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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Critical Race Theory (CRT) Is Not As Much of A Danger to the Church As Some Think

Updated: Jan 9

Recently, the church world on X (Twitter) was lit up by a handful of people claiming that CRT was "the greatest threat to the church in centuries." This is hogwash.

In 20 years of multi-ethnic pastoral ministry, I could count on one hand the number of people who have come through my church who were in danger of uncritically swallowing CRT. But I've seen hundreds with bitterness, materialism, Prosperity Gospel, Oneness theology, & more.

Could it be... just consider it... That your perspective on the size of the danger of CRT is affected by outrage doomscrolling more then actual pastoral presence in the lives of your people?

If so -- that seems significant!

Look, I get the desire to protect your people from false gospel & things that distract from the gospel. You should definitely do that. But let's not strain out a CRT gnat and swallow a materialism camel.

Is Critical Race Theory a Danger to the Church?

I'm not arguing that CRT isn't, in it's full-orbed Kendi/etc form, incompatible with the gospel. I'm arguing that it isn't the biggest threat to American Christianity, it isn't the biggest threat to the work of God in the souls of your people.

Both CRT and Christian nationalism are inadequate

I'll go one further. For every one person I've had under my pastoral leadership who was in danger of uncritically swallowing Critical Race Theory, I've had at least 10 who had no theological mechanism for distinguishing the kingdom of God from the United States.

Now, it would be ludicrous for me to claim that Christian nationalism is the number one threat to American Christianity. It is not. But it is equally silly to claim CRT is. Both are headed a fundamentally different place than the Kingdom, but they are not its greatest enemies.

Is it right to be worried about Critical Race Theory?

We are right to be vigilant, but it is better to build a solid theology of race and Nation in the light of Kingdom, than it is to build a reactive, pendulum-style theology. We do better when we create frameworks for integrating Biblical truth with current cultural questions, than we do by creating theology by being the opposite of the cultural zeitgeist.

Honestly, part of the reason CRT is ascendant at the moment is because it's a reaction to some areas of theological poverty regarding race, diversity, and the relationship of Kingdom and State. Critical Race Theory is an attempt to explain or understand the dynamic of race, and many Christians have little to no clear mental model of how to understand it outside of "color-blindness." And even color-blindness as a framework was not accepted 50 years ago!

Fifty years ago, large numbers of white evangelical Christians objected to interracial marriage. Our collective grandparents (not accusing either yours or mine!), had demonstrably unbiblical understandings of race.

That means it isn't surprising at all that we are still struggling in this area. Christian theology takes years (or decades) to fully integrate into Christian thinking on the level of the average Christian.

So what should pastors do about Critical Race Theory?

1. Don't freak out about it.

Don't absolutize, then apocalypsize. :) Instead, stand still and breathe. Rest in Jesus, in the Gospel, and be happy.

2. Have conversations about it with people who disagree.

The biggest mistake Christians are making in this area is uncritically accepting or condemning it, without even listening to people who are thoughtful, but unlike them. Don't just get together with your church folks and talk. Find someone who disagrees and ask questions over lunch.

At the very least, read something about CRT with which you disagree.

3. Don't spend emotional energy on fighting it.

Spend your emotional energy on creating clarity instead... creating a positive vision of what you believe about race, and spare yourself the turmoil of dramatic claims about the threat of Critical Race Theory.

4. Don't get your opinions from social media.

Social media feeds trolls from both sides. Extremism on both sides is immediately rewarded by both of the most common social media rewards: admiration and hatred. Twitter or Facebook are difficult places to have honest and nuanced conversations about difficult, complex subjects. (And is there a more difficult subject than race in the United States?)

5. Think deeply, but peacefully.

Approach each discussion irenically (that's an actual word that means "aiming for peace.")

Don't go into the discussion feeling threatened. This fear-based foundation nearly always results in defensiveness and overreaction. You may not need to *change* your position as much as you need to *grow* your position. And the same may be true for the person on the other side.

Refocusing on Actual Discipleship

In 20 years in multi-ethnic pastoral ministry, the nuanced realities of my flock have shaped my perspective on the perceived threat of Critical Race Theory (CRT).

While acknowledging its incompatibility with the gospel, it's essential to avoid hyperbolic reactions and stay focused on actual discipleship -- actual imitation of Christ!

The danger of CRT, though present, pales in comparison to the pervasive influences of materialism, Prosperity Gospel, Oneness theology, and, notably, Christian nationalism. My goal here is not to dismiss concerns but to approach them with a balanced theology that aligns with the Kingdom's principles.

Let us resist the allure of outrage doomscrolling, focusing instead on authentic discipleship that transcends cultural zeitgeists.

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