Christian Witness and Critical Race Theory
There has been so much recent uproar and controversy about something that many people don’t understand—and few can point specifically to where harm is being done. Is it the fear of race and theories and historical accounts of American history that are painful? Is it the critique of racism being less about personal prejudice and more about a long history of oppression bolstered by laws, policies, and racial bias?
We may have a red herring in our midst (something intended to be misleading and/or distracting). We get our information and news in various places, and in a protracted season of political and ideological division, it is no wonder we are easily led down paths of misunderstanding or fear. When we are told to be afraid, we listen and often buy trouble that is not for sale. We are told that our children are being threatened by potentially being force-fed a diet of racial hatred, self-loathing, and school lessons on privilege and American slavery. Those become fighting words!
As mentioned in a recent webinar hosted by the Indiana Conference, this new hot topic of controversy about race is happening as the world is facing a global pandemic, the existential crisis of climate change and its threat to the planet, along with gun violence, mass shootings, and voter suppression…need I say more?
In response to a commentary written about Critical Race Theory and The Washington State Chehalis school district, a former teacher wrote what I found to be an understandable explanation of the topic. Patty Howard writes,
“First and foremost, Critical Race Theory does not teach that ‘some students are inherently good, and others are inherently bad based on their outward appearance.’ Critical Race Theory takes a critical look at racial justice and the roots of racism in the United States. It focuses on systemic and institutional changes and challenges that lead to racism and seeks to uncover the hidden dynamics that have brought us to where we are in this country.
Contrary to promoting racism, as has been suggested, Critical Race Theory examines the role of race in our justice system and the complex interplay between race, and gender and its impact on minorities. Unfortunately, some groups have co-opted the term and twisted it to serve their own agendas.”
She concludes by suggesting that people do their own research using credible, unbiased sources.
Those of us who worship under the banner of United Methodism have a solid theological groundwork and should be ready to engage in discussions on racial justice and the pursuit of the beloved community.
I point you to our Book of Worship and Baptismal Covenant.
“Since the earliest times, the vows of Christian baptism have consisted first of the renunciation of all that is evil and then the profession of faith and loyalty to Christ.
We ask: ‘On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?’”
As parents, we respond “I do;” as pastors and lay members, we respond “I do;” as a Church, our response is “We do.”
Article V. The Preamble to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church amended in 2000 concludes with the following sentence, “The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of racial justice at all times and in all places” (Book of Discipline).
The Book of Resolutions represents official expressions of The United Methodist Church on matters of church and society, ranging from the environment to the world community. I point to two of the many resolutions that address racism and the Church’s response. In the 2016 Book of Resolutions #3378 Racism and Economic Justice and # 3374 Annual Conference, Local Church responsibilities for eradicating Racism adopted in 2000 revised and adopted in 2016.
These and other resolutions provide research, biblical grounding, and opportunity for more learning and action.
As for Critical Race Theory and the Church, I warned you that it might be a distraction. A distraction from the assault on the voting rights of American citizens. A distraction from opposition to reducing childhood poverty. A distraction from the open window for racial healing and conversations leading to what author Jemar Tisby calls “The ARC of Racial Justice” (Accountability, Relationships, and Commitment).
This may be our season to look with fresh eyes at our Theological Task. (Read paragraph 105 pages 80-91 2016, Book of Discipline)
“As United Methodists, we are called to identify the needs both of individuals and society and to address those needs out of the resources of Christian faith in a way that is clear, convincing and effective.”
Our task is critical and constructive as we are invited to “think afresh about God, revelation, sin, redemption, worship, church, freedom, justice, moral responsibility, and other theological concerns” (Refer to Par.105 – Our Theological Task, Book of Discipline 2016).
So, what shall we say about these things?
The prophet Isaiah speaks in Isaiah 10:1-2a (NRSV)
“Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
who write oppressive statutes,
2 to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
and that you may make the orphans your prey!”
Jesus reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4:18 (NRSV)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free”
So far, over 580 individuals and churches in Indiana have signed the IN Against Racism Commitment Covenant.
What will you and your church say about these things?
Bishop Julius C. Trimble
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church