Critical race theory is the most discussed and debated academic theory in America today. Its advocates believe it is a tool for understanding the pervasiveness of systemic racism ever since the country was founded. Its detractors have called it a Marxist framework that causes racism and teaches people to judge each other based on skin color.
One institution that has been particularly damaged by the spread of critical race theory is American evangelicalism. A recent book entitled “Fault Lines,” by Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr., pastor and dean at the African Christian University, directly addresses the social justice movement and how it threatens the unity of Christian believers.
The term “evangelical” is often used in the context of politics to describe white churchgoers who hold conservative beliefs and vote Republican. I use it here to refer to Protestant Christian churches, pastors, laypeople, and organizations who believe in the authority, infallibility, inerrancy, and sufficiency of the Bible. These include people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds who believe that Jesus’s resurrection was an actual historical event, not just a metaphor for living a better life or an outdated dogmatic claim.
This distinction is important because many people who profess to be Christians take a completely different view of the Bible. To them, Jesus was a revolutionary who came to upend unjust systems of oppression. They see the embrace of critical race theory as a positive step in the quest for racial justice and reconciliation in America.
Competing Worldviews Built on Different Foundations
“Fault Lines” explains the ascendency of critical social justice in every aspect of American politics and culture. Baucham defines critical social justice as the view that the world is divided between oppressor (e.g., white, male, heterosexual, cisgender) and oppressed (e.g., black, female, homosexual, transgender) groups.
This understanding of society lies at the heart of cultural and political debates about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. It also informs the language of antiracism, intersectionality, and white privilege that is now ubiquitous in American life.
A critical social justice worldview is not simply a set of beliefs. It is a way of viewing the world that is built on assumptions about, among other things, humanity, authority, evil, and justice. The theories Baucham presents in “Fault Lines” can be thought of as a stone wall that is supported by an arch. Critical social justice is the keystone theory that holds the arch together and critical race theory is the capstone that sits on top of the wall.
The wall itself is built on four cornerstones: Karl Marx’s conflict theory, Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony, the Frankfurt School’s critical theory, and Derrick Bell’s critical legal studies. These theories, some of which go back more than 150 years, describe society as a struggle between social classes competing for finite resources. The dominant class uses politics, law, and culture to impose norms on society that maintain the status quo and perpetuate societal inequities.
The Christian faith is built on a different foundation. The Bible states Jesus is the chief cornerstone of the church, the collection of genuine believers in the past, present, and future who are described as a holy temple for the Lord.
A Christian worldview uses scripture as the basis for absolute moral truth as well as the standard by which good, evil, equity, and justice are defined. Critical race theory sees oppression based on skin color as society’s main problem and the transformation of structures and systems as solutions. The scriptures, by contrast, see sin as humanity’s main problem and faith in Jesus Christ as the only solution. The tension between these two competing worldviews is a central theme of the book.
A Dangerous New Religion
Americans across the political spectrum have become very familiar with the core tenets of critical race theory over the past year, even if they have never taken a single course on race at a prestigious university. They hear politicians openly claim that systemic racism is embedded in the fabric of America and scholars say that the absence of racist individuals does not take away from the prevalence of institutional racism in our society. A growing number of educators openly state that meritocracy perpetuates existing power structures that are based on white supremacy and that the lived experiences and narratives of black people are a necessary counter to the objective nature of science and reason.
These developments are a source of great frustration to Americans who love their country and resent fellow citizens who cast it as a source of great evil. “Fault Lines” makes it clear that a worse fate awaits evangelicals who attempt to syncretize what Baucham sees as the new religion of antiracism.
If antiracism is a new religion, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is its chief priest. While the Bible states that sin produces death and life is found in Christ, Kendi claims that racism is death and antiracism is life. “Fault Lines” outlines antiracism’s origin story – “on the first day, white people created whiteness” – and casts racism as the faith’s original sin.
Baucham also gives examples of the “work” antiracism requires from its followers. These include white Christians examining their lives as well as those of their ancestors to determine how they have perpetuated or benefited from racist systems.
Baucham then draws attention to the new canon of books and other media that evangelicals are using to treat the social sciences as lenses through which to read and understand the Bible. That approach undermines both the scripture’s authority to interpret itself and its sufficiency to address all issues related to Christian doctrine and practice.
One prominent evangelical author and theologian, Jemar Tisby, recently announced he is leaving what he describes as “white evangelical spaces” due to experiences with racism, including white evangelical support of Donald Trump. Tisby also encouraged other black Christians to do the same as part of a new #LeaveLOUD movement. Less than three weeks later, Kendi announced Tisby was joining his Center for Antiracist Research as the assistant director of narrative and advocacy.
Such is the nature of the war Baucham believes critical social justice is waging on the church. The New Testament is full of warnings to the early church to guard against false and deceptive teachings because rejecting the clear application of the scriptures, even on the issue of race, can cause any believer to abandon the security of a structure whose foundation cannot be shaken for one that cannot stand the test of time.
My Time on the Fault Line
For a short period of time, my family attended the church led by Thabiti Anyabwile, one of the pastors cited as being on the opposite side of the critical social justice fault line. I found him to be a kind minister who cared for his members.
Then I saw a tweet from Anyabwile defending a theologian named Ekemini Uwan who was in the midst of a major controversy within evangelicalism for telling a mostly white room full of Christian women that they must divest from “whiteness,” which she claimed is rooted in plunder, theft, slavery, and genocide. I’m not a minister, but I know my Bible well enough to understand that no group of people, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, or nationality, have a monopoly on any particular type of sin.
Fast-forward a few years and Anyabwile openly claims that whiteness renders certain Christians unable to read their Bibles, resistance to reparations can be tied back to the story of Cain and Abel, and that people who raise genuine concerns about the state of the black family or black criminal victimization are doing so because they don’t want to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
A Firm Foundation
I don’t share this personal account to be hateful or divisive, but to illustrate that the worldview critical social justice represents is colonizing at its core. It only knows harnessing power to capture territory, and I was not willing to let my family fall victim to the incessant focus on skin color that has overtaken the minds of too many Christians today.
“Fault Lines” shows that the weapons Christians need for this ideological battle are spiritual, not physical. Christians should be a shining example to the rest of the world of what it looks like to have unity across ethnicity, tribe, and nation.
We honor God when we acknowledge all members of the human race have equal dignity and worth. We dishonor Him when we ascribe certain sins to people based on ancestry and mistreat others because of their skin color.
The sin of racism, whether expressed through ethnic hatred or partiality, is a problem of the human heart. Its solution is the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the work of antiracism.