As a professor of mine used to say, “Don’t hear what I am not saying.” I am not saying that political and social justice is bad. Christians should be the first to advocate for biblical social justice. But even still, that is not the purpose of the church. When you confuse the gospel with the fruits of the gospel, you lose the gospel. In the same manner, when you confuse the mission of the church with every faddish social movement, you lose the purpose of the church.
“Antiracists fundamentally reject savior theology that goes right in line with racist ideas and racist theology” -Ibram Kendi
What is Antiracism?
I believe the church is under threat by a new movement called Antiracism. Now this isn’t something new. Throughout history the church has been hijacked by many political, social, and spiritual movements.
But what is Antiracism? The term was coined by author Ibram Kendi, a self-described historian and social psychologist in his book “How to be an Antiracist.” The book has been a bestseller since it’s release in 2019, and has become the standard text for diversity training within the public and private sector.
In my opinion, Antiracism is best defined by what it is not. If Antiracism is contrary to racism, then one might assume that an antiracist is someone opposed to racial prejudice based on skin color. If that were the case, then every Christian should feel comfortable defining themselves as antiracist. We believe that in Christ Jesus God reconciled humanity from every tribe, tongue, and nation into one body.
”There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28
But that is not how Kendi defines racism. Racism, according to Kendi, is “a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas.” Thus, racism is political and social, and not necessarily individual.
According to Kendi, a “racist” is someone who supports “racist” policy through their actions or inactions or expresses a “racist” idea. If you find that confusing, you are not alone. In grade school I was taught not to define a term using the term itself. This is called a circular definition, a logical fallacy which presumes a prior understanding of the word defined.
What Kendi essentially proposes is a worldview. Any form of inequity between races, gender & sex (he separates the two), ethnicities, and cultures can be attributed to racism. Because racism is “racist” policies which lead to inequity, then inequity reveals racism.
Using Kendi’s definition of racism, Antiracism is supporting policies which sustain racial equity between racial groups. What racist policies produce inequity? Only the oppressed can give you the clearest definition.
Liberation Theology Redux
In a recent interview at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan (a church committed to antiracist protest), Kendi shared how he grew up as a preacher’s kid with parents who viewed the church as an engine of liberation. His parents understood that Christianity was supposed to be a source of liberation for black people.
“Jesus was a revolutionary and the job of the Christian is to revolutionize society”
“The job of the Christian is to liberate society from the powers on earth that are oppressing humanity…that is liberation theology in a nutshell.”
In the interview at Judson Memorial, Kendi differentiates liberation theology from what he calls “savior theology”. According to Kendi, “savior theology” teaches that it is the job of Christians to “go out and save” individuals who are behaviorally deficient. The church has done its job when they bring these deficient people into the church, heal them, and then send them on their way. Kendi argues that this line of thinking breeds bigotry because it teaches that oppressed groups are behaviorally deficient, and that they need the church (being used by white people) to sort them out.
The term “liberation theology” was coined by Gustavo Gutierrez in 1971, a Peruvian priest and theologian who sought to apply religious faith by aiding the poor and oppressed through the church’s involvement in political and social affairs. The mission of the church, according to liberation theology, includes recognizing the sinful socioeconomic structures within society and tearing them down, thereby liberating the “oppressed”.
The similarities between Liberation theology and Antiracism are no accident. Antiracism is simply a secularized version of Liberation theology. Antiracism is a racialized form of liberation theology, albeit without the need for church.