Beckett: A Pastoral Response to Critical Race Theory

Why should you care what a pastor has to say about critical race theory (CRT)? To be honest, you don’t “have” to care, but I feel an obligation to respond to CRT as a brown pastor, as this theory makes presumptions about me based on the colour of my skin. And not just me, but other brown/black people like me as well, even those who are white. Thus, I feel a responsibility not only to respond to it as a mestizo—a Hispanic of mixed ethnicities and cultures (Latino, black, and white)—but especially as someone who has just been ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry.

What is Going On?

Citizens for Renewing America has a free PDF on how to combat critical race theory. CRT has essentially taken Marxism and has replaced his original classes of society with race, gender, and sexual orientation groups. Whereas Karl Marx separated society into the capitalist bourgeoisie and the oppressed proletariat, CRT adherents have replaced these classes with race, gender, and sexual orientation. Their goal is to eliminate conservative tradition including but not limited to the nuclear family, capitalism, and even Christianity. In the first section of the PDF mentioned above, Citizens for Renewing America help define what CRT is. It is worth quoting their most concise summary of CRT in full:

Everything that makes up American Society is racist. This includes Christianity, free markets, traditional marriage, rule of law, traditional family structures, and a representative form of government. (This is not to say that a healthy debate regarding the parameters of these issue areas is out of line in a free society, it is to point out that CRT inherently racializes all of these discussions to intentionally stifle any opinions deemed counter to their aims.)

Straight white people, children included, are inherently and irredeemably racist, and benefit from—as well as systematically rig—all social institutions, rules, laws, and norms that white people invented and keep in place for their own disproportionate success and in order to maintain their own stranglehold on power.

CRT holds that racism is not just a belief held by individuals; rather, it is a system of oppression that has been built into the very structure of our society. In the same way that all the roads in a city interlock to form a system of roads, Critical Social Justice [CSJ] believes that individual racism, cultural racism, and institutional racism overlap to form a system of racism that is present through all of society.

CSJ says that members of each group share the same perspective with all the others. This means that women have a shared experience, men have a shared experience, persons of African descent have a shared experience, Asians have a shared experience, disabled people have a shared experience, and so on and so forth. Everyone has been programmed by society to think according to their skin color (or their gender, or their religion, etc.), and so that different people cannot see the world the same way. For example: white people can only see the world the way white people see it, and black people can only see the world the way black people see it. This is why proponents of CRT often start speaking by saying “as a white person,” or “as a gay person.”

Combating Critical Race Theory In Your Community: An A to Z Guide On How To Stop Critical Race Theory And Reclaim Your Local School Board, pp. 5-6

Ultimately, internalisation is the inevitable result of CRT, which forces brown/black people to “begin to believe in the ideology that they are inferior to whites and white culture, who are superior.” In other words, rather than actual external experiences of racism, CRT forces brown and black people to internalise racism by assuming and inherent inferiority to white people and “white culture” when, objectively speaking, they are not. (I put “white culture” in quotes because just as Hispanic and black culture are not monolithic, neither is white culture. My wife is a white Finn, but her Finnish culture is far different than white American culture. The same can be said for white Germans, Frenchmen, Polish, and so on. There is no monolithic “white culture.”) CRT also causes internalisation in white people. The rhetoric of CRT leads some white individuals who may not know any better to believe they’ve done something wrong just because they happen to be white.

Why is this Going On?

If you’ve been paying any attention to current events these past few years, it’s not difficult to imagine why critical race theory is gaining ground in academia, politics, and even our churches. The main thing that has given rise to CRT is the seemingly increase in police brutality against blacks and Latinos. Another reason includes the internet’s ability to give a voice to an individual who was formerly voiceless, whether anonymously or publicly, who has experienced racism at school or in the workplace (both real and imagined). Perhaps one last reason includes society’s heightened acuity toward social injustice.

What Ought to be Going On?

I firmly believe CRT does not belong in education or politics because it is extremely damaging to education, society, and, more importantly, people. However, I’m not going to discuss it academically or politically since I am not an academic or a politician. I’ll leave those tasks to people more qualified than I am in those areas. What I can speak on, as a pastor, is CRT in the church. Just as CRT does not belong in education or politics, even more so it does not belong in the church. CRT has no place in the pulpit, pastoral care, or the church as she functions as the Body of Christ.

What, if anything, do the Scriptures say about race? To put this question another way: Does God see colour?

YES!

After all, God created colour. He created ethnicities and each and every human culture. As a brown person—as a Hispanic—it grinds my gears when someone says, “I don’t see colour.” Granted, they say this with good intentions, but as I like to say: Good intentions are not efficacious. What they are saying is really coming from a place of ignorance.

©Garrick Sinclair Photography – Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Vince Bantu speak on this issue at Concordia Seminary’s 2021 Multiethnic Symposium. He is assistant professor of church history and black church studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. To paraphrase how he put it: Imagine you’re going on a hike with a friend, you come across an amazing view like the panorama I shot above, and in awe of God’s creation you say, “Wow! Look at those trees! Look at that water! Look at the sky! God’s creation is amazing!” Then your friend says, “I don’t really see mountains and trees; I just see land.” That’s ridiculous, right? Who in their right mind just sees landscape and not the amazing diversity of mountains, trees, flowers, and plants? Imagine the absurdity, then, when someone says to a coloured person, “I don’t see colour.” To someone like me, when we hear this, what we’re really hearing is, “I don’t see you.”

God created diversity. As I always point out to catechumens when teaching them about the First Article of the Creed concerning Creation—and I remind my adult parishioners of the same thing—I point them towards noticing the diversity of leaves. I pose them an open-ended question, “Why didn’t God just create one type of leaf?” After all, wouldn’t it be more practical or efficient to have one type of leaf to do the same thing rather than a whole diversity of leaves that do the same thing? I ask them this question to make the point of ex amore: God loves to create and He loves what He creates. When we teach our catechumens, we typically stick with the fact that God created everything ex nihilo (out of nothing), which is vitally necessary to teach; but we have a habit of neglecting to teach that God also creates ex amore (out of love).

As Creator, God is an artist. Look at any artist—famous or not famous—and ask them why they don’t just create the same old painting, or drawing, or poem, or film. Because they love to create and they love what they create. Art is an image of our heavenly Father. “Also,” I tell them, “God is not boring.” Is it any surprise, then, that God created great diversity among humans? Not just diversity in colour and race, but also in personality, temperament, skill, and talent? God is not colour blind. Neither should we be colour blind to our neighbour.

Thus, a quick and concise overview of a biblical theology of race and culture is necessary. Such diversity comes from Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them [mankind created as male and female]. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” God’s command to fill the earth assumes diversity. Next, an erroneous reading of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 says there was no diversity before Babel; therefore, cultural and ethnic diversity is a result of the Tower of Babel, that is, a result of sin. This is not true. Already in Genesis 10:32, we see there was already diversity, “These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” As a ziggurat (just like Babylon), the Tower of Babel was man’s act of sinful pride and false worship/idolatry. Seeing this, God confounded man’s language so that we cannot easily come together to do greater evil actions on the face of the earth and worship false gods.

A good example of the immense diversity in genealogies is myself. My Aunt Gayle on my father’s side (the white side of my family) does amazing genealogical work for our family. She recently gave me a gift for my ordination that contains photographs and special possessions that belonged to them for 6 generations (I’m the 7th generation). Here’s my point: they were all white. Even then, they were diverse in ethnicity: some were German, others French, Swiss, and Swedish. And now, beginning with my mother, we add Puerto Rican and African American to the genealogy. My family is merely one small picture of God’s creative diversity since Genesis. Once again, Aunt Gayle, thank you so much for those gifts! They are a true treasure.

Other passages in Genesis speak to the diversity of people. God says to Abram, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). As we shall see, “all the families of the earth” literally means “all the families” with no racial limitations. God repeats this promise in Genesis 22:18 and Genesis 48:19.

In the Prophets, God promised He would bring the Gentile nations (i.e., ethnic nations) into Israel. God fulfilled this promise at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-11. As the people present for the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem heard the Apostles miraculously speaking in each of their own languages, there were Jews present as well as people (Gentiles) from Parthia, Mede, and Elam (modern day Iran); Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey, and Syria); Judea (southern Israel); Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia, and Pamphylia (modern day Turkey); Asia; Egypt, Libya (northern Africa), Rome, Crete (modern day Greece), and Arabia. It is these people whom the disciples baptised at Pentecost, some 3,000 of them! Here and afterwards, God kept His promise to Abraham by blessing all families through him in his descendant, Jesus Christ, by baptising them in His Holy Spirit. In Baptism, all nations become part of Israel.

From the same place of colour blind ignorance, people will say, “Race does matter, but one day it won’t.” Biblically speaking, this is untrue. We see that it matters in the church and it will even matter at the Parousia. Revelation 7:9 is key, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Clearly, for John in his vision of the final revelation of Jesus Christ, race matters as people of all races will be worshiping the Lamb of God upon His glorious return. More importantly, it matters to Jesus since He’s the one who revealed this to John.

One last thing to say on this, to quote from Dr. Bantu, “We need to see race and colour biblically, but not oppressively or as a mechanism for idolatry supplanting our identity in Christ.” As I stated earlier, I cannot fully speak on critical race theory academically or politically since I am neither an academic nor a politician, but I am a pastor and a theologian. Theologically speaking, then, CRT ultimately treats race and colour as an idol. How we ought to respond to race and colour is to acknowledge it and embrace it as the beauty God created it to be. There is, of course, practical matters of contextualisation of cultures in church practice and worship, but that is beyond the scope of this article. A Christian biblical response to race and colour is neither to hate others based on their race nor to ignore it as though it doesn’t matter, even white people whom God created in His image and loves dearly, just as He does black and brown people.

Neither should we treat it as an idol so that one’s skin colour supplants who they are in Christ. Speaking as a brown person, being a mestizo is not who I am but what I am. Who I am is found in who God has made me in my Baptism. Therefore, the pastor and the church ought not to treat a person according to the tenets of critical race theory but according to whom God has made them to be in their Baptism into Christ Jesus. And who they are is a child of God, which is the final place of commonality and unity for peoples of all nations, tribes, and languages; for all wear the same white robe of Christ.

How Might We Respond?

The ultimate failure of critical race theory is that it speaks to and about brown and black people as perpetual victims of the unbeatable (and imaginary) Goliath of white supremacy. Conversely, the church speaks to brown and black people first as beautifully diverse people created in the image of God and, secondly—having been baptised into Christ—as victors (Romans 8:37) and children of our heavenly Father. Furthermore, the church treats people like me as brothers and sisters. I don’t mean that proverbially, as in metaphorical brothers and sisters. When we are baptised into Christ, we become actual brothers and sisters by the Spirit. Why do you think we bicker and argue so much about vain things like the colour of the carpet in the sanctuary?

Furthermore, when a fellow Latino or Latina or black person walks into my office for pastoral care, I don’t immediately assume they’re a victim of the supposedly white supremacist system but, rather, a dearly beloved child of God. Or when a white person walks into my office, I don’t treat them as if they’re my oppressor but also as a dearly beloved child of God. This also means that when I preach to such people from the pulpit, I don’t preach to them according to CRT’s imagined status of them as victims or oppressors but rather as co-victors with Christ according to God’s efficacious declaration. It is also incumbent upon me to teach my flock to do the same toward our brown, black, and white brothers and sisters in Christ—not to be colour blind, but to be la familia de Dios (the family of God).

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