Reflections from a Christian Scholar on Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics

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Andrew K's picture

My tl;dr of the article: "Except for Jesus and the Bible and stuff, Marx and Critical Race Theory are right about nearly everything."

There are virtually no significant criticisms of either philosophy here. And this: 

Here are two statements on which I, as a Christian scholar, actually agree with Marx—while vehemently rejecting his philosophy as a whole:

1) Power does exist, and people do sometimes use it to oppress others....

2) Oppressed people do suffer, and their suffering is often unjust.

These are the "keen insights" from Marx? Does anybody on God's blue-green earth actually disagree with these points?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I agree. Marx may be right about those two observations, but it isn't because of his philosophy - it's became of common grace that he can look around and make these introspective observations. Why is the CRT framework necessary? Why can't the Christian framework give believers the firepower they need to interpret reality for the world as the Church does evangelism?

That's the strange part. We don't need that framework. We have our own; one that happens to be the only true framework for interpreting reality.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

The author sees a place for the Church to attack structural injustice in our society. I hadn't thought much about this before the past year or so. But, I am very uncomfortable with it. I don't see that approach in the NT. I see the Church as a society of resident aliens whose job it is not to fix Vanity Fair, but to point people to the Gospel so they can make the trek onward to the Celestial City.

Exactly how the principle of protecting the poor should be translated into legislation and cultural practices today is a separate question—one I’m not prepared to address here. Some incentives already exist (e.g., tax breaks for charitable donations). I’m merely pointing out that Christians who express concern about the disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” should not be labeled Marxists by other Christians on that criterion alone.

And if the term “social justice” is sometimes co-opted by Marxists, rejecting the concept outright robs Christians of the chance to become part of the conversation regarding its definition and application. It is a fluid concept right now, and using the term in a way that validates biblical principles of justice can help shape the way in which the cultural conversation develops.

I suppose in order to determine what you think about the Church's job to reform society along more just lines, you have to decide what the Church's relationship should be to society. My position is that the Church's only meaningful role in the public square is in the interests of evangelism. This is what one author has called the "Conscience of the Kingdom" approach. Not withdrawal, but aggressive engagement in service of the Good News:

Conscience Christians avoid any alliances or allegiances that would surrender their ability to speak prophetically to the “Herods” of their day. And they refuse to surrender the impartiality necessary to serve as the conscience of the kingdoms of their age. This kind of approach almost always means withdrawing membership and loyalty to political parties and political action organizations, but it never means retreating from political, social, cultural, and moral engagement.

However good it sounds in theory, this broad sketch (see quote, above) is still vague. I am uncomfortable with the Church fighting to make society better. Activism of any sort that isn't explicitly tied to the Good News seems like mission drift, to me.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Joel Shaffer's picture

My tl;dr of the article: "Except for Jesus and the Bible and stuff, Marx and Critical Race Theory are right about nearly everything."

How in the world did you come to this conclusion that she was inferring this? She gave a biblical explanation of systemic racism, she described "White Privilege" in a descriptive way (which corresponds to Biblical Truth) rather than a prescriptive way (which is anti-Biblical), and she declares that she holds to "the traditional, Biblical view of sexuality" that would offend many in the LGBTQ community.   

The author sees a place for the Church to attack structural injustice in our society. I hadn't thought much about this before the past year or so. But, I am very uncomfortable with it. I don't see that approach in the NT. I see the Church as a society of resident aliens whose job it is not to fix Vanity Fair, but to point people to the Gospel so they can make the trek onward to the Celestial City.

Are you sure she is seeing a place for the Church to attack structural injustice in our society or as individual Christians?  Did I miss something in the article, because I can't find any reference to the church?  

Activism of any sort that isn't explicitly tied to the Good News seems like mission drift, to me.  

I agree. I would say activism of any sort in the Church that isn't explicitly tied to Making Disciples is in danger of Mission Drift.  However, as individual Christians, if we are to reflect the character of God, including His Justice, we will be concerned and do our part (such as who we vote for in a local election, or supporting better schools for inner-city communities, or supporting legislation to defund PP or support efforts of police reform and etc...) to eliminate structural injustices.  

 

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Fair enough. I interpreted her statements here:

Exactly how the principle of protecting the poor should be translated into legislation and cultural practices today is a separate question—one I’m not prepared to address here. Some incentives already exist (e.g., tax breaks for charitable donations). I’m merely pointing out that Christians who express concern about the disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” should not be labeled Marxists by other Christians on that criterion alone.

And if the term “social justice” is sometimes co-opted by Marxists, rejecting the concept outright robs Christians of the chance to become part of the conversation regarding its definition and application. It is a fluid concept right now, and using the term in a way that validates biblical principles of justice can help shape the way in which the cultural conversation develops.

to be an implicit endorsement of the Church attempting to re-shape society in some fashion.

Beyond whether she calls for that or not, I (and a lot of Christians) need to think through this to some extent, but my instincts are that this is not any part of the Church's corporate mission. My go-to book on the church and culture is Stanley Hauerwas' Resident Aliens, which I need to re-read. I do acknowledge that I have a viscereal reaction to the Religious Right activism of the previous generation, and especially to the sycophant love affair some conservative Christians have with President Trump. That may color my inclination for the Church's wholesale withdrawal from political activism in any form.

I try to be careful to not impugn things I haven't studied at any level. I'm trying to understand CRT and racism in American society before I jump on the James White, Founders, Voddie, Gagnon, Sovereign Nations, G3 bandwagon and label the entire thing as Marxist.

As I listen to another entry in the Oxford History of the United States series, this volume covering 1945-1974, I see this woke religion of white guilt has least a superficial parallel to the Red Scare in the early 1950s:

  • A genuine issue
  • blown out of proportion by politicians and cultural elites for political ends
  • destroys lives and changes American society
  • Constitutional rights are ignored or gotten around because of the "urgency" of the issue
  • and relatively quickly dies out (4+ years) as it destroys itself
  • but leaves terrible cultural damage behind

I have to look at my text copy of the chapter I just listened to, and follow the trail of footnotes to some extent, but the parallels made me raise my eyebrows quite a bit.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

Joel Shaffer wrote:

My tl;dr of the article: "Except for Jesus and the Bible and stuff, Marx and Critical Race Theory are right about nearly everything."

How in the world did you come to this conclusion that she was inferring this? She gave a biblical explanation of systemic racism, she described "White Privilege" in a descriptive way (which corresponds to Biblical Truth) rather than a prescriptive way (which is anti-Biblical), and she declares that she holds to "the traditional, Biblical view of sexuality" that would offend many in the LGBTQ community.   

The author sees a place for the Church to attack structural injustice in our society. I hadn't thought much about this before the past year or so. But, I am very uncomfortable with it. I don't see that approach in the NT. I see the Church as a society of resident aliens whose job it is not to fix Vanity Fair, but to point people to the Gospel so they can make the trek onward to the Celestial City.

Are you sure she is seeing a place for the Church to attack structural injustice in our society or as individual Christians?  Did I miss something in the article, because I can't find any reference to the church?  

Activism of any sort that isn't explicitly tied to the Good News seems like mission drift, to me.  

I agree. I would say activism of any sort in the Church that isn't explicitly tied to Making Disciples is in danger of Mission Drift.  However, as individual Christians, if we are to reflect the character of God, including His Justice, we will be concerned and do our part (such as who we vote for in a local election, or supporting better schools for inner-city communities, or supporting legislation to defund PP or support efforts of police reform and etc...) to eliminate structural injustices.  

 

 

Read the article again. 

She offers no substantive criticisms of either philosophy. The whole direction of discourse in the article is toward salvaging "what's good" in them, almost a defense against conservative critics--but she never tells us "what's bad"! Her disagreements with the LGBT community are irrelevant to Marx and could be harmonized with CRT with very little violence, if taken as a personal conviction.

Any other criticisms are merely hinted, never directly stated, and leave one at a loss as to what they might be, other than the theological truths I mentioned earlier, which are required to be a Christian. Most likely just a rejection of some of the more radical elements of both, something you seem to be pointing at in your reference to "prescriptive" vs "descriptive" understanding of "White privilege."

As such, I stand by my original summary.

It's a disaster of an interview.

 

Jay's picture

TylerR wrote:
The author sees a place for the Church to attack structural injustice in our society. I hadn't thought much about this before the past year or so. But, I am very uncomfortable with it. I don't see that approach in the NT. I see the Church as a society of resident aliens whose job it is not to fix Vanity Fair, but to point people to the Gospel so they can make the trek onward to the Celestial City.

I don't think that Biblical Christians (I'm leaving progressives and liberal denominations out of this) would say that they are out to 'attack structural injustice in our society' as much as that they will, by their very nature as salt and light, end up doing confronting structural injustices.  It isn't the focus or the goal, but a necessary fruit of living faithfully in this world. 

Wilberforce is an obvious example of this...his faith in God and commitment to Christianity was what empowered his fight against the British slave trade.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells