A coalition of Reformed church officers signed onto a statement on the infiltration of divisive race politics into the church titled “Critical Theory and the Unity of the Church” written by Bill Evans. I commend this statement and ask readers to give it the broadest circulation through print and social media. Thank you.
Critical Theory and the Unity of the Church
The undersigned concerned individuals are constrained, indeed compelled, to speak to ideological dangers that threaten and subvert the unity of the Body of Christ.
Some in the conservative Reformed community evince a laudable desire to overcome racial injustice, but they often seek to understand racial divisions by relying on categories drawn from the “critical theory” of secular academia (e.g., notions of “white privilege,” “white guilt,” “intersectionality,” and more broadly the power-analysis tradition that stems from Marx, Foucault, and others) rather than from Scripture and the Christian tradition. As a result of this uncritical borrowing, some in the church are falling headlong into the divisive identity politics that now plague the broader culture and particularly higher education.
These secular categories are often unhelpful. For example, what are often taken to be examples of “white privilege” are simply the rights and opportunities that should be enjoyed by all, and the appropriate response is not to engender subjective feelings of “white guilt” but to work to extend these rights and opportunities to all. Furthermore, the notion of “white privilege” is artificial in that many non-Caucasians are similarly “advantaged,” while poor whites often experience problems and disadvantages similar to those experienced by impoverished people of color. While such thinking provides incentives for political activism and a “stick to beat people with,” it does little to further careful analysis, productive theological reflection, and mutual understanding.
More broadly, we contend that reducing the complexity of social relationships to issues of power, and imposing a binary logic that divides human society into oppressors and oppressed is unhelpful in a number of ways. When the rich complexity of human society and motivation is viewed largely through the lens of power analysis much is missed. Such reductionistic thinking also provides a ready rationale for unfairly marginalizing people deemed to be “politically incorrect.” Perhaps most importantly, the identity politics that flow from this fixation on race, gender, sexuality, etc. are powerful centrifugal forces that have the potential to tear not only society but also the church apart. Such a focus on identity almost inevitably gives rise to a psychology of ressentiment, with its anger and desire for revenge.
In short, the grand inclusive vision—one rooted not in identitarian difference but in what people share in common—of racial reconciliation evident, for example, in the work of African-American Presbyterian pastor Francis J. Grimké is being tragically subverted. Grimké drew deeply and decisively on the Christian tradition for his views of justice and social change, and he knew well that secular solutions would not suffice. He wrote: “I am hopeful, because I have faith in the power of the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ to conquer all prejudices, to break down all walls of separation, and to weld together men of all races in one great brotherhood.” (The Works of Francis J. Grimké , I:267).
We believe, not only that such secular categories are inherently divisive, but that there is a better way. Drawing on the Christian doctrine of Creation, we affirm that all people are created in the image of God, that all possess a dignity and value that flow from their relationship to their Creator rather than from the contingencies of race, gender, and ethnicity.
Drawing on the Christian doctrine of sin and the fall, we affirm that all people are sinners and that sin affects every aspect of our existence. All stand in need of God’s grace and mercy. While sinfulness can express itself in different ways depending upon social location, and God does have a special concern for the poor and marginalized, there is no “superior virtue of the oppressed.” The fashionable notion today that only white people can be racists stands in stark tension with this Christian doctrine of sin.
Drawing on the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, we affirm that the Second Person of the Trinity has united himself with humanity and become a member of the human community forever, and that this has powerful implication for our understanding human dignity and community. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “All the great writers of antiquity were a part of the aristocracy of masters . . . and it was necessary that Jesus Christ come to earth to make it understood that all members of the human species are naturally alike and equal” (Democracy in America , 413).
Finally, drawing on the Christian doctrines of Reconciliation and the Church, we affirm with the Apostle Paul that in Christ “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” We insist that this union of the Church with Christ in his obedient death, mighty resurrection, and glorious ascension—intended in the eternal purposes of God and accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit—is more concrete and vital than the contingent social distinctions of race, gender, and ethnicity, and that this unity of the Church must not be subverted by dubious and irremediably divisive secular theories.
August 31, 2017
The Rev. William B. Evans, Ph.D.
Younts Prof. of Bible and Religion
Due West, SC
The Rev. Mark Robinson
PCA Teaching Elder
Darrell B. Harrison
Fellow, Princeton Theological Seminary Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI)
The Rev. Leslie Holmes, Ph.D.
Provost, Erskine Theological Seminary
Due West, SC 29639
The Rev. Andy Webb
Senior Pastor, Providence PCA Church
The Rev. Todd Pruitt
Pastor, Covenant Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Robert Briggs
The Rev. Lane Keister
Pastor, Momence Orthodox Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dr. Dennis E. Bills
Trinity Presbyterian Church
New Martinsville, WV
Gabriel J. Williams, Jr., PhD
Col. Robert J. Mattes, USAF Ret.
Ruling Elder, Christ Church of Arlington Arlington, VA
The Rev. Ken Fryer
Riverside Baptist Church
Denham Springs, LA
Pastor Dan McGhee, M.Div.
Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Church
Benjamin Shaw, Ph.D.
Academic Dean, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
John McDonald, Th.D.
Director of the Seminary
The North American Reformed Seminary
John Barber, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology & Culture
Whitefield Theological Seminary
The Rev. George E. Lacy, Jr.
PCA Teaching Elder
The Rev. William F. Hill, Jr.
PCA Teaching Elder,
Pastor, Fellowship Presbyterian Church
*Institutional connections listed for identification purposes only.