violence.
Broken systems of government and culture are par for the course in a broken world. Why? Because the Bible views everyone as an oppressor (Romans 3:10-18). The brokenness of these earthly systems is not limited to the problem of racism. And it is not only perpetuated top-down by those in power. Everyone perpetuates sin. This fact brings up an uncomfortable and often ignored question about CRT. What happens when CRT revolutionaries seize the reigns of power in our nation? Will oppression magically cease? Will racism disappear into the setting sun of a utopian collective? If the Bible (and history) is accurate, we know that this isn’t the case.
Enter the Gospel
The Gospel is the answer. The Kingdom of God is a movement founded on the humble and willing death and glorious resurrection of its founder, Jesus Christ. We have no more need to bow to artificial philosophies that have no power to salve the world’s pain. God has established a better kingdom, a renewing kingdom, a kingdom that has the tools to fight sin and oppression as defined in God’s Word.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…” –Romans 8:22-24a
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the prayer of Christ, who hated the oppression of the multitudes, recognized the violence of the Romans, and preached against the ridiculous standards of the religious elite. The goal of Christ wasn’t to begin a man-centered kingdom but a God-centered one. Humans establish their domains through a show of power, force, oppression, and yes, partiality. Christ, the God of the universe, established His kingdom by exemplifying humility, servanthood, and sacrifice.
Through His work on the cross and in rising from the grave, Christ established the church, a unified group of diverse believers who are supposed to show the world how those from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and genders could live in harmony.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:35
The church is the only organism that can bring meaningful change to the world, not human government, liberal or conservative academia, political activist groups, or the speeches of our Hollywood betters. The Church, the Body of Christ, is God’s means of turning the world upside down (or right-side-up).
8 Bible Reasons to Reject CRT
CRT is antithetical to a Biblical worldview. Here are eight reasons why every Christian should reject Critical Race Theory.
- CRT ignores the fact that every person is simultaneously an oppressor and oppressed. In Biblical language, all have sinned and are naturally under the bondage of sin. This understanding of man’s nature is one of the most significant differences between CRT and the Biblical worldview. CRT separates these groups. Those “in power” are the sinners. The “underprivileged” are those in bondage under the sin of the oppressors. However, the Bible states,
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” –Romans 3:10-12
Not only are we all sinful, but we are also all in bondage to sin. Everyone needs rescue. Everyone needs a Savior.
- CRT elevates racism above every other sin. Specifically, Critical Race Theorists focus on racism as defined by CRT. Because of the constant change in definitions, Christians ought to use Biblical terms—such as partiality—that can be defined by the context of Scripture. The sin of partiality sends men and women to hell. It is despicable and cruel. It is founded on pride and hatred and leads to violence and murder. But it is not the only sin that leads to destruction. James 2:10 says,
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
CRT focuses so heavily on racism to the disregard of other sins, such as ungratefulness, selfishness, pride, violence, and materialism. Racism is not the problem. Sin is the problem.
- CRT eliminates personal responsibility. I would contend that under CRT, those in a minority racial group may logically claim that they are not responsible for their sin. Instead, their sin is a justified reaction to their oppression. Under CRT, if someone is white, they are responsible for carrying all past and present sins committed against minorities by other white people because of their dominant position. However, personal responsibility is Biblical. Ezekiel 18:20 communicates God’s outlook on personal responsibility,
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
Partiality is a sin that all humans can commit. Those in power who show partiality will be judged by God, as will those without power.
- CRT deemphasizes God’s good gifts. We are all privileged. I know this is controversial. Regardless of our state in life, God has given us good gifts. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:24-29 says,
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”
And yet, through the struggles and trials, he also says in Philippians 4,
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
- CRT is racist and promotes discrimination. CRT judges people based on their skin color or group identity, not their individual actions or personal character. This is racism. This is partiality. This is sin. Stand up and say “No!” to the redefinition of words. Power might make sin more dangerous, but it doesn’t make it any more sinful. CRT devalues innocent people based on their skin color. And on top of this racism, CRT advocates for present and future discrimination against people made in God’s image.
- CRT breeds disunity. CRT divides people by color. It highlights differences between races to a dangerous and disunifying level while ignoring similarities. Race becomes the ultimate identifier rather than our identity in Christ. On the other hand, God’s plan unites the church’s members through the philosophy of the Gospel while recognizing and valuing diversity. Romans 10:12-13 says,
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
This Gospel unity is pictured beautifully in baptism. In baptism, we are immersed into Christ’s death, signifying the sin that has been destroyed through God’s judgment of His Son, and we are risen to walk in a resurrected life of joyful relationship with God and with others who have accepted Him. In this way, baptism is a reflection of the Gospel. All of us are on equal standing before God. Our baptism unites us with one another regardless of background, gender, race, etc. Ephesians is perhaps the enchiridion on Christian unity. In Ephesians 4:1-5, Paul writes,
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. here is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
1 Corinthians 12:13 affirms this truth,
”For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
- CRT fosters paranoia. If every social interaction is either racist or antiracist, we begin to ask of every action, “how was that racist”? The way we interpret every moment adds to our personal experiences until we start to recognize racism everywhere…even where it is not. We must not ignore partiality, but the answer is not to live a life fearing sin at every moment. Our primary focus should be on Christ! We will all be offended at times, and people of all backgrounds are sometimes blind to the cultural offenses of other cultures. Does that mean we should ignore these offenses? Again, the Bible has an answer to this! Matthew 18:15-17 says,
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Our first reaction to any offense should be a private loving discussion. If I offend someone in the church, they should come to me privately, and I should be open to their kind rebuke. If I am unrepentant, the rebuke must escalate until finally I am cast out of the church body. Again, the church is the primary avenue for meaningful change in the world.
- CRT does not answer the problem of sin. CRT’s goal is the elimination of racism. The problem with CRT is not their goal but that their philosophy overlooks the main problem that keeps them from their goal—the perniciously sinful nature of all humanity. To eliminate racism, CRT must offer a fundamental change to our sinful nature. CRT may have the power to influence culture, but it cannot change man’s sinful nature. CRT cannot solve racism.
On the other hand, the Gospel has the power to radically transform human nature. The Gospel gives us the ability to fight our sin alongside a diverse group of believers to the glory of God and the benefit of ourselves and others. The Gospel compels us to forgive one another because of Christ’s forgiveness towards us. The Gospel calls us to confront a brother or sister when they offend us to restore unity. The Gospel offers true redemption to its believers. And the Gospel is our ultimate hope because we know that someday Christ will come again and destroy evil forever (including partiality), ushering in a world of ultimate peace and unity.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” –2 Corinthians 5:17
A Call for Christians to Consider Race and Justice
CRT is unbiblical. Does that mean Christians should ignore race? No. Absolutely not. If the Church is God’s avenue for meaningful change in the world, Biblical principles relating to justice, partiality, and diversity must be well understood by the church. Perhaps we haven’t constructed as thorough a Theology as we ought on these critical topics? Maybe we need to wrestle with the possibility of partiality in some of our own congregations? Here are few things the church should consider going forward:
- Self-Reflection. In Psalm 139, the Psalmist begs God to search his soul and see if there is any wicked way in him. The Christian ought to discern sinful attitudes in his life and be open to the possibility that he is fallible. This self-reflection should not dominate our life. We are free in Christ! But we should seek to fight the sin in our life, and the first step is often recognition. Are you guilty of partiality? Do you treat your white brother better than your black brother or vice versa?
- Disparities Exist. While general disparities may exist between races, a better way to view disparities is between individuals. There are individuals of all races who are well off. There are individuals of all races who are not so. What should we do about these disparities? The church should give to those who need help without partiality. The early Christians sold their goods to give to those in need. In fact, this seemed to be one of the primary purposes of offerings in the New Testament Church.
- Microaggressions Are Sometimes Legitimate. I’m not sure if I care much for the term “microaggression.” That being said, there are often legitimate offenses between members of Christ’s Body. Sometimes differences in culture and life experiences can cause a lack of understanding. Someone might say something they ignorantly thought was innocent. This action is not limited to white people. Any Christian can offend any other Christian. And we all will! Our confrontation is filled with love and grace, knowing that we will desire grace when brothers confront us for our offenses. Church discipline should be a regular part of church life, not just a tool to remove wayward Christians from church membership. We should all expect our brothers and sisters to confront us over our sin…in fact, we should welcome it as a part of our sanctification.
- Consider Your Church Culture. There is a particular problem I sometimes see in churches I have visited. I’ll drive through a community that is primarily Hispanic, African-American, Asian, or some other minority group. Arriving at the church, I’ll walk into a sanctuary full of white people. This type of church is an example of the comfortable church, which is either not willing to change its tightly-held cultural traditions or is ignorant of their neglect of God’s desire that the church be filled with all manner of men and women. The way they dress, the style of music, whatever it is, has become more important than winning and growing souls. I do not believe culture should dictate how the church functions. But we should be understanding and deferential to cultures different than our own. We must not change doctrine or theology for anything other than Biblical principles. Still, our church culture should also be inviting to our church’s surrounding community, not just to the culture we happen to identify with. I am not advocating for a seeker-sensitive church model. However, the culture of our churches shouldn’t be so uncomfortable and uninviting to diverse cultures that many believe that the church isn’t for them.
I love the Biblical example that Neil Shenvi gives in his discussion with Mike Winger. In Acts 6, the early church leadership was entirely Jewish, but there were Hellenists among the church’s membership. The Jewish widows were being taken care of sufficiently. However, the Hellenist widows were being neglected. When this problem was brought up to the leadership, they recognized the issue and appointed seven Hellenist men to care for the Hellenists widows. These men were given all the powers of the church treasury to aid them in their task. The church should be deferential to one another, and we ought to step beyond our comfort levels to bring men and women closer to God.
- Allow Differences to Build Unity. Differences should be recognized and valued. Christ uses all types of people in His Body to accomplish His good will. The Bible praises these differences, but it also emphasizes how these differences ought to be united under the sacrifice of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12–20 says:
”For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
- Create a Theology of Biblical Diversity. Historically, the American church has done a poor job systematizing Biblical principles of racial/ethnic justice and diversity. Christians must build and teach a theology of Biblical justice and diversity from a historical, grammatical, literal perspective. It is not enough for Christians to refute CRT. We must search the Scriptures and build a theology of diversity that stands alone and not merely as a reply to CRT advocates.
- Top Ten Books in Critical Race Theory, Samuel Sey
- Engaging Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement, Neil Shenvi
- Is “Critical Race Theory” Biblical? No., Mike Winger interviews Neil Shenvi
- Fault Lines, Voddie Baucham
- Christianity and Wokeness, Six-part series by Owen Strachen
*All Biblical references are in ESV unless otherwise stated.