The debate over critical race theory has taken place in television studios, school board meetings, and state legislatures across the United States. It has also found its place in churches.
The theory includes a set of concepts that define racism as structural, rather than simply expressed through personal discrimination. Researchers point to racial disparities in educational outcomes, economic and employment opportunities, and in the criminal justice system as evidence of how ingrained racism is in American institutions.
But as critics say, Critical Race Theory is a divisive ideology that has infiltrated classrooms and must be stopped. On the whole, such descriptions of critical race theory are inaccurate and misinterpreted, perhaps sometimes even intentionally. But they nonetheless made critical race theory a “culture war” problem.
Religious voices, especially among white evangelical Christians, were among the first and strongest to call for an end to critical race theory. Conservative evangelical bloggers have warned of the supposed dangers of the “church infiltration” theory in 2018.
And in 2019, before the anti-racial theory movement gained attention, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical group in the United States, passed a resolution criticizing the theory as a problematic secular ideology that enters in conflict with the authority of the Scriptures. A push by conservative Southern Baptists to again reject the CRT by name failed at this year’s convention, but a resolution was passed against any theory that frames racism in any way other than being “one.” sin ”to be resolved by redemption through Christ.
These resolutions reflect a common evangelical ideology. Essentially, evangelical morality views social problems such as racism as the result of sinful individuals, and not of larger structures or institutions. In the words of evangelical pastor and theologian Voddie Baucham: “Critical race theory contradicts Christianity because it removes the problem of racism from the heart of the individual and puts it somewhere in systems and structures. .
Such opinions from evangelicals laid the groundwork for the outcry over the CRT in recent months. Rhetoric aside, it’s worth noting what Critical Race Theory actually is: a complex body of study that reflects the efforts of jurists to analyze how race works in American society. As legal scholars Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller and Kendall Thomas explain in their introduction to a key collection of writings on the subject, it explores “how a white supremacist regime and its subordination of people of color came into being. and maintained in America. “
As a specialist in religious studies, I frequently use Critical Race Theory as a tool to better understand how religion works in American society. While critical race theorists initially focused on how race was integrated into our legal system, theory can also help us think about how race is rooted in religious institutions.
It helps move beyond the idea that religion is primarily a matter of individual belief to seeing religious institutions and identities as shaped by larger social structures and movements. In the United States, race and religious institutions have been linked from the start. Early American rulers used language that described a “real” American as essentially both white and Protestant. And many Protestant churches have supported white supremacy through pulpit rhetoric, interpretations of the Bible, and policies of segregation.
Critical Race Theory sheds light on the ways in which religious institutions and rhetoric have helped justify and strengthen white supremacy. And the Southern Baptist Conventions’ Resolution Against Critical Race Theory is one example. Denying the existence of structural racism removes the possibility of assessing its presence in education, housing, the legal system and religion. It also makes it more difficult to conceptualize new, more equitable policies.
As such, theological arguments rejecting critical race theory may strengthen white supremacy by refusing to recognize the role racism has played in American institutions. This sounds a lot like how proponents of “color blind” approaches to racism, in which people pretend not to see race, can unwittingly reinforce racism.
While some religious organizations may view critical race theory as incompatible with their ideology, the theory provides an important framework for analyzing the visible and invisible ways in which race operates within all institutions and structures of American society – and this includes organized religions.