“It’s just another example, frankly, of how resistance to, in this case, resistance of Critical Race Theory and looking at institutional patterns, hurts the ability to advance the gospel.” – Dr. Glenn E. Bracey
Find “News With Nicola” on:
Transcript and Show Notes
Nicola (0:17): Welcome to another episode of “News With Nicola,” a Faithfully Magazine podcast brought to you by Faithfully Media. I’m your host, Nicola A. Menzie, managing editor at faithfullymagazine.com.
In this episode of “News With Nicola” we take a look at three items closely related to everyone’s new favorite subject: Critical Race Theory, or CRT.
We look at the rash of state laws banning Critical Race Theory from being taught in classrooms; University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s strange and unusual decision to not offer tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, head of “The 1619 project”; and finally, we look at the Southern Baptist Convention which has its annual meeting in a few days.
To help us sort through some CRT questions, we talk with Dr. Glenn E. Bracey, assistant professor of sociology at Villanova University. I’ll tell you more about Dr. Bracey as we get closer to the interview.
A quick reminder here: Only Faithfully Magazine Partner subscribers can access the full, unedited video and transcript of Nicola’s conversation with Dr. Bracey below. You must be logged into your FM Partner account to see this premium content.
First up: State Laws Banning Critical Race Theory (1:22)
Republican lawmakers in at least 15 states have passed or are proposing laws that would ban Critical Race Theory and, in some cases, The New York Times “1619 Project” from school curricula.
These state bills echo an executive order former President Trump handed down in 2020 that called for “patriotic education” and another executive order that put limitations on diversity training for federal workers. By the way, President Biden has canceled both of those executive orders.
What these state bills are attempting to regulate, on paper anyway, is how educators talk about racism, sexism, and other social issues in light of the nation’s history. And it’s not just K-12 teachers being impacted; higher-ed instructors in several states are facing similar regulations.
Where did this sudden preoccupation with CRT come from? Why is history education getting so much attention in the political arena? Well, according to an article on the New Republic’s website, we can thank quote “an obscure documentarian” named Christopher Rufo for this witch hunt against Critical Race Theory.
According to the New Republic article: “Last September … 36-year-old … Christopher Rufo landed a slot on ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’ Knowing the president would be watching, he sounded the alarm about an ideology almost as obscure as he was: ‘Critical Race Theory.’ Rufo, who describes the theory as the notion that the United States was ‘founded on white supremacy and oppression,’ begged Donald Trump to take action. Critical Race Theory, he warned, had become ‘the default ideology of the federal bureaucracy.’ The next morning, Rufo got a call from Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff; just a few days later, the White House issued a bizarre memo instructing public agencies to root out the theory from government trainings.”
Rufo has reportedly “provided feedback on at least 10 of the Critical Race Theory bills moving through state legislatures.”
Ironically, these state bills don’t actually explain, truthfully anyway, what Critical Race Theory is.
Topic number two: Nikole Hannah Jones and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (3:30)
Nikole Hannah Jones is the architect of the New York Times’ “1619 Project” that examines the history of the United States by positioning its founding in 1619 with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans at Jamestown.
Hannah-Jones was set to join UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media in July as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, a position that has always led to tenure…until now.
Reportedly, according to The 19th, “after pushback from conservatives, the board of trustees denied her tenure despite approval from faculty and the tenure committee, offering a five-year teaching contract instead.”
Currently, UNC is in talks with Hannah-Jones’ legal team in a bid to avoid a federal lawsuit over their failure to offer her tenure.
Initially, it was presented that “conservatives” had been putting pressure on UNC officials over Hannah-Jones’ tenure application. However, it has since been revealed that Walter Hussman, Jr. may have had something to do with all of this. Hussman, a newspaper publisher, is a major donor to UNC which named a journalism school after him.
Although Hussman denies that he “pressured” anyone at UNC about Hannah-Jones’ potential tenure, he did admit that he sent several “emails expressing his concerns” to the dean of UNC journalism school to UNC Chancellor and to a vice Chancellor at the university who is also responsible for the UNC foundation that receives donations for the school customer who insists that he did not threaten to revoke his $25 million pledge to the school said he was “concerned about how Hannah-Jones’s work could clash with his vision for the school and what it teaches.”
His emails actually revealed that Hussman took issue with “The 1619 Project’s” telling of U.S. history and how Hannah Jones allegedly overlooked the roles of Whites who challenged racism during the Civil Rights Movement. This allegation of course, is unfounded. Hannah Jones has long described race beat reporters, among them Black and White individuals, as heroes because of their commitment to such important work.
By the way, Hannah-Jones is Black and Hussman is White.
If you want to understand what’s going on in terms of how disinformation and misinformation is being used to disparage academics, journalists, scholars and faithful Christians, and also being used to manipulate certain segments of the population into thinking a certain way without questioning anything, then you must read this opinion and analysis article published by Slate. It’s titled “The Conservative Disinformation Campaign Against Nikole Hannah-Jones.”
Here’s a bit from that article:
Our research has repeatedly shown these types of lies, moral accusations, misrepresentations, and right racial appeals are often used to justify hate and harassment. In this case, this information is being used to deny a decorated Black journalist tenure and ban the teaching of America’s racial history in our schools.
Of course, it’s possible that some people repeating these talking points are doing so in good faith. But what distinguishes disinformation from its less malevolent cousin misinformation is an unwillingness to acknowledge when one is wrong, even given copious evidence that their characterization of Critical Race Theory often isn’t correct and that their targets often aren’t even examples of Critical Race Theory—much of the conservative establishment has doubled down on its campaign. This serves conservative as well. Overly broad interpretations of Critical Race Theory instill fear in educators and close off much discussion of white supremacy. Even as these appeals to whites shore up the conservative base against the common enemy of liberals. The repetition of the same talking points by pundants, think tanks, and policymakers alike also speaks to a strategically engineered, coordinated campaign.
Now that’s a bit from the Slate article titled “The Conservative Disinformation Campaign Against Nikole Hannah-Jones.”
I’m sharing this information, okay, because I don’t want you to be manipulated. Lord knows I’ve had enough of hearing about CRT, to tell you the truth, but there is just something really wicked going on and I don’t believe that inspiration is heaven-sent, OK. Unless the Ninth Commandment has been rewritten. You don’t have to like CRT. You don’t even have to know anything in depth about CRT to talk honestly about race in this country. But please do not be manipulated into senseless fear. If you are a believer, we are not to be taken over by fear right? We have to be sober-minded, not walk around drunk on lies. We’re supposed to be salt and light. So please do not get caught up and, if you can help it, don’t let your friends and family members get caught up in this hysteria either.
And finally, topic number three: the Southern Baptist Convention (8:49)
Described as the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., the SBC is kind of hard to ignore.
In addition to losing almost half a million members last year—not to mention several notable Black pastors publicly disassociating from the denomination—the SBC has now lost both “professionally and personally,” Dr. Russell Moore.
If you’re not familiar with Russell Moore, starting in 2013, he was the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy entity of the SBC.
Moore got heat from within the SBC when he publicly criticized then-candidate Trump in 2016 and again when he condemned that shameful insurrection attempt at the Capitol. But, according to the Religion News Service, reporting on a letter “leaked by an ERLC trustee on Saturday (May 29),” Moore faced the most aggression, not for his public remarks on Trump, but was harassed by a “small” yet powerful “minority” among “key conservatives and members of the denomination’s governing Executive Committee” for quote “the stands [he] had been taking on the SBC’s race and sexual abuse issues.”
Because of his advocacy, Moore said he was “attacked with the most vicious guerilla tactics” and, as the RNS interprets his letter, “veiled threat[s] … delivered with Mafia-like menace.”
What’s wilder —as if Moore’s revelations aren’t wild enough—is that the former ERLC president states that he and his family received “constant threats from white nationalists and white supremacists, including within our convention.”
He adds: “Some of them have been involved in neo-Confederate activities for years. Some are involved with groups funded by white nationalist nativist organizations. Some have just expressed raw racist sentiment behind closed doors.”
And, apparently, these racist elements posing as Christians within the SBC have a really low tolerance for, quote, “black girls.”
If you read this RNs article, you’ll see that Moore relates how an SBC leader question Trillia Newbell’s commitment to the SBC’s beliefs on gender roles by dismissively referring to this grown woman and child of God as “that black girl.”
It eventually came out that former SBC president Paige Patterson was apparently the one who so casually let these racist remarks roll off his tongue. Patterson, of course, refutes the allegations made by Moore and two other witnesses.
Despite all of its so-called progress over the last 176 years, the Southern Baptist Convention is still very much an ideologically White institution. The people Moore describes in his letter aren’t among the “regular folk.” These are the powerful and influential people calling shots and swaying minds within this large Protestant body.
Now since the report on Moore’s “leaked letter,” others have come forward to verify his claims, most notably Philip Bethancourt has offered himself up as a whistleblower. Bethancourt teaches at the SBC’s Southern Seminary and is a former vice president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, where Moore was previously president.
The timing of all of this, of course, isn’t coincidental. The SBC’s annual meeting is in a few days and top of the agenda is sexual abuse, women preaching, and Critical Race Theory. The SBC, a majority White denomination where some racists still feel comfortable, has been backsliding on its 2019 resolution that called for “Critical Race Theory and intersectionality [to] only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture…”
if you’ve been paying attention in the last year, at least, you know that Critical Race Theory has become a point of contention for the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention, along with other White-led Christian institutions, has been doing its part in the misinformation and disinformation campaign against Critical Race Theory —which again, folks, you do not need to embrace to pursue racial reconciliation.
Now a prominent example of how the SBC has been playing its part in this CRT witch-hunt is that letter produced and signed by the SBC’s six White seminary presidents denouncing CRT as incompatible with their doctrinal beliefs, incompatible with the gospel, not biblical.
Now, it’s been reported that at least 16,000 messengers, or voting representatives of SBC churches, had pre-registered for the annual meeting in Nashville. This meeting is important for a lot of reasons, obviously, but I’m actually interested in how it will work out for race relations within the SBC as they move ahead. This is a powerful and influential entity. It’s very likely that whatever happens at this annual convention will greatly impact this whole disinformation campaign being waged on the surface against CRT, but that we know at its core is actually about political power and white supremacy.
Conversation with Dr. Glenn E. Bracey (14:28)
So to help us make sense of some of these things, such as what CRT is and isn’t, how it can be useful for Christians, and what to make of the SBC’s influence in this area, we turn to some of my conversation with Dr. Glenn E. Bracey. Bracey is an assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Villanova University. Dr. Bracey is an expert on the subject of race and social movements and race and the law. I first became aware of Dr. Bracey in 2017 when he published his research on how White Evangelical churches use “race tests” on people of color. If you don’t know about that paper, you can find both the article and a follow-up interview with Bracey on faithfullymagazine.com.
Bracey also works with Michael Emerson and Chad Brennan at the racial justice and unity center race. He also has a book that he’s working on looking at race in Christian context titled Ghost in the Room.
Watch the full, unedited conversation with Dr. Bracey and read the transcript below:
Nicola: The ironic thing is, a lot of these opponents, these anti-CRT people, they can tell you that, you know, they hate it, it’s bad, you know, it makes White people all racists. And, you know, Black people are stuck in this particular predicament. But then they never tell you what CRT is, they never give you a working definition. So you know what you’re supposed to be mad about what the root of it is. So maybe what’s the very simplified basic version of Critical Race Theory?
Bracey (15:57): So Critical Race Theory is a theoretical perspective born out of law schools in the late 1970s through the 1980s that looked at how race shapes the law, and how law shapes racial dynamics in society. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Nicola (16:18): Based on how we initially met, right, you were doing field study, I believe, on racial dynamics within White Evangelical Christian spaces. So you’re coming from that background. So I take it you’ve been looking at—and I also think you did some work recently with Barna dealing with race. So you’re looking at those spaces, and those spaces seem to be the most vocal about pushing back against CRT? What is it you think they’re missing? Because a lot of times, they’re not defining it. And they’re focusing on I feel like maybe two aspects that they’re pushing back on… It makes every, you know, White person in America racist. And it says, you know, African Americans are forever going to face racism, like this is just a reality. In fact, I feel like that’s what I see as the two main things they’re kind of pushing against and refusing to go deeper on. But what are the common arguments you see, and that you think, you know, people who are serious about seeing how CRT can actually help us work through some stuff, that we should also maybe trying to meet them, you know, middle of the road on and communicate?
Bracey (17:23): Okay, so let me start by thinking through their argument. I would say that what you’re arguing, what you said is their argument, is true. One, that they feel like it makes all White people racist, they really resent that. And they reject the notion that Black people will always be struggling against racism. Part of that, especially part of the first claim, is a sense that because racism is immoral, and they have defined racism as sinful, they want there to be some culpability to racism. In other words, they want some they want racism to be an affirmative action at all times. And they want to resist the notion that, that our systems already reproduce racial inequality. And that, that’s something that people are responsible for.
And that leads me I guess, into the things that we could, we can learn from Critical Race Theory. And that is that you don’t need over bigots to reproduce racial inequality. So there are systems that we’ve put in place. Sometimes our definition of a qualified person, for instance, could have … embed cultural biases around someone who, for instance, has the money to do an unpaid internship first, right? That’s the kind of thing that embeds a bias that doesn’t, that’s not bigotry driven. It’s just an embedded bias, one that is going to have racially disparate impact, or through class in that case. So learning to see where our institutions have internal have a bias built into them that reproduces racial inequality is something that I think CRT can show the church, and that the church has an interest in learning, because the church is invested, or should be invested, in preventing exploitation and preventing inequality because we’re all made equally in the image of God. So that’s one of many things I think Critical Race Theory can be helpful to the church with.
Nicola: So in terms of holding up the tenets of CRT and looking at the core, you know, of Christianity, where do you see there’s overlap or some type of mission?
Bracey: I see it in multiple places. First, the notion that … for Christians we’re made in the image of God. For Critical Race Theory, [it’s] the notion that race is socially constructed, meaning that we are not fundamentally different creatures. We are all one, that there’s…that our racial differences are a product of history, and not a product of our nature or of our creation. That’s one. Two, I think that they share, like I said before, an interest in preventing exploitation, right, that the church [has in common]. I don’t think you have to dig very far in the Bible to see prohibitions against exploiting your neighbor, exploiting foreigners, exploiting, you know, you could go on. And Critical Race Theory is also concerned about preventing exploitation. So whether that happens individually through prejudice or bigotry, or whether that happens institutionally, I think the church and CRT agree that that’s something that they want to prevent.
Nicola (20:51): There seems to be a lot of concern that, you know, they say CRT is at its root is Marxist, and a lot of Christians—and it’s also a simplification of that. So what do you say to that, [when] a Christian says, you know, isn’t CRT Marxist?
Bracey (21:09): Okay. So, first of all, CRT and Marxism are two very different things, very, very different things. Marxism is concerned primarily about economic exploitation, Critical Race Theory is concerned primarily about racial exploitation. The thing that they have in common is, that I keep coming back to this point, is that they’re both concerned about exploitation. And the other thing that they have in common is that they see people, they understand that society has structured people to be in different strata. So people are, people have in Marxism…you might be a capitalist, or you might be part of the proletariat, [you] might be a worker. And your position in this, in the economic structure, determines your interest. And [in] CRT, your racial position might determine some of your interests…. I can go into that if I need to, but I don’t want to sound too much like an academic right now. So they’re concerned about exploitation. They recognize that people are positioned in society unequally, and being positioned in society [equally] reduces the possibility of exploitation. Both want to do do away with that. But that’s the extent to which [to] which they agree. CRT and Marxism are very, very different things. And the church is…to the extent that critics of CRT are calling it Marxism, that is, I think, a disingenuous argument.
Nicola (22:45): Yeah, I would use that word, I think to describe a lot of the arguments that seem to rise to the top to argue against CRT. And the wild thing is right, we didn’t even start, you know, as regular folk outside of academia, didn’t start talking about CRT until like a year or so ago. And all of a sudden, it’s like the golden word everywhere. And so for you personally, with your work, you are in academia, you look at racial situations, especially as it pertains to the church and whatnot. So how do you use aspects of CRT? Or [do] you [use] CRT as a framework in your work?
Bracey (23:19): [For] me, Critical Race Theory lets me look at how race is reproduced in the church, [how] racial inequality in particular is reproduced in the church, [how] racial segregation is reproduced in the church in the absence of explicit bigotry. I think, if I were only…if I were not using … Critical Race Theory … then I would be either forced to call the church bigots because of the persistent segregation, the persistent inequality that comes out of the church, or I would be mystified as to how these things happen. But because I can use Critical Race Theory to look institutionally, look at things like how the pattern of Bible studies at people’s homes has racial impact, or how different racialized performances in—this in one of my articles [on] race [to] talk about the different racialized performances that White people do in the presence of people of color that often leads people of color to leave White churches. Or funding mechanisms….
There’s all kinds of things that reproduce racial inequality in the absence of explicit bigotry that I think the church has an interest in solving. And frankly, even if I wasn’t concerned about the church, which I am as a Christian concerned about the church. As someone concerned about society in general, the church is so large, is so powerful, is so well-funded, is such a cultural driver, that if the church is reproducing racism, then there’s no hope for the country…. So to me, the church is the fundamental place, the place where you start and say ‘God wants to get this right, we want to get this right.’ And so as we root out bigotry, and as we root out the way that sin can work in in conscious and unconscious ways, we also need tools like Critical Race Theory to say, ‘Hey, we have set in motion some things that we don’t want to continue. This is how we interrupt that path.’
Nicola (25:32): And you know, at the same time here, the kicker for me is, like I said, you know, a lot of Christians weren’t even thinking about CRT a year ago. And there are a lot of, you know, for example, the racial reconciliation, right, that’s been going on for a couple of decades. I never heard CRT, I would think those folks would be looking at CRT, but I’ve never heard that mentioned in the books I’ve been reading, etc. So the question then I have is do I even need to be focused, concerned with the CRT framework, understanding it top-down to participate in my church’s racial reconciliation efforts?
Bracey (26:10): Wow. Okay. So one thing before I get to that, I do want to say the church has been focused on Critical Race Theory for several years now. There’s been statements. I mean, you know…John MacArthur’s statement on social justice and the gospel. The very first denial is that Critical Race Theory, one of the first denials, I should say, is that Critical Race Theory is useful for…I can’t remember the exact words here, but that was a 2018 statement. Of course, the Southern Baptist made statements in 2019. So conservative Christians have been, I think, hearing about Critical Race Theory from probably secular colleges first and then hearing it in their institutions next. And I think, [it’s] about the things that we talked about before, the notion that White people can be participating in racism without without being bigots. And so they wanted to push back against that in their institutions, right. So that’s been going on for some time.
Now, do you need to understand Critical Race Theory top-down in order to participate in racial reconciliation? No, no. Critical Race Theory is a relatively small, largely previously obscure movement in the legal academy that has made its way into other parts of academia that helps us understand and analyze society. But it’s not required that everybody read through all of these, like law journals, and everything else to get a sense of what Critical Race Theory is, it’s enough to know that race is important that race is not biologically real, that race shapes our lives, and that [though] our social institutions, we produce racial inequality. That’s enough.
Nicola (28:08): And I want to get into—you mentioned the Southern Baptist Convention. At the same time, you mentioned how powerful the U.S. church is. The Southern Baptist Convention, of course, is the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. And they’ve got their annual meeting coming up in a few days. And at least two of the major issues they will be looking at is likely gender … women ordination, sexual abuse, and race. And they’ve been failing miserably. We’ve seen in the media, at least the last year or so, when it comes to handling sexual abuse cases properly. And then also, with race, you know, we had a few Black pastors say, ‘I gotta go. You guys…are just bent on getting it wrong.’ You know, when I look at it, I’m like, ‘Hmm, this is a denomination founded out of slavery.’ So from the very beginning, there’s been this instinctive, I don’t know, idea to protect a certain way of thinking, a certain way of doing things. Even though as we’ve seen in the past few decades, as a body, they’ve made steps towards, you know, acknowledging that they’ve done horribly on race in the past, apologizing to their non-White members. But at the same time, it’s like, there’s certain elements, it seems, according to—I don’t know if you’ve seen Russell Moore’s letter as well. According to what he experienced, and what he says, there [are] white nationalist elements within this body. So what do you make of what’s going on with the SBC on race? I know that’s a lot, I’m sorry.
Bracey (29:44): It is a lot. And I will just say that it’s a place where Critical Race Theory, if they embraced it, would actually be really helpful. Because one of the tenets of Critical Race Theory is intersectionality. It’s the notion that you that [our] different social locations allow us to see things differently and to see how power works differently and the SBC—and I would say also that it is a biblical idea. A lot of people think that intersectionality is not a [biblical] idea. I argue that it is based on First Corinthians 12. And the notion of how Christ constructed, or God constructed our body, the body of Christ. So [if] they drew on intersectionality, and allow the people who had been suffer[ing] sexual abuse more of a voice, [if] they allowed the people of color, pastors of color, in particular, more of a voice in thinking about Critical Race Theory and thinking about the way that the SBC is structured, etc., they probably would have handled these situations a lot better. It’s just another example, frankly, of how resistance to, in this case, resistance of Critical Race Theory and looking at institutional patterns, hurts the ability to advance the gospel.
Nicola (31:06): That’s ironic, because they’ve been saying CRT works against, you know, focusing on the gospel.
Bracey (31:12): CRT is, I have said in other contexts that mean well…. Since the 1950s, I will say that one of the biggest problems, I would say, to advancing the gospel has been the racism in the church, right? That people of color are looking and saying, ‘You know, I like this Jesus guy, but I really don’t like what the White church is doing. The White church is hostile to us. We don’t want to be a part of that,’ etc. And so it’s been a hindrance to the gospel, a hindrance to reconciliation, a hindrance to unity in the Body of Christ. And by “it,” I mean, the commitment to whiteness, in the majority White church, not Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory is a way to deal with that and actually advance the gospel.
Nicola (32:05): And that’s what this is, right? This push against CRT just like back in the day, the push against desegregation, or whatever it is, or abortion or whatever, you know, that led to the Moral Majority and all this stuff. It’s just a manifestation of…protection—an effort to protect whiteness…. The states that are passing these laws saying you can’t teach this, this and that in the classroom, it’s not really about CRT, it’s about it’s about avoidance.
Bracey (32:32): Exactly. It’s about avoidance. It’s about what academics might call “militant ignorance,” a desire to not know, and a means by which to not know. And so if you [prohibit] this discussion, then you can move along up “innocently” … still benefiting from the injustice without having your conscience called upon. And it’s, again, another irony that the church would be setting itself up to prevent people’s consciences from being called upon around something that we acknowledged in the form of racism, we acknowledge is evil. Why would we not want people’s consciousness to be pricked around something that we know is evil? It just doesn’t make sense. But it’s clearly about protecting white[ness]. There’s no question about that.
Nicola (33:25): And so I guess, to wrap up here, Dr. Bracey. Going forward … this whole argument and the papers, the blog posts, the state laws about CRT, it’s not going to go away anytime soon. And you know, once the SBC holds the annual meeting, and they take certain actions, that’s going to be all over the news as well. So you know, people who are really concerned, curious [and] want to know how to tread going forward, what are some things we should just keep in mind?
Bracey (33:52): Things to keep in mind [would] be that Critical Race Theory is, if we’re just thinking about Critical Race Theory, Critical Race Theory is not a boogeyman, is not an enemy. It’s actually a means for seeking reconciliation and fairness, and equality in Christ. That’s one. Two, I think, an under-appreciated aspect of Critical Race Theory is that its founders were…many of them were Christians who were using, a lot of them, using Christian tropes. And Derek Bell … his final book is called Gospel Choirs. And it’s about how the Black Church tradition has allowed us to overcome institutional racism. So there’s a lot of Christianity drawn upon in Critical Race Theory [that] not hostile to the church. And the other thing I would say is to remember that different voices speak from different places and it’s important to hear from every place within the body of Christ. People who are marginalized through racism or through sexual abuse or through immigration status, or what have you, all of those types of things…we need to hear not just from the dominant folks. We need to hear from people who have been traditionally marginalized, and are still marginalized in our body because we should treat all of our siblings equally. That should be our fundamental commitment.