Of course, if pastors want to mention “intersectionality” or “critical race theory” by name, they can. At the bottom of the page, I link to several resources that may be helpful for background reading. However, I want to encourage you: just preach the Bible. The Bible contains everything we need to teach the truth and to refute error. By all means, engage the culture and do your intellectual homework. But trust in the power of Scripture to change minds and hearts.
The phrase “critical race theory” (CRT) has been trending recently, due in large part to President Trump’s Executive Order on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” In the last few months, several prominent evangelical pastors have tackled the topic of CRT (John Piper) or the related area of postmodern critical theory (Tim Keller), concluding that they both are incompatible with the Christian faith. Two days ago, the presidents of the six Southern Baptist Seminaries issued a joint statement along with my pastor, SBC President JD Greear, affirming that “Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”
This was a welcome announcement for those of us who, like myself, have been warning fellow evangelicals about the influence of critical theory in general and critical race theory in particular on the church. I hope we’ll see more and more Christian organizations commit publicly and explicitly to rejecting both racism and Critical Race Theory.
In this essay, I’d like to encourage pastors to oppose the errors of CRT, but I’ll suggest what might seem like an unusual approach: pastors should consider preaching against CRT without mentioning CRT at all. Let me repeat that: pastors, consider preaching against critical race theory without using the phrase “critical race theory.” Why? For two reasons.
First, we need to take our focus off the label “critical race theory” and focus instead on the unbiblical ideas at the heart of CRT. If you merely firebomb the term “critical race theory,” people will repackage the same bad ideas under some other label. A repudiation of the term “critical race theory” –no matter how strong– leaves plenty of room for people to say “I completely and utterly reject CRT; I’m merely arguing that racism is a normal, permanent, and pervasive system of privilege which is hidden behind ideas like colorblindness, sustained by ‘white fragility’, best understood by people of color, and part of interlocking systems of oppression.” In other words, it allows people to deny embracing CRT while still embracing all the core tenets of CRT. Consequently, we have to equip Christians to recognize and reject the underlying ideas rather than only having a reflexive aversion to certain terms.
Second, critical race theory is an academic discipline with a vast literature, spanning multiple decades, dozens of major scholars, and tens of thousands of pages of key writings. Therefore, many pastors may feel just as hesitant to preach a sermon on “the incompatibility of CRT and Christianity” as they would to preach a sermon on “the incompatibility of quantum multiverse theory and Christianity.” What’s more, even if you have a good grasp of the core ideas of CRT, you’ll still likely face a barrage of criticism. You’ll be told that you lack the necessary academic qualifications to truly understand these ideas, that CRT is just a conservative bogeyman, that opposition to CRT is a dog-whistle for racism, and on and on.
My proposed solution is to shepherd your flock by sticking to what you know and are commanded to expound: the Bible. There are core biblical truths that will radically undermine the core tenets of CRT. Therefore, critics will be forced to critique the Bible itself rather than critiquing your grasp of CRT or your motivations or your politics. And that’s where we ultimately want this issue to be settled: by appeals to the Bible.
So what are the key biblical doctrines you should preach on? I’ll list six.
Racism is a Sin
While Christians nearly universally recognize that racism is a sin, they can rarely explain what makes it a sin. Biblically, racism is the sin of partiality. This partiality can take horrifically egregious forms, as when we deny that certain human beings are made in God’s image. Or it can take more subtle forms, as when we mistreat or disdain people on the basis of the color of their skin. This partiality can be codified and systematized into law, as it was under slavery and Jim Crow. Or it can be present only in our individual thoughts and behavior. Regardless, racism is a sin because it violates God’s commands regarding impartiality in judgment and love for neighbor (Ex. 23:1-8, Deut. 16:19, Lev. 19:15, James 2:1-4).
Why it’s relevant: the recognition that racism is primarily a sin undermines the common claim that “people of color cannot be racist.” Because CRT focuses on systems, rather than individuals, it is common for CRTs to define racism not merely as prejudice, but as “prejudice plus power.” Thus, while CRTs will affirm that people of color can be just as prejudiced as whites, they will deny that people of color can be racist by definition. Emphasizing that racism is a sin entails that it is a transgression to which all Christians, whether Black or White or Hispanic or Asian, are susceptible. Additionally, in 2020, many people of color have significant cultural power and can wield it to disadvantage whites. Reminding your congregation that racism is a sin forces all people to evaluate their responsibility to love their neighbor and to use their power justly.
See more here: An Antiracism Glossary – Racism
A Christian’s Primary Identity is in Christ, not in their Demographic Group
God created all people groups and ordained the times and places we would live (Acts 17:26). Therefore, even though the modern conception of “race” is a social construct, the category of “ethnicity” is not. Paul exulted in his Jewish ancestry (Rom. 3:1-2), referred to the Jews as “his people” (Rom. 9:3), and notes how fellow Jewish believers brought him comfort (Col. 4:11). Consequently, it is not sinful to have an ethnic identity or a cultural identity or a nationality. However, Paul also recognized that all these identity makers are so radically demoted in importance when compared to our primary identity in Christ that they should be considered “as dung” (Phil. 3:8). This principle of the centrality and supremacy of our identity in Christ has two consequences.
Why it’s relevant: First, if we ever begin to feel more sympathy, more unity, and more solidarity towards non-Christians who share our skin color or our gender or our nationality than towards Christians from a different demographic group, we must question our hearts. If any of these identities challenge our fundamental identity in Christ, it has become an idol. Second, if we ever begin to disdain or mistrust another Christian solely due to their demographic group, we must check this impulse and mortify it. We stand before God and therefore within the church as brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal. 3:26-28), not as oppressed Christians and oppressor Christians.