Critical Race Theory rightly calls us to recognize that the effects of sin can be magnified throughout the institutions and social structures erected by individuals, leading to social systems that embody unjust racial prejudices. However, by focusing on sin as embodied with or without intent in social systems, proponents of CRT lose sight of what makes sin so wrong in the first place: that individuals who bear a moral accountability before God break his moral law.
In the 1970s and 1980s, many Americans recognized that the Civil Rights Movement had disarmed much of the overt racism of America’s past but that subtle forms of racism still existed. However, they disagreed on how to identify, define, and address those subtler forms. One school of thought that arose in response to these questions is Critical Race Theory (CRT).
Legal scholar Derrick Bell is generally considered the founding father of CRT. He argued in his 1970 book, Race, Racism, and American Law, that whites have always been racist and only allowed for black rights when it benefitted whites to do so. In his 1987 book, And We are Not Saved, he writes even more explicitly that “progress in American race relations is largely a mirage obscuring the fact that whites continue, consciously or unconsciously, to do all in their power to ensure their dominion and maintain their control.” Other scholars—most notably Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Harris, and Patricia Williams—built on Bell’s work with sophisticated analyses of identity and the “lived experience” of racial expression.
The primary tenets of CRT are encapsulated well in Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s reader Critical Race Theory. Racism, these authors argue, is the everyday experience of black Americans. The idea of “race” itself is a social construction that fostered a system of white ascendancy, and it continues to psychologically and materially benefit the dominant group. Because whites are the beneficiaries of this prejudiced system, they are not only incompetent to speak about race or racism but also are complicit in systemic racism to the extent they participate uncritically in the system. Whites are encouraged to participate critically in the public square by exposing the racial disparities prevalent in our nation’s policing, sentencing, and incarceration. Additionally, whites are encouraged to advocate minority groups’ voting rights by eliminating gerrymandering and using legislation or social pressure to change speech norms that are seen to perpetuate racism.
Although CRT finds many supporters in the black intellectual community, many prominent black thinkers reject CRT as a flawed theory. In their view, this way of thinking actually perpetuates racism and harms society. Such critics of CRT include economists (Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, and Glenn Loury), political scientists (Carol M. Swain, Wilfred Reilly), political commentators and activists (Derryck Green, Alveda King), professors of linguistics (John McWhorter), professors of divinity (Robert Smith, Jr.), public intellectuals (Coleman Hughes), and elected officials (Tim Scott), among others.
Further, many Christians—including some of the black commentators enumerated above—criticize CRT from a distinctively evangelical point of view. While they often acknowledge that CRT can be a useful tool for analyzing power dynamics, they ultimately reject CRT as being fundamentally incompatible with the Christian faith. Indeed, although CRT offers some valuable insights, it usually functions as an ideology, which is a form of intellectual idolatry. As such, CRT should be rejected.
Here are four reasons why.
Defining Racism: Personal Prejudice or Cultural Embeddedness?
Many of the difficulties that we have in speaking about racism today arise because interlocutors are defining the concept differently. Although proponents of CRT recognize an individual’s racial prejudices as racist, they focus almost exclusively on the West’s historic cultural “system.” As the works of Richard Delgado, Robin DiAngelo, and many others demonstrate, once the primary focus of racism is its systemic manifestations, each white citizen is implicated as a “racist,” whether or not he or she is personally prejudiced.
This systemic emphasis contrasts sharply with an evangelical understanding of sin. Because sin begins with the corruption of an individual’s heart, morally culpable racial injustice is rooted primarily in individual racist acts or intentions. Such racism occurs when a person thinks, feels, acts, or speaks in a prejudiced manner toward another person merely because of that person’s ethnic heritage. Racism, in a Christian context, is first and foremost a movement of the will.