I try to avoid talking about these issues, partially because online discourse almost always immediately becomes toxic, but also because my knowledge is somewhat limited and I don’t want to speak beyond my understanding. I present here some thoughts on CRT (Critical Race Theory) and the Church that I pray may be thought provoking for all who read.
- Advocates of CRT & antiracism are correct in identifying the problem of systemic racism and noting that the traditional American cultural narrative needs to be significantly revised or replaced.
- The cultural narrative that said advocates are pushing is, in itself, inherently flawed and unsustainable.
- This narrative is inherently iconoclastic, which in many ways is a continuation of aspects of the traditional American cultural narrative (which is itself in some ways inverted and subversive of the traditional Christian narrative, but the new narrative is even more inverted).1 An interesting trend I’ve noticed is that those within evangelical American Christianity who advocate CRT/antiracism come from traditions that directly descend from Puritan & related theological traditions. This is relevant, because iconoclastic narratives are inherently chaotic (symbolically) and tend to grow to such a degree that they consume themselves.
- As a means of actually addressing issues of systemic racism in the American criminal justice & legal system, CRT may prove to be a very useful tool. In this sense, I don’t oppose it at all. The problem is, it doesn’t want to stay in that lane. It wants to write a new narrative for America, one that in my estimation is based in a problematic inversion of traditional patterns (by traditional, I mean patterns that extend much further back into history than 400 years).2
- This is why it’s not unreasonable for parents to be suspicious and upset about the influence of these ideas in school curriculum. One of the most widely believed falsehoods is that education is simply the imparting of “objective facts/knowledge to students. There is no such thing as “perspective-less” knowledge. The education system forms our children into who they become as whole persons, how they see the world and what narrative they see themselves living in. That’s simply how education has and will always work.
- The Holy Scriptures are abundantly clear that the Church as an entity and Christians individually have an obligation (in varying ways that will look different to different people and at different levels), to pursue justice. Justice, in the biblical and classical sense, is putting things in their right order. When we do this, we are imitating God creating the world as the narrative of Genesis 1 tells – bringing order out of disorder/chaos. The pursuit of social justice, then, is seeking for the right ordering of society, something that I hope all can agree on.
- A cursory study of American history leaves no doubt that racial/ethnic minority groups, black Americans descended from slaves in particular, have faced a mountain of injustice (think of justice as defined above). For the sake of this country and all who live within, finding a way to bring justice, that is, right order to American society so as to remediate the sharp levels of poverty, incarceration, drug abuse, etc. that exist in these minority communities, is absolutely necessary so that the country can reverse the extreme fracturing and chaos that has arisen recently, especially within the past decade.
- Acknowledging all of this, we can have legitimate discussions about what the best means to this end is, hopefully with the cloud of passions cleared away on all sides. My own personal take, which is intentionally limited, is that top/down attempts to change the culture and narrative of our society are not going to effectively accomplish anything except causing more unnecessary division. Reality is too complicated, and the idea that only addressing one level (for example, exclusive focus on systemic issues or on individual responsibility) will bring about meaningful justice is hopelessly naive.
- American culture in general is way too obsessed with who gets to be considered “guilty” for the issues that exist. If a fraction of the time spent arguing over this were spent actually trying to fix problems, imagine the change that could actually happen. “Cancel culture” is a direct product of this “puritan” attitude, this desire for absolute purity in society. If a person deviates from the “acceptable” narrative, they become “cancelled” and are effectively excommunicated from the public square. You can’t completely cut off the margin without it coming back to bite.
- As far as it concerns you and I as individuals, assuming my audience here is Christians, we have to have the humility to admit that, no matter how much we do, we’re not going to change the world, at least not individually and by our own power. That which concerns you and I is to obey the commandments of He who loves you despite your constant sin and rebellion against Him. The creator of the universe made each and every one of us to be united to Himself, to experience the unfathomable glory of His presence and love, and to join Him in His rule and governance of creation. How do we do this? Love God, and love your neighbor. Through our personal prayer life, the prayers of the Church, and the Church offering the Body and Blood of our Lord Christ on the altar for the life of the world, we purify ourselves from the defilement of sin and turn our minds toward Christ in ever-increasing obedience, so that we become united to our Savior, living in his presence without being destroyed by His holiness. As our minds and whole selves are being purified and deified, we increasingly see how the world, which is our neighbors and all of creation, needs the purifying and deifying love of Christ. We are then given the spiritual vision, will and power to do the works of God in the world, in whatever capacity and sphere of influence we find ourselves in.
- What does this look like? Consider the instructions of St. John the Forerunner in the Gospel According to St. Luke: “So the people asked him, saying, ‘What shall we do then?’ He answered and said to them, ‘He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.’ Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’ Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.’” (NKJV, Lk 3:10–14). If the Church, as the body of Christ, and every constituent member of the body, seeks to do the works of God, even in just small ways, this country and the whole world will be turned on its head, even like the Roman Empire 1700 years ago.
I previously posted a quote from Fr. Stephen De Young here on how politics in the Church can easily devolve into materialism, and how the Church’s engagement with the culture is radically different than everything we see today. It’s especially pertinent, given the influx of both right and left-wing ideologies flooding into the Church in our time.
1When I use terms such as “inversion,” I’m speaking according to symbolic patterns, which I hope to write on in more detail in the future. Jonathan Pageau, who has a great YouTube channel (here), is largely my influence, and his videos and podcasts can be helpful in understanding what I’m getting at here.
2A helpful article written by Brad Mason that clearly explains what Critical Race Theory is can be found here. The attentive reader will notice that there are a few areas that I disagree with Brad, but I consider this article (and the numerous other things he’s written) to be a good explanation that avoids the political rhetoric that usually surrounds CRT in the media.