As a father of three sons, I’m used to dealing with imaginary, nighttime threats. These boogeymen are familiar to many parents. Children can take ordinary things in their room such as shadows, toys, or furniture and transform them into terrifying monsters. However, it’s not only children who have their boogeymen.
In 1959, protesters gathered in Little Rock, Arkansas, to decry the “evil” of school integration declaring that “Race Mixing is Communism.” During the Civil Rights Movement, many White Americans and White Christians called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a communist because of his focus on social justice, righteousness in American society, and Christ-like living in the White Evangelical church. The boogeyman for White America and the White American church was communism, and speaking honestly about race and their unwarranted focus on it allowed them to reject and ignore the need for true, God-honoring change in society and the church.
The New Boogeyman
Not a lot has changed concerning the White Evangelical and Reformed* church. King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” We’re seeing this fulfilled in 2020 because the White Evangelical and Reformed church has a new boogeyman: Critical Race Theory.
We all know this year has been a difficult one with racist killings and police brutality against Black image-bearers. It’s also been one of hope and promise of change with global protests proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter,” companies beginning to reckon with racism within their walls and systems, states pulling down Confederate monuments, and Mississippi finally changing its state flag. Yet, instead of the vast majority of White Evangelical and Reformed church taking their place and following the Black church in speaking out against racial injustice and offering holistic change found in the person and work of Jesus Christ who came “to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on Earth or in Heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20), many have focused on Critical Race Theory instead.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a theory that seeks to explain the problem of racism, how it’s affected society, and offer various solutions. As with any secular theory, there are parts of CRT that go against orthodox and clear biblical teachings, such as its view of sexuality. As Christians, we are to reject those parts. But there are parts of CRT that we as Christians can and should agree with, such as oppression and racism being major issues within our society. It’s ironic that the same White Evangelicals who will decry CRT and reject it wholesale are the same ones who voted for President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, although, in their words, “We don’t accept or believe everything he or the Republican Party believes.” In the words of my wife, “If White Christians are able to overlook the character of President Trump, a morally bankrupt man who claims to be a Christian, they certainly can overlook the blind spots of Critical Race Theory.”
How come they are unwilling to treat CRT the same way? How come our White Evangelical brothers and sisters are unwilling to stand with us, their Black brothers and sisters, and show from the Word of God that racism, White supremacy, and structural racism (such as mass incarceration) are wicked and need to be brought down in the name and power of Jesus Christ?
Rasool Berry, in his article titled “Uncritical Race Theory,” wrote along the same lines when he wrote the following:
“Similarly to how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was branded a Communist in spite of his staunch rejection of Marxist ideology and insistence on the spiritual nature of his calling, the current rebuttal to Christians who say ‘Black Lives Matter!’ or who work toward racial justice is that they too have been taken captive by anti-Christian ideologies. Instead of lamenting what Dr. Soong-Chan Rah calls ‘the dead bodies in the room’ there has been an insidious attempt to rebuke, chastise and even excommunicate Christians who maintain that racial injustice is a biblical issue.”
The Real Issue
So what is the real issue? Is it that CRT really is the threat many White Christians claim it to be? No. The real issue is about full equality for African Americans inside and outside the church. The issue isn’t CRT. The issues are, as it always has been in American history, racism and white supremacy.
Instead of White Christians taking a long hard look at themselves, their church, their systems, and seeing how they’ve contributed to the ongoing oppression of their Black neighbors by their active involvement or complicity, they transform CRT into their new boogeyman. They believe this boogeyman is going to destroy the church and her witness. They are fighting this imaginary threat instead of realizing that the real threats of racism and white supremacy are already in their midst and has been destroying them and their witness to a world. Sadly, the world is ahead of them in fighting against social injustice. They use their boogeyman to ignore and reject the need for social justice and redemptive ethnic unity.
The fact is, if the White Evangelical and Reformed church treated racism and white supremacy the way they do CRT, the American church as a whole would be much further along and we’d see more positive change in American society. However, the White Evangelical and Reformed church continues to act the same way they did back in the ’50s and ’60s. “There is nothing new under the sun.”
The Path Forward
Racism never goes away, it adapts. Part of the problem with recognizing racism today is that people (who were never all that willing to admit its specific manifestations anyway) don't see how it affects all sectors of society and doesn't need individual animus to operate. pic.twitter.com/gJseepFh0u
— Jemar Tisby, PhD (@JemarTisby) July 29, 2019
So Black Christians, what do we do now? How do we respond to the reality of Jemar Tisby’s words that “[r]acism never goes away, it adapts?” How do we respond to the reality that many White Evangelicals made a boogeyman out of communism and are doing the same regarding Critical Race Theory in order to continue in their ignorance and sin?
We do what we’ve always done. We pray for justice to be done inside and outside of the church. We speak the truth in love. We preach and proclaim the Word of King Jesus who is the God of justice and righteousness. We refuse to negotiate, ignore, or reject our Black humanity and we protect our peace and joy by refusing to argue with our White Christian brothers and sisters who don’t want to lament or understand but only seek to debate as if our lives and experiences are academic topics to be dissected. We continue to reject all White Evangelical boogeymen because we know it’s simply a distraction from the real issues. And by the person, power, and presence of Jesus Christ, we continue to work to see the destruction of racism and white supremacy, knowing that their final destruction will be at the hands of the brown-skinned, Middle Eastern, refugee who was falsely accused, brutalized, and murdered by the police of his day, only to be raised to life and made King.
*Editor’s Note: The “Reformed church” includes denominations that stand in agreement with statements of faith from a wing of the Protestant Reformation including the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the United Reformed Church.