The Apostle Paul Would Have Loved Critical Race Theory

Critical race theory for Christians in America

The future of early Christianity hinged in part on the merging of Jews and Gentiles into one people in Christ. A Gentile could be from Rome, Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, or another region, but all Gentiles were united in not being Jewish by race, religion, culture, and politics.

There was a lot more than race wrapped up in this division among different peoples, but there is no doubt that race was certainly part of the mix.

As the Apostle Paul left his post as a powerful religious zealot among the Jews, he became an ambassador to the Gentiles, pursuing a seemingly impossible task. He didn’t see one group dominating the other in a colonial sense. Rather, he sought to unite two very different groups as one new, equal people in Christ.

The regulations of the Jewish law no longer applied to the Law of the Spirit in Christ, but the wisdom and philosophy of the Gentiles also fell short. The history of both groups and their religious frameworks were essential for understanding both groups and for pursuing reconciliation under Christ.

In fact, the entire Christian idea of repentance hinges on an honest accounting of one’s past. Collective action of a group or system was also quite relevant beyond personal reckonings with sin.

Paul had to face the ways he had relied on his knowledge of the Jewish Law and his special place as a chosen member of God’s people before he could see the superiority of a new identity in Christ.

Gentiles had to face the ways that Christ’s foolishness overturned their wisdom and philosophy, not to mention their own sense of cultural superiority over groups like the Jews.

The impact of racial divisions and the underlying challenges of racism in the laws, practices, and institutions at the time of Paul simply couldn’t be overlooked when trying to create one people in Christ.

There is no escaping a phrase like Critical Race Theory in America today, especially in the political realm. Conservative media and politicians have generally emptied the term of any real meaning and stuffed it with every fear, reaction, and grievance of white American culture for the purposes of political activism.

We are living at a time when allegedly small government “conservatives” want to regulate what teachers can talk about in schools, to the point that they are willing to ban discussions of Critical Race Theory. It’s a shocking overreach of the government, especially for people who supposedly dislike an overreaching government.

Even worse, the mere attempt to ban discussions of Critical Race Theory is based entirely on bad faith, unserious misrepresentations of what it is. If such conservative politicians actually presented the reality of Critical Race Theory, their Christian constituents would be forced to reckon with a very uncomfortable reality: Critical Race Theory rightly identifies many of the systemic sins in America.

If white American Christians aspire to live with their black brothers and sisters as one people in Christ, there is a lot more to reconcile than personal racism or racist attitudes in one’s family history. There are systems and cultural histories in America that have afflicted black people in ways that white people would find intolerable.

Mind you, there are enough white Americans who find merely talking about the suffering of black people in America intolerable. Can you imagine what these white Americans would do if they had to face actual discrimination and systemic injustice.

The uncomfortable truth for white American Christians is that a Christian like Paul would have likely loved Critical Race Theory. It succinctly and quite accurately labels the structural sins that black Americans face.

In the hope of cutting through some of the fog and misunderstanding of our times, let’s pause to consider what Critical Race Theory actually is. According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s website:

Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society — from education and housing to employment and healthcare. Critical Race Theory recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice. It is embedded in laws, policies and institutions that uphold and reproduce racial inequalities. According to CRT, societal issues like Black Americans’ higher mortality rate, outsized exposure to police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, denial of affordable housing, and the rates of the death of Black women in childbirth are not unrelated anomalies.

Let’s ask ourselves a few frank questions.

  • Is it God’s dream for anyone to receive inferior education based on the color of their skin?
  • Is it God’s dream for anyone to be denied the purchase of a home based on the color of their skin, as has happened often with red lining in cities?
  • Is it God’s dream for anyone to be denied a job, higher wage, or promotion based on the color of their skin?
  • Is it God’s dream for anyone to suffer higher infant mortality rates due to inadequate healthcare?
  • Is it God’s dream for anyone to suffer harsher treatment from the police or legal system based on the color of their skin?

I can’t imagine anyone affirming these afflictions as good, and there is no denying the fact that these things have happened regularly in America for generations and still continue in some communities. Sometimes even worse things happen based on the color of someone’s skin.

For Paul, who sought to join different races together as one people in Christ and who believed that confession precedes repentance, I can imagine him finding CRT’s clear articulation of cultural and systemic sins quite helpful.

It’s awfully hard to be unified with people who deny your pain and who can’t comprehend your personal story. Critical Race Theory is one tool we can use to simply articulate the pain of a group of people in America who are God’s beloved children and who have an equal share with every other race in God’s Kingdom.

It’s not controversial to say that God’s Kingdom includes all races. However, it is unfortunately controversial to say that some races have suffered and are suffering a great deal more than some others. To deny the suffering of black Americans by turning Critical Race Theory into a political punching bag only drives enormous wedges among God’s people.

Acknowledging the suffering of black Americans at the hands of some in white America isn’t anti-white or reverse racism. This is an opportunity for knowledge and wisdom, to learn and to grow so that we can repent of the systems that have caused a lot of suffering.

The goal of someone like Paul wasn’t to drag down or diminish the Jews or Gentiles. He simply critiqued where the two cultures got stuff wrong and identified how their cultural assumptions about race prevented them from becoming one people in Christ.

I don’t believe it’s God’s dream to tear anyone down. God doesn’t want us to hate our race. Such unfounded fears have been drummed up in bad faith and prevent us from acknowledging the pain of others.

We have an opportunity today to pursue the joining of different races together as one people in Christ in a way that both acknowledges the failures and the pain of the past and elevates everyone to an equal position as beloved children of God. Acknowledging the truth of our past through a tool like Critical Race Theory can help us get there.

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

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