Presentation on Critical Race Theory (“CRT”)
John H. Grant, D.Min, Pastor & President
Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Asheville, Inc.
Alliance Defending Freedom (“ADF”) Ambassador
(Presented Via Zoom during monthly Ambassador’s Meeting on September 22, 2022)
John Long asked me to speak on “the Christian perspective” regarding Critical Race Theory (“CTR”) and to posit recommendations for how we should react to it. I want to thank John for the invitation. Volumes of scholarly books, articles and reviews have been written about CRT. The perimeters of this presentation (up to 30 minutes) in no way allows for me to offer a comprehensive analysis of all the details and issues related to the theory. At best I can offer here some brief comments in reaction to what both proponents and opponents say about CRT.
A Christian perspective on CRT must be based principally on the facts of how the concept is defined in its historical origin by those scholars who initially coined and defined the concept, and less on later iterations or even distortions of CRT. We should avoid red herring arguments that detract and divert attention away from legitimate issues raised by CRT, and what may not be legitimate should be discarded.
- What the opponents/adversaries of CRT say.
- What the proponents/advocates of CRT say.
- Crisis and Confusion about a CRT definition: “Everybody is talking about it but nobody seems to know what it is”
- Concluding observations and recommendations.
I want to say at the outset that blacks and whites typically have different perspectives on matters of race in general and CRT in particular because of the “particularities” that have characterized the life experiences of black people in the American context versus those of whites.[i]
The opponents/adversaries of CRT tend to be predominantly, although not exclusively, white, Republican and conservative. Examples include the Alliance Defending Freedom,[ii] the Heritage Foundation, and white conservative Republicans politicians,[iii] among others.
In an article in its May 2022 “Faith & Justice monthly publication, volume XV, Issue 2,” the Alliance Defending Freedom “personifies” CRT (as proponents of CRT also do) as if it is something that speaks rather than a framework within which and from which persons speak. The publication roundly and unconditionally condemns CRT without citing specific examples to corroborate this condemnation. Among the allegations stated are . . .
- CRT teaches that people are either “oppressor” or “oppressed,” “good” or “bad,” based on race.
- CRT claims that America was founded on racism, that racism remains deeply embedded in our institutions, and that it cannot be eliminated unless our constitutional form of government is overthrown and replaced.
- CRT tells black students that they don’t have the potential to achieve success, and white students that they don’t have the capacity to be just or moral because they are guilty of racial superiority from birth.
I have not found any evidence to substantiate ADF’s allegations, allegations that seem to lack merit particularly in light of the framework of analysis developed by the originating scholars of CRT. One of those scholars is Kimberlé Crenshaw who told time magazine regarding CRT: “It’s an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.”
I do not disagree with a local Asheville Citizen-Times Newspaper columnist, Robert L. Montgomery, who observes in a 9-11-22 article that:
Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a slogan to attack teachers for honestly teaching American history and also for politicians and others to control teachers and the education system, often through controlling school boards. Actually, I believe CRT is an idea which has foundations in the Bible. This basic thought is repentance, one of the basic teachings of the Bible that can be described as turning, changing, and beginning again. What is important in CRT is that repentance is not only applied to individuals, but also to groups in societies and to whole nations. It is what we begin to do when we say “confessions” in common worship.
The people who use CRT as a scare tactic to push their own power and extend control over the education system distort historical truth and reality that most teachers know about unjust treatment of groups. Many teachers can avoid the control by simply teaching the truths in CRT as actual history, for example, in slavery, segregation, and various forms of discrimination, such as “red-lining” in real estate deals to mark off various neighborhoods segregated along racial, social, and economic lines. . . . CRT is a valuable tool for learning how societies fail, but also can be changed.[iv]
The proponents/advocates of CRT tend to be predominantly, although not exclusively, non-Republican and non-conservative. Examples includes those who originally coined the phrase and who developed a framework of analysis grounded in critical theory. CRT originated in the mid-1970s in the writings of several American legal scholars, including Derick Bell, Alan Freeman, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Cheryl Harris, Charles R. Lawrence III, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia J. Williams, among others. If anyone knows what CRT is, it would be the scholars who founded the concept and developed its framework.[v]
Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of those legal scholars who co-developed its framework of study and co-coined the term, insists that CRT is neither Marxist nor racist. CRT, she says, is . . .
not so much of a thing as a way of looking at a thing. It’s a way of looking at race. It’s a way of looking at why after so many decades, centuries actually, since the Emancipation, we have patterns of inequality that are enduring; they are stubborn. The point of CRT originally was to think in terms of how law contributed to the subordinated status of AAs, indigenous people and an entire group of people who were coming to our shores from Asia. The point was quite frankly to understand the problem in order to intervene in it, to understand why the greatest hopes for our republic were not being realized even though these hopes were encoded in law.
So CRT just inherits the hopes and beliefs of Frederick Douglas, of Martin Luther King, who basically want the law to do for the freed people what the law did for enslavers. And we picked that up in the 70s and 80s after the Civil Rights Movement to say: Okay, so now we’ve got this big Civil Rights Movement, we have all these laws on the books, but things really aren’t looking as different as they should if we really are the society we say we are. So we’ve put about the task of understanding how law wasn’t just a neutral referee, law wasn’t always on our side. In fact, law was less on our side than for on our side. And we wanted to tell these stories in order to do better with the promises that are embedded in the constitution. That’s what in CRT. . . . If CRT is being taught in K-12 curriculum in schools across this country (as some claim), that is news to me. Basically, CRT is a law school course. (MSNBC Interview, 6-21-21 available on YouTube)
Cornell West, who wrote the introduction to the comprehensive 1995 publication of critical race theory's key writings, says:
The important thing is that no one school person, no one framework has a monopoly on truth. That’s why the anthem of black folk is “lift every voice and sing,” but not “lift every echo” . . . because if you’re just the extension of an echo chamber, then you’re not willing to grow and develop and mature . . . you have to learn how to listen to others and how to broaden your perspective. . . . Henry James (1901) said “No theory is kind to us that cheats us from seeing.” So CRT is simply saying “Let’s see what it looks like from the vantage point of those who were enslaved for 244 years in the Western Hemisphere and some 80 years under this glorious constitution that you all talk about.” And there are some glorious things of words on paper, but the practice is pro-slavery until you had to fight a civil war to break the back of the Confederate Army with war. . . . people said “America, city on the hill, beacon of liberty, last hope of humanity.”
Well CRT says, “We can understand the formulation from your vantage point, but if you look through our eyes you’re going to see something different.” But what we realize though is that no one set of lens has the full truth. That’s the challenge, that’s why you have to have dialogue. That’s what education is about. (Writers Symposium by the Sea 2022 available on YouTube)
“Everybody is talking about CRT,” says one observer, but nobody seems to know what it is.” In the general populace today, in churches, and even in the halls of academia, there is crisis and confusion about a definition of CRT. Tony Evans observes that the problem is that so much has gotten attached to CRT and convoluted it that it has now taken on a whole new life of definition. “Today,” says Evans, “all kind of things have gotten attached to CRT and now you got Critical Sex Theory and all of that plugged into CRT, and so it’s now all over the place leaving lack of clarity, confusing Christians. Christians across racial lines are divided on this thing. So now everybody’s talking about CRT, but they don’t know what they’re talking about because they could be talking about any iteration of CRT which means they’re never going to agree. So that’s where we are.”[vi]
“Other things added” is a reference to the fact CRT has evolved to focus on the particular experiences of Indigenous, Latino, Asian American, Black people, LGBTQ+ people, transgender people, and others.[vii]
I see a Biblical basis for CRT, as defined in its original formulations (and not as defined by later iterations, offshoots, or successor movements), in the following Biblical concepts, among others:
- The OT concept of Jubilee from Leviticus 25 and elsewhere in Scripture.
- The 9th of the 10 Commandments not to bear false witness, which in my view could include denying or avoiding discussion of historical realities as though those realities never occurred or don’t matter.
- The 8th Century prophets of social justice like Isaiah, Amos and Micah. See for example Micah 6:8 (NKJV), “He has shown you, oh man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” CRT unquestionably raises issues about justice, showing mercy and walking humbly with God. Justice in this context involves treating a group of people fairly whose unfair treatment has been codified historically in the laws/courts of law of this country, including the United States Constitution.[viii]
- In the Biblical concept of repentance, one of the basic teachings of which can be described as turning, changing, and beginning again.
- In Jesus’s Manifesto in Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Because He has anointed me. To preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted. To proclaim liberty to the captives. And recovery of sight to the blind. To set at liberty those who are oppressed. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
- In the Golden Rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- In the general Biblical admonition to speak truth and not lies, where truth is understood to mean that which is true, trustworthy, genuine and conforming with reality.
Worth consideration are some epigrams of truth apropos for this CRT presentation:
- “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” (Aldous Huxley)
- “Jumping at conclusions is not half as good an exercise as digging for facts.” (Lutheran Digest)
- “Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.” (Bernard M. Baruch)
- “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jesus of Nazareth, John 8:32)
From a Christian or Biblical perspective, I conclude by saying let’s just teach and tell the truth. Let’s look at and teach about race and the history of race in this country truthfully—without getting sidetracked with arguments and disputes over the meaning/definition of scholastic or academic theories. Not glossing over unpleasant truths, or pretending certain atrocities did not happen, or pretending that we should leave it in the past and no longer talk/teach about it, or that America’s undeniable racist history no longer impacts our society in any significant way, or that we live in a color blind society.
Can we not just agree to respectfully and objectively tell and teach the truth about America’s racist history, while acknowledging that progress has been made without denying that more progress is needed?
Instead of arguing and debating about CRT, let’s just simply find out what school districts (especially those in which we live) are actually teaching and respond to that from a Christian or Biblical perspective—and there may very well be different valid Christian or Biblical perspectives depending on the specifics to which we may respond.
[i]See Lerone Bennett, Jr., Before the Mayflower (Baltimore: Penguine Books, 1966), p. 40; Latta R. Thomas, Biblical Faith and the Black American (Valley Forge: Judson, 1976), p. 70; Gayraud S. Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1983), pp. 4-5.
See also the Pew Research Center chart below:
[ii] Based on articles she read in ADF publications she received in the mail, a member of the Mt. Zion Asheville congregation where I pastor writes of ADF: “They are supporting opposition to American History with slavery contained therein under the umbrella of CRT - which is taught in law school or graduate levels studies. I believe all history should be taught, good, bad and the ugly so we are aware and don't repeat them. ADF acknowledges that under our Declaration of Independence in part states "all men are created equal" and that America hasn't always lived up to this statement. Why would an organization help prohibit the teaching that in American history, we have failed and are failing to teach all children the statements?””
[iii] These include Republicans politicians like Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio who have grossly distorted and misrepresented CRT in their public comments by labeling it as Marxist, bigotry, hatred, racism and divisive. (One may google their public comments on CRT) That’s not what CRT is in its original formulations as initially conceived and as promulgated by key and originating scholars in the field whose writings and comments I consulted for this presentation.
[iv] An article on CRT in Britannica.com puts it this way: “In a later, successful effort to deflect public attention from the problem of racism and to manufacture a provocative social issue to galvanize conservative Americans, Republican leaders have attacked CRT and characterized it as a false, anti-American creed of radical leftists and anti-white racists. They additionally warned that leftist teachers were attempting to indoctrinate America’s children by teaching CRT in public schools. In fact, owing to its complexity, CRT in its fully developed form was being taught only in law schools, colleges, and universities—though generalized versions of some of its claims did appear in the curricula of some public schools. Several Republican-led states adopted bans on the teaching of what was called critical race theory, which amounted to any suggestion that racism is entrenched in American society, that people of color continue to be oppressed because of their race, that whites may harbor and act upon racist attitudes of which they are unaware, or that whites continue to enjoy a variety of benefits generally denied to people of color (the notion of “white privilege”), among other alleged falsehoods.”
In their article, “Why are states banning critical race theory?”, Rashawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons state in part:
critical race theory (CRT) has become a new bogeyman for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present. To understand why CRT has become such a flash point in the culture, it is important to understand what it is and what it is not. Opponents fear that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims. These fears have spurred school boards and state legislatures from Tennessee to Idaho to ban teachings about racism in classrooms.
However, there is a fundamental problem: these narratives about CRT are gross exaggerations of the theoretical framework. The broad brush that is being applied to CRT is puzzling to academics, including some of the scholars who coined and advanced the framework. CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people. (underline added for emphasis)
Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race. Sociologists and other scholars have long noted that racism can exist without racists. (underline added for emphasis)
Stephen Sawchuk, in an Education Week article entitled “What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?” (May 18, 2021) agrees with Ray and Gibbons):
Is “critical race theory” a way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy, or a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people? Liberals and conservatives are in sharp disagreement. . . . There are significant disagreements even among experts about its precise definition as well as how its tenets should inform K-12 policy and practice. (underline added for emphasis)
The core idea (of CRT) is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.
[v] Definitions of CRT by some of these scholars and others (Wikipedia)
In his introduction to the comprehensive 1995 publication of critical race theory's key writings, Cornel West described CRT as "an intellectual movement that is both particular to our postmodern (and conservative) times and part of a long tradition of human resistance and liberation."
Law professor Roy L. Brooks defined critical race theory in 1994 as "a collection of critical stances against the existing legal order from a race-based point of view".
In 2005, Tara J. Yosso described CRT as a "framework that can be used to theorize, examine and challenge the ways race and racism implicitly and explicitly impact on social structures, practices and discourses".
Gloria Ladson-Billings, who—along with co-author William Tate—had introduced CRT to the field of education in 1995, described it in 2015 as an "interdisciplinary approach that seeks to understand and combat race inequity in society." Ladson-Billings wrote in 1998 that CRT "first emerged as a counterlegal scholarship to the positivist and liberal legal discourse of civil rights."
In 2017, University of Alabama School of Law professor Richard Delgado, a co-founder of critical race theory, and legal writer Jean Stefancic define CRT as "a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power".
In 2021, Khiara Bridges, a law professor and author of the textbook Critical Race Theory: A Primer, defined critical race theory as an "intellectual movement", a "body of scholarship", and an "analytical toolset for interrogating the relationship between law and racial inequality."
The 2021 Encyclopaedia Britannica described CRT as an "intellectual and social movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour." In the video that accompanies the article, CRT is defined as a "way of thinking about the world, especially the social norms and legal practices that govern society".
Education Week described the core of CRT as the idea that race is a social construct and racism is neither an individual bias nor prejudice—it is "embedded in the legal system" and supplemented with policies and procedures.
[vi] See “CRT” sermon by Evans available on YouTube.
[vii] These “other things added” or “successor movements” may maintain connections with the original CRT movement, but nonetheless pursue directions and definitions of their own. See CRT at encyclopedia.com.
[viii] Even the U.S. Constitution once stipulated that the slave was only three-fifths of a person, and that the slave had no rights which white people had an obligation to respect. See C. Eric Lincoln, ed., The Black Experience in Religion (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1974), p. 8.