“Christianity and Critical Race Theory”: Two Reservations

Neil Shenvi’s recent talk on “Christianity and Critical Race Theory” has been shared a lot recently. I listened to it last week, and found him to be a good-faith interlocutor on these issues. I appreciate his tone, his willingness to acknowledge genuine strengths in CRT, and his acknowledgement of systemic racism. I’m glad for this talk, and have already found it helpful in seeking common ground with other Christians in these discussions. I would say I agreed with probably 95% of the content, and especially with his critiques of the premises and logical conclusions of CRT.

However, I have a couple of reservations.

 

“Concerning Trends” or “Legitimate Observations”?

The first was with his section on “Critical Theory in the Church.” In this section, he provides examples of tweets, blogposts, and Facebook posts of CRT’s “growing influence in the church.” He didn’t name any names in order to not cause distraction, but they were easy to look up.

I just want to acknowledge that a number of the people he cited here are brothers and sisters who I deeply appreciate, and whose insights have been extremely helpful to me. What’s confusing to me is this: Shenvi acknowledged early in his talk that CRT has some strengths, especially in its observations regarding oppression, systems, and hegemonic power. So if this is true, and genuinely helpful observations can be made using some of the analytic tools of CRT, then why are brothers and sisters called out for making some of these observations? What is his criteria for distinguishing between a Christian making a legitimate observation that resembles one of CRT’s strengths, and someone who is introducing “dangerous ideas” into the church? Let me just state again: I agree with Shenvi regarding CRT’s premises and logical conclusions, but as he himself admits, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also strengths to learn from. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I’m grateful for them.

 

What does the critique intend to do?

My second reservation is related, and is more of a question about what this critique of CRT is intended to do. I agree with most of what the critique says, but what does he intend as the intended result of making it? Like I said, he seems like a good faith interlocutor, and not trying to cause unnecessary division. I found much more light than heat here. But I can’t tell what he intends for the figures he cited (and others like them): to be avoided? cut off? pressured to stop? silenced? After citing these figures he says “Friends, these are extremely serious issues… We need to wake up.” Wake up and do what, exactly? If part of his prescription is to separate ourselves from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, then I can’t get on board with that. If what he is calling for is to be discerning when we wrestle with views like CRT, then of course–I’m all in.

He says in another post that “it is not my intention to attack particular individuals or organizations” and “These are conversations that we need to have and that I want to encourage, rather than discourage.” I’m taking him at his word here, and hopeful that more people will follow his example, drop the name-calling, and engage in good-faith discussions.

 

(Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash)

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