What makes Southern Baptists and other white evangelicals so outraged about Critical Race theory isn’t their claim that it fosters a distorted view of American law and history, but that it illuminates the racist attitudes and assumptions baked into U.S. society and religion from the founding of the nation, according to a panel discussion hosted by Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas.
“That is why Critical Race Theory is the kryptonite of white evangelicals,” said Stacey Floyd-Thomas, associate professor of ethics and society at Vanderbilt University and co-founder of the Society for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Religion. She spoke during the first of two online discussions of Critical Race Theory presented by the church in June.
“It’s a threat to power brokers because it reveals, unmasks, debunks and demystifies the real framing of our country, our consciousness and our culture. CRT is an interrogation of whiteness as a political category,” she said.
Frederick Douglass Haynes III, senior pastor at Friendship-West, said the discussions were an attempt to help his South Dallas congregation understand why white Christian conservatives are so publicly and loudly pushing back against notions that racist impulses have shaped housing, education, economic and other policies.
“There has been a deliberate campaign of disinformation around Critical Race Theory and wokeness that has taken place recently,” he said. “What is even worse is the baptized bigotry from the Christian right, from right-wing evangelicals who are too white to be evangelical.”
The development of Critical Race Theory as a law school framework since the 1970s has helped illuminate beliefs that people of color must conform to white interests and values, Floyd-Thomas said. “When people see whiteness, they see virtue. When they see blackness, they see villain. They see vice.”
Critical Race Theory “is trying to tell the narrative of the dispossessed.”
Critical Race Theory, on the other hand, “is trying to tell the narrative of the dispossessed.”
Floyd-Thomas added that whites are threatened by an alternative narrative because it runs counter to their sense of national and religious identities: “Most racists are not just white, most racists are also Christian.”
White objections to the theory are motivated by skin color more than anything else, said panelist Michael Eric Dyson, an ordained Baptist minister, Georgetown University sociology professor and author of Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America.
“It’s not just that Critical Race Theory is a problem for white people, Black people are a problem for white folk,” Dyson said. “Our theories are only subsidiary to our bodies. Our theories become substitutes for how they can hate on us. … The point is a lot of white folk just don’t like Black people, and so they come up with ‘I hate Critical Race Theory’ without even knowing what it is.’”
That they don’t understand the theory is evident from the content of current objections, which include linking it to socialism and religious heresy, among other fallacies, he continued.
“It’s a trip to see white folk denouncing something they haven’t studied, but what’s new? We know that white evangelicals have gotten so deeply intertwined with the American way — the way in which American exceptionalism has been articulated, the way in which manifest destiny has been put forth.”
But the realities laid bare by Critical Race Theory are clear, said Luke Harris, director of programs and chairman of the African American Policy Forum and an associate professor of American politics and constitutional law at Vassar College.
“CRT teaches that we must come to understand the pervasive and cyclical implications of institutional and systemic forms of racism and bigotry of all sorts,” he said.
The academic theory has helped explain the connections between housing policies that confined people of color to marginalized neighborhoods, leading to dead-end, low-wage jobs and thereby exacerbating the wealth gap between whites and Blacks, Harris said. “CRT teaches we must work not only to remove barriers to open society but to foster conditions for full membership for people of color.”
The second discussion, held a week later on June 30, included Haynes and three fellow Friendship-West ministers, in part, briefly critiquing a March 2021 YouTube video featuring California evangelical pastor John MacArthur. In it, MacArthur equates social justice ministry and Critical Race Theory with socialist and anti-democratic values.
“Critical Race Theory, like all critical theories, wants to destroy, destroy, destroy,” MacArthur said in the video posted by First Baptist Church in Mesquite, Nev.
“He’s baptizing bigotry.”
MacArthur criticized white evangelicals who have embraced Critical Race Theory and described the theory as a way of blaming whites for the economic challenges of people of color. “We are, as white people, or non-African American people, the culprits in everything that’s wrong in this society and the people who are suffering are suffering because we’ve done them wrong systemically.”
The video didn’t sit well with Haynes, who said of MacArthur, “He’s baptizing bigotry.”
Panelist David Malcolm McGruder, the youth, college and young adult pastor at Friendship-West, said he saw nothing ministerial or compassionate in MacArthur’s comments.
“It’s so anti-Black, it’s so anti-gospel, and it’s so anti-Christ,” he said. “I think after watching MacArthur we should retire the term ‘white supremacy’ and maybe talk more about the myth of white supremacy or anti-Blackness. Because there was nothing superior about that argument.”
Critical Race Theory is a powerful witness for truth against the misinformation promulgated by MacArthur and other conservative white evangelicals rising up against it, said panelist Danielle Ayers, minister of justice at Friendship-West. “That’s why it’s so important to have Critical Race Theory, and why they don’t want you to have it, because it exposes the lie.”
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