Last week, Together For the Gospel (T4G) held their final conference. T4G has been going for a number of years now and was set up by Al Mohler, Mark Dever and Legon Duncan. So what? You ask. Conferences and conventions come and go. This may have been a big one in the States, but all good things come to an end. Indeed, the idea that a conference might run for a few years and stop would certainly fit with my preference for big events!
However, the noise in reformed evangelical chatter is that this reflects a splintering of the movement, of divisions amongst people who a few years ago were “together for the Gospel.” Furthermore, some have been quick to argue that the cause of the division has been the priority given by some leaders to challenging issues such as racism, bullying and abuse. Indeed, it is those people who did this that are to blame for the splintering.
You will see that in the tweets cited, something called Critical Race Theory or CRT is mentioned. Critical Race Theory is a particular area of academic study examining perceived areas of inequality. The premise is that such examples of inequality as racism, sexism and other areas of prejudice against perceived minority groups reflect systemic issues within society leading to power inbalance.
Now, here is the controversial bit. First, you will recognise that when you being to talk about one group in society holding power over and exploitation another then there are likely to be overlaps with Marxist theory. So, it’s no surprise that people within the field have drawn on Marxism. Secondly, when we begin talking about “power” then we are also likely to start engaging with the thought of people like Foucault and this pushes us towards post-modernism and deconstructionism. That’s why you get some people arguing that the very literature and art produced by white western culture is inherently racist and therefore useless.
I’ve not really had time to study CRT in depth. To be honest, just from a brief reading I can quickly see where we are likely to run into problems (and when I say “we” I don’t think it’s only Christians likely to have problems with it). The other and primary reason why I haven’t spent a lot of time reading up on CRT is that I don’t need to because I find that God’s Word challenges on those things well enough. I’m not alone in that. There may well be Christians who have spoken on race who have found particular things send by Critical Race Theorists accurate and helpful and will have quoted them but generally speaking when I talk to other Christians, read their e-books and essays or listen to their talks then again I find that they aren’t overly interested in CRT. Why would they need to when Scripture tells them enough? In the case of Black Christians why do they need theory when their own lived experience confirms what Scripture says?
So, how have we got into this situation where people speak out against the evil of racism and end up for their troubles being accused of Marxism = and as a follow up to that of doing things like denying the sufficiency of Scripture? Well, here are a few observations.
First, that it seems as though we are okay talking about sin generally. Yes, people will acknowledge that racism is a sin. However, the problem seems to come if someone, especially if they claim to be a victim of racism itself, persists in talking about that specific sin. The argument is that they are focusing on one issue and making it the issue and that they are showing resentment instead of forgiveness. Surely the answer to sin is Christ alone. Yet now we are being asked to do more than repent and forgive. We are insisting that those in sin are doing something uniquely egregious and that there can be no atonement without reparation.
I think that such a perception fails to hear what is actually being said. I don’t believe I can think of any reformed evangelical who has suggested that racism is a unique and in effect unforgivable sin. What I have heard is the cry of African-American and Black British brother and sisters who have described how they believe they are experiencing racism in society or in the church. A cry for justice, a cry for change is not the same as resentment.
Furthermore, it is a little odd that people should react to a specific sin being named and focused on. The Bible tells us that all sin is wrong and leads to the penalty of death. However, that does not prevent Scripture naming specific sin and nor has it prevented pastors, preachers and evangelists naming specific sin when challenging people to repent. Has racism become the sin that must not be named?
Secondly, I think the big issue has beeen because of terms including implicit bias, structural racism, institutional racism and system racism. The point of such terms is that discrimination may not have been intentional (implicit bias) and that we may not be talking about individual wrongs but rather the way that an organisation or society itself is structured/functions which leaves some groups within it at a permanent disadvantage and others at a permanent advantage. The argument is first that such beliefs mean that people are accused of sin when there hasn’t been malicious intent and secondly that a focus on corporate, societal responsibility is collectivist and therefore an example of Marxism
However, first of all, we need to remember that Scripture talks both about “high handed” or deliberate sin and about sins of wandering -or unintentional/ignorant/negligent sin (Leviticus 4:2). It is worth noting that Leviticus talks both in terms the whole people of Israel sinning and even not being alert to this (Leviticus 4:13). I would suggest that in such a case, the point is not that each and every individual has committed an identical sin but that there is a level of sin which affects the whole community and all are considered responsible together.
This takes us to the next point. Scripture talks in terms of idolatry and as we see in passages like Isaiah 6, there is a sense that we become like the things we worship. In other words, a culture will become like its idols. I am aware from my work in industry that often issues do become systemic. The problem is not because of individual’s actions not but with the culture and with the processes which were implemented years ago. Reformed Christians particularly with their understanding of Original Sin and Federal inclusion in Adam should be able to see how the sin has an ongoing affect and consequences beyond the immediate consequences for a sinner.
This is the point when people talk about “systemic” or “structural racism.” It is that actions in the past continue to have an impact now, specifically that things like the slave trade and segregation. It also means that our own ethnic or national pride may become idolatrous so that we treat others differently.
The third reason is that it seems that some people have heard their fellow Christians talking about racism. They have then heard non-Christians talking about the same subject. They’ve heard some of the language, read some of the critiques and concluded that it all sounds very similar. The Christian talking about racism must be drawing their thinking from CRT/Marxist ideology. Sometimes, the Christian may also have quoted a secular commentator.
We should not be surprised when we find overlaps between what Christians are saying and what secular critics are saying. This does not necessarily mean that the Christian is blindly following the secular critic. Rather, we should not be surprised because we find in Scripture the concepts of common grace and General Revelation. This means that unbelievers too will be alert to and see things that are wrong. Add to that the idea of original revelation -that there are fragments of truth which have survived even if distorted that get under the skin in any culture or indeed even the way that Christian thinking has had such an influence on western thinking and you can see a number of ways in which even a Marxist thinker may stumble onto truth from time to time. Now, personally, to avoid confusion, I for this reason do prefer to talk in terms of sin and idolatry to make overtly clear that we are talking from Scripture not philosophy. However, the point stands, we should not be in a rush to lump everyone together even if they at times identify the same problems. We should be looking at the solutions suggested.
Just because someone is against racism and just because someone identifies problems with how our society functions does not mean they are Marxist.