Ethnicity/Culture

Statement on critical theory and unity in the church: our endorsement

By September 1, 2017 5 Comments

At Kaleoscope, we intentionally present material that will give minority Christians a voice to the issues of our day. But more importantly, we desire to filter our view and voice through the lordship of Jesus Christ, according to will of the Father through the work of the Spirit.  In short, we want to cull our perspective through a biblical lens and address issues accordingly so that the church might proclaim the majesty of Jesus Christ as a disparate group of people united to him for his purpose. When it comes to the current discourse on race, we fully acknowledge that racially prejudicial attitudes still exist as events like Charlottesville demonstrated. We are chagrined that such dispositions would be present in the church of Jesus Christ. While it might be tempting to address these issues according to the dictates of contemporary theories, our goal is to filter corrections through the reconciliatory work of Christ as the primary anchor that any kind of reconciliation can happen. In this regard, we appreciate and endorse the statement issued by the Reverend Bill Evans, Critical Theory and the Unity of the Church, found on The Ecclesial Calvinist and endorsed by pastors and others. Here is the full text of the statement.

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The undersigned concerned individuals are constrained, indeed compelled, to speak to ideological dangers that threaten and subvert the unity of the Body of Christ.

Some in the conservative Reformed community evince a laudable desire to overcome racial injustice, but they often seek to understand racial divisions by relying on categories drawn from the “critical theory” of secular academia (e.g., notions of “white privilege,” “white guilt,” “intersectionality,” and more broadly the power-analysis tradition that stems from Marx, Foucault, and others) rather than from Scripture and the Christian tradition.  As a result of this uncritical borrowing, some in the church are falling headlong into the divisive identity politics that now plague the broader culture and particularly higher education.

These secular categories are often unhelpful.  For example, what are often taken to be examples of “white privilege” are simply the rights and opportunities that should be enjoyed by all, and the appropriate response is not to engender subjective feelings of “white guilt” but to work to extend these rights and opportunities to all.  Furthermore, the notion of “white privilege” is artificial in that many non-Caucasians are similarly “advantaged,” while poor whites often experience problems and disadvantages similar to those experienced by impoverished people of color. While such thinking provides incentives for political activism and a “stick to beat people with,” it does little to further careful analysis, productive theological reflection, and mutual understanding.

More broadly, we contend that reducing the complexity of social relationships to issues of power, and imposing a binary logic that divides human society into oppressors and oppressed is unhelpful in a number of ways.  When the rich complexity of human society and motivation is viewed largely through the lens of power analysis much is missed.  Such reductionistic thinking also provides a ready rationale for unfairly marginalizing people deemed to be “politically incorrect.”  Perhaps most importantly, the identity politics that flow from this fixation on race, gender, sexuality, etc. are powerful centrifugal forces that have the potential to tear not only society but also the church apart.  Such a focus on identity almost inevitably gives rise to a psychology of ressentiment, with its anger and desire for revenge.

In short, the grand inclusive vision—one rooted not in identitarian difference but in what people share in common—of racial reconciliation evident, for example, in the work of African-American Presbyterian pastor Francis J. Grimké is being tragically subverted.  Grimké drew deeply and decisively on the Christian tradition for his views of justice and social change, and he knew well that secular solutions would not suffice.  He wrote: “I am hopeful, because I have faith in the power of the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ to conquer all prejudices, to break down all walls of separation, and to weld together men of all races in one great brotherhood.” (The Works of Francis J. Grimké [1942], I:267).

We believe, not only that such secular categories are inherently divisive, but that there is a better way.  Drawing on the Christian doctrine of Creation, we affirm that all people are created in the image of God, that all possess a dignity and value that flow from their relationship to their Creator rather than from the contingencies of race, gender, and ethnicity.

Drawing on the Christian doctrine of sin and the fall, we affirm that all people are sinners and that sin affects every aspect of our existence.  All stand in need of God’s grace and mercy.  While sinfulness can express itself in different ways depending upon social location, and God does have a special concern for the poor and marginalized, there is no “superior virtue of the oppressed.”  The fashionable notion today that only white people can be racists stands in stark tension with this Christian doctrine of sin.

Drawing on the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, we affirm that the Second Person of the Trinity has united himself with humanity and become a member of the human community forever, and that this has powerful implication for our understanding human dignity and community.  As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “All the great writers of antiquity were a part of the aristocracy of masters . . . and it was necessary that Jesus Christ come to earth to make it understood that all members of the human species are naturally alike and equal” (Democracy in America [2000], 413).

Finally, drawing on the Christian doctrines of Reconciliation and the Church, we affirm with the Apostle Paul that in Christ “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”  We insist that this union of the Church with Christ in his obedient death, mighty resurrection, and glorious ascension—intended in the eternal purposes of God and accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit—is more concrete and vital than the contingent social distinctions of race, gender, and ethnicity, and that this unity of the Church must not be subverted by dubious and irremediably divisive secular theories.

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  • Eric C. Redmond says:

    In considering our assessment of critical theory categories, I wonder if early Christians could have accused Paul of uncritically (and un-biblically, since he was not appealing to the OT?) drawing from secular theory on human creation and existence when he quoted from Epimenides of Crete and “Phenomena” by Aratus (Acts 17:28). While there are ideological dangers that threaten the unity of the body of Christ — such as the worldview of the Black Lives Matter movement — this does not mean that all who use social labels to describe a reality subscribe fully to the philosophies that most often are associated with such labels. “White privilege” describes a reality in American society. It does not have to be the experience of all whites in order for the label to hold. It is describing a broad social reality — one of a class, but maybe not one of each individual member of the modifier within the label’s construct. Even spiritually and theologically we understand this, for when we speak of “the body of Christ,” we might not be speaking of each local congregation, but of the class of “church” (e.g., every local congregation might not experience disunity because of the “church’s” use of critical theory labels). Further, without promoting white guilt or political activism, one can speak of the privilege my fellow white brothers and sisters have to walk into a local restaurant — frequented almost exclusively by whites — and receive better service than me without suspicion, prejudice, or a request to leave (because of race or ethnicity). Again, this requires us to understand that the feeling of class guilt (i.e., recognition of contribution to the probably by virtue of being a member of the class) does not require individual guilt (an acceptance of personal wrongdoing against another). Your four points of belief, which are excellent, do not require a disregarding of the theory labels. Please note, too, “psychology of resentment” is borrowing from “secular academia.

    • nickvahalik says:

      Eric, I think the point they are trying to make is that these terms don’t have any place within the church. They are divisive and run counter to the spirit of unity that should pervade our local congregations and the entire body of Christ. Furthermore, if those words aren’t to be used among ourselves within the church, of what use are those words outside of the church? Do we identify with the world? Or do we identify with the one who gave us our image, saved us, sanctifies us?

  • […] signed onto a statement on the infiltration of divisive race politics into the church titled “Critical Theory and the Unity of the Church” written by Bill Evans. I commend this statement and ask readers to give it the broadest […]

  • […] Statement on Critical Theory and Unity in the Church […]

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