Social Justice, Critical Theory, and Christianity: Are They Compatible? – Part 5

V. Critical Theory in the Church

Next, I’d like to look at some examples of how critical theory is influencing the evangelical church. This topic is a very sensitive one and for that reason, I’m not going to name any names or provide any identifying information for the authors I’ll quote. If you’re skeptical or think that I’ve fabricated these statements, I’ll be happy to give you the references. However, I don’t want people to be distracted. My goal is not to ‘call out’ certain Christian leaders. I only want to show how the ideas of critical theory are not only having an impact ‘out there’ in the culture or ‘out there’ in progressive Christianity, but also ‘in here’ in the evangelical church.

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First, here are some examples from a well-known Christian with 23K Twitter followers, who has spoken at Urbana, and has written for Christianity Today. For Lent, she wrote an entire series of articles on “Christ our Black Mother” saying that she wanted to do an “intersectional exploration that examines both God’s blackness and femaleness on the cross.” The same author also posted a list of “10 Ways you Can Actively Reject Your White Privilege.” #10 told whites: “Recognize that you’re still racist. No matter what.” When some of her followers objected, she responded “Y’all who are concerned about #10 need to educate yourselves on what it means to be racist. DiAngelo’s ‘what does it mean to be white?’ is a good place to start.”

Another example: a Christian racial reconciliation group that was featured in Christianity Today created a document called “Whiteness 101.” The Facebook group has over 24K members. This article provides tips for whites (not blacks, or Hispanics, or Asians, but only whites) who are involved in racial reconciliation. Whites are told: “Don’t demand proof of a POC’s lived experience or try to counter their narrative with the experience of another POC.” “Provide space for POCs to wail, cuss, or even yell at you.” And “Don’t get defensive when a POC tells you that your words/tone/behavior are racist/oppressive/triggering. You stop. Don’t try to explain yourself. Remain cognizant of the dynamics of white fragility.” That document also cites Robin DiAngelo.

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A third example: a popular author whose work is still featured on the ERLC website and who was self-identifying as an evangelical as late as 2017 has a website dedicated to parenting. The author lists “male privilege, abled privilege, cishetero privilege, citizenship status privilege, and so on” as privileges granted by “societal systems of oppression and supremacy”. A few months ago, this author published a list of recommended children’s books which included “A is for Activist”, an alphabet book recommended for children 3-8, which includes statements like “L-G-B-T-Q! Love who you choose” and “T is for trans… Trust in the True: The he she they that is you.” Also recommended for children ages 5-8 was “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag.”  These books were included alongside books about slavery and the civil rights movement precisely because the author accepts the idea that sexism, racism, ableism, heteronormativity, and cisgender normativity are all forms of oppression.

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Here’s a Tweet from well-known pastor and author with almost 100K Twitter followers: “As white men move from an entitled majority and our country is increasingly led by women and people of color, a future without nuclear weapons feels within reach. A world where the weapons of colonialism and subjugation are confined to museums seems plausible.”

Here are quotes from a book written by an evangelical pastor who spoke at a recent CRU national conference, and has 86K followers on Twitter. Throughout the book, he uses the metaphor of blindness to speak about white perceptions of race. “The greatest problem of all [for whites is] our conditioned blindness… we are blind wanderers who need help to see a world that functions according to a different set of rules than what we’ve been raised with.” (p. 154). ” “it’s impossible to be complicit with centuries of traumatizing oppression without becoming traumatized oneself” (p. 72) And “Our goal [as whites] must be transformation. Our goal must be a renewed consciousness…” He also cites DiAngelo 6 times.

Here are quotes from a book by an evangelical author with 16K Twitter followers: “my problem as a white man was that I didn’t know how to live in skin.” “Racial blindness was in my DNA” “Many white people would rather do something to address the symptoms we can see than acknowledge our original sin. Racism isn’t only a part of who we’ve been. It is, in ways we don’t even comprehend, who we are. ” “White people suffer from a malady [called] ‘shriveled-heart syndrome.’ It is rooted in the experience of white people enslaving black people.” He cites DiAngelo and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva.

A few months ago, a conservative Christian speaker gave a talk at an evangelical women’s conference on racial reconciliation. In her talk she recommended several critical race theorists, including DiAngelo, and said: “whiteness is wicked. It is wicked. It’s rooted in violence, it’s rooted in theft, it’s rooted in plunder,  it’s rooted in power, in privilege.” Now that quote sounds alarming but many people rightly pointed out that she is using “whiteness” as a synonym for “white supremacy.” And in that case, her statement isn’t actually as controversial because white supremacy is wicked. However, they didn’t necessarily pay attention to her comments after the talk. On Twitter, following her talk, she said: “I went into that racist space and did what I was supposed to do, tell the truth as a fully embodied BLACK woman… [Neither the conference director] nor her racist organization are sorry for their mistreatment” Then later, in an interview about the talk, she said “Me entering into a white racist space is an act of love because, and this work is very dangerous. I’m putting my life on the line every time I do that. This is not a game… My life is actually on the line when I go in. I take that risk.” Now that sounds insane. Does she really think that her life is in danger whenever she speaks at an evangelical women’s conference on racial reconciliation? But it makes more sense if she believes that she is oppressed and that all whites –even her brothers and sisters in Christ- are oppressors.

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Next example: an evangelical author and speaker with over 23K Twitter followers. This year, his organization Tweeted out a series of prayers referencing Scripture verses like Ephesians 3:16, Rom.1:13, 2 Thess. 3:3, and Rom. 15:5-7 that apply to the church. But it applied these verses not to the church, but to the BBIPOC community [that is, black, brown, and indigenous people of color]. The Tweets included this prayer, that “God would protect BBIPOC who are gender, sexual, and/or religious minorities, and that he would fill them with joy, hope, and peace.” Notice that here the Scripture references are being applied even to religious minorities within the BBIPOC community. In a podcast, he later commented very negatively on SBC resolution #9 “On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality” saying that “CRT is a made-up problem” and that the real issue which led to the passage of that resolution is “white fragility.” Recently, he was asked via Twitter to support his claims with “empirical data we can generalize from.” He responded: “Whiteness also wants to invalidate your experiences and insights about race under the veneer of detached ’empirical’ inquiry. It tries to the burden on Black people to ‘prove’ our own oppression rather than holding the oppressors accountable.”

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Finally, two years ago, Tim Keller wrote an article for the NYTimes arguing that neither political party perfectly captures Christian values. In response, a prominent evangelical author and speaker with 16K Twitter followers posted this diatribe on Facebook: “Tim Keller has NO AUTHORITY to teach on justice – NONE.” Keller is, in the author’s words, “a RICH WHITE MAN WHOSE MINSITRY TARGETS RICH PEOPLE… The only ones with divine authority to define the bounds of oppression are the oppressed themselves.” The post continues: “Oppressed and colonized people wrote every single word of the Bible… The only person in all of scripture who came close to the social location of Tim Keller was Pilate… Keller has NO authority to speak or teach on justice.

If you comb through these statements (and there are many, many more I could provide) you can see how the core tenets of contemporary critical theory are expressed in them. And in most cases, these authors reference the work of critical theorists as informing their views. We’re not just speculating. Critical theorists are being cited explicitly.

Friends, these are extremely serious issues. Ideas have consequences; the bigger the idea, the bigger the consequence. We’re just now beginning to see the cascading implications that the acceptance of critical theory will have on the life and health of the church. We need to wake up.

Previous: Part IV – Logical Implications

Next: Part VI – Advice for Dialogue


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