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The Bible Talks About Slavery. So Why Are Conservative Christians So Afraid of Critical Race Theory?

5 minute read
Rev. Jones is president of Union Theological Seminary, a globally recognized graduate school of religion devoted to putting faith into practice for the common good. Rev. Davie is Senior Strategic Advisor to the President at Union Theological Seminary, where he has served as Executive Vice President for a decade.

Republican legislators nationwide are waging a fierce battle to prevent educators from teaching critical race theory—and they’re being helped by conservative Christian leaders willing to intentionally misrepresent their faith for political gain.

Take the Conservative Baptist Network, a major partnership of Southern Baptists across states, which called CRT “anti-gospel” and “divisive” and incompatible with efforts to oppose racism. Meanwhile, the far-right religious Center for Renewing America claims CRT seeks to eliminate the idea that “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And in a new book, theologian Dr. Voddie Baucham argues that CRT falsely creates its own version of Original Sin—racism—and gives no hope for forgiveness. Their theology proclaims antiracist education a greater evil than racism itself.

As ministers and leaders of a proudly progressive religious institution, we are dismayed by how people of faith are warping scripture to condemn CRT. CRT, a framework used in some legal scholarship and rarely actually taught at the grade-school level, has become a shorthand for any curriculum that attempts to grapple with the effects of racism on American history and society. The theory is not designed to create racial division, force us to treat any group better than another, or make white children hate themselves.

At its core, CRT—and, more generally, the inclusive education that its opponents dub CRT—simply calls upon us to acknowledge the realities and horrors of slavery and its lingering impacts on our nation. It demands that we look at ourselves, and our country, honestly and try to learn from past wrongs. This doesn’t just uphold God’s calls for truth; it is also a core message of our most sacred text—the Bible.

Slavery is at the heart of a crucial biblical tale: the story of Moses. The book of Exodus opens by describing a new Egyptian pharaoh who has forced the Israelites into slavery. To prevent them from becoming too powerful, he orders every newborn male to be drowned in the river. But Moses survives, and is later called on by God to free the Hebrews. Eventually, God sends ten plagues to punish pharaoh and Moses leads his once enslaved people to freedom.

Would we say that this story undermines equality because it exposes the plight of a particular group of people? Of course not. But that’s exactly what anti-CRT activists are doing.

There’s another under-appreciated connection between the Old Testament and CRT: Both focus on the experiences and perspectives of those who were oppressed, not of the ones who did the oppressing. The story of Moses centers the story of the enslaved, not the enslavers; CRT studies the impact of systemic racism, not those who put those systems into place.

Now, imagine the story of Moses was removed from the Bible to avoid studying a painful past. It sounds ridiculous, almost inconceivable. But centuries ago, that’s precisely what happened.

Back in the 1800s, British missionaries made special bibles to convert and educate enslaved people. These bibles—which excluded the vast majority of a traditional bible—purposely excised any passages that could encourage enslaved people to seek freedom, including the story of Moses. These bibles, instead, offered sections that could be interpreted to support slavery. For example, they incorporated a passage from Ephesians that read, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

Make no mistake: all people are equal under God. But CRT does nothing to undermine that fundamental truth. It simply acknowledges the facts: systemic racism is a pervasive part of our nation’s history, one that is worthy of serious study and tangible steps to address.

And yet, conservative policymakers are committed to preventing that reality from ever entering the classroom. And they’re not just barring CRT specifically—they’re banning broad teachings about systemic discrimination. Lawmakers in at least eight states have passed legislation that prevents teachers from educating students about the country’s legacy of racism and discussing topics like unconscious bias. For example, Tennessee’s recently passed law prevents educators from teaching that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.” Iowa’s law prohibits educators from teaching that the state or country is fundamentally or systemically racist. About 20 additional states have proposed similar legislation or are preparing to.

From an educational standpoint, it is deeply disturbing that teachers would be barred from sharing such critical subject material with the future generation of leaders. An educator’s job is to expose students to diverse viewpoints, not create a false, one-track narrative.

As Christians, anti-CRT legislation is entirely incompatible with our core religious beliefs. Our religion compels us to confront our world’s history of slavery. It demands we acknowledge the horrors of our past, so we might repent and chart a path for a better tomorrow.

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