“In the church when we talk about any issues around race or criminal justice it brings up the question of should we be afraid of Critical Race Theory? Could you give us a working definition and talk about that idea?”
I had never heard of critical race theory (CRT), and then suddenly I heard it and now it seems to be everywhere. As the question quoted above reflects, sometimes Christians express fear of critical race theory, believing, I think, that it draws people away from the gospel. CRT is a way of describing how racism works in the United States, how deeply embedded it is in many systems. It was first developed by legal scholars and now informs scholarship in many areas.
The Southern Baptist Convention has been in a relatively high profile debate over CRT. President Trump issued an executive order banning diversity training rooted in CRT.
Every Christian social justice leader I follow has addressed critical race theory in about the same way: “I’d never heard of CRT until someone ‘accused’ me of using it. Then I looked into it and realized, hey, this describes what I’ve been seeing!”
I appreciated how the LRJ panel addressed this topic. Dr. Koehlinger and Rev. Lattimore both address the question from their different perspectives – academic and theological.
When Rev. Bolling picks up the discussion later, he addresses the connection between a theory (like critical race theory) and a concrete experience (like the criminal justice system, which disproportionately punishes people of color). He compares it to the theory of gravity and a child’s ice cream falling on the floor. Whether or not you are willing to discuss the theory of gravity, the effect of gravity happens: ice cream on the floor, inedible. We can refuse to discuss CRT, but it is just describing an actual experience people are having in the world. With or without the theory, the experience remains.
The panel’s discussion here met a need for me and I am thankful for it.
Coming next: On the U.S. prison system and the church