Home Voices The Exchange Pat Sawyer: Cautions Regarding Critical Race Theory, Part 2

Pat Sawyer: Cautions Regarding Critical Race Theory, Part 2

To put it another way, there is no immediate 1:1 correspondence between thriving spiritual conditions and thriving temporal conditions at the point of salvation (2Cor 4:16). To be sure that day is coming in eternity, praise God, but this side of heaven they are not inextricably linked as if they were twin, concurrent, simultaneous fruits of the gospel. Confusion here can lead to false doctrine around what actually constitutes the gospel (1Cor 15:3-4) by confusing what is downstream from the gospel (such as concern for the legitimately oppressed and their deliverance) and what is the gospel itself. This can also lead to false interpretations of biblical texts where one adds a temporal emphasis where it doesn’t exist (such as 2Cor 5:18-20) and where one misapplies texts (such as Luke 19:1-10) to support societal reparations between current groups based on past sin and victimization of long dead group members (so identified) when those texts actually speak to restitution by the actual perpetrator to the actual victim.

Caution 2) Relatedly, tenets 5, 8, 9, 12, and 13 demonstrate CRT’s strong attention to racial or ethnic identity. Such an emphasis can lead one to put too much stock in one’s racial or ethnic identity. Our ethnic identity is important and will even be recognized in heaven (Rev 5:9; 7:9), but it is inconsequential compared to our identity in Christ (Gal 2:20; Phil 3:4-11). This means that black identitarianism is high sin (just as white identitarianism is) and is non-starter to authentic Christian identity as well as authentic Christian unity. To be clear, it is not wrong to have a degree of pride in our racial/ethnic identity and even eminently reasonable, if not outright needed, for certain racial/ethnic groups who have faced significant trials that compelled a pronounced existential need to bind together. Nevertheless, our racial/ethnic identity must not be allowed to rival our identity in Christ. Moreover, it is no safe harbor to reject black identitarianism (or white identitarianism) with one’s words but to be functionally living it. God sees all (Prov 15:3) and true unity will still be thwarted.

Caution 3) Through tenets 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 13, and 14 CRT can lead people to believe that racism is everywhere and there has been essentially no reduction in racism over our history, only a change in how it is contextualized. I have colleagues who assert this. The question is not if racism has happened but how. This is false. Racism is not everywhere. Aside from the seed of it being in every human heart (and even that is anthropologically and theologically debatable), racism is not at work in every situation. Moreover, such a heart perspective is emphatically not CRT’s point. CRT is concerned about actual racist attitudes and actions in society, not a nascent precondition intrinsic to fallen human nature.

During slavery, black code laws, and Jim Crow, racism could be said to be everywhere in U.S. society because it was codified into law at the federal, state, and local levels of government, and in the official policies of institution after institution. Today, two generations out from the civil rights movement, this form of de jure institutional and systemic racism is almost universally absent from society and where de facto institutional and systemic racism exists (and it does) it is not nearly as pervasive as it once was. While the notion that racism can be hard to recognize is not wholly without merit, such accusations of racism are often false and such a standpoint is often weaponized as fuel for identity politics. It is true that ‘colorblind’ perspectives and discourse can egregiously erase the cultural qualities and offerings of POC (which should be celebrated), however, it does not follow that ‘not seeing color’ is bad, always, and entirely divorced from merit when genuine efforts of fairness and equality are at work.

In addition, language itself, has been under assault for decades in the academy and more recently in popular culture concerning words related to racism including racism itself. The term white supremacy is another such word that has had a sea change in how it is used and understood. It used to be reserved for hardcore, abjectly evil white power and white nationalist groups pushing for a white ethnostate. Now its meaning has been simultaneously watered down and expanded. This is a fraud in many ways (not always). While the term, white supremacy, carries the freight of a moral breach and cultural scourge, the cultural or societal phenomenon being described often (not always) refers to something that is merely a product of white majoritarianism and consequently something not automatically immoral and/or something that is actually intrinsic to humanness and not whiteness exclusively. CRT’s relentless focus on white supremacy can have an almost totalizing effect on how one sees sin. The Enemy of souls can use this perseveration to diminish concern and necessary action regarding a range of other sins strangling society and the Church that need attention and mortification. To put it another way, white supremacy becomes the most urgent sin, then the main sin, and then the only sin worth discussing. This is a precarious position for any church or believer.

Finally, the emphasis on white supremacy and the ostensible ubiquity of racism can lead one to believe that any disparity plaguing POC is rooted in racism. This is emphatically false. While we cannot deny that racism has some impact on disparity today in certain cases, it is nevertheless false to assume racism is always at work. Moreover, today racism is rarely the singular cause of disparity. In other words, the reasons for any disparity are hardly ever monocausal, instead they are almost always multivariate.

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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.