Christianity and Critical Race Theory: A Faithful and Constructive Conversation by Robert Chao Romero and Jeff Liou

Summary: Two academics with pastoral experience process the potential help that Critical Race Theory can bring to the church.

If you are “very online” and active on social media, you likely have encountered discussions about Critical Race Theory. Similarly, if you are active in local school board meetings, you have likely seen community comments about the dangers of critical race theory in education. If this is true for you, you likely already know Christopher Rufo’s work opposing CRT, which seems to have prompted Trump’s executive order on CRT. And it is even more likely that you are aware of Rufo’s tweets where he is explicit about rebranding CRT. One of those tweets says, “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”

Rufo was late to the concern about CRT. Christians like Neil Shenvi started raising concerns about the related but different Critical Theory more than two years earlier, which resulted in a resolution from the SBC around Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality in 2019. And all of this was following the backlash to the increasing interest in addressing racism within the Evangelical Christian world. In 2018, The Gospel Coalition and the SBC public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, jointly hosted the MLK50 Conference on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. This was closely followed by the Together for the Gospel Conference (T4G) giving significant time on the program to addressing racism, like this talk by Ligon Duncan.

Looking back, it appears that 2018 was the high point of the Evangelical church’s willingness to speak publicly about race, and since that time, race has become a more complex topic to address publicly. However, even the 2018 conferences were too late because a month before the MLK50, the New York Times had an influential article about the Black exodus from predominately white Evangelical churches and institutions following the overwhelming support of Donald Trump by White Evangelicals.

This is probably too long of an introduction, but I think the context is essential to how I am reading Christianity and Critical Race Theory. I am no one important, but I have been involved in discussions around racial issues and the evangelical church for a long time. And I was active in those early online discussions about Critical Race Theory. I watched MLK50 and took my (then) three and four-year-old kids to the 50th anniversary of MLK’s funeral in Atlanta. I spent years trying to get my predominately white church to more directly address racial issues more and have small groups and training on race. (I have been leading a small group that started as a Be the Bridge Group and continued for several years.) I have read books and articles by Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, Kimberle Crenshaw, and others.

I think many will not come with my background in Christianity and Critical Race Theory, and I can’t read the book as if I did not have the background that I do. Christianity and Critical Race Theory’s authors are particularly well positioned to write this book. Robert Chao Romero and Jeff Liou are both pastors. Both of them have an academic background that is relevant to the book. Romero has a Law degree and Ph.D. and is a Chicano/a and Central American Studies professor at UCLA. Jeff Liou is the director of theological formation for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and is a professor of Christian Ethics with a background in political theology, race, and justice. These authors are Christian Evangelical insiders with academic backgrounds involved in Critical Race Theory long before the recent interest. Romero has a good history of Latino Theology published by Intervarsity. And Liou’s position with Intervarsity also shows his insider status.

The format of the book is a traditional reformed structure. The four main chapters examine how Critical Race Theory looks at Creation, Fall (sin), Redemption, and Consummation (Eschatology). There is a significant introduction and conclusion as well. But this is a brief book. As complicated as Critical Race Theory is, this is a good introduction in only 180 pages of the main text.

Like the authors, I think the real strength of Critical Race Theory, in its relationship to Christianity, is in identifying wrong (sin). Of course, CRT does not identify everything Christianity does as sin and vice versa. But that would be asking more than any one sociological approach could accomplish. But the fact that sin is identified, I think, is one of the most directly Christian things about CRT.

The first chapter (creation) is oriented toward diversity as a created reality of God, which will also be part of an eschatological reality. The main point of this first chapter is that all cultures and ethnicities have honor and, in some (limited) sense, reflect God’s glory because they are made up of people who are created in the image of God. What is being pushed back against here is a hierarchy of culture as being part of the created order. CRT suggests that race is not a biological but a sociological reality. The creation of race was partly about creating cultural hierarchy, and the church largely embraced that understanding of culture. CRT can help see why that understanding is harmful and theologically wrong.

Chapter three, Redemption, is mainly about how as Christians, we need to see institutions as part of the created order. The authors do not phrase it this way, but Curtis Chang of the Good Faith Podcast regularly talks about institutions being made in the image of God, not just individuals. And I think CRT, because it is oriented toward institutions and systems, not individuals, fits in with Chang’s description. This chapter mainly discusses Christian colleges and other Christian institutions and how they can help and harm. But, again, CRT is primarily a diagnostic tool and can help identify how our Christian institutions harm people of color, women, and other minority groups.

The final main chapter is about escatology and the Beloved Community. This is when the authors think CRT has the least to offer Christianity because they view it as lacking hope. This reminds me of Thabiti Anyabwile and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s conversation about the role of hope back in 2015. I came away from that conversation thinking that while I theologically mostly agree with Thabiti, I think Ta-Nehisi Coates won the day because he suggests that he does not think that race relations in the US will fundamentally change in either his or his son’s lifetime. However, he still works toward change even though he does not think the change will happen. Working toward change that you think will not happen in a hundred years is a type of hope that I think is undervalued. I believe theoretically in the eschatological end where Christ makes everything right. But similar to how I came away from the linked conversation, this chapter feels like it places too much value on the expectation of a future as being a particularly Christian ideal. In many ways, secular and religious people that are not Christians also have hope, even if it is not expressed in the same eschatological language.

I was on board before I started reading Christianity and Critical Race Theory. This book primarily reflects what I believe. I think the message should be read widely, especially by those who are overtly for a Christian view of social justice but have been influenced by the anti-CRT discussion. I have quibbles, but I think this is a book that does well reflecting orthodox Christian belief and an excellent academic understanding of Critical Race Theory.

The publisher provided me with an advance (PDF) copy of the book for purposes of review.

Christianity and Critical Race Theory: A Faithful and Constructive Conversation by Robert Chao Romero and Jeff Liou Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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