“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.
Liberation theology teaches that God aligns Himself with the poor, speaks through them, and seeks to liberate them as the church engages the mission of dismantling oppressive civic, social, and political structures. Antiracism teaches that the oppressed know what racism is, and it is their duty to dismantle oppressive racist policies structures which keep them down.
True Gospel, True Mission
Now I do not know if Kendi considers himself a Christian. By his own admission he grew up in a Christian household, but that does not mean he is a Christian or believes what the Bible teaches. I take issue with Kendi’s comments because it reveals a profound misunderstanding of the gospel and the churches mission. It’s a misunderstanding I see being promulgated within evangelicalism, and even in our most conservative denominations.
First, the gospel is the “good news” that Jesus liberates us from the powers of sin and death through His death, burial, and resurrection. The gospel is not a message of liberation from the political, social, and economic problems we face in this life. If that were the case, our New Testament would look drastically different. The early church faced severe persecution from tyrannical Romans and unbelieving Jews, and yet we find no evidence of liberation theology in the writings of the apostles.
Rather, their focus was on the power of the gospel which delivered them from their bondage to sin, united them in Christ into one body, and produced hope for a future glory. In 1st Corinthians 15 Paul defines the gospel for us:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
Kendi refers to this as a “Savior theology” and he is partially correct. Christians recognize that we are more than “behaviorally deficient.” We are born morally bankrupt, enslaved to sin, under God’s wrath, and unable to save ourselves from our condition. We need a savior. Although many churches soft pedal moralism under the guise of the gospel, behavior modification is not the good news.
Second, the mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel. After his resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus gave the apostles this charge:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This charge is what is known as the Great Commission. It is a commission because Christ commanded it, He gives us the power to accomplish it, and we act on His behalf.
The mission of the church is not to become a liberator of the oppressed socially and politically. The church’s mission is to liberate people from their sins by proclaiming the gospel, which is the power of God to save, that they may be united in Christ into one body.
Don’t hear what I am not saying
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.
I live in a city filled with beautiful high-steepled churches which long ago abandoned the gospel and church mission. They have been overtaken by every political and social movement known to man within the past century. These historic churches are being sold and/or rented out as bars, recording studios, art venues, etc. Why? Because they have no good news to offer. It seems that if the church’s message is identical to the worlds, people have no reason to come. Who wants to hear that on a Sunday morning anyway?
The sad irony of Kendi’s interview at Judson Memorial Church is that the Great Commission is inscribed in stone directly behind him. It seems that at one time the mission of Judson Memorial was on point, and yet now they entertain authors like Kendi who deride biblical mission as “savior theology”; a weapon oppressors use against the oppressed.
Antiracism is Anti-Gospel because he denies the need of Christ’s saving work. Any form of Christianity that denies the need for a savior is not Christianity.
Antiracism is Anti-mission because it substitutes peace with God and reconciliation through Christ with temporary political and social liberation.
I pray that our churches and church leaders would have the wisdom and courage to continuing preaching the gospel, as commanded by our Lord and Savior, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Charles Stover is pastor at Redeeming Grace Fellowship (PCA) in Owensville, MO.
To view the whole talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhbbmjqcRvY&t=0s
To view the clip referenced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azJh4N69Q5k