How Should Christians Engage Critical Race Theory? (CRT)

by | Sep 3, 2020

A seminary professor told me that the three most controversial letters in Evangelicalism are “CRT.” If you Google the acronym, you will find an overwhelming amount of information, much of it conflicting, about Critical Race Theory.

How should Christians think about Critical Race Theory (CRT)? Is it a helpful influence, a fresh perspective, a poison pill, or some mixture of them all?

This is the first in a four part series I’ll be posting about CRT. My goal in this is not to give you an exhaustive exploration of CRT and its implications. I just want to set some guardrails.

 

What is CRT?

There are many definitions or summaries of CRT. Just look at the many curriculum bans being approved in school districts. Whenever possible, I find it helpful to let folks speak for themselves. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, CRT scholars, explain their field as a “collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious.” (1)

Notice this description is more an approach to study than a statement of faith. That might drive some of us crazy because we are used to detailed lists of affirmations and denials. I do not think such a definition of CRT is possible. While there may be shared opinions between scholars, we need to be very careful not to paint with too broad a brush when summarizing such a complex field of study, saying things like, “CRT teaches _______ .” Such statements fail to grasp how large and diverse the field is. Perhaps a scholar engaged in CRT makes a specific claim. That doesn’t mean everyone in the field has reached the same conclusion. In fact, you can probably find another critical race theorist who makes a contradictory claim. For this reason, when evaluating specific ideas, it is fairer to all involved to speak of the specific critical race theorist making the claim rather than assuming everyone else in the field shares the same opinions.

 

What should we do with it?

CRT is complicated. Many have argued that we need to reject CRT as a framework but should learn from its insights. The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution in 2019 making this point.  While I think that’s basically right, it’s not quite that simple.

Some in this conversation take great pains to point out what they see as a foundational incompatibility between Biblical Christianity and CRT. Others who disagree are more willing to see where CRT leads and evaluate whether certain conclusions are consistent with Christianity.

I fear that too often Christian conversations about CRT engage the issue at the wrong level. We talk about CRT as a complete unit, as if it’s something we either need to accept or reject in total.  Answering that question might be helpful if CRT were some kind of unified field. Or if it was only discussed in law school classes. But because the field is so broad and diverse, rejecting it altogether rather than discerningly engaging it will cause unintended problems.  And that is what I want to help us do with this brief series: to begin to discerningly engage with CRT.

 

Avoiding Pitfalls

One of those unintended consequences of failing to discerningly engage is that we cut off relationships by becoming little more than language police. We will find ourselves unable to participate in conversation or learn from people outside of our own bubbles because others have different frames of reference or use different language.

Consider the following exchange between two Christian sisters:

Molly: “I’ve really been confronted lately with my own white privilege.”

Sarah: “You know, you shouldn’t say that. That phrase has Marxist origins that are incompatible with Christianity.” 

Sarah rightly wanted to guard her Biblical worldview. But she engaged neither Molly nor her idea. What did Molly mean by white privilege? Did she mean that she believed herself personally culpable for all injustice ever committed by white people? Or did she mean she is realizing how little racism had mattered to her in years past? Sarah will never know. The conversation is over.

If this is our approach, we will dismiss true things said by critical race theorists because we judge the individuals and their language to be too ideologically impure. We fail to discerningly engage.

Christians should be willing to learn from folks outside our own theological tribes. Conversations on racial justice began long before many white Christians were interested. The American church’s terrible track record on race and racism demonstrates that we need help from people who have been working on the problem, even if we don’t always like all the ways they’re going about it or the words they’re using.

This is just a brief introduction to set the stage for where we hope to go. This series will not be a masters-level study, but hopefully we can dip our toe into discerningly engaging CRT. The next post will explore some ways critical race theorists can help Christians. My prayer is that we will be helped to be good conversation partners and discerning disciples of Jesus.

 


Click for part two, part three, or part four of the series.


 

(1) Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 3.

 


Prayer Requests:

  1. The CRT discussion is not going away. Pray that Christians would be both discerning and loving in the ways we engage.
  2. Pray that Christians would guard the integrity of our faith, even from our own experiences, biases, and blind spots we have.
  3. Pray that Christians would be humble enough to learn from non-Christians, recognizing God’s common grace.

 

Recent POdcasts

Black History Month: The Faith of the Enslaved

Black History Month: The Faith of the Enslaved

Continuing our Black History Month series, Jasmine Holmes stops by the podcast to talk about the faith of American slaves and the persecution they endured. We also discuss historical sources that can give us an idea of what slavery was like for the saints who lived...

read more
Black History Month: Francis Grimke

Black History Month: Francis Grimke

It will surprise no one to see that we're kicking off Black History Month by talking about Francis Grimke. Francis was a pastor in Washington, DC in the early 1900s. He was a former slave who lived an extraordinary life. His work inspired Isaac to start this ministry,...

read more
The Asian American Experience with Mike Ahn

The Asian American Experience with Mike Ahn

Austin is joined in the studio today by Dr. Mike Ahn, Interim Dean of Spiritual Development at BIOLA University. Mike graciously shared something of the Asian American experience with us, an experience which is often misunderstood or overlooked, even by those who care...

read more

Upcoming Events

Isaac-Adams-United-We-Pray-speaking-at-an-event

Click Here to View Now

Recent Articles

Book Response: The Gift of the Outsider

Book Response: The Gift of the Outsider

Alicia Akins has been a friend of United? We Pray for years now. I cannot remember how we first met, but she has been writing for us on and off since 2020. I remember right away appreciating her keen insight, both about herself and those around her. She brings those...

read more
A NOT SO SUBTLE SHIFT

A NOT SO SUBTLE SHIFT

Growing up as a black man in rural America, I had the joy and privilege of attending predominantly black churches in my community. My earliest memories of church life involve going to First Baptist to hear Doc Smith and Rev Gentry lead prayer meetings and Bible...

read more
JUDGMENT AND MERCY

JUDGMENT AND MERCY

The scribes and Pharisees brought her to Jesus for judgment. Caught in adultery, they desired to exact the full penalty of the law against a woman and pummel her to death with stones. Guilty. Exposed. Vulnerable. Her life was at the mercy of the mob and the verdict of...

read more

We’d love to hear what you think about this article. Submit your feedback by clicking here to contact us.

Author

  • Austin Suter

    Austin is the executive director and editor for U?WP. He is a husband, father and seminary student at RTS Charlotte. Austin is a member at Iron City Church in Birmingham, AL. @amsuter

Related Articles

Book Response: The Gift of the Outsider

Book Response: The Gift of the Outsider

Alicia Akins has been a friend of United? We Pray for years now. I cannot remember how we first met, but she has been writing for us on and off since 2020. I remember right away appreciating her keen insight, both about herself and those around her. She brings those...

read more
A NOT SO SUBTLE SHIFT

A NOT SO SUBTLE SHIFT

Growing up as a black man in rural America, I had the joy and privilege of attending predominantly black churches in my community. My earliest memories of church life involve going to First Baptist to hear Doc Smith and Rev Gentry lead prayer meetings and Bible...

read more
JUDGMENT AND MERCY

JUDGMENT AND MERCY

The scribes and Pharisees brought her to Jesus for judgment. Caught in adultery, they desired to exact the full penalty of the law against a woman and pummel her to death with stones. Guilty. Exposed. Vulnerable. Her life was at the mercy of the mob and the verdict of...

read more

Stay Connected