With current technology and the explosion of social media, not to mention the popularity of reality tv, we are being bombarded by all kinds of video coverage and relentless commentary on sin and the depravity of man. From politics, relationship drama to police interactions with the public, we have become a people fixated on our screens via “wanting to know” what is happening in the world around us at all times. We have become a people who struggle with interacting in real time with real people, but we have endless opinions about everything we read or see on our screens.
Teenagers are using social media to live-stream their suicides and crowd after crowd of onlookers are breaking out their cell phones to record kids beating up other kids, instead of intervening to stop the violence. Many others use these same broadcasting tactics to upload a person’s death on YouTube or other social media platforms, specifically if that death was caused at the hands of police. Society and culture has become a real time “Jerry Springer” episode that we cannot look away from and everyone is being “traumatized” by it all. To add to this vicious-circle, there is currently a generation of millennial’s who have never known life without screens, causing further confusion. The divide between perceived threat and real threat has become blurred.
Our mental state and nervous system does not have the capability to be an omnipresent witness to the inundation of humanity’s sin. God did not create us to comprehend sin at the rate that we are seeing today via our screens. God alone has the strength and capacity to witness global evil and not be traumatized by it.
When we hear individuals say that they are “hurting and scared” due to witnessing the death of someone by way of social media who share their same skin color at the hands of police, they are actually experiencing secondary trauma. According to the DSM-V, one does not necessarily have to experience trauma personally, meaning the cognitive ability and nervous system reactions are triggered by being a witness to a traumatic event 1. What is rarely addressed is the reality that if an individual has a nervous system that is already easily triggered, perhaps due to growing up in a home where physical abuse was the preferred method of discipline or they’ve been exposed to other forms violence in their community, or they have been sexually abused, or they have experienced sexual violence or they have experienced domestic violence personally or grew up in a domestic violent home, they have a higher chance of experiencing increased levels of trauma after witnessing a traumatic event.
In line and on par with Genesis 3, we want someone or something to blame, other than recognizing the depravity that resides in our own heart. We fail to consider how our rewired voracious appetites to be “in the know” is damaging our mental health. We gorge our minds on the rating hungry cable networks and news sources who feed us an endless supply of selective agenda-driven trauma-inducing stories, yet we call it “staying informed”. We give a pass to those cell phone wielding offenders who would rather grow social media followers, instead of displaying true empathy and mourning for the sin they are witnessing.
The result: we turn on one another and by proxy, blame an entire demographic for that trauma, on no other basis other than color of someone’s skin.
We also want solutions. Much has been written to reinforce our sin-induced intrinsic need to blame, but most importantly, many authors and scholars seem to have settled on one solution in particular, Critical Race Theory (CRT). This theory includes terms loaded with psychological meaning and mental health consequences, like “unconscious bias”, “white fragility”, “racial trauma”, “transgenerational or intergenerational trauma”, “internalized oppression”, “deconstructing hidden motives”, “embodied lived experiences”, “traumatized oppression”, “racial blindness”, “shriveled-heart syndrome”, “popular consciousness”, “implicit bias”, to name just a few.
The language that has attached itself to Critical Race Theory is psychological language. Armed with new terms and definitions, CRT advocates who come from various fields and disciplines are taking their place as expert psychoanalysts and applying CRT as a form of therapy to solve racism with the final goal of eradicating sin. Christians are not exempt from this trend and unfortunately, many continue to coerce other Christians to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” in the name of embracing some aspects of Critical Race Theory.
This series will attempt to give Christians another perspective to look at Critical Race Theory (CRT), with the goal of helping believers identify it and understand it, from not only a cultural, sociological, or historical racial lens, but also from a counseling and objective mental health lens. There has been an uptick in many Christians expressing their concerns about their own churches teaching characteristics of CRT since many are now adopting some tenets of CRT in reaction to current events. It is becoming more and more difficult for Christians to interact with other well meaning Christians who believe that common grace 2 can cover some aspects of CRT.
Christians who have written on the topic of Critical Race Theory typically address it from either a strictly sociological/cultural lens or a historical lens or a Christian apologist lens, or a mix of the three. This work will include those same components but it will also add a psychological lens. Many Christians have argued that CRT is a multidisciplinary approach to critiquing society on the issue of racism, which it is, but many Christians don’t really understand where the approach originated from philosophically, and most importantly how it has morphed psychologically. Christians must learn how to identify and critically refute the ideas, philosophies, language as well as the psychological implications that allowed CRT to develop, especially when faced with Christian CRT proponents who advocate for some, if not all, aspects of Critical Race Theory in the church.
Critical Race Theory – The Beginning
Critical Race Theory (CRT) started to form in the mid 1970’s by lawyers, activists, legal scholars and professors due to a dissatisfaction to what they believed to be a “slow pace of racial reform” after the Civil Rights law passed in 1964 3 4.
It is important to know that CRT was a subgroup of another movement –> Critical Legal Studies, whose founding members were a group of late 1960’s Yale Law School faculty members and student activists who were radically vocal about civil rights reform at universities and the Vietnam War. 5 6. These activists matured, entered their respective careers and by the late 1970’s they developed their “anti-establishment” theory, Critical Law Theory and directed it towards the legal system 7.
One of the key leaders of the CRT wrote “critical race theory builds on the insights of two previous movements, critical legal studies and radical feminism, to both of which it owes a large debt” 8
The Critical Legal Studies movement claimed that 1) the law was not neutral or impartial 2) it favored those who created the law, mainly those in power and 3) it failed to support the underprivileged. These characteristics assumed an oppressor/oppressed dynamic that they believed was reinforced by the law. To get rid of this hierarchical system of oppression they sought to use the law as a tool to solve these issues. The Critical Legal Studies movement heavily borrowed ideas, inspiration, language and motivation from two very “leftist” theories, Critical Social Theory (aka: Critical Theory), which will be covered at length and American Legal Realism, which will not be covered.
Though the Critical Legal movement was specifically directed at law, it also drew from disciplines not associated with law, like political philosophies, sociology, economics, and literary theories that were driven by Karl Marx and other European revolutionary philosophers, 9 (Weber, Horkheimer, Gramsci, Focuault) 10, some of whom will be covered later. These men were known for criticizing capitalism while proposing socialistic solutions and further expounding the oppressor/oppressed framework. At this point, much of the writing coming from the Critical Legal Studies movement were white elite educated males, which was a major factor in the development of Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory drew from some of those same philosophers11, but were now promoted by minority educated elites.
Before unpacking Critical Race Theory as a psychology, it is necessary to know where the ideas came from. Enter Critical Theory, which was also appropriately known as Marxist instrumentalism 12. Many Christians might not put much value in knowing the history of these philosophical movements, events, or theories, but due to the emphasis being placed on the history of racism, we must consider what else was going on in the world that allowed racism to take root in the hearts and minds of people.
This will not be an exhaustive explanation of Critical Theory, but unfortunately, since there are many pieces to this puzzle, it is important for the Christian to know the nuts and bolts of the cognitive influences that paved the way for the eventual development of Critical Race Theory. In order to do that effectively, it is also really important to know a little bit of the cultural scene, meaning what was happening in society at the time that allowed the founders to come together to formulate and discuss these ideas. Many Christians today have been given a brief overview of Critical Theory, which included spouting out the names of the founders, but then immediately diving into Critical Race Theory. This is understandable because of relevancy, meaning CRT is what churches are currently wrestling with right now, especially since many books being recommended in the church today have an underlying theme of CRT. However, we don’t want to miss the very important how’s and why’s the founders of Critical Theory developed their ideas to begin with.
Next up: Part 1 will cover some of the founders and their philosophies.