Our first1 articles2 on Critical Race Theory3 (CRT) for Missio Alliance were originally published in March 2021. Since then, we’ve kept a close eye on how the conversation about CRT has been unfolding in the news and in the Christian spaces we are connected to. Needless to say, we observe lots more heat with not much more light. What we consider to be a deliberate misinformation campaign about CRT has only grown in strength in the past two years. We want to be clear, however, that neither of us cares to defend CRT as an ideology that Christians must adopt in order to be faithful. CRT is simply not that.
Some of the greatest turmoil we observe in this cultural moment is in public schooling. Teachers, curricula, textbooks, and school libraries are being scrutinized for any content or teaching that ideologues might brand as CRT. School district board meetings are occasions for heated debate and political power moves. In response to the growing cultural assault on CRT across the country, in 2021 the UCLA School of Law Critical Race Studies Program began tracking the rise of anti-CRT public policy across the country. Called the “Critical Race Forward Tracking Project,” you can use this interactive map to see what CRT developments are taking place close to where you live.
Near us in Orange County, for example, a proposal took pains to prohibit teaching that “Slavery was the primary purpose of the founding the United States,” and to protect “meritocracy” from being taught as oppressive. To some degree, we are screaming into the abyss when we say with our whole chest that these concerns reflect a paranoid caricature of the primary CRT sources with which we are acquainted. (To be fair to critics of CRT, it should be noted that while it’s not our burden to do so, we can’t disprove that there are those who may align with the harshest characterizations represented in these anti-CRT policy proposals.) In this sense, we see a spirit of fear running wild and free among parents and school boards. We long to see the love, power, and self-control of 2 Timothy 1:7 reign supreme in this dialogue instead.
Near the heart of what grieves us in the tumult over CRT is the systematic campaign to suppress the perspectives of people and communities whose stories of survival are marked by Christian neighbor-love, gospel faithfulness, and spiritual resilience. We want to be clear in our support for teaching the black intellectual tradition, as well as 500 years of Latina/o social justice, to which we could add decades of Asian American activism! All of these resources are filled with stories of Christian faithfulness. In one sense, history suggests that the selective forgetting of anti-CRT efforts will backfire, especially since information is more available than ever before. Still, it is worth our careful concern because history also suggests that this ugly “violence of spirit” is contagious. What grieves us in the tumult over CRT is the systematic campaign to suppress the perspectives of people and communities whose stories of survival are marked by Christian neighbor-love, gospel faithfulness, and spiritual resilience. Click To Tweet
The attempted erasure of the painful histories of communities of Color in the United States has its parallel in Egyptian history and the biblical account of the Exodus. As readers of Missio Alliance will know, the account of the Exodus is a central historical narrative of the Judeo-Christian faith tradition. Following the death of Joseph and his generation, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt by “a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing” (Exodus 1: 8). For purported reasons of national security, this king (Pharoah) scapegoated the ethnic community of Israelites, oppressed them with forced labor, and kept them segregated in Goshen: “’Look,’” he said to his people, ‘the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.’ So they put slave masters over them to oppress them” (Exodus 1:9-11). The attempted erasure of the painful histories of communities of Color in the United States has its parallel in Egyptian history and the biblical account of the Exodus. Click To Tweet
As a curious fact, no extant Egyptian historical records have been found regarding the Israelite Exodus. Were it not for the account of the Exodus preserved by the former slaves themselves in sacred Scripture, we would not know about this great act of God’s deliverance from ethnic oppression. Presumably, the ancient Egyptians were embarrassed by this episode of their history and therefore chose not to record it for posterity. But the Exodus did occur. And when the Israelites “heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped” (Exodus 4:31). Subsequently, God’s deliverance of the Israelites from their slavery and oppression became the basis for the formation of a new community which was to be a light unto the world in part because their historical experiences of injustice allowed them to understand God’s justice in a personal way. God’s deliverance of the Israelites from their slavery and oppression became the basis for the formation of a new community which was to be a light unto the world in part because their own historical experiences of injustice. Click To Tweet
Like the ancient Egyptians and their omission of the Exodus account, there are many in today’s culture wars who wish to erase the grave racial sins of the United States from the historical record. This is problematic for at least two reasons:
- First, the unfortunate racial and racist history of the U.S. is well documented by historians of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds who have delved deeply and systematically into the primary documents of American history.
Thousands upon thousands of peer-reviewed academic books, dissertations, theses, and journal articles have been published as empirical analyses of the actual racial history of the United States.
- Secondly, the historical revisionism of the anti-CRT movement also erases countless stories of God’s Exodus experienced by communities of Color in the United States over the centuries.
Like the Israelites, over and over again, we have bowed down in worship because we have known that the Lord is concerned about us and has seen saw our misery. In my own (Robert) ethnic upbringing, the Brown Church has experienced 500 years of “testimonios” of God’s concern and deliverance both in the U.S. and Latin America. We have countless stories of “mini-exoduses” in our daily lives from discrimination in education, housing, healthcare, and employment; families kept together despite the brokenness of our immigration system; and large exoduses such as the successful farmworker’s movement of the 1960’s and the immigration reforms of both 1965 and 1986. Every other non-White ethnic culture can tell a similar story of their own American experience. It’s uncanny, but true.
Even if granting the reality that cultural experiences are not uniformly equal, anti-CRT attacks on history and academic curriculum deny both our metaphorical experiences of oppression in the house of Egypt and our many faith-inspired stories of God’s deliverance. As history and the current political moment attest, it’s hard to see the miracles of God’s Exodus with the eyes of Egypt. Like the ancient Egyptians and their omission of the Exodus account, many in today’s culture wars wish to erase the grave racial sins of the United States from the historical record. This is problematic for 2 reasons. (1/3) Click To Tweet First, the unfortunate racial and racist history of the U.S. is well documented by historians of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds who have delved deeply and systematically into the primary documents of American history. (2/3) Click To Tweet Secondly, the historical revisionism of the anti-CRT movement also erases countless stories of God’s Exodus experienced by communities of Color in the United States over the centuries. (3/3) Click To Tweet
Christianity and Critical Race Theory: A Faithful and Constructive Conversation, co-authored by Robert Chao Romero and Jeff Liou, is available for purchase on April 25, 2023. You can learn more about the book here.
Robert Chao Romero is an associate professor in the UCLA departments of Chicana/o Studies and Central America Studies, and Asian American Studies. He received his Ph.D. from UCLA in Latin American History and his Juris Doctor from U.C. Berkeley, and is also an attorney. Romero is the author of several books, including, “The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940” and “Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity.” “The Chinese in Mexico” received the Latina/o Studies book award from the Latin American Studies Association and “Brown Church” received the InterVarsity Press Readers’ Choice Award for best academic title. Romero is also an ordained minister and faith rooted community organizer.
Robert Chao Romero es profesor asociado en los departamentos de UCLA de Estudios Chicanos y Estudios Centroamericanos, y de Estudios Asiáticos Americanos. Recibió su Ph.D. de UCLA en Historia Latinoamericana y su Juris Doctor de la U.C. Berkeley, y también es abogado. Romero es autor de varios libros, entre ellos, “The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940” y “Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina / o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity.” “The Chinese in Mexico” recibió el premio al mejor libro de Estudios Latinos de la Asociación de Estudios Latinoamericanos y “Brown Church” recibió el premio InterVarsity Press Reader’s Choice Award al mejor título académico. Romero también es un ministro ordenado y un organizador comunitario arraigado en la fe.
Rev. Dr. Jeff Liou serves on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as Director of Theological Formation. Jeff is co-author of the AACC “Statement Against Anti-Asian Racism in a Time of COVID 19,” and has worked as a pastor, university chaplain, and adjunct professor. He earned his PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary, where he studied the intersection of race and theology. Jeff has contributed chapters to books on Asian American Christianity and ethics in pastoral ministry. Jeff lives in Southern California with his wife, Lisa, and their two children.
1 Robert Chao Romero, “Understanding Critical Race Theory, Part 1,” (Originally published by Missio Alliance on March 24, 2021 at https://www.missioalliance.org/understanding-critical-race-theory-part-1/).
2 Jeff Liou, “Understanding Critical Race Theory, Part 2,” (Originally published by Missio Alliance on March 26, 2021 at https://www.missioalliance.org/understanding-critical-race-theory-part-2/).
3 *Editorial Note: From Robert Chao Romero’s March 2021 piece, “Understanding Critical Race Theory, Part 1,” Romero quotes the work of scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic in Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, who describe critical race theory in the following manner: “The critical race theory movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law” (Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 3). ~CK