reconciliation

Is Critical Race Theory “UnChristian” Part 2

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Is Critical Race Theory “UnChristian” Part 2

Written by: Dr. Matt Mullins (Assistant Professor of English and History of Ideas/Associate Dean for Academic Advising)

In the last post, I introduced the concept of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and raised questions about where it came from and how it was born. This post answers these questions by explaining the origins of CRT and introducing some of its key figures. The following account is drawn primarily from my reading of Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. This book is written by Critical Race Theorists, and I lean on it in an effort to represent CRT on its own terms. I also rely on Andrew Hartman’s excellent book, A War for the Soul of America, for some important historical context.

Origins of Critical Race Theory

Where did CRT come from? Critical Race Theory was not born out of a university department. It did not emerge from a political party, think tank, or policy center. It was a natural reaction to the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. While overt forms of racism such as discriminatory hiring practices and voter intimidation had been made illegal thanks to civil rights activists, new forms of racism emerged that required new forms of resistance and new forms of legal defense. For instance, where the legal response was obvious in the cases of states or municipalities that sought to bar people of color from the voting booth on the basis of race, how could lawyers, activists, scholars, and politicians address the disparities in incarceration between white men and black men? How could they fight laws that disproportionately affected people of color when the laws themselves said nothing explicit about race? The main channel of CRT thus lies in law, with tributaries stretching into political activism, community organizing, and other academic disciplines such as history, sociology, and literary theory.

As a range of people from different professions and academic disciplines began to address these issues and trace their histories, a common cause led to a workshop in 1989 in Madison, Wisconsin on something called “critical race theory.” The birth of CRT was motivated by many different factors, but the theme that seemed to underlie them all was the concept of colorblindness.  Colorblindness rejects the idea that race should ever be taken into account. If you’ve ever heard someone say something like “I don’t see race,” or “I don’t believe in any race except the human race,” then you’ve experienced a colorblind theory of race.

Proponents of CRT saw (and continue to see) colorblindness as the most powerful enemy of racial justice because of its refusal to recognize how race plays a significant role in both the past and the present. In response to those who would say we should be colorblind, activists sought to expose the inherent racism in our political thinking. Legal scholars set out to reveal how colorblind laws actually depended on age-old prejudices. Historians, sociologists, and literary theorists traced the slow but steady submersion of racism from the blatant forms of the past to the more covert forms of the present in major events, cultural phenomena, and literature. CRT came into being as a loose confederation of activists and scholars found common cause in their efforts to demonstrate how a society supposedly committed to colorblindness was, in fact, deeply dependent on and fractured by color.

Key Figures of Critical Race Theory

Because CRT was born out of questions about the law and the field of legal studies, most of its key figures tend to work and study in the field of law. Perhaps the most influential early figure in CRT was Derrick Bell, who taught at Harvard, the University of Oregon, Stanford University, and New York University. According to Andrew Hartman, Bell’s appointment at Harvard represented progress, but his long stint there as the sole tenured minority came to seem like tokenism rather than a true breakthrough. His frustration led to the development of a key belief of CRT called “interest convergence,” which I will take up in one of the next posts on the core values of CRT.

Neil Gotanda, another law professor, has written extensively on the concept of color blindness. Two other important figures, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, have written an introduction to CRT that is fairly accessible to nonspecialists, and which I’m drawing on in this post. Angela Harris is a professor of law who studied at the University of Chicago in the 1980s when CRT first took off. In her foreword to the most recent edition of Delgado and Stefancic’s book, she offers her own narrative of CRT’s inception.

 

Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology, A Critical Review

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Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology, A Critical Review

The Black Power Movement in the late sixties sought to ascribe dignity and self-worth to black people that impacts all areas of life. The revolution liberated black people from the crushing effects of racism socially, economically, and psychologically by using violence if necessary. The religious implications of the Black Power movement allowed J. Deotis Roberts to unpack Black Theology–interpreting the Christian faith from the black perspective while in a white racist society. Being a black Christian in America means one shares a culture that incorporates blackness and Christian faith in the face of an unjust and degrading history.  In Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology, Roberts answers the Black Power movement’s call for liberation by considering the Christian faith from a black perspective and demonstrating that Christianity liberates black people and reconciles them not only to Jesus but to their white neighbor as well. Liberation is an inherently Christian idea as Christ’s work liberates believers from sin. Spiritual liberation makes it possible for believers to be reconciled to God. In the same vein, Roberts presents that the Gospel liberates the black person so that they may experience reconciliation with others.  However, for there to be genuine reconciliation between whites and blacks, there must first be an understanding of the inherent dignity and worth of black people because, “liberation leads to reconciliation between equals” (95). Roberts establishes that the Christian faith is foundational to appreciating this dignity. Understanding God as Creator and the person and work of Jesus Christ the black theologian testifies to this parity. When both blacks and whites embrace the theological truth of equality it creates an “authentic existence” between the races as members of the body of Christ (7). Black theology considers how reconciliation between blacks and whites begins with understanding black people’s unique history as a suffering people. Roberts illuminates how suffering, when viewed correctly, can serve a greater purpose. Black people can be “instruments of God’s salvific purpose for all humans” (27). This is not to say that suffering by way of slavery was necessary or “an act of God” so that black people would be conduits of reconciliation among creation. But, by looking at the past for the sake of creating a better future, Roberts calls the black theologian to “transmute suffering into victory.” In doing so, “we see reconciliation through our role as suffering servants” (27).  Thus, Roberts makes a powerful case that the trials black people faced have great implications for people’s souls and the relationships between blacks and whites. Roberts further addresses black people’s dignity and destiny by examining existentialism and christology through the liberation and reconciliation lens. The doctrines of humanity and sin demonstrate the black person’s dignity and destiny are realized in a reconciled relationship with Christ. “Through the reunion of the separated—God and humanity, and person and person—health and wholeness come to individuals and communities. Hence the liberated person is also the reconciled person” (55). This divine reconciliation encourages a black person to know why they exist and why they should continue to persist against “all threats to their existence.” Roberts’ theological interpretation captures the spirit of resistance in the Black Power movement and reveals the theological foundation for humanity’s shared destiny. Once realized, black dignity is fleshed out in the symbolic black Messiah. The ability to view Christ from the black experience not only creates equals between whites and blacks, it also unites black people with a “particularized” Christ—who participates in their story. At the same time, Christ is “universal” and is able to be particularized for all nations—thus leading black people to be reconciled to others. Roberts continues to respond to the spirit of the Black Power Movement by considering the need for liberation to speak to societal ills not just the spiritual hope that is to come. He argues that liberation must be a present reality as ethics and eschatology are a “bridge between the now and the not yet, the promised and the fulfilled” (90). Our future hope in the Kingdom is the reason believers can engage in restorative acts in the present. The Kingdom ethic of Black theology supports constructive methods of catalyzing change like voting instead of the more violent “by any means necessary” mantra associated with the Black Power Movement. Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology benefits both black and white believers. Black Christians gain a nuanced and culturally relevant understanding of Christian theology that both liberates and reconciles believers to God and to others. Roberts restores black personhood utilizing Christian theology, as a result, he satisfies Black Power advocates by demonstrating the relevance of the Christian faith to black life. White believers do well to consider Roberts and Black theology if for nothing more than to consider a different theological perspective. White believers benefit from liberation theology as participants in the diverse Kingdom of God. Learning from a black theologian, who offers a diverse perspective, helps white believers critique their cultural perspective which has been seen as normative. When cultural norms are interchanged with theological norms it diminishes other perspectives. Since white American culture is rooted in racism, liberation theology helps eradicate that which is culturally sinful and creates division in the body of Christ. Being liberated from the racism propagated throughout society and reconciled to their fellow believer only strengthens the body of Christ. Reconciliation and unity authentically bear witness to the unity found in Christ. Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology by J.

One Blood Book Review

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One Blood Book Review

One Blood Book Review

The American church is in a critical moment in history. The scars and wounds of America’s past have been laid bare and are more apparent than ever. The present reality of systemic racism in the lives of minorities, the hurt from a divisive political landscape and the confusing, sometimes conflicting response within the church has illuminated the need for a biblical response and action going forward. Conferences, podcasts, sermons, blog articles and books have diagnosed how the American church arrived at this defining moment historically, socially, and politically. Yet there is a great need for a practical and theologically rooted response that demonstrates how the body of Christ can move forward as one. “One Blood” by John Perkins utilizes history and theology to aid the church in the journey forward. John Perkins humbly yet declaratively presents the essentials on how the church being a people of one blood can be minsters of biblical reconciliation. 

Perkins calls “One Blood” his manifesto to describe his parting contribution to the church’s progress in matters of race and the Gospel. With six decades of experience in the “reconciliation conversation”, Perkins has earned the right to speak authoritatively to other ministers of reconciliation, yet his work does not come across as dogmatic. Perkins strikes the perfect balance between practical instruction and theological reflection and authors a book for lay members and church leaders who seek to deepen their biblical understanding concerning race and reconciliation. Perkins argues that the work for biblical reconciliation must be done by a united reconciled church. After working with people and organizations both inside and outside of the church Perkins says,

“…I’m just now seeing clearly that the black church can’t fix this. And the white church can’t fix this. It must be the reconciled church, black and white Christians together imaging Christ to the world” (p. doudoune moncler 33).

People who are reconciled to God and not reconciled to their brother illuminates an error in reading Scripture and living out biblical truths. Perkins writes that changing this status quo means “changing the way we read the Bible” and “being more alert to the ways that cultural prejudices have crept into our understanding of the Bible” (p. 47). While exegeting passages such as the angels heralding the Gospel in Luke 2, the creation of man in Genesis 1, and the formation of the multi ethnic church in Acts 10, Perkins demonstrates how Scripture supports a unified humanity because “God made all nations from one blood” (p. 50).

Perkins deconstructs the “myth of race”, which has plagued the American church for centuries, and demonstrates how the church should biblically view race. He challenges church leaders to participate in a “transformative journey” to embrace and teach a biblical Gospel (p. 52). Perkins illustrates his point drawing from Abraham’s journey to becoming the father of many nations. Moving from a stagnant and culturally comfortable place that does not promote biblical diversity will not be easy, but it is an urgent task for the American church if it is to answer the call of the Gospel to be ministers of reconciliation. Perkins writes, “Our only choice is to get on with our Abrahamic journey into the unknown and discomfort of all that it entails” (p. 51).

A diverse church realizes the Revelation 7:9 vision. After painting a picture of what the church must look like, Perkins addresses principles that the church must do. With pastoral care, theological awareness, and historical sensitivity, Perkins examines the church’s need to lament, confess, repent, forgive, persevere, love, and pray to become a united church. These principles must be driven by the reality that all members of the body of Christ are from one blood and are motivated to be reconciled to one another by the love of Christ.

In addition to Perkins’ wisdom and experience he includes stories from pastors who are leading multiethnic church bodies. These “Living it Out” inserts serve as models of local church bodies doing this work well. These stories support the idea that what Perkins is calling for is not idealistic or unrealistic, but the result of people intentionally loving each other well and putting forth unified efforts to reflect Christ to the world. 

One Blood is a necessary and important read for the church leader or lay member who desires to know how the church can specifically and effectively carry the mantle of biblical reconciliation. The fissures in the American church body today are results of incomplete Gospel presentations and shallow theological propositions. In One Blood, Perkins skillfully and winsomely presents a manifesto that deepens understanding the gospel and demonstrates an actionable way forward.