Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and the Gospel
Originally published in February 2020
Over the last several months evangelical Christians have been forced to think about Marxist concepts that, heretofore, were foreign to them. Due in large part to the infamous “Resolution 9” that was adopted by the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), language identifying those concepts, if not the proper understanding of them, has become somewhat familiar to evangelicals.
After all, the title of the SBC’s Resolution 9 is “On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.” The Resolutions Committee strongly rejected any critique of their resolution by the messengers present. They also dismissed my attempt to offer an amendment to it that would have made the resolution more explicitly theological and added warnings about the Marxist origins of the ideologies being promoted.
I wrote a brief assessment of that event a few days after the convention that you can read here. For a more in-depth analysis of the resolution itself, see Tom Nettles’ three-part evaluation of it (here, here, and here).
If you want an in-depth, more detailed analysis of the issues involved and why every Bible believing Christian should be concerned, watch the Founders film, By What Standard? God’s World…God’s Rules. We produced it and are distributing it for free in order to help God’s people recognize the threats that are confronting us through these subtle, deadly ideologies that have arisen over the last few decades.
As I have repeatedly stated in different forums since last summer, I doubt even 25% of the messengers in the room at the time had even heard of Critical Race Theory (CRT) or Intersectionality (IS) prior to the committee’s urging of Southern Baptists to adopt a resolution affirming their use as analytical tools. This is no denigration of the messengers. Rather, it is a simple recognition of the fact that CRT/IS were not a part of the common parlance of Southern Baptists prior to the 2019 convention.
In order to provide what I hope will be a helpful introduction to the issues involved, consider the following definitions and brief explanations of why these ideologies are incompatible with biblical Christianity.
Critical Race Theory
According to Richard Delgado’s & Jean Stefancic’s book, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,
The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power… It not only tries to understand our social situation, but to change it; it sets out not only to ascertain how society organizes itself along racial lines and hierarchies, but to transform it for the better (pp. 2-3; emphasis added).
Arising from a Marxist (and, therefore, atheistic and materialistic) worldview, CRT assumes that
“racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society.” This assumption means that “the individual racist need not exist” in order for “institutional racism [to be] pervasive in the dominant culture.” This presupposition, combined with the Marxist view that all relationships are best understood in terms of power dynamics, causes CRT to assert that existing power structures “are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color” (from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs).
So, CRT assumes that “people of color” are inherently oppressed and marginalized by power structures that are rooted in white privilege and white supremacy. Furthermore, CRT does not merely make that observation, it is definitionally committed to transforming the perceived oppressions it identifies.
Why CRT is incompatible with the gospel
CRT (along with every other Marxist ideology) cannot be reconciled with what the Bible teaches about sin and salvation. First, to view all relationships in terms of power dynamics requires that people be seen in terms of the powerful (privileged, oppressors) and the powerless (marginalized, oppressed). Apart from striking out against God-ordained hierarchies and authority structures (by evaluating them as oppressive power structures), this way of viewing the world fails to evaluate people in their primary relationship, which is as creatures made in the image of their Creator.
Mankind’s greatest need is met in the gospel.
He who defines the problem gets to define the solution. If the main problem for “people of color” is that they are inevitably oppressed by structures that are inherently oppressive, then the only solution is to tear down those structures in the pursuit of justice. This way of thinking at the very least clouds the fact revealed in the Bible that every person’s fundamental problem is that they have sinned against the holy God who created them. This is true for people in any and every category—whether oppressed or oppressor, victim or victimizer, marginalized or privileged.
The fundamental need, therefore, of every person is to be reconciled to God. This is exactly what has been provided through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, mankind’s greatest need is met in the gospel.
But what about those orthodox Christians who believe all of this and yet who tell us that CRT can be a useful analytical tool for thinking about race and racism? I’m glad you asked, because the most charitable way to describe such Christians is “naïve.” I might even want to add, “dangerously naïve.”
Why? Because the tool that you choose, matters. Even when a problem is properly diagnosed it can exacerbated rather than solved by addressing it with the wrong tool.
In southwest Florida we are plagued by Ceratopogonidae. These biting insects are popularly known as noseeums because, well, they are hard to see. They are a problem. So much so that when they invade, I don’t simply want to be removed from them, I want to smash them. Hammers are good for smashing things. But imagine what would happen if a hammer became my tool of choice to deal with noseeums. Sure, I might kill a few (but not nearly as many as I would like to think) and might even relieve some frustration and feel good about my efforts in the process. but their demise would come at the cost of bruises, broken bones, and structural damage. But what is guaranteed—if I use a hammer the way that it is designed to be used—is that any good that might be accomplished will be far outweighed by damage and harm that are done.
Critical Race Theory comes from a godless, materialistic worldview. It cannot be employed in ways that are true to the ideologies embedded in it without undermining the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
The same is true of Intersectionality.
Intersectionality describes the way that different types of discrimination overlap in a marginalized or oppressed person’s experience. It is the idea that a person’s true identity is measured by how many victim-statuses you can call their own. Like CRT, IS views the world through the lens of power dynamics with a person’s social position best understood in terms of discrimination and disadvantage. So, the more disadvantaged groups that you identify with the more oppressed you are.
For example, by current measurements, a black man is more oppressed than a white man. A black woman is more oppressed than a black man. A black lesbian is more oppressed than a black heterosexual woman, and so it goes. As oppressive categories multiply, so do intersectional values. Currently, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian males are at the top of the offender list and those who can claim the most opposite categories are the most oppressed.
The more victim-statuses a person has the greater his or her insight into and authority to speak on issues related to justice, oppression, etc. This “standpoint epistemology” claims that a person’s lived experience and social location provide an almost gnostic understanding of how the world really works.
Why IS is incompatible with the gospel
Like CRT, the great problem with IS is the worldview that forged it and is necessarily embedded in it. Intersectionality operates on a sub-Christian worldview that makes no account for God’s sovereignty over His creation or His prerogative to order it however He chooses. Intersectionality emphasizes the ways that people differ from each other while ignoring, if not rejecting altogether, what the Bible says about the commonality of the human race.
This commonality is seen in three critical ways as taught in Scripture. First, all people are created in God’s image. We are all responsible creatures who have come from the same Creator. Second, we have all sinned against our Creator. Paul spends the bulk of the first three chapters of Romans establishing this point. He emphatically declares, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:22b-23). Intersectionality says, “Ah, but there are distinctions—many of them and they are very important if we are going to help people with their real problems in this world.”
Our identity is found in our relationship to God. By nature, as His creatures. By sin, as rebels against Him. By grace, as His children.
The third way that IS undermines the Bible’s teaching is by downplaying if not rejecting outright the oneness that Christians have with each other because of our union with Christ. To be in Christ is to be spiritually united to all who are in Christ. It is to belong to the family of God. It is to have God as our Father and other Christians as our brothers and sisters. This is precisely the point of Galatians 3:27-28, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Our identity is found in our relationship to God. By nature, as His creatures. By sin, as rebels against Him. By grace, as His children. Authority comes from Him and belongs to those to whom He vests it in the various spheres of life. Insight into how we are to live in God’s world and church comes from Scripture and not from lived experience.
So those who promote the use of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality are standing against what the Word of God teaches about the nature of humanity, sin, righteousness and grace. These ideologies are incompatible with the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word and therefore with the gospel that the Word reveals.
They are not useful analytical tools that Christians can employ as if they are neutral. They have ideas and principles embedded within them that are, at best, antithetical to the way of Christ. Furthermore, they are superfluous to the Christian who reads and understands the Bible and is submissive to its inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency.
For more information on this subject see the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, watch By What Standard? God’s World…God’s Rules, read the book By What Standard? and subscribe to the Founders YouTube channel, where additional content is being added regularly.