Final post from Scott Allen
Dear Andrew and Dennae,
I’m impressed by the time and care you’ve put into your responses, and am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to clarify issues and sharpen my thinking. I share your deep passion and commitment to biblical justice, and your desire to be a voice for the voiceless and to uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
While I’ve developed strong convictions on these topics, I have much to learn and undoubtedly have unbiblical perspectives that need correcting. For this reason, I value your friendship. I’m very aware of my shortcomings. I have logs in my eyes that need to be removed. I need your help seeing them. I also want to be the kind of person who loves others enough to help them remove the logs from their eyes as well. This is my heart.
I’d like to begin with what I believe is the most important part of your last post, your strong affirmation of critical social theory. You wrote:
- “[C]ritical theories have been incalculably important for the re-education of America.”
- “While we would disagree with aspects of various sociological work, we view the discipline [critical social theory] as a whole as a partner in the call for sweeping reforms.”
- “[C]ritical theories are a form of common grace …”
- There is “commonality between critical theories and Christian ethics.”
In my previous post, I noted that critical social theory is rooted in atheistic philosophy. You wrote that this was “not germane” and essentially not relevant to a Christian consideration of the importance of this ideology to racial reconciliation.
I applaud your clarity here. You state unambiguously that when addressing the topic of racial reconciliation, critical social theory is an “incalculably” important asset to supplement the teachings of Scripture.
On this point, however, we are in disagreement. My own analysis has led me to conclude the opposite. I’ll devote much of my response to explaining why I’ve come to this conclusion. In short, I view critical social theory as a destructive ideology that rends the social fabric and exacerbates racial tension. Over the past five years, I’ve become increasingly alarmed by its massive influence in the broader culture, and within the evangelical church in particular.
I believe that to rightly comprehend critical social theory, you have to see it as much more than a set of ideas that relate to power, race, sex, and sexual orientation. You have to see it as a comprehensive worldview. Many now describe it as a kind of religion. It provides answers to all the big worldview questions: What is ultimately real? What does it mean to be human? What is wrong with the world and how can it be made right? And many more. Its answers differ sharply from those provided by a biblical worldview, which isn’t surprising when you consider that the source of this worldview is a European philosophical tradition known as Idealism and the writings of philosophers such as Kant, Hagel, Nietzsche, and Rousseau. From this philosophical soil both Marxism and postmodernism emerged, with people like Antonio Gramsci, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida making contributions along the way. It gave rise to the Frankfurt School social theorists, who first coined the phrase “critical theory.” These people, including Herbert Marcuse (the father of the sexual revolution) and Max Horkheimer, brought their ideas into American universities in the 1950s where they eventually came to dominate the social sciences and humanities, and ultimately large swaths of the culture in our own time. These ideas were picked up and developed by Derrick Bell, father of critical race theory, whose ideas inspired present-day popularizers including Richard Delgado, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and the founders of Black Lives Matter, to name a few.
As regards Christian mission, I see critical social theory not as a partner, but as a competitor. I fully agree with Christian apologist Neil Shenvi, who wrote: “I worry that too many people are trying to hold on to both Christianity and critical theory. That’s not going to work in the long run. Either we will abandon historic Christianity in favor of the core tenets of contemporary critical theory or we will abandon the core tenets of contemporary critical theory in favor of Christianity. Any amalgamation of the two will, in the long run, be unstable.” In short, I view critical social theory as a “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
In your previous post, you wrote that I “demonstrate no genuine engagement with any particular critical theories or theorists.” While I certainly make no claim to be an expert, I have tried to understand this ideology as best I can. Over the past five years, I have undertaken a fairly extensive study, reading from original sources, including the most influential popularizers like DiAngelo and Ta-Nehesi Coates. I’ve also read the books of evangelical proponents of critical race theory, including Ken Wytsma, Eric Mason, and Latasha Morrison. I’ve also read the critics of critical theory, both Christian and non-Christian, including James Lindsay, Neil Shenvi, and Thaddeus Williams. I’ve discovered that some of the clearest and most forceful critics are black academics like Shelby Steele, Glenn Loury, Thomas Sowell, and John McWhorter, and black evangelicals like Robert Woodson, Darrell Harrison, Virgil Walker, Chantal Monique Duson, Voddie Baucham, and Ryan Bomberger. I’ve learned a great deal from each of them.
I’d like to share my attempt at summarizing the basic worldview presuppositions of critical social theory, showing how they differ from biblical presuppositions. I encourage readers of this exchange to do their own research and decide if they think my summary is fair or not.
Last week, Tim Keller published the most recent article in his series on race: “A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory.” I deeply appreciated his analysis of what he calls “postmodern critical theory,” which, he asserts, “draws on the teachings of Karl Marx.” It closely tracks my own thinking. I know you both respect Keller, so I’ll quote from his article extensively.
Andrew and Dennae, as you read this summary below, please know that I’m not suggesting that you agree with or support all of these presuppositions. I’m sure you don’t. You said in your previous post that you “disagree with aspects of various sociological work, yet we view the discipline as a whole as a partner in the call for sweeping reforms.” You also said that “the kingdom of God … calls us to make substantive critiques of all ideologies.”
This is simply my attempt to summarize the core, or “least common denominator” of critical theory and contrast it with core biblical beliefs. I’m quite certain that you’ll view this summary as overly simplistic and unhelpful. Perhaps in your final post you can explain how you feel I’ve missed the mark, and which aspects of critical social theory you find helpful and which parts you don’t.
Because critical theory is grounded in atheism, there is no God, no objective truth, and no transcendent morality. All that remains is power, and in particular, an endless struggle for power between various groups. This explains why critical theory, at its core, is concerned with power: Who has it, who doesn’t, and how those who have it establish systems, structures, and norms to maintain it and to dominate and subjugate those who don’t. Power, in this framework, is entirely negative and zero-sum; the world is divided into an oppressor-oppressed binary, with nothing existing outside these categories.
As I said in my last post, there is a degree of truth in this analysis. The Bible agrees that power typically functions this way in our fallen world. Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 10:43, “You know that those regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them.” But then He pivots, contrasting power and authority in the fallen world with power in God’s Kingdom:
But it shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great [that is, whoever wants to possess power and authority] among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man [the most powerful being in the universe, the supreme authority] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Power is not all that exists. Everything cannot be reduced to power. God exists. He has all power and authority (Matthew 28:18), yet, in love, He uses His power to serve those under authority. Those who follow His example bring this revolutionary approach to power and authority into the fallen world, and in doing so, transform it. Power exists, but so does truth, and so does love. And because love exists at the foundation of reality, so does grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
These redemptive qualities are completely foreign to critical social theory. In the zero-sum world of social justice power struggle, there is no “live and let live” tolerance. No win-win, or even compromise. No place for forgiveness, or grace. No “love your enemy.” No “first get the log out of your own eye” introspection. There is only grievance, condemnation, and retribution. Bigots, haters, and oppressors must be destroyed. We are seeing this happen with alarming frequency in what is now called “cancel culture,” which is a bitter fruit of critical theory.
Here is Keller on this topic:
- [In postmodern critical theory] “reality is at bottom nothing but power.”
- “Religious doctrine, together with all politics and law are always, at bottom, a way for people to get or maintain … power over others.”
- “Power structures mask themselves behind the language of rationality and truth. So academia hides its unjust structures behind talk of ‘academic freedom,’ and corporations behind talk of ‘free enterprise,’ science behind talk of ‘empirical objectivity’, and religion behind talk of ‘divine truth’. All of these … are really just constructed narratives designed to dominate…”
Keller highlights the futility of this cynical view of reality: “… if all people with power … inevitably use it for domination, then if any revolutionaries were able to replace the oppressors at the top of the society, why would they not become people that should subsequently be rebelled against and replaced themselves? What would make them different?”
Keller then contrasts the critical theory view of power with the biblical view.
Rule and authority [that is, power] are not intrinsically wrong. Indeed, they are necessary in any society. But while not ending the [ruler/ruled] binary, neither does Christianity simply reverse it. It does not merely fill the top rungs of authority with new parties who will use power in the same oppressive way that is the way of the world… Because it is rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity neither eliminates nor merely reverses the ruler/ruled binary—rather, it subverts it. When Jesus saves us through his use of power only for service, he changes our attitude toward and our use of power.
Human nature and identity
James Lindsay contrasts the biblical view of human identity with that of critical theory. According to the biblical view, people “are children of God, fashioned in His divine image. [According to] Social Justice, we are children of society, fashioned by its social constructions and the power dynamics they maintain.”
Postmodern critical theory views human beings as creatures whose identity is entirely socially constructed, and defined by group affiliations, particularly those based on race, sex, and sexual identity. There is no shared human nature. As Nancy Pearcey explains: “Everyone’s ideas are merely social constructions stitched together by cultural forces. Individuals are little more than mouthpieces for communities based on race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual identity.” She goes on to say that critical theory reduces “individuals to puppets of social forces . . . powerless to rise above the communities to which they belong.”
What is the casualty of this reductionist view? The individual, along with personal agency, and responsibility.
Here’s Keller on this topic:
- “[Postmodern critical theory] undermines our common humanity. Biblically, we are primarily individuals before God, made in his image, and secondarily members of a race/nationality. The postmodern view, however, makes one’s racial or group identity primary.”
- “[According to postmodern critical theory] individual rights nor individual identity are primary … [It] is an illusion to think that, as an individual, you can carve out an identity in any way different or independent of others in your race, ethnicity, gender, and so on. Group identity and rights are the only real ones.”
- “[Postmodern critical theory] sees human beings as inherently good or blank slates. Any evil is instilled in us by society, by social systems and forces. So any pathology (poverty, crime, violence, abuse) is due to one thing only—wrong social policy.”
Critical social theory has a defined moral system. Evil and moral guilt are associated with power, which is always oppressive, while moral innocence, and moral authority are associated with oppressed victims. At present, those with power are said to be heteronormative males with white skin. They have established and maintain hegemonic power structures to oppress and subjugate women, people of color, sexual minorities (LGBTQ+) and others. These interlocking webs of systemic oppression have many labels: white supremacy, toxic masculinity, homophobia, misogyny, the male-female binary, and the patriarchy are just a few.
What is the solution to evil/oppression? In revolutionary fashion, oppressed victims and their allies must unite to unmask, deconstruct, and overthrow these oppressive power structures, norms, systems, and institutions. We see this revolutionary fervor in our headlines every day, with courthouses on fire, violence and looting, and statues being toppled.
Keller calls the moral system established by postmodern critical theory “deeply incoherent.” Critical theorists operate within an atheistic framework, yet claim a basis for knowledge of good and evil. Keller writes: “You cannot insist that all morality is culturally constructed and relative and then claim that your moral claims are not. … this may therefore be a fatal flaw for the entire theory.”
More Keller on this topic:
- “Guilt is not assigned on the basis of individual actions but on the basis of group membership and social/racial status.”
- “[I]n this postmodern view of justice groups are assigned higher or lower moral value depending on their power, and some groups are denied any redeeming characteristics at all.”
- “If you are white, male, straight, cisgender then you have the highest amount of power. If you are none of these at all, you are the most marginalized and oppressed… Most importantly, each category toward the powerless end of the spectrum has a greater moral authority… Only powerlessness and oppression brings moral high ground…”
Ideologies that draw the good vs. evil line between different groups are not just wrong, they are dangerous. If this group is good, and that group is evil, it is very easy to dehumanize the “evil” group. This is what happened in Nazi Germany with the Jews and in communist nations with “capitalists.” It happened in Rwanda in 1994, when the Hutu-led government, fueled by an ideology of hate, launched a genocide that left as many as a million Tutsis dead in just one hundred days.
Followers of Jesus Christ must never be complicit in an ideology that encourages the dehumanization of our neighbors, particularly when the dehumanization is based on an immutable characteristic such as skin color.
Keller warns, “To see whole races as more sinful and evil than other races leads to things like the Holocaust.”
Now, contrast this to biblical morality. In the immortal words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either [and we can add, nor between groups based on skin-color]—but right through every human heart.” “All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Our rebellion against God has resulted in broken relationships—between God and man, between man and his fellow man, and between man and creation.
What is the solution? The cross of Christ. On the cross, God incarnate bore the punishment we deserved for sinful rebellion in order to show us mercy we could never deserve. His death on the cross and His resurrection opened the way for the reconciliation of all of our broken relationships.
Postmodern critical theory sources evil not in human hearts, but in social structures. The biblical worldview, by contrast, views evil not as structural, but as personal. Injustice exists because we are all fallen, sinful, selfish people. The only solution is a personal, heart-level transformation, not just for a particular group of so-called “oppressors,” but for everyone. There is no hope for lasting social change apart from the gospel and new life in Christ.
Unlike postmodern critical theory, the biblical view of transformation encompasses both the inward and the outward, the personal and the societal, the regeneration of fallen human hearts and minds and the reformation of society. As Dallas Willard wisely said:
The revolution of Jesus is a revolution of the human heart or spirit. It did not and does not proceed by means of the formation of social institutions and laws … Rather, it is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It is one that changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their social relations. From these divinely renovated depths of the person, social structures will naturally be transformed so that “justice roll[s] down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
Yes, we all long to see our broken, hurting society healed. But the solutions provided by postmodern critical theory only make things worse by misdiagnosing the problem. It isn’t the patriarchy or white supremacy, and it certainly isn’t the male-female binary. Unjust and oppressive human systems, structures, institutions, laws, and norms are symptoms, not the disease. The disease is sin. It is alienation from God. The solution is inward heart and mind transformation through the gospel, leading to outward, societal transformation.
- “[Critical theory] denies our common sinfulness. The Bible teaches that sin is pervasive and universal. We are each members of a race or nationality that contains much unique common grace to contribute to the world. But every culture also comes with particular sinful idolatries. No race or people group is inherently more sinful than others.”
- [According to postmodern critical theory] “All unequal outcomes in wealth, well-being, and power is [sic] never due to individual actions or to differences in cultures or to differences in human abilities, but only and strictly due to unjust social structures and systems. The only way to fix unequal outcomes for the downtrodden is through social policy, never by asking anyone to change their behavior or culture.”
When you combine the critical theory views of ultimate reality, power, human identity, and morality you begin to see how it can only lead to a fractured, tribalistic world of identity groups competing for power. As Keller says, it “makes forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation between groups impossible.”
My point with this brief worldview analysis is this: Biblical Christianity and postmodern critical theory are distinct and incompatible worldviews. They are opposed in their understanding of ultimate reality, power, authority, human nature, morality, epistemology, and much more. These differences matter. They will inevitably lead to vastly different kinds of societies.
The culture that is emerging around us from the worldview of critical social theory is one marked by hostility, division, and a false sense of moral superiority. A culture where truth is replaced by power, and gratitude by grievance. A culture where people are encouraged to put on the mantle of the victim. A culture where personal responsibility is eroded, and where people increasingly blame their problems on others. A culture marked by sexual libertinism. A culture where your identity is defined by your tribe and your tribe is always in conflict with other tribes.
I don’t want to live in this kind of culture. I want to live in a culture where truth, justice, and love are the highest goods. A culture where God is honored as King, and all people, regardless of their race, sex, or class are respected and loved as His beloved children. A culture where people are judged by “the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” A culture in which justice is based on God’s unchanging moral law and those accused of injustice are treated with fairness and impartiality. A culture that upholds due process and the rule of law. A culture that sees all people as fallen sinners, yet objects of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. A culture marked by grace, tolerance, and forgiveness. A culture where reconciliation and redemption are possible. A culture marked by humble gratitude.
My main concern, however, is for the church. I see growing evidence that many of my fellow Christians have absorbed, either consciously or unconsciously, many of the presuppositions of postmodern critical theory, and are attempting to conform their biblical theology to support these presuppositions. I don’t believe this will be sustainable. One will have to give way to the other.
I don’t question their intentions. I believe many have very good intentions. They want to stand against injustice, racism, sexism, and to be a voice for the oppressed, as I do. What they don’t seem to understand is that while postmodern critical theory purports to stand for justice and equality, it completely redefines these words to align with its worldview presuppositions. Take the word “justice” for example. The definition of justice that emerges from the Scriptures would be something like this:
Conformity to God’s moral standard as revealed in the Ten Commandments and the Royal Law: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Justice entails giving people their due as image-bearers of God. It also entails fairly and impartially rendering judgment, righting wrongs, and meting out punishment for lawbreaking. This aspect is reserved for God, and God-ordained authorities including parents in the home, elders in the church, teachers in the school, and civil authorities in the state.
According to postmodern critical social theory, however, justice is redefined to mean something like this:
Deconstructing systems and structures deemed to be oppressive, and redistributing power and resources from oppressors to their victims in the pursuit of equity, or equality of outcome.
Same word. Different dictionaries. Which definition is true? Unless Christians are aware of how such definitions have changed as postmodern critical theory emerges as the dominant ideology in our culture, they can mistakenly believe they are pursuing justice, yet be actively working against it.
Here’s another phrase that has been redefined. You used it frequently in your last post. A few years ago it was used to describe the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, or racists like Richard Spencer who openly believe people with white skin are superior to people with black or brown skin. But postmodern critical theory gives it a new meaning. Here’s DiAngelo: “When I use the term ‘white supremacy’, I do not use it to refer to extreme hate groups. I use the term to capture the pervasiveness, magnitude, and normalcy of white dominance and assumed superiority.”
As James Lindsay explains, “this redefinition is designed to explicitly connect happening to be white with participation in a system of dominance and oppression that marginalizes people of color.” In other words, white supremacy now applies to pretty much any person with white skin. The only way out is to renounce your white privilege, and otherwise fully endorse the presuppositions of critical race theory.
And what are the hallmarks of this culture of white dominance that critical race theorists point to? They include (according to a recent infographic from the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History):
- Hard work
- Punctuality (Timeliness)
Who knew these things were aspects of white supremacy? You wrote about “evangelicalism’s lock-step partnership with white supremacy,” and Booker T. Washington’s “accommodation of white supremacy.” This can only make sense if you are using DiAngelo’s redefinition.
Marxism, Communism and American Liberalism
I need to wrap this up, but want to comment briefly on a few other points you made. You wrote: “Neither communism, nor Marxism, nor social critical theories have lifted a pinky finger to accomplish slavery, Jim Crow, Segregation, lynchings, massacres, etc. Only American Liberalism has done that, because only American Liberalism has ever held true power in America, largely under ‘Christian’ leadership.”
Marxist/Communist regimes are responsible for over 100 million people being starved, slaughtered, and imprisoned in the 20th century alone. Many millions were enslaved in gulags and forced labor camps. It is still happening today. Nearly one million Uighurs are enslaved in concentration camps run by the Chinese Communist Party right now. They are being systematically tortured, brainwashed, and killed for their body parts. Yet you imply that Marxism isn’t the real problem, rather it is the dark and malevolent force of “American Liberalism.”
But is slavery a distinct byproduct of American Liberalism and Christianity, as you suggest? Rather, isn’t slavery common in cultures worldwide? Even today, slavery exists in places like Mauritania and Libya, which are hardly bastions of American Liberalism, or Christianity.
Third, I’m fine with you highlighting the shameful aspects of American history as you do here. I too teach all of these things to my children. But I’m not fine if you completely ignore the other list, which is also the fruit of American Liberalism and Christianity:
- The world’s first organized anti-slavery society was formed in Pennsylvania in 1774.
- The first legal ban on slavery anywhere in the world was in Vermont in 1777.
- Five of the original 13 states followed suit either during or immediately after the Revolution, passing bans on slavery between 1780 and 1784.
- The first federal ban on slavery, in the Northwest Territory, was drafted in 1784 by Thomas Jefferson and passed by the Confederation Congress in 1787. Its language would later be adopted directly into the 13th Amendment.
- Congress banned the slave trade at the first possible moment, in 1807, at the insistence of President Jefferson.
- Slavery was eventually abolished after a bloody civil war in which thousands of white people died to end this evil institution.
- Significant progress in racial equality was made through the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, and various affirmative action policies.
- We elected the first black president in 2009, and the whole country celebrated this milestone, even those who disagreed with Barak Obama’s policy positions, as I did.
While America continues to be plagued by overt racism, it is, today, one of the least racist countries on earth, which explains why overwhelming numbers of people, including those with black and brown skin, flock to this country and almost nobody wants to leave it.
This list is also the fruit of American Liberalism. A truthful take on our past acknowledges America’s racist history in full, horrific detail, but it also remembers and celebrates all we’ve done to overcome the evils of racism and racial injustice, and is grateful for those who sacrificed much to bring them about.
Gratitude, however, is a virtue that is notably absent from postmodern critical theory. It is, after all, critical. When it comes to America, it focuses only on things to be critical about, and on tearing down. We see this happening literally with the tearing down of statues. This is not a recipe for social harmony, or for reconciliation. I have my fair share of shortcomings and moral failings. I can tell you that if my wife were only critical of me, and only focused on my sins while ignoring any redeeming characteristics, we wouldn’t have a particularly healthy relationship.
We view most Evangelical criticism of critical theory and BLM [Black Lives Matter] as the same Fundamentalism of a century ago… American Fundamentalism is the main force that has perpetuated segregation to this day, and it is the same force currently trying to silence the cries for reform. We pray daily that this Fundamentalism fails.
I agree that there are striking parallels between our situation today and the church split some 100 years ago between the mainstream denominations and the fundamentalists. I wrote about this in a WORLD article (“History repeats itself”). I hope you’ll take the time to read it. I do not disparage people like J. Gresham Machen, or R.A. Torrey, founder of Biola University. They were not perfect, and their overreaction to the social gospel caused real harm to the church. But to their everlasting credit, they stood firm and preserved the gospel in their generation, while the mainstream churches largely abandoned it in their tragic attempt to accommodate the powerful, unbiblical ideologies of their day. Had they not done this, the church in America today would look a lot more like the nearly extinct church in Western Europe.
Then, and now, the church isn’t supposed to blindly follow mainstream cultural trends—even powerful ones with massive elite support and financial backing, like Black Lives Matter, whose founders and leaders openly advocate for their neo-Marxism and postmodern critical theory. Our call is to uphold and live out the counter-cultural ways of Christ’s kingdom as salt and light in the midst of an increasingly dark and chaotic culture.
“Who is [sic] your people? Who are you? Is it shibboleth or sibboleth?”
I’m not sure what you are asking here, or why. In my previous post, I mentioned that the phrase “systemic racism” is now so overused, that even those who invoke it struggle to define it. It has become more of a catch-phrase or password (a shibboleth) that people use to signal that they are part of the in-crowd. This is not to say that systemic evil and injustice are not real. They are. But they are not nearly so vague and undefined as people are making them out to be. I’ll be the first to stand with you against systemic racism, but I first need to be pretty certain that a system is racist, and that means evidence that goes beyond disparities of outcome and that takes into account personal choices and behaviors. Proclaiming a system to be racist when it isn’t is unjust and makes things worse. It leaves root problems unaddressed.
Who am I? Who are my people? I’m not sure why you are asking these questions, but here’s my straightforward answer. Who am I? First and foremost, I’m a child of God, a sinner saved by grace, and a follower of Jesus Christ. I have a unique history, personality, and gifts which I’m grateful for. I’m a proud American. I have a particular calling and vocation which gives great meaning and purpose to my life. Who are my people? First and foremost, my wife and five children, my mom and dad, and my sister, brother, grandparents, and in-laws. Second, my brothers and sisters in Christ, including both of you, and in particular, my DNA coworkers and colleagues around the world, and those at our home church whom I know on a very personal level. Third, my fellow Americans. These are my people. “White” doesn’t factor into my answer, because my people include those with every skin hue and color.
What does racial reconciliation look like?
You asked, “what does racial reconciliation look like for White Evangelicals? How do you define ‘racial reconciliation’ and what practically would you suggest pastors do to engage their congregations in this work?”
Thank you for asking this very important set of questions. First, I would never presume to speak for a group as varied and amorphous as “White Evangelicals.” Second, I define racial reconciliation as building or re-establishing a culture of trust and love between different racial/ethnic groups where that trust has eroded or broken, and where distrust, enmity and hostility exists.
There are many precious Biblical truths that foster racial reconciliation. These truths have to be taught by faithful pastors and ministers of reconciliation. They include:
- There is only one race, the human race, and all of us are brothers and sisters with the same blood in our veins, and the same ancestors.
- We share a common human nature. We are all created by God in His Divine image and likeness. We are all objects of His love. All people, regardless of ethnicity, skin color, sex, religion, or class possess inherent and incalculable value and worth, along with God-given rights to life and liberty.
- We are all sinners. All of us are more than capable of the most heinous evil. There is no group or ethnicity that is more evil than another. We all stand in need of God’s grace and forgiveness, which He freely offers to all people regardless of ethnicity or skin color.
- To those that accept Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, they become part of the same family, the children of God, where there “is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, [or black or white], for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
These truths provide the only solid foundation for genuine racial reconciliation that I know of.
Postmodern critical theory denies each of these truths. You won’t find them anywhere in DiAngelo’s White Fragility, or Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. Instead, critical theory reduces people to impersonal representatives of social groups based on skin color, sex, or sexual orientation. It then pits them against one another without any element of mercy or forgiveness. Keller is exactly right: “It makes forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation between groups impossible.”
Another key to racial reconciliation is truth. Mistrust and hostility grow in cultures where truth is eroded and replaced by lies, false witness, and false narratives. For example, we regularly hear that the police are killers who have declared “open season” on young black men. Black Lives Matter leaders routinely repeat this line. This isn’t so much an exaggeration as an outright lie. It only exacerbates mistrust and hostility. That hostility will continue unless the truth can overcome the lie. Christians ought to be people of truth who refuse to traffic in inflamed or hyperbolic charges that aren’t grounded in solid evidence and fact, but only serve to buttress a particular narrative.
Another key is to treat people as unique individuals, and not to dehumanize them as avatars or representatives of groups based on skin color. In King’s immortal words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” This statement represented the high-water mark in American race relations because Americans of all skin colors overwhelmingly agreed with him! They said with one, loud voice, “Yes, this is the kind of America we want to live in too!”
Tragically, postmodern critical theory has abandoned this dream and moved us backward. Now, skin color is all-important, and the individual person, including the content of their character, no longer counts for much. This isn’t progressing, it’s regressing. If we want genuine racial reconciliation, we have to reclaim and affirm King’s great dream in our generation.
Finally, and as part of the above, we need to hold people accountable for their own sins, and not for the sins of people who lived over a hundred years ago who happen to share their same skin color. You wrote: “the great hope and joy for countless Christian leaders in this season is that repentance leads to reconciliation and restoration, and the Black community is still offering us this reconciliation.”
By “us” I assume you mean people with white skin. But do you truly believe that merely based on your skin color, you are morally guilty and need to repent for sins committed by people with the same skin color who may have lived centuries ago? And that if you have black skin, you are, on that basis alone, sinned-against by white people?
Assuming a person is morally guilty or innocent of sin on the basis of their skin color alone, and not because of their individual actions and behaviors may be true for postmodern critical theory, but it is unbiblical and unjust. This mindset can only exacerbate racial hostility. Repentance for sin is a hugely important matter. I daily have to repent, but I repent for and am accountable for my sins. Not my parent’s sins (Ezekiel 18:20), let alone the sins of complete strangers, simply because we have the same skin color.
Last point: I’m impressed with this article by George Yancey. He presents many helpful suggestions for improving race relations that I would endorse.
I’ve gone on far too long. Forgive me. Like you, I have real passion for this issue and get carried away. I count you both as friends, and my great wish for you both is that your lives, families, and ministries will thrive and bear great fruit for God’s Kingdom. God bless you both. I look forward to reading your final installment.