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Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality in the Southern Baptist Convention: Danger (Part 3 of 4)

Todd Benkert’s recent piece on Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT|I) at SBCVoices.com is helpfully clarifying in at least three ways. First, Benkert straightforwardly admits that both he and others within the Southern Baptist Convention are using Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. Benkert indicates they are not merely using the language of CRT|I, but its concepts, and intentionally so. Second, Benkert admits that these individuals are using CRT|I despite the fact that CRT|I is “dangerous.” Third, Benkert mounts a defense of CRT|I and the infamous Resolution 9, which he believes speaks of CRT|I in positive fashion. He would not change anything about Resolution 9, and does not believe it should be rescinded. Indeed, he believes doing so will actually set the SBC back in terms of “reconciliation work.”

Although Benkert attempts to take a middle way in his post, positing CRT|I as both an analytical tool and a dangerous ideology, his examples of using CRT|I as an analytical tool exemplify why CRT|I is such a dangerous ideology. This observation is not meant to impugn Benkert’s motives. Nevertheless, some (not saying this is true of Benkert) seem unaware of how far down the ideological rabbit hole they have gone. This series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) attempts to highlight some of the difficulties with doubling down on CRT|I in response to recent posts and podcasts pointing out its problems. This third of four posts addresses the second clarifying point noted above. Benkert admits that both he and others within the Southern Baptist Convention are using the language, concepts, and arguments of CRT|I, and are doing so intentionally, while recognizing its dangers. So it is worthwhile to examine how Benkert believes we can avoid the dangers involved in using CRT|I.

Three Objections

Benkert states three objections to opposition of CRT|I. One objection is that people are overreacting to the admission that CRT|I has found a home in the SBC. As already mentioned, Benkert does, “acknowledge the danger: CRT/I developed out of and often serves an unbiblical worldview (or ‘godless ideology’).” This concession echoes the very language rejected by the Resolutions Committee as part of an unfriendly amendment at the 2019 SBC in Birmingham.  However, Benkert is troubled by those who, “react even more strongly and see the issue generally, and Resolution 9 particularly, as such a grave concern that they are vowing to take the debate to our Orlando meeting.” In response, we should note by virtue of Biblical discourse and Baptist polity, debating this issue is a good thing. Another version of this objection claims SBC messengers need to be concerned about problems like abuse or racism rather than CRT|I, but this version of the objection creates a false dilemma, since all of these problems can be addressed. If Resolution 9 and CRT|I are no big deal, then not only should critics fall silent, those who promote CRT|I and worry about the effects of rescinding or replacing Resolution 9  should be silent as well. (Some may recognize that CRT|I is inherently an activist tool, and as such, tends to discourage these types of discussions.)

Another objection is that those opposed to the use of CRT|I in the SBC are committing the genetic fallacy. Benkert explains, “To reject an idea merely because of its source is to commit the genetic fallacy. Something is not more or less true because of where the idea originated.” While this understanding is technically correct, it is not a fair assessment of what is going on in the case of recognizing the origins of CRT|I. First, highlighting the origins of an ideology can be an insightful feature of commentary in terms of how that ideology is to be viewed today, while still considering the ideology based on its own merits, and all without committing the genetic fallacy. Second, an argument that cites the origins of an ideology as reason for rejecting it can be principial as opposed to etymological in nature. God himself argues this way, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) In this passage, the objection to the philosophy and empty deceit is not predicated on merit or origin alone, but the faulty foundation of human tradition and elemental spirits of the world. Alternatively, a philosophy founded on Christ is fine. Third, the fact that the philosophy in this passage is recognizable as empty deceit demonstrates one other feature of worldviews; namely, that they are systematic in nature. That is, the foundation of a worldview does impact its systematic implications. The trouble with CRT|I is not merely its roots, but its fruits, and the two are inextricably connected.

Finally, Benkert believes opponents of CRT|I are not leaving space for common grace. Again, this is a common objection among those defending CRT|I. Benkert writes, “Words don’t have meanings.” He explains, “they have uses, and Christians have historically infused new meaning into cultural words as they are filtered through a Christian worldview.” But this seems confused, as Benkert has admitted to using the concepts of CRT|I, and not just its words, which would no longer be CRT|I if these words were redefined in a Christian worldview as Benkert proposes may be happening. And, even if Christians have infused words with new meanings, it does not follow that Christians should have done so.

Indeed, Christians have also engaged in apologetics by accommodation, adopting not only the language, but the ideologies of non-Christian culture, with the result that entire generations of people were led astray. For example, Christians once sought ways to incorporate the language, ideas, and analysis offered by so-called modern science into the Christian worldview. This approach to the apologetic endeavor resulted in the jettisoning of Genesis 1-11, with serious effects for doctrinal fidelity downstream. Thankfully, the SBC caught onto this downgrade – even within its own ranks – in time to steer ourselves back on course. Today, we are in danger of arrogantly assuming ourselves immune from the same sort of downgrade, as we profess our dedication to inerrancy, and set ourselves up to miss the danger of old errors in discreet new packaging. The theological liberalism of yesteryear sought to accommodate faulty conclusions from the hard sciences of cosmology and biological evolution into the Christian canon. But today, American evangelicalism and the SBC are more easily seduced by supposed insights from the softer sciences of psychology and sociology. The temptation is to adopt aspects of worldly ideologies regarding sex, gender, and race. Certainly, we believe in common grace. But the standard by which the conclusions of common grace are tried has always been, and will always be, the Bible.

Later on, Benkert writes, “Further, we allow for common grace in other sciences and social sciences even as those sciences arise out of and often serve a naturalistic and humanistic worldview.” But Benkert is mistaken. In fact, the example of science is a wonderful illustration of the relevancy of origins discussed above. Science did not emerge from a non-Christian worldview or non-Christian context, but a Christian worldview and Christianized context. Non-Christian worldviews cannot provide the philosophical basis for science. For example, the Greeks, animistic cultures, atheism, and Islam all struggle with belief in the inductive principle undergirding the scientific endeavor. These positions all affirm beliefs that are inconsistent with the inductive principle.

Moreover, the disanalogous elements between science and CRT|I abound. Science is not devoid of worldview considerations, for one thing. And in medicine, we are not making moral judgments as to justice and injustice, and even if we are, those judgments must be measured by the Bible, and not merely by a vague notion like, ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ The somewhat popular idea that Christian critics of CRT|I are fundamentalists (in the worst sense of that word) with no regard for the doctrinal category of common grace is, quite simply, a straw man. The category of common grace need not entail a free-for-all.

The Fatal Flaw

With these three objections out of the way, we reach the center of Benkert’s argument, which is that the SBC can use CRT|I without adopting its “worldview,” and thus avoid its dangers. Benkert may be right when he claims, “We should allow for clarification, nuance, and complex thought and not merely reject an argument simply for using a word or phrase like ‘social justice’ or ‘systemic racism.’” At the same time, these words and phrases are often thrown around as though their meanings are plain and as though they should be accepted without question, when these terms are actually tied to broader concepts that are not consistent with the Christian worldview. The concern is that these terms are sometimes offered so as to obfuscate or smuggle anti-Christian concepts into the conversation. When we use these words, we are not merely borrowing a secular ideology’s language and redefining it in ad hoc fashion. As will be demonstrated in the next post, Benkert does not mean to use ‘neutral’ or biblical versions of these terms anyway, but actually grounds them in CRT|I. Perhaps there is something to be said for the fact that Scripture does not present us with a systematic theology, per se. Perhaps there is wisdom in keeping our theological language and categories as close to the text as possible.

In response to the danger of CRT|I, Benkert claims that the “valuable insights” and epistemology (“ways to gain helpful knowledge”) of CRT|I can be taken separately from the CRT|I worldview. Benkert believes Resolution 9 is undoubtedly an instance of the affirmation of his approach to CRT|I as a mere set of analytic tools rather than a worldview.  However, he never defines what he means by “worldview,” or how his dependence upon an entire epistemology differs from the embrace of a non-Christian worldview that he believes undergirds it.

Again, Benkert wants to say, “we neither embrace nor align with the worldview and solutions of CRT/I.” However, he never explains what it is to embrace or align with the “worldview” of CRT|I. What does he mean? What is the difference between the supposed tools and the worldview? What does Benkert mean in saying he rejects the “solutions” of CRT|I? One is either using CRT|I or not. Why accept portions of the worldview and not the worldview, or the diagnosis of CRT|I without its prescription? At the very least, these are worthwhile questions. At worst, from Benkert’s angle, the answers to these questions reveal a fatal flaw in Benkert’s approach to this topic.

As noted in the first post of this series, one of the difficulties of using CRT|I is that its diagnosis of the sin of racism results in adopting unbiblical solutions for that sin. The reason for this is simple. CRT|I is grounded in views of anthropology and hamartiology that are antithetical to the Bible. They stem from sociology, not Scripture. Thus, the problems CRT|I points out are problems because CRT|I reveals them to be such, and the solutions CRT|I offers are the solutions that fit those problems. The two go together. So far as Scriptural answers, and not sociological ones, are offered in response to the supposed difficulties highlighted by CRT|I, CRT|I will find more problems. The CRT|I perspective precludes Biblical answers to sociological problems. Thus we see one reason why the supposed “tools” of CRT|I lead so seamlessly to the adoption of an entire worldview. One never knows where the true problems with racism begin or end, because CRT|I is always looking to meet those problems with its own solutions, or else the ‘theory’ as a whole has failed. This is why rejecting CRT|I is, for advocates of that method, a problem in and of itself. That problem is to be remedied, once again, through the application of CRT|I. What does it mean to say that the rejection of CRT|I is to be remedied through the application of CRT|I? It means the tools of CRT|I are used to defend the tools of CRT|I. It means accusing those who reject CRT|I of racist motives, or at any rate raising suspicions.

Although we can be thankful his piece goes further than almost anything else we have seen offered on CRT|I in the SBC, Benkert leaves important questions unanswered. For example, later in his piece, Benkert references men who have come “under attack” for using the language of CRT|I, but how would someone ever know whether or not the language is employed “from within a biblical worldview” as he claims it is? Benkert writes, “the fact that we are employing language in common with CRT/I or doing analysis of the type that CRT/I has pioneered causes red flags to go up in the minds of those who know and are concerned about its dangers.” Somewhat confusingly, Benkert continues, “On the issue of language, however, I would submit that Christians have an obligation to dig deeper than mere trigger words.” Certainly, but Benkert admits to more than mere “trigger words.” Benkert admits to doing, “analysis of the type that CRT/I has pioneered.” But even if Benkert and others were not really using CRT|I, but just its terminology (arbitrarily redefined), why use the “trigger words” at all? Wouldn’t it be far wiser, if one really cares about reconciliation work, to avoid unnecessary, offensive, or suspect terminology? Is biblical language not enough for the discussion? Do we really need to rely on phrases that Benkert himself admits raise red flags? Still, the suggestion that mere linguistic overlap is all that is being employed is contradicted by Benkert’s own words in his piece. We are right to see the red flags and raise concerns about the concepts beneath the terms.

Benkert writes, “An important question for fellow believers is ‘What do you mean when you use that word/phrase?’” But several problems are immediately apparent. First, Benkert only a moment ago asserted that words don’t have meanings, but uses. Second, he assumes the hearer is in a position to ask what is meant, when that is rarely the case in SBC discourse. Third, concerned individuals have asked what others mean by these words and phrases, and, consistent with the divisive nature of CRT|I, were told to do their own homework, or that bringing the terms up was slander, or racist. These are the fruits we frequently find with CRT|I.

Benkert admits that he and others in the SBC are using CRT|I, but claims to do so while avoiding the dangers of the CRT|I “worldview.” He believes in a ‘middle way’ where the ‘tools’ of CRT|I are adopted apart from a non-Christian worldview. Yet he never defines what he means by “worldview,” nor does he differentiate between what he considers a use of tools and a use of worldview. Secular proponents of CRT|I are right to question why the SBC would posit this difference between analytical tools and worldview. The fatal flaw in Benkert’s approach to CRT|I is that he depends upon a distinction without a difference to save us from the dangers of using CRT|I. The final post in this series will demonstrate the dangers associated with what little Benkert takes from CRT|I, whether one considers those uses to be the ‘analytical tools’ or ‘worldview’ of CRT|I.

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