Last week I published a piece in Discourse in which I chastised the Southern Baptists for including, in a statement rejecting racism, a section making sure to also reject critical race theory and intersectionality (CRT/I) as unbiblical. This may seem surprising coming from a classical liberal such as myself. We classical liberals want a minimal and limited federal government and free markets - we're no friends of the far left.
A few of my interlocuters made thoughtful critiques of the piece based on their sense that CRT/I is at the root of some of the truly terrifying excesses of the far left. While I made it clear in the article that I'm also concerned about these excesses, (I do work in academia, after all!), my new friends couldn't understand why I'd pass up any opportunity for anyone to reject such a poisonous ideology. Because I sympathize with their critique, I've been mulling how to explain myself.
The best way to go about this is probably with a metaphor. Let's take the #ChurchToo movement. We're all aware that the #MeToo movement, popularized by the famously left-wing Alyssa Milano, called out a really creepy, system-wide phenomenon of sexual abuse in Hollywood. Now, left-wing feminists were all in for #MeToo. But while conservatives roasted the far left for taking it too far (i.e., the Aziz Ansari cancelling), they didn't condemn the core of the movement. As a matter of fact, they gleefully hated on Harvey Weinstein along with everyone else because he's a rapist. Almost immediately, the likes of Rachel Denhollander (Larry Nassar's first accuser), Boz Tchividjian (sexual abuse victim advocate), and Karen Swallow Prior (seminary literature professor) started work on the #ChurchToo movement. There have been several high-profile failures in the church to deal properly with accusations of sexual abuse against pastors and other church leaders, and the momentum from #MeToo was a good opportunity to draw attention to these in order to establish safe and just standards of investigation and accountability. This struck me as absolutely perfect. While I don't know every detail of the ideological positions these three hold, they are basically good old evangelicals, conservative in both theology, including on gender and sexuality, and politics (although not of the Trumpy variety, which is populism anyway, not conservatism).
Why is this perfect? Because reflective conservatives are well-placed to "chew the meat and spit out the bones;" that is, to take what's really true and good in a movement and do it right - like focusing on helping churches adopt proper procedures - rather than go completely off the rails into the-ESV-translation-of-the-Bible-is-oppressing-me nuttiness. That's what really thoughtful conservatives can do; offer concrete solutions that are anchored to a non-utopian reality. These three people and many others with them are threading a needle here, working in a space associated today with the left but one that should also absolutely and justifiably be a concern to any true Christian.
How is #ChurchToo a metaphor for our national discussion on race? While CRT goes much
too far in rejecting America's tradition of liberal law, it's first insight - that unjust racist systems were upheld de jure, by law, throughout the the Jim Crow years and in more subtle ways later on, is just simply factually correct. In fact, conservatives ought to embrace this insight, since it shows that government intervention was required to enforce expensive rules that the market wanted badly to break (see my forthcoming book Black Liberation Through the Marketplace for more on this theme). Instead of shying away from dealing with our racist past because this is a hobby-horse associated with the left, conservatives should boldly enter into this conversation in order to marry reasonable critique of the American tradition with reasonable praise for it. Otherwise, we just get critique, and it starts to get very unreasonable very fast.
As with the path from #MeToo to #ChurchToo, there is also real core of truth to the need for racial healing in the church. White Christians really were complicit in Jim Crow and really did fail to support the fight for civil rights. In my hometown of St. Louis, the funder of the famous Shelley v. Kramer case - arguing for the right of neighbors to enforce a racial housing covenant against a Black family - was none other than the Cote Brilliant Presbyterian Church around the corner. While it was absolutely appropriate for white Christians in the 1950's to stand against communism, it wasn't appropriate to carry signs that said things like "Race-Mixing is Communism" or to call MLK, Jr. a communist, but that's what happened. The white and B
lack churches in America today are not well-connected and the Black church tradition is under-appreciated by white American Christians.
So what does all this have to do with the Southern Baptist statement on CRT? It means that conservatives need to step into the conversation around racial healing in the church with real positive contributions, not just critiques. It's especially bad when they don't define what they're critiquing, don't lay out why they disagree in enough detail to understand their position, and don't spend any time dealing with the severe resistance in their ranks to any and all talk of racial healing as 'SJW-talk', 'woke theology,' or 'Marxism,' etc. Imagine how frustrating it must be for Black Christians, who have dealt with America's racism through one of the most thoughtful, powerful, disciplined, and deeply spiritual movements of the 20th century, to be told that the very concerns they've been dealing with in their biblical tradition for 200 years must actually be the product of a faddish academic theory invented in 1980. Ridiculous.
One of the upshots of this whole conversation is that all of us must beg the Lord Jesus for the grace to resist the current polarization. Black Americans have never fit well into the political left-right spectrum, largely because of their almost ubiquitous Christian religiosity. But if white conservatives want to alienate them completely by going into reaction mode every time an issue of race arises, they'll only have themselves to blame when the far left drags the conversation into madness.