“If I cross the road and help, I might be left unclean for the week and unable to participate in Sabbath.” That was likely a true sentiment, but if they had that thought, the Levite and priest should have determined a godly solution. Instead, it became an excuse to walk on by. “If I cross the road and help, I might become detained and miss my important engagements that I am on the way to.” Again, if that was their thought, it was likely true. But they failed to imagine a godly approach and used it as an excuse to walk on by. “If I cross the road and help, I might put myself in danger. The thieves could still be around, or this could be a trap.” Valid concerns, but rather than finding a creative and righteous response, they walked on by.
The One Who Did Not Walk By
Statements like, “all lives matter,” “rioting and looting are wrong,” and “there are a lot of good cops,” are all technically true statements. But, what I see is that they are often used as an excuse to walk on by some very real issues. They are used to turn our head and still feel good about ignoring the man laying on the other side of the road. I am sure the Levite and the priest had some good reasons that they thought of to justify their lack of engagement.
In the parable found in Luke 10:25-37, Jesus offers up the example of the Samaritan as the one truly demonstrating God’s form of righteousness, because he pushed past the technical truths, made no excuses, and found a way to help, even though there were many reasons not to and he was obviously quite busy.
Is Critical Race Theory Worldly?
Here is my point. I have seen many concerns being raised from godly people concerning connections between the current civil rights movement and critical race theory (CRT). They are worried that it is worldliness, or a form of Marxism being smuggled into the church. “Everyone is reading ‘White Fragility,’ and I’m concerned,” we might say, “that the book is rooted in critical race theory.”
I would not want to dismiss those as completely invalid concerns. But, is CRT behind the whole movement to demand racial equality in our society? Absolutely not. Those cries for justice and equality long predate critical race theory. At its core, is CRT an example of worldly thinking and something that we should be careful to not allow to direct the responses and actions of the church? Yes.
If you do not know, CRT is the idea that society is split into groups of the oppressor and the oppressed. The oppressed are further divided into categories based on things like race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, being able-bodied, etc. CRT calls people to examine how they both benefit from and are subject to oppression. Those who do not classify as oppressed in a given category must be willing to admit their advantage and privilege and seek to advocate for those that are oppressed. What this seems to result in practically to many is that the oppressor or privileged person should silence themselves, admit their oppression and give their power over to the oppressed. The more categories of oppression you fall into, the more advocacy and power should be given to you. Many also feel that this practically results in the oppressed being excused for frustration, hatred, or negative responses that are provoked by their various levels of oppression. It is, eventually, the acknowledgement of privilege and responsibility and the surrender of power to the oppressed that will solve inequity. This is an overly simplistic explanation, but it provides, I think, the broad strokes.
Not everything in this theory is bad. Parts of it sound a little more like 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 than we might want to admit. There are other elements of the CRT that are not rooted in the kingdom worldview and should not be brought into the church. CRT is not the answer. At best, it will, in many respects, keep a cycle of division and inequity going, as privilege and power are simply exchanged from one oppressor group to the next. It is not the solution for division. The true answer is only offered by the kingdom of God.
Yet, those that hold to critical theory are largely correct in pointing out the inequities and many of the injustices of our society. In that, it can be a valuable resource. I cannot say it enough, though, that the solutions they offer are not rooted in God’s kingdom and so, in the long run, will be ineffective in bringing about true justice. Only God’s kingdom can do that. So, fully or blindly embracing critical race theory or its theories of intersectionality, intentionally or unintentionally, and the solutions that they offer are not the things that we should ultimately embrace. We need to be careful to not get so swept up in secular sources and ideas so that our solutions look just like the world’s. The world’s record on unity over the many millennia of recorded human history is not good and if we follow their theories and resolutions too closely, not only will we cease to be a light, we will not be able to offer the kingdom as a true alternative.
Levite or Samaritan?
Now, comes the “but.”
But do not use critical theory as an excuse to walk on by. That is what it feels like many are in danger of doing here. Are we going to act like the Levite and the priest or the Samaritan? See the problem. Do not deny it. Do not walk by. Use your kingdom imagination and find a solution. Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Eat the meat, leave the bones.
There is a growing number of ready-made excuses to not cross the road and become engaged all the while, using those excuses to maintain our self-image as being good people.
“Talking about racial injustice is political.” Now I can safely walk on by.
“Should our church engage in racial equity? Have you heard of critical theory?” Bam! Walk on by.
“I think some of their ideas are rooted in Marxism.” A walking we will go.
“Jesus died for all, so all lives matter.” Just walk on by.
“We just need to love everyone and not show favoritism.” Walk on by.
It Did Not Bother You Then
Many of us seemed unconcerned or willfully unaware when political ideologies and allegiances were smuggled into the church (at least when it was ones we agree with). Many turned a blind eye when nationalistic allegiances were adopted into the church. Many were sluggish and unphased when the church mirrored some of the same cultural insensitivities, racial inequities, or blindness to systemic injustices as the society from which we were supposed to have been called out of. We were slow to see, slow to understand, slow to listen, and painfully slow to act. But now, some want to move with lightning quick speed to denounce critical race theory and reject wholesale the hunger for justice that is happening in our society.
Be aware. Barely denouncing systemic injustice in our society or giving it lip service or moving like molasses to take any meaningful action, but springing into full form to denounce things like CRT with all the vigor and excitement of a junior varsity player called into their first varsity game will leave an extremely bitter taste in the mouth of brothers and sisters who have seen many other elements of the world brought into the church without a single objection. I am not saying we should throw the doors open to secular thinking and theories. Quite the opposite. I am calling for kingdom consistency.
A warning from history is instructive. Many walked by the enslaved because they did not like the tactics of the abolitionists. Many walked by the Civil Rights movement because they did not like the protests, the boycotts, or the character of some of the leaders of the movement. There will always be excuses, but we cannot allow those to keep us from doing what is right.
What Would Jesus Do?
Jesus lived and ministered in an incredibly explosive political environment that was full of ethnic and cultural division, violence, riots, and hate. For him, the parable of the good Samaritan was not just a story. It was a description of what his kingdom would look like. Jesus went out of his way to go to Samaria and show that the much-hated people there saw that they mattered to him. He went out of his way to lift up the people that had been left behind, marginalized, and dehumanized. He refused to walk on by.
When there was a cultural conflict in the Jerusalem church, as recorded by Luke in Acts 6, the leaders refused to walk by. They acknowledged the issue and humbly accepted the perspective of the minority group as the truth and then formed what could arguably be referred to, using modern vernacular, as the first diversity team in a church. They refused to walk on by.
Paul called for Christians to put the interests of others ahead of their own and follow the example of Christ (Philippians 2:1-8), but those words hold so much weight to this day because Paul did not just write that, he lived it out. When Peter acted in a discriminatory fashion, he called it out (Galatians 2:11-16). When the Jewish Christians were bullying the Gentiles and subjecting them to bigotry Paul wrote the letter of Galatians to correct them. When cultural division and racial infighting broke out in Rome, Paul wrote the letter of Romans to set them straight. When the church in Corinth began to mimic the social stratification that relegated some to lower levels of treatment and honor, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and made clear that the church should take special care to treat those people within the church in ways that would counteract their mistreatment in society (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Paul refused to walk on by.
Be the Kingdom
The church should have led the way on this in our current context. We should be mentoring the culture. But we moved too slow and we are now trying to catch up.
We should not, however, overlook the influence of critical race theory or reject its analyses of issues when it is correct just because its solutions are not kingdom oriented. We should not use the flaws of CRT or even the fact that we think some of our fellow Christians are a little too cozy or currently blind to its influence to dismiss the whole racial justice movement. Maybe they are blind to it, but what influences and biases are you blind to? We should talk about its strengths and weaknesses as a tool to analyze our culture while being careful not to trust its ultimate solutions. This should be true of everything the world offers as we seek to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Let us not see the man lying in the road, mumble “critical theory” and feel good about the fact that we just avoided a great danger.
Let us not walk on by.
Let us not see the problems in society and the areas of needed growth in our fellowship, look away and make an excuse to not have to get messy. Let us be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. Seeing the problems, encouraging society when they see sin, but not allowing their solutions to lure us in.
Let us use our kingdom imagination to show the world how God’s kingdom responds to sin and inequity in tireless ways so that when their solutions fail yet again, they might look and see a city shining on a hill.
Other Resources :
- To contact the ICOC US Social Cultural Unity and Diversity Team (SCUAD), send an email to email@example.com
- Michael Burn’s Teaching Ministry
- Dr. Richard Rodriguez, Unsealed Indictment
- Gordon Ferguson, Black Tax and White Benefits
- DisciplesToday.org Race & Culture Section
- YouTube: Disciples Today ICOC Race & Culture Playlist