Critical Race Theory: A worldview critique (part 2)
In my last post I discussed the “definitional mess” that is Critical Race Theory and offered a worldview critique. Job one in this racially charged moment is to seek to understand, “What do we really mean by ‘Critical Race Theory’”? And then, seek to understand the longings for justice in the hearts of our Black neighbors and friends.
We can agree with the CRT experts that understanding and pursuing justice for the poor and oppressed should be a high priority for us. The Bible speaks more about that than about freedom from high taxation, forbidding gay marriage or many other conservative political and social goals.
Paul tells us we are called to be ministers of reconciliation between God and man. The Bible, especially Amos and the other prophets, call us to be ministers of reconciliation between man and man, especially unjust practices that trample on the oppressed. So how can we best pursue understanding and justice across the racial divide?
A caveat: While I have a few black friends and neighbors, and have taught mostly black college classes, and while I do ministry at a prison with mostly black inmates, I don’t have sufficient personal experience with racial minorities, nor have I studied racial issues deeply enough to write or speak much on racism. So I would like to introduce you to the experts I rely on this field.
Working towards understanding and justice together
One of my colleagues at The Stream is George Yancey, a believer and a black professor of sociology at Baylor whom I deeply respect. Prof Yancey makes a profound, research-based case that all the diversity or CRT training in the world is not changing hearts or improving race relations as promised. We need a new approach based on deeper mutual understanding, conversation and cooperation.
Understanding CRT in the words of its supporters
If we find that we are forming strong opinions about Critical Race Theory without having read anything by its main supporters, then we may simply be jumping on a politically or media-driven bandwagon. In order to understand our neighbors and think Biblically about CRT we would do well to read its proponents in their own words, however briefly. Then seek to understand the meaning of the vocabulary they are using. Then we are ready to logically critique the ideas of CRT and understand how the Bible speaks to it.
Christian apologist Neil Shenvi has read many of the primary resources and gives an overview of what CRT means in the words of its intellectual leadership in his article What is Critical Race Theory? – Neil Shenvi – Apologetics (shenviapologetics.com). He offers direct quotes without comment on CRT ideas such as…
- the commitment to social justice
- “the centrality of experiential knowledge” (which I critiqued in Part One)
- “whiteness” as a location of racial privilege, a point of view from which white people view the world and a “set of cultural practices that are unmarked and unnamed”
- “racist behavior” is normal in everyday American life
- “revisionist history” (like Project 1619) should replace majoritarian versions of history with versions that square with minorities’ “lived experience”
- refuting the claims that educational institutions “make [progress] towards objectivity, meritocracy, color blindness, race neutrality or equal opportunity”
- ending all forms of oppression, especially of LGBTQ persons
- “our system, by reason of its structure and vocabulary, is ill equipped” to address racial wrongs
Even this brief article summarizing what primary sources are saying about CRT in their own words helped me more deeply and fairly understand CRT. (If someone wanted to understand Christ and Christianity, wouldn’t we want them to read the gospels?)
Understanding the positives and negatives of CRT vocabulary in light of a Christian worldview
One of the greatest barriers to understanding “What do you mean by critical race theory?” is that proponents take familiar words and give them new meanings that are unique to CRT. We may think we know what “whiteness” or “white privilege” mean, but proponents of CRT have assigned new and easy to misunderstand meanings to them. What is most helpful is if we can find someone who can explain the new definitions and how they help us understand the positives of CRT but then reveal any negatives of CRT from a Biblical worldview.
We need an “interpreter” who helps us understand the vocabulary according to the principle of Proverbs 18:17: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”
In An Antiracism Glossary – Neil Shenvi – Apologetics (shenviapologetics.com) Shenvi does just that. Like a good prosecuting attorney he lays out and explains the definitions of CRT vocabulary that might at first seem to make a good argument for CRT (words like whiteness, antiracism, and white privilege, etc.). But then, like a good defense attorney, he “comes and examines” the definitions from a Christian worldview and exposes any error or faulty assumptions. This is so crucial because errors in word meanings often lie at a worldview level where proponents are assuming things that are not proven and are, according to God’s word, wrong. (In this article Shenvi gives links to articles that explore the definitions of CRT vocabulary.)
For example, in An Antiracism Glossary – White Privilege – Neil Shenvi – Apologetics (shenviapologetics.com) Shenvi offers this definition from the book, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction: “‘White privilege‘ refers to the myriad of social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race. Imagine a black man and a white man, equally qualified, interviewing for the same position in a business. The interviewer is white. The white candidate may feel more at ease with the interviewer because of the social connections he enjoys as a member of the same group.”
That sounds fairly objective, innocuous and understandable until Shenvi offers a worldview critique: “Critical theory divides the world into ‘oppressed’ and ‘privileged’ groups. Among other things, it insists that oppressed people have special access to truth [from lived experience] that is unavailable to privileged people. Consequently, privileged people must never question or challenge the statements of oppressed people. When ‘white privilege’ is employed to underwrite such an epistemology, it must be forthrightly rejected.”
Best Resources on Critical Race Theory
I highly recommend George Yancey’s book, Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility. (Written in 2006, his publisher will soon release a post-BLM/George Floyd version.) I also highly recommend friending him on Facebook as he regularly posts the best thoughts and articles on understanding and healing our racial divide.
Speaking as a Black man, Yancey makes the case that heart change happens best when we really get to know our black neighbors and co-workers. Invite them into our homes, our churches and our hearts. Listen prayerfully to their grievances and work to solve injustices together. What is needed is listening ears and respectful, moral suasion.
Writing for The Gospel Coalition, Yancey explains, “Real moral suasion requires that we build rapport with those we want to persuade. We must accurately understand their point of view; we must learn to admit when they are correct; and we must be willing to find areas of agreement with those we’re attempting to persuade.
“In other words, real moral suasion is about building relationships, not browbeating. Done properly, it has the power to unite us by making us want to identify with and care for each other. But trying to use social and cultural power to force others will only tear our communities apart.
“The church should be the place where we’re known for racial conversations that heal rather than divide. Our faith provides us with some of the tools necessary for bridging the racial divide. It’s now our responsibility to use those tools to tear down the walls of mistrust and move ahead as God desires.”