Evangelicals battle ‘critical race theory’ in new online video course

In the right-wing crusade against “critical race theory,” there is a job for everyone: movement intellectuals and keyboard warriors, school board brawlers and politicians – from Congress to governors’ mansions to the new class of local right-wing bureaucrats eager to link student test scores to faculty demographics. It is therefore not surprising that there is also a role for church people.

This week, Focus on the Family – James Dobson’s right-wing Christian ministry, with nearly 900 staff, its own postcode and an estimated global audience of 200 million – did its part, asking its subscribers to sign up for free. in line Classes teach parents how to “empower” their families to “cope with CRT”.

The course consists of five videos, hosted by FOF Vice President of Parenting and Youth Danny Huerta, speaking with a handful of evangelical leaders: Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution; John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview; and Carol Swain, co-author of the 2021 book”Black Eye for America: How Critical Race Theory Burns Down the House.”

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After each video, viewers are directed, like a textbook, to a series of additional tasks. First, ponder selected Bible verses (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free…”) Second, consider a series of falsely neutral discussion prompts: “How do you think critical theory of race creates confusion, especially in children?? “What’s dangerous about people seeing themselves as victims or using shame and moral manipulation to get what they want? Or, more blatantly, “After watching this video course, do you have a better understanding of critical race theory and how it contradicts the truth of God’s Word?”

Overall, it’s a softer approach than most of the talk around the CRT last year – framed more as a public service announcement than threats to overthrow the local school board, perhaps. be with violence, which proliferated last summer and fall. But the message is largely the same, as Huerta and his guests cover a number of religious but familiar critiques: CRT “places what it means to be human solely in the context of race”; “God created only one race: the human race”; any white child who balks at being called an oppressor is “plac[ing] a target on themselves” (an accusation illustrated in the videos by a photo of a white boy being manhandled by two black boys); and the promise that “America’s victorious struggle with its imperfections” concerning racial equality reflects the gospel message of redemption.

But some larger themes of the videos highlight how conservative evangelical institutions grapple with debates about race today. First, there is the fundamental presumption that racism is real, but a matter of individual sin. Second, the idea that critical race theory is not only incorrect, but constitutes an alternative, “destructive” and “twisted” worldview, contrary to that which Christians should follow.

“The idea of ​​racism as an individual sin is a hallmark of evangelicalism,” said Anthea Butler, chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Religion and author of the 2021 book “White Evangelical Racism.” In the book, she clarifies, “Sin for evangelicals is always personal, not corporate, and God is always available to forgive deserving individuals, especially if they are white men. The sin of racism can also be swept away by an event. or a confession. Evangelicals rarely admit a need for restitution.

In November, Swain made that point when she spoke at the National Conservatism Scholarly Conference in Florida that brought together several hundred right-wing intellectuals. As one of the few non-white speakers, Swain called the CRT not only “un-American” but also “anti-Christian,” lamenting that a number “of churches that see themselves as awakened” adopted him. Among them, she said, was her own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which has 16 million members, which was wracked last June by a bitter crisis, potentially schismatic debate on whether to adopt a resolution condemning the CRT.

“We have so many awakened members of [the SBC]. And when I think of Southern Baptists, the main thing I remember is apology after apology after apology — for slavery, for even existing,” Swain said, referring to the actions the denomination, founded in origin to defend the right to own slaves, has taken in recent decades to acknowledge its turbulent history. “And what that tells me is that the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention don’t understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross once for our past, present and future sins. Racism is a sin. apologize.”

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As pastor and teacher Andre E. Johnson wrote Last spring’s evangelical attacks on the CRT predate the current struggle, widely attributed to the Manhattan Institute’s sole principal investigator, Christopher Rufo. Evangelical heavyweights like John MacArthur have condemned the idea that “postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching”.

“[B]By the time Rufo began learning how to manipulate the CRT for political gain, white evangelicals in churches across the country were already laying the groundwork,” Johnson wrote.[I]In the hands of white evangelicals, the CRT is not just an academic theory, it is a worldly ideology of evil that believers should oppose. So, for better or for worse, those of us who teach CRT and intersectionality will now have to deal with those who would bring our assumptions of faith to the classroom.”

One of the chief complaints of the anti-CRT faction of Southern Baptists, said Daniel Eppley, a religious studies professor at Thiel College who has been following this debate, is that the CRT is “redefining” racism as something other than ” personal animosity towards others based on race.”

“In their view, racism is just thinking badly of another person because of their race,” Eppley said. “If you can look into your heart and honestly say, ‘I don’t think badly of people because of their race’, then you’re not part of the racism problem. That is, neither does structural racism. It’s very similar to how a former fundamentalist evangelical leader, Bob Jones Sr., presented his opposition to desegregation in the 1960s. denied seeing one race as inferior to another, but he thought the races should be kept separate. So his solution to racism was basically, “Love your black neighbour,” even though he is convinced, based on his reading of this particular passage from the Bible, that segregation is God’s will.”

In the end, Southern Baptists voted for a resolution which did not specifically call out the CRT but disavowed “any theory or worldview that finds the ultimate identity of human beings in ethnicity or any other group dynamic”.

The term “worldview” was also repeatedly invoked in FOF’s Anti-CRT Lessons, such as in a post-video discussion prompt: “Why Is Critical Race Theory Really a Worldview Problem?” world ? »

This language is ubiquitous in modern conservative American Christianity, as American journalist and historian of religion Molly Worthen has said. observed. In the evangelical realm, Christian media promise to inculcate or reinforce a “biblical worldview.” Christian universities display the term on the side of campus buildings. Young people from the evangelical movement attend “Worldview Weekend” conferences without sleeping.

In its most basic and bona fide definition, according to Jacob Alan Cook, a professor at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity and author of the 2021 book “Worldview Theory, Whiteness, and the Future of Evangelical Faith“, the concept of a biblical worldview goes like this: “If the Bible is what we say it is, then we should be able to logically extend its truths to encompass the most important things, and most moral questions should have a logical connection to the core of that thing we believe in. In reality, he continued, “worldview theory” carries with it a lot of “extra-biblical” baggage that has been merged with conservative evangelical doctrine, making things like capitalism, nationalism Christian or, in decades past, segregation, seem to be matters of faith.

What that amounts to, Cook said, is an evangelical way of saying, “Everyone has an ideology, but we have the truth.” In this context, it becomes “really difficult to challenge these things from within” faith, he observes, where a biblical worldview can function as “alternative facts” or a closed epistemological door.

This is exactly the message expressed by Focus on the Family’s Huerta, telling viewers: “Let’s not enter this discussion on CRT out of fear, but boldly: we have the word of God and this is the answer. to that.”

Read more about the political battle over “critical race theory”:

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