I hadn’t heard of critical race theory (CRT) until a year ago when a pastor in another community reached out to me fearing the loss of his job over critical race theory. He had given a sermon acknowledging the existence of systemic racism and his board pushed back demanding that he publicly denounce critical race theory. At the time I thought it was an odd isolated event. Boy was I wrong! Opposition to critical race theory has become a litmus test for political and in some cases, theological orthodoxy. I’d like to suggest two poor reasons for Christians to oppose critical race theory.
The first is a lack of awareness about what it is.
It’s the latest in a long series of philosophical boogey men used to motivate or distract Christians. It’s used to motivate us to connect with a certain political agenda, or to distract us from things of much greater importance, for example, addressing issues of social injustice. It’s similar to attaching the labels “socialist” or “communist” to something. We may not understand whatever it is that they are opposing but we experience a knee jerk reaction against the terms used to describe it. It’s a form of rehashed McCarthyism. Once the label sticks the argument is over. This trick has been in place since the days of FDR as a way of ginning up opposition to the policy initiatives of Democrats. I think it is fair game to question or oppose the policies of either party but they should be honest discussions based on the merits of the policy, not on scare tactics and red herring.
Critical race theory is an academic or legal framework that has been around for about 40 years. It’s a concept used to show how discriminatory practices become incorporated into many of our social institutions, sometimes even unintentionally. Take sentencing laws for cocaine use as an example. “Crack” is the form of cocaine most likely used by members of the black community due to the fact that it is relatively inexpensive. Federal law requires a mandatory 5 year sentence for anyone caught with 5 grams of crack cocaine. Powdered cocaine of the form preferred by most white users. It takes 500 grams of powdered cocaine to get the same sentence. This sentencing disparity has all sorts of negative consequences for black families, one of which is the high incarceration rate of young black men adding to the number of single parent households living beneath the line of poverty. There are similar examples of systemic racism in housing laws, banking practices, and access to a number of government subsidies.
Opponents of critical race theory have equated it with “hating America” or “accusing all whites of being racist. While this may be true of some people who use or promote critical race theory, it’s not endemic to the theory itself. One can love America and still be honest enough to acknowledge that there are areas where we have room to improve. The concept stated in our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” is a noble aspiration that we should all aspire to, but we need to be honest about the fact that some of the same signers produced a constitution that counted black slaves as only three-fifths of a human being.
The second reason for opposing critical race theory is so that we can ignore our responsibility to correct injustices wherever we find them.
People of faith have a moral duty to care for people who are marginalized. Jesus announced his earthly ministry by quoting the prophet Isaiah’s clarion call for justice. He stood up in the temple, opened a scroll to Isaiah and read,“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) In Matthew 25, Jesus clearly stated when we address the needs of people who are oppressed it is as though we are helping him directly. Conversely, he also made it clear that to ignore matters of injustice is as serious as turning a cold shoulder to Christ himself.
For Christians, and people of all faiths, critical race theory isn’t something to be opposed. It’s something to be understood and used to create a more just world.