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Pat Sawyer: Cautions Regarding Critical Race Theory, Part 2

Critical Race Theory

A Note From Ed: We are launching a series on Critical Race Theory. It’s an important conversation today, since many are using the description and meaning 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, well, different views. As Christians, we want to think through these things together, and the series will include not just one opinion, but several.

We started with a descriptive framing. From there, the conversation will include others who are more negative, some more positive, and some in the middle. All the articles will come from evangelicals. And, it is important that we hear from people of color, and— in this series and in the real world— not all people of color will agree.

It’s a conversation— mature, Christ-like, and God-honoring. We hope it serves you and your church well.

To start it off, I asked Sitara Roden from my team to give us a framing article. Our first contributor post was from Dr. Pat Sawyer, as he begins a three part article, with references to be shared at the conclusion. Read part one here. I will share my thoughts at the end of the series.


Cautions Regarding Critical Race Theory

by Dr. Pat Sawyer

In this second article of our three-part series, I want to offer five of eight cautions regarding critical race theory. As we get into concerns about CRT, we must understand that the postmodern nature of CRT allows for the receiver of the CRT text to partly determine how he or she wants to interpret and embrace the CRT text. To put it another way, the authority of determining what a particular CRT tenet means lies to some extent with the one reading and receiving the tenet and not exclusively with the one authoring and offering the tenet. While it is certainly the case that one could interpret a CRT idea in a way that is ultimately ‘wrong’ and diametrically against the spirit of the knowledge area, it is still nevertheless true that the knowledge area is a reflexive, and to some degree, contested space that makes room for diverse interpretations and applications that are still considered within the realm of CRT.

With that said, what follows are concerns that are rooted in a legitimate understanding and application of CRT. This does not mean that everyone will have these identical takeaways when engaging the ideas of CRT, but it does mean that these takeaways are not only genuinely possible but are in fact happening with a number of people who name the name of Christ in various quarters of the larger Church. Again, it is possible to understand aspects of some of these tenets in ways that are not opposed to biblical Christianity, but my concern is the ways in which these tenets can possibly lead people into false societal and cultural viewpoints and, most importantly, into heterodoxy. As I unpack the following cautions, bear in mind that the individual tenet associated with each caution may only have a minor or slight influence on the caution being elaborated. Again, this is critical social theory – a fluid, reflexive, highly interpretive knowledge area where combined strands of thought can have a compounding effect.

Caution 1) Through tenets 8, 9, 12, 13, and 15, CRT emphasizes identity categories fraught with racialized oppression and underscores the need and mandate to emancipate those under oppressive conditions. This can lead Christians to effectively forget that from God’s standpoint our spiritual deliverance is infinitely more important than any temporal deliverance (Matt 16:26, Mark 8:36-37) and consequently the thrust of our witness and ministry should reflect this reality. There should be no rival, or worse, conflation between these two perspectives. This conflation will deaden our urgency towards the salvation of the lost, or worse lead us to adopt a functional, then doctrinal, universalism. While God is concerned about our temporal welfare and is indeed a Liberator of His people concerned about liberating those under oppressive and unjust temporal conditions (‘Let my people go’ – Ex 5:1), God is first and foremost concerned about liberating us from the power and penalty of our sin (Luke 19:10, Rom 1:16, Rom 6:23). God’s concern over our temporal welfare is radically subordinate to His concern over our spiritual welfare. For the Christian, God accomplishes immediate spiritual salvation at conversion, yet God may (and often does) withhold temporal relief from oppressors or oppressive conditions until eternity, where our eyes must remain fixed (2Cor 4:7-18).

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Pat Sawyer has a B.A. in Psychology from UNC Chapel Hill, an M.A. in Communication Studies from UNC Greensboro, and a Ph.D. in Educational Studies and Cultural Studies from UNC Greensboro. Dr. Sawyer is a faculty member at UNC Greensboro and serves on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed education journal, Philosophy, Theory, and Foundations in Education. He is a member of the Summit Church in RDU, North Carolina. He can be reached via Twitter @RealPatSawyer.