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 He would not change anything about Resolution 9, and does not believe it should be rescinded.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, some of which are discussed in this post, 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) has highlighted some of the difficulties with doubling down on CRT|I in response to recent posts and podcasts pointing out its problems. This fourth and final post addresses Benkert’s defense of CRT|I by examining two examples he provides from CRT|I.
Obviously, we cannot dismiss, out of hand, anything that might linguistically resemble CRT|I. Nor need we uncritically accept CRT|I. Benkert rightly wishes to steer his ship between these two extremes, and his motives are certainly good as to anti-racism. But then, this is all true of most of those opposed to CRT|I. The difficulty is not with a desire to avoid two unthinking extremes. The difficulty is with thinking through CRT|I, and yet still promoting its use. Those who actually use and defend CRT|I often relegate their interlocutors to the category of those who dismiss CRT|I out of hand. But we should give those expressing concerns the benefit of the doubt by believing that even opponents of CRT|I may have done their research, thought carefully through CRT|I, and yet still rejected it as unbiblical and unnecessarily divisive.
Benkert and others defend their use of CRT|I based on the belief that they have divorced various unspecified “tools” of CRT|I from the underlying “worldview” of CRT|I. As already mentioned, this defense of CRT|I sets up a distinction without a difference, since “worldview” is never defined in this relation and since the supposed use of CRT|I as a mere set of “tools” is never distinguished from CRT|I as a transcendent ideology. Instead, they appear to be the very same thing, as is consistent with the claims of secularists who promote the use of CRT|I. One will note also that criticism of CRT|I is automatically dismissed as confirmation bias or racially motivated. Here again, the tools of CRT|I are employed to defend the racialist worldview of CRT|I. Once one spots this gimmick of CRT|I, the logical circularity of the methodology is evident almost everywhere.
Christianity versus Critical Theory
Whereas the Bible teaches that all human beings are created in God’s image, and that two groups, those in Adam, and those in Christ, provide the proper categories for approaching other image bearers, Critical Theory emphasizes a plethora of fragmented group identities with significant differences in value assigned to each based on majority versus minority culture. The unifying feature of these various identities is where they intersect in terms of the overarching category of oppression from majority culture. Rather than covenant breakers and covenant keepers, as in the biblical narrative, human beings are divided up in terms of oppressors and oppressed. These categories of people defined with respect to oppression must not be conflated with the biblical categories which use the same language, as the terms contain antithetical concepts. Oppressors and oppressed in Scripture are not understood in terms of majority and minority culture, but in terms of those who neglect or need justice as biblically defined and based on the character of God and his law.
Morality is premised primarily on collective identities rather than individual behavior in Critical Theory. Moral goodness is precluded by the privilege one possesses according to group identity. Individuals designated as oppressors are not necessarily so because of anything they have or have not done on an individual basis. Rather, they are designated that way simply because of their belonging to a particular group or groups. Supposed norms, expectations, and values are imposed on society as a whole by oppressor groups in the hegemony. Presumably, once a group moves into the hegemony, even if it was part of the oppressed category of peoples earlier, it becomes part of the oppressor group. This state of affairs appears to entail the restructuring of society ad nauseam.
Liberation from oppression is the summum bonum of Critical Theory. Since oppression is not linked to moral norms or biblical justice, but defines them, other moral duties are often neglected. In Critical Theory, the reason most people do not see these supposed goings on is that most people belong to the category of the oppressor. (And, so, we must become ‘woke’ as to the experiences of the oppressed.) In Scripture, oppressors are those who fail to do justly because of sin. In Critical Theory, oppressors fail to do justly because they belong to the hegemony, and are blinded by that privilege, regardless of actual moral virtue. One’s perception of reality is contingent upon one’s social standing and benefits from structures of power and privilege.
Clearly, for evangelicals, addressing one’s power and privilege means questioning one’s faith. This is why Critical Theory can so easily consume someone’s faith. In desiring to deconstruct the ‘fatty’ parts of one’s faith and leave the stringently Biblicist bones, one learns that his or her theological tradition is permeated by power and privilege. Evangelicalism, for example, was birthed in a ‘white’ context for ‘white’ people, and so evangelical theology is inherently ‘white’ theology from which one must ‘divest’ oneself. Reformed theology has had its fair share of participation in racism, and even posits a hierarchical scheme in antithesis to Critical Theory. Fundamentalism falls into the same errors as both evangelicalism and Reformed theology. Thus, objections to Critical Theory based on theological underpinnings are thought to really be based on the blindness caused by power and privilege. Criticisms of Critical Theory are inextricably bound up with this difficulty, but this merely begs the question in favor of Critical Theory.
Analytical Tool Example 1: “Listening”
Those who disagree with the ideology of Critical Theory, even while they belong to an actually oppressed group, are thought to be internalizing the hegemonic narrative. This is why, even though CRT|I advocates will gleefully talk about “listening” to our “minority brothers and sisters,” they will not hear opposing voices like Voddie Baucham, Darrell Harrison, Virgil Walker, Neil Shenvi, or Stephen Feinstein; none of whom are ‘white.’ Alternatively, those considered oppressed (this is not to deny that some people are actually oppressed, but this category from Critical Theory has nothing to do with the reality of the matter, since it has nothing to do with the Bible) have an enhanced understanding of reality in virtue of social standing. This standpoint epistemology is inherent to Marxist and feminist reasoning, and is a key element being appropriated in the newer, more popularized applications of Critical Theory. Since oppressed persons have an advantage over oppressors in this sense, oppressors must defer to the oppressed if they care about ‘justice.’ Those in the oppressor category have nothing to add to the discussion, because they do not share in the lived experience of the oppressed.
This ‘theory’ is the context for what Benkert writes on listening. In defending the use of CRT|I in the SBC, Benkert once again makes a distinction without a difference. He writes, “Yes, CRT does call for majority people to listen to the voices of minorities, but these calls of believers to listen to fellow believers were not given in the same way.” What does Benkert mean that they were not given in the same way? He does not tell us. The language of “majority people” and “minorities” here is substantial, not merely semantic. The category of majority people can refer just as easily to ‘heterosexuals’ as it does to ‘whites,’ and the category of minorities can refer just as easily to ‘homosexuals’ as it does to ‘persons of color.’ (For example, see the language of the Revoice Conference regarding “sexual minorities.”) Benkert writes, “Of course, this call to listen has been influenced by the cultural rise of CRT.” This statement is another admission as to the presence of CRT|I, which does not absolve Benkert or others of the aforementioned difficulties with their use of CRT|I. Benkert continues, “but does that make the call to listen unbiblical?” Obviously, the answer to the question is no, a biblical call to listen is not precluded by a “cultural rise of CRT.” But it does not follow that a biblical call to listen is the same thing as the CRT call to listen. In fact, they are complete opposites.
The Bible does not teach that power and privilege are the problematic features of human experience; the Bible teaches that sin is the problematic feature of human experience. The history of the Jewish people is full of harsh oppression, and yet, the Bible is not afraid to call out God’s people on their sins against him. The doctrine of total depravity teaches that we are touched in every part by our sin. The noetic effects of sin can cause us to misinterpret both the Bible and the creation. Scripture does not call us to listen to either minority or majority culture, but rather, to God, and then to one another, regardless of our standing in terms of a secular sociological ‘theory.’
For example, James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” If this passage is cited for majority culture’s obligation to listen to minority culture, then it follows that minorities should actually be listening to majorities as well, since the task of the church infected with the sin of partiality is, according to James, for everyone to listen to one another, which is inconsistent with CRT|I. Critics of CRT|I note that the difficulty with CRT|I on this point is not what the Bible says about partiality and listening, nor is the difficulty to be found in the common sense practice of hearing somebody out before opening one’s mouth to speak. Rather, the difficulty with the CRT|I call to listen is that it is actually a call to shut up and accept whatever is said, based on faulty divisions of humanity. CRT|I is presented and defended through shutting conversations down rather than starting them up. It does this through assuming the best about the ‘oppressed’ class and the worst about the ‘oppressor’ class in any given exchange. Again, this is an unbiblical and divisive way to end conversation, not a biblical way to begin.
Analytical Tool Example 2: “Systemic Injustice”
We can all agree that something is off about the world. And we should all agree that racism, a derivation of the sin of partiality, is present in this world. But what Christians and non-Christians do not agree upon is what, exactly, is wrong with our world, why it is wrong, and how to fix it. People have offered familial, legal, economic, political, and educational diagnoses and solutions for what is wrong with the world, and although some truth is found in each of these proposed problem areas and their supposed solutions, none of them is representative of the whole of biblical truth about the root of the problem.
In Critical Theory, the problem is with power and privilege. The problem is found in the hegemony. The problem is primarily structural. Structural problems are dealt with through commitment to causes. Structures exist external to the individual, and are addressed through deconstruction and reconstruction. However, God denies that our problems are primarily structural.
In fact, God has established any number of hierarchical structures through his word and throughout his world. Male and female relationships, parent and child, state and church all indicate an order and normative state of affairs imposed upon the world by our Creator. But these are not the problem. We are. The problem every one of us faces is not something ‘out there’ in society, but something ‘in here’ in our hearts. That problem is our sin. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. The primary problem of the world is sin, which of course not only affects us on an individual level, but also in terms of our relationships to one another, and in society. Structural problems come about, not through the structures themselves, but through the sinful impact we make upon those structures.
Of course, saying that our biggest problem is sin means saying we have failed to meet some standard. And this is the ultimate problem with Critical Theory, because if God has anything to do with the hegemony, God needs to be brought down. Critical Theory rejects the norms and standards and hierarchies God has put in place and replaces them with its own categories of the oppressors and the oppressed. Again, it is important to point out that the Bible most certainly teaches that some people are oppressors, and some people are oppressed. People have been oppressed because of the color of their skin, their culture, their sex, and the like. But it does not follow from this reality of sinful oppression and injustice that these are the lenses through which all of reality must be viewed. Critical Theory understands everything in relation to various groups of people. The word of God understands everything in relation to God. Right and wrong are based on whether or not God is glorified.
Benkert believes, “the ability to recognize systemic racism or systemic injustice” comes from CRT. But since CRT comes from an ungodly worldview, and Christianity predicates justice upon God and his law, then by definition, the injustice CRT describes and the injustice the Bible describes are two different things. This is a crucial point to grasp. Moreover, if the Bible teaches such a thing as systemic racism or systemic injustice, then those categories flow out from biblical anthropology and hamartiology and are recognizable apart from CRT. Indeed, to say that the “ability” to spot injustice comes from some ideology outside the Bible is to say that the Bible is insufficient as to that particular justice issue. Moreover, the diagnoses and solutions here are connected, as CRT will view any racial injustice that has not been solved in terms of its prescription a problem still. This shows why CRT is insufficient in addressing problems. There are always problems, according to CRT, and especially when they are not resolved by CRT. Not only must these anti-biblical, non-Christian worldview solutions be rejected, but the supposed problems that made room for these solutions as well.
Benkert contends, “CRT/I does indeed help us describe racism beyond individual, personal racial animosity or even blatantly racist laws to examine how certain aspects of our culture and our laws have a disproportionate and negative effect on people of color.” Could it be CRT|I introduces here a new category of problem that the Bible does not address? If so, nothing seems to necessitate that discussion, biblically speaking. If not, the Bible is sufficient to see and begin to solve these problems apart from CRT|I. Either way, such evaluations must be measured in light of an unchanging standard of justice rather than with respect to a particular (ever changing) population of people. Of course, this response might be considered too stringently individualistic, which is a Western white supremacist concept according to CRT|I. But why believe that?
Benkert claims, “Whether or not a law is intended to be racist or not, injustice (racism) occurs by nature of our system. Further, systems can be racialized (influenced by race) without being overtly racist (intentionally harming people of other races).” But then, it follows that every system (whatever that is) is racialized, since every system is created by people, and according to CRT|I, harms people of other races that did not create the system. Think also of what this says about our Christology, when Jesus, who possessed a privileged background, elevated twelve Jewish men to positions of power and privilege as well. How can Jesus ever redeem us if he is in some way tainted by participation in a racialized and misogynistic system as well?
Benkert rightly asks, “Is it unbiblical merely to do the analysis of our systems? Are we to reject the idea that our system, or any system, can be racialized, racist, or unjust simply because that idea and method of analysis stems from CRT/I?” Of course we should seek to understand the effect our sins have on so-called systems (although systems as a concept are not as simple to understand as Critical Theory makes them out to be). But if our analysis stems from a completely different set of presuppositions, where sin is not understood the same way, where everybody is not corrupt, and where Christ himself is complicit, then yes. In a case like that, it is unbiblical to do analysis of our systems.
Benkert concedes that solutions should not be sought through the tools of CRT|I, although he slides several times into the start of such solutions.
They can help us to see how our systems and culture often marginalizes people and gives us insight into how racism extends beyond our personal actions and values to how we function as a society. CRT/I can also be used in a way that gives voice to those whose voice has not traditionally been heard and give us opportunity to hear the perspective of those who we say we want to be reconciled with as to why true reconciliation is not occurring. Such a posture is neither a denial of Scripture nor of its sufficiency. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that our understanding of Scripture and its proper application, particularly on issues of unity, reconciliation, and justice, may be incomplete when we only hear from one segment of the church.
While all of this may sound perfectly fine on the surface, we must focus more carefully on the opposition that exists between the Christian worldview and a non-Christian worldview manifest even in the tools of Critical Theory and CRT|I. This post series has attempted to help with just that. If the series was successful, then it has revealed significant dangers to using CRT|I that are not easily avoidable, if they are avoidable at all. This series is offered with humility and hope, not in order to vilify anyone, but to warn of some actual, and seemingly inevitable, dangers of CRT|I. Many otherwise morally upright individuals and respected intellectuals have embraced elements of a non-Christian worldview because they were deceived into thinking that those tools could be used consistently with the Christian worldview, that Christians are destined to fail miserably with regard to almost every issue of ‘race,’ and that CRT|I is the best or only way to go about anti-racist work.
Benkert and others in the SBC believe, “that the analytical tools of CRT provide us with valuable insights and ways to gain helpful knowledge that can be separated from the worldview of CRT/I and the unbiblical solutions it offers.” Yet as we saw in this series, Benkert does not define what he means by “worldview,” does not explain what difference he sees between the “tools” and the “worldview” of CRT|I, and actually ends up making assumptions in his reasoning that are inconsistent with a Christian worldview when he provides examples of how he and others in the SBC use CRT|I, as seen in this post. None of this is to say that Benkert or others who follow his approach are not Christian or do not have good intentions, but is simply meant to highlight how dangerous CRT|I can be in drawing us away from fundamentals of the faith if we are not careful. These tools cannot function, “when subordinate to Scripture and analyzed through the Christian worldview,” because they are inconsistent with it. Benkert asserts that “rescinding Resolution 9 would not only be the wrong thing to do, it would be catastrophic in its effect on racial unity in the SBC.” If Resolution 9 is understood as offering a positive appraisal of the tools and/or worldview of CRT|I, then the opposite seems to be the case. The ‘secret’ to racial unity is found in a Christian worldview, and none other.