If you’re just stumbling upon this series, please go back and read the first five posts on the context, origins, core beliefs, andagenda of Critical Race Theory (CRT). I have done my best to explain CRT on its own terms and in its own language but these posts are not exhaustive. They are a starting point if you want to understand CRT well. However, the groundwork we’ve laid here should be sufficient to allow us to answer our main question: Is CRT Un-Christian?
Christians believe that God is holy, that He is omniscient, all-powerful, and entirely good. We believe He made our world and us. We also believe that through our own sin we have corrupted ourselves and the world God created. We believe that sin separates us from the God who made us and loves us and that we, with our sinful natures, cannot bridge that separation on our own.But God, in His mercy and grace, sent His son, Jesus Christ, to earth to live a fully human life. Jesus, being one with the Father and so without sin, died on our behalf and also rose from the dead. In His resurrection, He defeated sin. And for any who place their full trust in Jesus Christ, God sees us as His own sons and daughters, lifts the curse of sin from us, and welcomes us into fellowship with Him forever.
Is there any agreement between the beliefs of Christianity and those of CRT, or are the two at odds with one another?
No Christian should deny that racism is a sin or that racism has been a formative influence throughout the history of the United States. Thus, for Christians, racism separates us from God and is evidence of how our sin has broken the world. God’s ultimate answer to sin is salvation through Jesus Christ, and those who believe in Jesus as Lord are saved from the ultimate effect of sin: separation from God forever. Christians are also called to live lives that are pleasing to God. Since God cannot abide in sin, we are to avoid it as much as possible. Just as Christians saved by God’s grace in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ should stop lying, should speak up when they know something is wrong, should show no favoritism, should detest sexual immorality, should love their enemies, and so on, so also should they refuse to play any part in the perpetuation of racism.
CRT is obviously not committed to the basic doctrines of sin and salvation briefly outlined above, and for that reason it is not strictly Christian. But neither is a strong belief in the free market or a passion for environmentalism, and these are systems of belief that many Christians hold alongside their Christianity. The question is whether or not Christians can hold to the core doctrines of Christianity and to any/all of the principles of CRT.
Let’s consider one example of what this might look like and how it might be controversial among Christians. One reason CRT is potentially divisive for Christians is because it views racism as individual and structural rather than as exclusively individual. For this reason, it can lead Christians of good faith to dramatically different political positions. For example, if you are a Christian who believes racism is merely a matter of personal prejudice based on skin color, then you will also likely believe that salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is not only sufficient to save someone’s soul but also to change their racist views and thus, ultimately, to put an end to racism itself one person at a time. In that case, you may feel no inclination to vote for people or parties bent on changing what they perceive as racist systems in society because you truly believe that the only real solution to racism is the salvation of individuals. In fact, you may view such an agenda as detrimental to society because you believe it takes responsibility away from individuals and encourages them to lean more on society than themselves.
If, conversely, you are a Christian who believes that racism is not only a personal prejudice but also a social structure, then while your view of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus will be the same, you will likely differ about the solution to the problem of racism. It’s not that you will doubt the sufficiency of God’s grace to save a person’s soul. And it’s not that salvation and racism are unrelated; it’s that salvation can transform individuals without transforming social structures and institutions. Since racism is more than the sum of its individual parts, it requires structural changes, not just individual changes. Racial injustice is a collective problem that must be solved collectively. Christians in this camp may feel inclined, even compelled, to vote for people or parties bent on changing social structures. In fact, they may view those focused on the individual as turning a blind eye to the structural problems in society that require structural solutions.
Those with the more individualist view are likely to see their brothers and sisters with a structural view as replacing salvation with a social agenda. Those with the structural view are likely to see the individualists as failing to produce the kind of fruit that blossoms from true salvation.
My own view is that CRT provides Christians with helpful lenses through which to view the problem of racism. I cannot see racism as a merely individual problem. Let me try to explain it this way: Racism is structural because even if every individual in the United States renounced racism in their hearts, minds, words, and actions all at the same moment, there have been too many racist systems put in place in the history of our country for racism to come to an end in that moment. For instance, even if we all renounced racism today, could we go back in time, just to the 1950s, and make it as if Jim Crow never existed? Even on the individual level, there are plenty of people alive today who experienced the terror, humiliation, and dehumanization of Jim Crow laws just as there are plenty alive who perpetrated those things. Those people have necessarily raised their children in the shadow of this history, and those children now have children. But on the structural level, racism has produced dramatic inequalities in our society that will not disappear even if everyone begins to love each other.
Black and brown folks were cut out of the social safety net for years, intimidated and redlined out of housing markets, disproportionately sentenced to time in prison for the same crimes committed by white folks, and the list goes on and on. The most blatant result of these forms of racism is a country with an unclosable wealth gap. Unlike Marxism, which sees such disparities in terms of class, CRT views the wealth gap as a structural legacy and present reality of racism. Even if every person in America became a Christian, that wealth gap would not disappear. We would still need to make societal changes.
Prior to my exposure to CRT, I had a purely individualist understanding of racism. CRT introduced me to the structural side of the problem I may have arrived at this idea without CRT, but that’s not how things happened for me. I should add that racism is certainly not the only sin whose sum is greater than its individual parts. In this case, I believe that the core beliefs of CRT can help Christians better understand what racism is and how it has affected our society. I just as firmly believe that it is no substitute for the gospel of Jesus Christ which alone is sufficient for salvation.
I would argue that so long as we do not allow the beliefs and agenda of CRT to take the place of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Christians can take what is beneficial from CRT and discard what is not. We have a long history of “plundering the Egyptians” in this way, as Augustine famously said.
Christianity and CRT both see racism as wrong and harmful to individuals and society. Because CRT is not based on Christian doctrine, it does not use the language of “sin” to describe racism, but that does not mean that its solutions are always antithetical to Christianity.