A Note From Ed: The subject of Critical Race Theory is an important conversation today, since many are using the term to mean different things. At the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, we are committed to help Christians know and engage the culture with biblical discernment, so we are launching a conversation with different views on the subject here at ChurchLeaders.com. As Christians, we want to think through these things together, and this series will include not just one opinion, but several.
Sitara Roden gets the discussion started with a framing article to give some background of what CRT is and why it matters.
It’s likely you’ve heard the term “Critical Race Theory,” or “CRT” for short, more than a few times in the last couple of months, to say the least. CRT has been brought to the front stage of American culture after a summer of racial turmoil, and because former President Trump issued an executive order banning federal contracts from including the framework in diversity and inclusion training in September 2020. Though the theory has been in existence since the 80s, and its intellectual forefathers in existence since the 70s, we now see an extraordinary amount of interest, and controversy, surrounding CRT.
White Evangelical Christians have been at the center of much of the controversy around CRT. Despite this continued interest, there seems to be a woeful lack of understanding around what CRT even means, and why it may be incompatible with the Christian faith. In consideration of its immense popularity and controversy, we are hosting a series on Critical Race Theory. We have invited several authors of varying backgrounds and views on CRT to discuss its merits, flaws, and to offer their thoughts on how Christians should engage with the popular school of thought.
However, before we hear from our contributors, it is helpful to at least try and delineate a framework for understanding Critical Race Theory as a whole. Since its beginning, CRT has grown far beyond its original conceit, and co-opted by movements which might expand, or simply not align with, its original tenets. CRT is vast, at times convoluted, and I cannot hope to fully explain it in a 1,000-word article today. Furthermore, it may be helpful to keep in mind that this is a deliberately charitable explanation of CRT. This particular article is meant to explain instead of analyze, but perhaps most importantly remember, it is not meant to vilify. With these considerations in mind, let’s begin our brief overview of Critical Race Theory.
Tracing the Origins of CRT
The term “Critical Race Theory” is formally credited to scholar and lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, yet the movement began many years before then. American lawyer and professor Derrick Bell is commonly known as the father of Critical Race Theory, with many of its core tenets being found in his celebrated work Race, Racism & American Law, which was published during his tenure at Harvard Law School. Though Bell is known as the father, CRT was developed by many other scholars as well, including Crenshaw, and others like Cheryl Harris, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, Neil Gotanda, Mari Matsuda, and more. With this many founding figures, it is no wonder that CRT is often hard to define.