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4 Ways CRT Forced Me to Restudy the Bible

by Krista Bontrager



Monique has done many media appearances explaining her journey out of the ideology of contemporary critical social theories. But I think there is a hole in our public story, and that is the insights I gained from our conversations about CRT. Monique and I had many arguments in the early years of our friendship about a wide variety of topics related to racism and injustice. These discussions often made me very angry, but they also forced me to go back and re-study the Bible more deeply. And I’m grateful for that. 


I eventually realized that the answers about race, racism, and injustice were in Scripture all along. My clash with Monique over CRT just forced me to notice them. I’d like to highlight four areas where I have gained deeper insights into God’s word on these topics.



1. Race is a Social Construct.


One of the pillars of CRT includes an acknowledgement that race is a social construct. The idea of dividing humanity into categories according to differences in certain physical features, such as hair texture and eye color or shape, is an invention of the Enlightenment. The Human Genome Project (completed in 2003) revealed that humans are 99.9% identical at the DNA level and there is no genetic basis for what we call “race.” So-called racial traits emerged over time as humans adapted to their environment as a result of migration and micro-adaptation. 


When Monique first told me that “race is a social construct,” I had never heard this phrase before. But the good in that situation was that it sent me back to Scripture to study the matter more closely. Doing that homework revealed three foundational truths about humanity:


  • Humans come from a created human pair (see Gen. 3:20; Luke 4:38; Acts 17:26).


  • Humans alone and have been uniquely created in the image of God (see Gen. 1:26-27). This is the ground for human dignity. 


  • The Bible speaks of nations, ethnicity, regional origin, language differences, clans, and cultural differences, but not race. When the Bible does comment on skin color (which is very rare), it mentions it as an observational detail, similar to saying the sky is blue or the grass is green (see Jer. 13:23). In fact, the Bible describes all humans as being one species: human. “For every species (physis) of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species (physis).” (James 3:7; translation my own)


Taking all of this data together, I would say that the Bible knows nothing of the modern concept of race as a category to classify humanity. This is the one pillar of Critical Race Theory (CRT) that Monique and I see as corresponding to the teaching of Scripture. But if I had been reading the Bible carefully, I wouldn’t have needed CRT to point this out. This is why Monique and I have been working to shift our language away from using the term “race” whenever possible, and use terms like ethnicity or culture instead.



2. Systems Can be Rigged For or Against Individuals and Groups.


Another major pillar of CRT is the assertion that systems and institutions can be used to perpetuate racism. In fact, most CRT advocates go so far as to say that racism is embedded in every system and structure to benefit white people and push down people of color (POC). White people must “do the work” of recognizing our complicity in perpetuating these systems and structures. Frequent examples of these unjust systems include the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Dred Scott decision, Jim Crow laws, and “redlining.”


I’m not sure I had ever heard the term “systemic racism” before I met Monique. If I had, I hadn’t paid attention to it or investigated it. I definitely couldn’t have defined it. The truth is, it took me several conversations to even get a basic grasp of this topic. But once I understood the concept, I could immediately see how systems could be rigged to advantage or disadvantage specific groups or individuals. It was a big “Aha!” moment for me.


Once again, I went back to the Bible. It didn’t take me long to find examples of unjust systems. For example, the Pharaoh in Exodus 1:16 targeted Jewish boys. He put a government-endorsed system in place to engage in ethnic genocide combined with gendercide. This is not dissimilar to Herod’s effort to kill all the Jewish boys in Bethlehem under the age of 2 (Matt. 1:16). These biblical examples ought to raise our awareness that sinful humans can engage in behavior targeting particular groups. 


If I had been paying attention to the Bible, I wouldn’t have needed CRT to teach me about unjust systems. It had been there all the time. Using the biblical standard, I also realized that the problem with the CRT version of “systemic racism” is that it’s too limited in scope. It rigs the conversation by asserting that all systems and structures advantage white people and disadvantage POC. But that definition creates a blind spot, omitting the reality that every human is vulnerable to this sin, not just white people. The temptation to create race-based systems and structures isn’t a “white problem.” It’s a human problem. All humans have this potential because all humans are sinners. Christians, of all people, ought to guard against policies that unfairly advantage or disadvantage a group simply based on an artificial feature such as skin color.



3. Holy Living Means Living According to God’s Justice Standards.


When Monique and I were getting to know each other, she often leveled the claim that “white evangelicals don’t care about justice.” The stereotype about white evangelicals is that they are so focused on winning souls and going to heaven that we don’t see any need to address the current evil of earthly oppression. Monique would often quote Micah 6:8 in support of the Christian’s ethical obligations to “do justice.” This is why CRT is seen by some Christians as a helpful analytical tool: It can help identify both the problem of injustice and a standard for implementing solutions.


If I’m honest, I hadn’t given the issue of justice a lot of sustained thought before I met Monique. But these conversations with her, once again, sent me back to Scripture. A careful reading of the biblical text drew my attention to the need to live justice in this life, which is a crucial component of biblical ethics. The ground of justice is the very character of God Himself. Ps. 9:7 says that God has “has established his throne for justice.” And because God is just, He wants his people to be known for reflecting His character (see. Deut. 10:12-19; cf. Deut. 16:19; 1 Sam. 8:3).


God’s word also provides very specific instructions about what constitutes just and unjust treatment of others. This includes truth-telling versus lying or fraud; honoring our parents and preserving the family over adultery and homosexuality; and valuing life, even the lives of the poor, rather than theft or murder. Scripture gives us a framework to identify both the problems and the solutions to injustice.


That’s not to say that each and every issue will be covered in Scripture, but many general principles are and those can be applied to our modern situations.



4. Retelling Our History Ought to Include both the Noble and the Wretched.


Monique used to tell me that there was no way that our nation’s Founding Fathers could have had non-racist ideas because they owned slaves. She was absolutely convinced that our founding principles and documents were inherently racist and that no one who owned slaves could be a real Christian, including George Whitefield or Francis Scott Key. 


While I was aware that Jefferson owned slaves, it was news to me that Whitefield or Key did. Her accusations caused me to think more deeply about the nature of history and how complicated people can be.


When I turned to the pages of Scripture, I noticed a repeated pattern. From cover to cover, the Bible presents a picture of both the noble and the wretched details of highly imperfect people. While Hebrews 11 lays out the best about the great heroes of the faith, when we get into the nitty-gritty details we see that Abraham, David, and Jacob are all highly flawed individuals. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the authors record stories of great faith as well as of great sin. 


This pattern provided a framework for Monique and me to reconsider the complexities of flawed men like our nation’s Founding Fathers—and why Jefferson could own slaves, as well as pen the words that all humans are “created equal.” Or how Whitefield could own slaves, as well as be one of the progenitors of the Great Awakening. Yes, people are capable of profound greatness, as well as of deep sin. 


When I look back at my journey through the many conversations that Monique and I walked through in 2018–2022 about CRT and injustice, I can see how deeper Bible study helped me appreciate how truly vast the wisdom of Scripture truly is. It has far more to say about our current cultural struggle than I previously realized.


 

References


  1. For a good summary and analysis of this ideology, see Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer, Critical Dilemma (Harvest House Publishers, 2023).

  2.  For a layperson’s summary of these ideas, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/22/science/do-races-differ-not-really-genes-show.html.

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