This post was updated on 2/22/2022
(Throughout the challenge below, I use “gospel” as a near metonym for “Christianity,” hoping to sidestep many secondary and tertiary doctrinal arguments which might derail the task. I’m sure this could be sorted out in practice; assuming critics, that is, don’t believe in a small gospel with few doctrinal and moral implications.)
It has become nearly a truism for many Christians that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is incompatible with the gospel or Christianity, though none so far have met the burden of proof necessary to sustain such a claim, nor even begun to travel down the rigorous path to do so.
In the realm of ideas, “incompatible” is a logical claim. Just as incompatible people may not be able to comfortably share a space together due to irreconcilable differences, so incompatible ideas are not able to share the same intellectual space due to logical contradiction. And this latter is the claim being made about CRT and Christianity—they are, in whole or in part, irreconcilable due to contradictory ideas or entailments. But it is one thing to claim such incompatibility and quite another to prove it with the required logical rigor.
In this case, I’d argue that the bar to be met to justify the incompatibility claim is straightforward:
In order to prove that CRT is incompatible with the gospel, and thereby justify continued use of the claim, one must:
1. Accurately define and/or describe CRT according to its creators and practitioners.
This first requirement should go without saying. All are aware of the straw man fallacy. But this also requires specificity, clarity, and careful generalization. All too often critics imply an “all” when the source only says “some”; attributions like “CRT rejects traditional liberalism,” for example, are often made without noting that only aspects of liberalism are rejected, not the whole; words like “racism” are often used as univocal from context to context (say, from individual to institutional), often even allowing the reader to assume his own definition while the CRT scholar is explicitly using another; etc.
The only pushback I can foresee to this basic requirement is that CRT may not actually have a universal definition or description. The edges, at the very least, are fuzzy. As CRT cofounder Kimberlé Crenshaw has argued,
CRT is not so much an intellectual unit filled with natural stuff—theories, themes, practices, and the like—but one that is dynamically constituted by a series of contestations and convergences pertaining to the ways that racial power is understood and articulated in the post-civil rights era. In the same way that Kendall Thomas reasoned that race was better thought of as a verb rather than a noun, I want to suggest that shifting the frame of CRT toward a dynamic rather than static reference would be a productive means by which we can link CRT’s past to the contemporary moment. (“Twenty Years of Critical Race Theory: Looking Back to Move Forward,” p. 1261)
Therefore, critics may argue, such a definitional or descriptive requirement is an impossible task. CRT, it might be argued, is by its nature too nebulous to meet this first challenge.
In my estimation, two answers are available in response to this rejoinder. First, I believe that there is a core that makes CRT properly CRT. Though I understand and agree with Dr. Crenshaw’s point, I also agree with CRT scholar Devon Carbado’s assessment that
[a]t the same time, in any given moment, there should be a set of (even provisional) ideas and frames that are available for mobilization and that are themselves re-constituted in the process. (“Critical What What,” p. 1607)
And, thankfully, CRT scholars, including Crenshaw, have repeatedly done so. (See HERE.)
Second, if the critic nevertheless believes this burden is still too great to accomplish due to the indefinability of CRT, then he must admit that his project is already over. If there is no identifiable “CRT” to contradict the truths of the gospel, then there is simply no way to claim, let alone prove, they are incompatible. All the critic can hope to do is argue that some specific ideas commonly associated with the nebulous title “CRT” are incompatible with the gospel. But this, in fact, is what I’ve hoped to come to all along—a discussion of ideas rather than useless critiques by ideological taxonomy and cutie-ism.
2. By 1 (and that is key), either (a) demonstrate that use of any part of CRT entails the whole, (b) demonstrate that every component of CRT is unique to CRT, and therefore the component’s use implicates the whole, or (c) demonstrate that the component used is properly defintional of CRT, such that its denial necessitates denial of the whole.
A few moves are common among those claiming incompatibility which necessarily introduce basic logical fallacies into their claim. First, critics often use any mention of any part or implication of CRT as itself a commitment to the whole. Of course, this simply does not follow, unless the system is so logically complete, with every truth a theorem, that one cannot invoke a part without necessarily implicating the whole. Second, critics often assume the inseparability of parts and implications from the whole. That is, CRT is treated as though rejection of any idea included necessitates rejection of the whole. But even CRT scholars and founders disagree on some components and possible implications without thereby rejecting the whole. Last, critics often declare that CRT has been used or invoked when the specific ideas in question are not at all unique to CRT, but are common to much earlier, and sometimes completely alien, traditions.
Now, given that (1) no one ever uses or invokes any and every possible idea associated with CRT, usually only highlighting some specific components, (2) critics rarely if ever claim that every CRT component or entailment of CRT is incompatible with the gospel, and (3) there’s no way to even begin an incompatibility critique without focusing on components of CRT, then this second requirement is necessary in practice to get any incompatibility project off the ground. Without it, every real-life CRT proponent or scholar could simply respond to the incompatibility claim with, “that idea does not necessitate the whole,” or “that part is separable from the whole,” or “that idea is common to many other traditions that precede or have nothing to do with CRT.” And as far as the logic necessary to prove incompatibility, CRT would be in the clear. Without meeting one of the options in 2 (and any will do), all that can be proven by the critic is that some specific ideas or its entailments may contradict the gospel; which is, again, the discussion about ideas that I’d much prefer to have.
Finally, it is important to approach requirement 2 explicitly under the definition or description given under 1. Some, for example, have quoted definitions and descriptions from CRT founders and scholars, which is great. But then when engaging in critique, they cease to characterize CRT accordingly and introduce claims CRTers would never endorse. When accused of the straw man, they again point to the quotes they previously shared from CRT scholars to suggest they are not falsely characterizing, but then immediately return to the same false characterizations when continuing with critique. It’s like a reverse Motte and Bailey.
3. Finally, by 1 and 2 (again, that is key), demonstrate that CRT necessarily (not could, might, sometimes, can be used to, is associated with, has roots in, or as so construed) entails and/or logically requires a belief or beliefs which logically contradict the gospel.
Here is where the heavy logical lifting comes in. First, since CRT is not about Christianity or the gospel per se, one must demonstrate that an idea or set of ideas entailed by CRT contradict the gospel. “Entailment” doesn’t mean “happens along with,” “can be found in conjunction with,” “is consistent with,” or even “was influenced by.” Technically speaking, a statement or statements entail another statement or statements if and only if every truth assignment that satisfies the former also satisfies the latter. The connection between CRT and the idea or ideas purportedly contradicting truths of the gospel must be proven necessary, not simply contingent, nor even just sufficient. That is, a CRT idea might even lend support to an anti-Christian idea, but if it does not necessarily require nor logically entail it, it is nevertheless compatible and non-contradictory.
Further, this entailment (or these entailments) of CRT must be proven to logically contradict a truth or truths of the gospel. Again, the bar for incompatibility cannot be reduced to “could,” “might,” “can be used to,” “is associated with other ideas which,” “has roots in ideas which,” or “as so construed” contradicts. For a pair of statements to be shown contradictory it must be demonstrated that these statements cannot both be true at the same time.
To conclude, this is the bar that must be met to justify the claim that Critical Race Theory is incompatible with the gospel. Anything less is, at best, a mere claim requiring no attention or response. At worst, it is a slander against the many faithful Christians who find neighbor loving value in CRT. To be clear, until critics can meet the bar set above, which I believe should be agreeable to all who know the meaning of “incompatible,” they ought to cease making this indemonstrable claim.
As a supplement, the following are some common fallacies I see throughout critics’ rudimentary attempts to justify the incompatibility claim. Click the links and get to know them.
The Straw Man: “misrepresenting an opponent’s argument by broadening or narrowing the scope of a premise and/or refuting a weaker version of their argument.”
Association Fallacy: “arguing that because two things share (or are implied to share) some property, they are the same.”
Genetic Fallacy: “a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning or context.”
Fallacy of Composition: “assuming that something true of part of a whole must also be true of the whole.”
Fallacy of Division: “assuming that something true of a composite thing must also be true of all or some of its parts.”
Hasty Generalization: “basing a broad conclusion on a small or unrepresentative sample.”
Affirming the Consequent: “the antecedent in an indicative conditional is claimed to be true because the consequent is true; if A, then B; B, therefore A.”
Denying the Antecedent: “the consequent in an indicative conditional is claimed to be false because the antecedent is false; if A, then B; not A, therefore not B.”