As I write this post, we are celebrating Juneteenth. Given our nation's history and continued racial issues, Juneteenth becoming a national holiday in 2021 is significant. There ought to be formal recognition of such an important milestone in the United States history. However, given that Juneteenth celebrates a day that took place in 1865, the 156-year gap says something about our relationship with racial injustice and truth-telling. What are we to make of the fact that we only recently established a holiday celebrating the formal end of the greatest atrocity in our nation’s history and, arguably, one of the greatest in world history––race-based, perpetual, chattel enslavement? And how are we to best assess the impact of enslavement and subsequent oppression? What are the tools necessary for us to study and research the consequences of our nation only becoming a true democracy––a democracy where all people were given the legal protections to participate––in the mid-1960s?
As many are aware, one academic discipline has sought to study the impact of our nation's history of oppression. Critical Race Theory, of course, has dominated the airwaves in recent years and remains a culture war landmine. Particularly amongst conservative Christians and institutions, some institutions with whom I am associated, affirming or rejecting CRT, has become a marker of biblical fidelity. And we are all aware there has been much ink-spilled on the topic. As a result, I hesitated to add more to the never-ending conversation and debate.
However, I think one aspect of the debate is necessary for Christians to take seriously, especially those resistant to CRT and its derivatives––bearing false-witness and truth-telling. In the cultural debates around racial justice, and disciplines like CRT, I find many bearing false witness, either out of malice or ignorance. But Christians have an opportunity to be voices of reason in a culture consumed by division, animosity, and political posturing. How?
By committing to Scripture as our ultimate and final authority, but in doing so, standing for truth wherever that truth might be found, including CRT.
CRT & Scripture
In their recently released book, Christianity and Critical Race Theory, Robert Chao Romero and Jeff M. Liou confront the lack of truthfulness often associated with Critical Race Theory. Romero, a pastor, lawyer, and professor at UCLA, and Liou, a campus minister and theologian, witnessed––like the rest of us––the cultural firestorm caused by an emphasis on CRT, especially amongst conservative Christians. The reasons for this emphasis run deep and require a historical analysis I do not wish to develop in this post. I want to consider the nature of truth and truth-telling and how the CRT dialogue shows how we often fall into bearing false witness.
First, I cannot recommend this book enough. Romero and Liou carefully show how CRT is hardly antithetical to Scripture, as many claim. When understood rightly and studied generously, CRT provides research-based claims for what Scripture already teaches. If anything, some of CRT proves what Christians have always believed about sin and its effects, but then shows how that sin has impacted racial injustice in the US. That said, they also acknowledge that, like any fields of study, the limitations must be named as well.
For example, since CRT does not have a proper/robust category of sin, nor does it possess an eschatological hope––that is, a telos of how things ought to be and will be one day when Christ returns––CRT can never thoroughly diagnose our problems of race, nor can it provide ultimate solutions. Additionally, Romero and Liou also acknowledge that some, but certainly not all, CRT theorists skew Marxists. This is particularly of note for Romero, given his Christian family was forced to leave China when his pastor grandfather was threatened with death for his religious leadership (9). In sum, there are certainly problematic aspects to CRT and, some of, it's proponents.
That, however, is not the same as claiming it is antithetical to Scripture. Similar tensions exist in many other fields of study, like psychology, sociology, and the sciences, more broadly. Unless Christians take the finding of these disciplines and integrate Christian theology, none have a proper category for sin, none of them provide an eschatological hope, and most are rooted in some non-Christian ideology. Yet, we nonetheless recognize the benefit of learning from their findings. CRT is no different. Again, I cannot make that argument here, and since they make it quite masterfully in their book, I highly recommend reading it.
That said, and to my original point, my concern is the extent to which Christians knowingly, and even unknowingly, end up bearing false witness when engaging contentious issues like race. For example, in the book, Romero and Liou rightly point out that,
“CRT offers four decades worth of empirical, interdisciplinary observations of how culture, ethnicity, and race have operated in US history. Just as a Christian scientist might say that all truth is God's truth in that, therefore, the scientific truths found in test tubes and laboratory experiments may be considered part of God's general revelation, so a proponent of CRT might offer empirical truths about how race has operated as a legal and social category throughout the 400 years of US history.” (8)
Yet, despite the findings of this decades-long research, many refuse to listen to, learn from, or even hear about those findings.
They go on to note about their book that,
“This book is our attempt to model a way of engaging an academic discipline (CRT) by integrating Christian faith and theology. Someone who wishes to ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5) must avoid unfair oversimplifications and false dichotomies.”
They continue, as mentioned, that other fields of study have also required Christian integration, but then conclude, “If someone decides that the tensions are too great to hold, I hope they come to that decision after having grappled in good faith.” (18)
In other words, rejecting the findings of CRT rejects the truth of God’s general revelation found in the findings, which often leads to unfair oversimplifications and false dichotomies, and, consequently, often lacks good faith engagement. Without good faith and gracious engagement, the resulting conclusions and opinions about CRT too often lead to bearing false witness. It is claiming something to be true that is not true.
For some, there is malicious intent. They know they are bearing false witness and are doing so intentionally for some end. For others, and dare I say most, ignorance leads to bearing false witness. One might never have read, studied, or researched a particular claim but then take a position on that claim. As a pastor, I find this is a common problem, especially on these issues. I am sympathetic to someone who rejects CRT, or any other discipline for that matter, if they can show a proper knowledge of what they are rejecting. And since I know none of us can truly study all the things that can be studied, I also can respect someone acknowledging their ignorance on the topic, noting their concerns about what they do know, and beginning dialogue from a place of humility. That, however, is hardly the posture in most CRT or racial justice dialogue.
For the honor of Christ, His mission in the world, and our calling to join that mission, Christians must be a people of humble honesty. That does not mean we must adhere to or become a proponent of disciplines like CRT. Still, it does mean we willingly acknowledge our ignorance when needed, defer to other faithful Christians committed to attaining that knowledge, and refuse to be co-opted by cultural war pundits who too often seek to tempt us to merely join their ranks.
Christians can learn from, listen to, and engage with a variety of ideas and avoid being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14), if we are rooted in the eternal truths of God’s Word. Fidelity and commitment to Scripture give us confidence that we can rightly discern truth from error, but to do so, we must be not only well versed in Scripture but also in the presenting error. To do so rightly and honestly, we must understand that error. Otherwise, we risk bearing false witness, which is never honoring to Christ.
If there were two takeaways from this post, they would be: 1) Read Christianity and Critical Race Theory. Not only does it provide a biblically faithful assessment of CRT, but it also assists us in developing the necessary critical-thinking skills needed to apply Scripture to contemporary issues correctly. 2) Commit to telling the truth by ensuring what we say and the opinions we hold are rooted in good faith engagement with issues, and when we lack complete knowledge, admit it humbly.
I started by noting the importance of Juneteenth and the need for insight into how our history of oppression continues to impact society and how we can adequately address that impact. I fear we continue to struggle with racial justice and equality issues because we are too accustomed to bearing false witness, even if unintentionally. A commitment to truth means standing for that truth no matter where one might find it, which includes Critical Race Theory and beyond. I pray we continue to commit to truth and truth-telling for the honor of Christ and the good of our neighbor.