I have been thinking some about the role of Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, and Post Modern ideology concerning prevalent ethnic and racial justice and injustice issues. I have been thinking of the rhetoric of cultural and social critics, the presumptive attempt to be “prophetic” in speaking to social problems, and the difficulty of pointing out hard and unpleasant realities, while at the same time maintaining a Biblical attitude and behavior. For the Christian to be prophetic in this day and age must mean that not only he or she has the courage to speak truth to power, or truth to institutions, but also that both the truth that is expounded, and the manner in which it is expounded be grounded and understood from Biblical absolutes. This means our attempts to speak the truth have to be practiced in the context of Christ, Gospel, and grace.
We live in a world of social and cultural criticism. Much of this criticism is media driven, often through the use of humor and especially using satire, sarcasm, and mockery. Some of this criticism arises from pain, from real racial hurt, and from both the results of oppression as well as current acts and attitudes of racism and injustice.
To cut off social criticism from a God’s eye point of view of truth, love, and eternity inevitably leads to all kinds of errors. Some of these errors create darkness in our own souls as we can be crushed by the despair caused by the oppression of societal sin in the world. We can attempt to face the unjust realities of the world without faith and that just keeps us angry, traumatized, and ultimately burned out. We can attempt to face social and economic realities with some kind of jury-rigged earthly analysis, and as brilliant as they might seem or as militant as they may make us feel, they have no hope. Some of that societal sin is the sin of the unjust or unwise State, some is tribal and ethnic oppression, some is collective economic exploitation, some might be the oppression of cultural dominant groups either by design or ignorance, and some of course is familial and interpersonal, i.e. individual to individual.
Believers need to be cultural and societal critics, or at least some leaders in the church have to be. To be “in the world and not of it” means that we are called to some discrimination, some discernment, to know what is happening around us, to us, or to others. We cannot love our neighbors as ourselves if we have no knowledge, concern, or empathy for them. We cannot adequately preach the Gospel to the poor if we don’t know who they are. We cannot throw off the yoke of oppression if we don’t know what oppression is, who is being oppressed and how, and where. It is not always easy work to be culturally discerning. The secular philosophical world can sometimes give us helpful ideas, clues, and even slogans or phrases to help sum up what has happened in history or culture. Common grace allows all human beings to tell a bit of the truth, and it certainly allows them to pick up pretty quickly what they feel to be just and unjust.
Evangelicals have studied, discussed, and written about trends in philosophical culture. They have studied and strategized about generational culture. Some are beginning to add an ethnic and racial analysis to culture, which is long overdue in the American context. Evangelicals have preferred moral criticism and sometimes divorced it (shamefully and embarrassingly so) from justice. As I have read and listened to some of the (Evangelical) modern cultural critics I have been concerned about the amount of polarization that has taken place. For some polarization seems almost to be an achievement, and I am concerned, and sad about that. If we give criticism we have to be able to receive it, and this is often hard for us to hear especially when we feel so right about our stance on the issues. Some seem unable to hear criticism about their views or rhetoric, or have possibly tied their egos to their platforms, and as we should all know, it is hard to disentangle oneself from a run-away band wagon once we are tied to it with our pride. This is as true for the conservative wing of Evangelicals as it is for the more liberal side of Evangelicals.
Here are some of my concerns, i.e., criticisms, and observations about recent conversational trends and they are not to be taken as universal, they are of course generalized but not appropriate for everyone in the conversation.
· Asserting that historic behaviors of past injustice, responsible for residual effects, must all still be at play.
· Asserting that racism is an extremely rare attitude and behavior within specific individuals and is having no significant current impact on culture, society, or politics.
· Inserting racial, ethnic, and tribal rationalizations to explain all inequities.
· Allowing one’s frustration with seemingly implacable societal realities to create theories of systemic, systematic, and intentional conspiracy about those realities.
· Asserting that anyone who describes society and culture in terms of group/class antagonism, or attempts to discuss or describe social injustice must be a Marxist. [There are Marxists, then there are others who are members of the Communist Party (they are not necessarily the same) and then there are others who borrow Marxist social criticism terms and phrases in their speech and writings, but certainly are not consistently Marxist in their ideology.]
· Avoiding and denying subject (individual) responsibility for the creation of cultural and ethnic distortions in equity.
· Avoiding and resisting group (or group representative) responsibility for the reality of privilege and the exercise of power.
· Interpreting even the “well meaning” (but failed) solutions to social problems with the most negative and racist explanations.
· Ignorance of how the radical rhetoric of group condemnation will motivationally affect the opposition, or giving the results no concern.
· Assuming that even in the midst of pointed and emotional speech against perceived evils that the speaker is exempt from giving honor to everyone, especially leaders, love to their neighbors, and especially to what one may assume is an “enemy.”
· Creating the myth that the language of ethnic triumphalism can replace individual moral responsibility, or group activism, on the ground.
· Allowing ethnic and racial identity narratives to harden into tribal narrative competition.
· Failing to see that creating a negative world of personal bitterness and condemnatory speech with an oppositional isolation is an inadequate path for survival, and deprives one of a necessary social and cultural interaction in a multi-cultural world.
· Failing to realize that the language of love is a necessary component of love.
· Creating the false narrative that reconciliation is only a product of the full realization of guilt, confession, repentance, restoration, and reparations or leaving the alternative… permanent condemnation or retribution.
· Creating the false narrative that reconciliation is either accomplished or not, thus denying it as a process that has both emotional and relational beginnings, as well as realizations and actions.
· Creating rhetoric that denies grace to the ignorant and the transgressor (and failing to define the difference) while removing the necessity of faith, humility and responsibility in the response of the victim, thus denying them inherent dignity.
· Failure to see the power of love and mercy to cover a multitude of sins and bring healing even without adequate self-knowledge, self-realization, and personal acceptance of blame and responsibility from the privileged.
· Conflating a Marxist and Post-Modern dialectical tribal analysis to construct a narrative of conflict and competition that alienates rather than reconciles.
· Conflating a conservative political and economic world view, with its attendant patriotic civil religion, with Biblical Christianity.
· A practical rejection of Biblical anthropology and God’s sovereignty in the historical ordering of mankind to bring about his eternal and eschatological purposes.
· An attempt to convey real and honest history with an incisive and unapologetic exposure of injustice and oppression without much hope or Gospel, and without a rhetorical acknowledgement or commitment of the tenacity of the Church to prevail against the gates of hell.