Exile: Sunday, March 27 – Hosea

Read:

Probably around the same time Amos arrived in town, at the idolatrous temple in Bethel, God was asking another prophet in the Northern Kingdom to do something even more outrageous: “Get yourself a prostitute wife and have some kids with her.” Of course, Hosea’s peers did not understand. Hosea was likely a middle to upper-class man. He was supposed to be an upstanding citizen. But his life decisions led people to say he was a “fool” and “out of his mind” (9:7). 

In some ways, the nation of Israel was founded from the beginning on idolatry, as the people quickly made a golden calf and called it their God, Yahweh. Now, the people are again worshiping God at a golden calf in Bethel. Yet they say they know God. This claim would be their undoing. It was one thing not to worship God—but to worship a distorted image of God–while still calling it God–was fatal.

Through the risk and suffering in this prophet’s personal life, God communicated His own grief and spurned love with His people. Hosea models the gut-wrenching risk of love, especially the grief of God trying to love the people He created. Perhaps Paul was reflecting on Hosea’s life and marriage when he later wrote that our marriages tell a story of love: ideally, the story of God loving his people (Eph. 5:32).

Hosea compares Israel to a “silly dove, easily deceived and senseless—now calling to Egypt, now turning to Assyria. When they go, I will throw my net over them; I will pull them down like birds of the air . . . I will catch them” (7:11-12). This description is a callback to Jonah (Jonah means dove in Hebrew). Just like Jonah cared more about God blessing himself or his country (crying over a weed but getting angry when God saved an entire city) so these people don’t mourn over the right things but rather cry when their comfort is disturbed (7:14) The nation does not realize the dangerous situation she’s in because of her outward prosperity. Her corrupted priorities were symptoms of the malaise that had crept in through their idol worship—their unfaithfulness to the God who had rescued them in the first place. They cared so little about the right things their strength was being sapped and they didn’t even know it (7:8-9). They were already living the curse. 

Despite Israel immediately prostituting herself to that golden calf, God was said to have married the nation, the people of Israel, when He entered in covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. Now, even though she had continued to abandon Him to play the whore with every other idol in sight, He still wanted to be with her. However, just as Gomer, Hosea’s wife, was sold into slavery in the interim, God’s people too would be led back into slavery. They would be exiled. But . . . as the story played out before their eyes between the prophet and the prostitute, God wouldn’t be angry with them forever. Just like Israel in Egypt, just like Hosea and Gomer, He would buy his people back out of slavery to be with them again.


Watch: Bible Project video on Hosea

Listen: Hosea 1-4

Exile: Sunday, March 20 – Amos

Read:

Imagine the haggard shepherd, Amos, fresh off his journey from the Southern Kingdom (not six miles from Bethlehem). Imagine him stepping into the sanctuary in Bethel, where worship of God and country had been molded together in the shape of a bull. Imagine him dusting himself off and shutting the worship service down with breaking news from God. 

Tracking along with the opening chapters of Amos, we can again imagine Amos on his way up to the capital, calling out the surrounding nations as they fight against the God of Creation, before leveling the charge against the divided kingdom of Judah and Israel (Amos 1 & 2). Then, when he arrives at the temple in Bethel, he calls out every family sitting there (3:1), the housewives living in luxury while they disregard others (4:1), the at-ease upper-echelon (6:1-3), the pastors, politicians, and entertainers (6:5) are all held responsible. 

Not since Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy had a prophet reminded God’s people that the state and survival of the nation hinged on faithfulness to God. Prophets of old had spoken to the kings. Now, Amos is condemning not just the leaders, but the citizens of the Northern Kingdom.

Almost no citizen is spared other than the “poor and needy.” 

The country had experienced leisure, luxury, and security, while profiting from loopholes and pushing aside the poor (5:12). Did they not remember these were the very same curses they had called down upon their heads? But now another voice cries out on behalf of God, in the middle of their worship: “I hate this! I refuse to take one more look at your so-called worship of Me. Stop this cacophony of singing and music. Instead, let justice—that mighty river—flow and flood like a continuous stream of righteousness” (5:21-24). 

This is also the first time that a tremor is felt in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. No name is given, but dredging up the dreaded prophecy of Moses, Amos predicts exile. Another nation will come and take over their Northern Kingdom of Israel (6:14). The words had to have landed like a hammer on the congregation. 

That’s when the priest in charge of Bethel, Amaziah, had enough. He stepped forward to put an end to this uneducated shepherd’s yapping. He knew the law was on his side. He hadn’t been listening; he hadn’t heard that God was not on his side, even if the government was. Looking at this disheveled fellow, he says, “Go back to where you came from, and ply your trade in the Southern Kingdom if you’re looking for food. This is the king’s property and this is God’s house, the temple of our kingdom” (Amos 7:10-14).

But Amos doesn’t back down, “I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. I was herding my sheep and keeping the sycamore trees when Yahweh snatched me away and sent me here. So listen up! You’ve told me to shut up. You want me to preach to someone else but not our own people. Well guess what? Disaster is coming on your family. Your land is going to be given away out from under you. And everyone in this land is going to be exiled away from it” (7:14-17). 

Amos boldly reminded Israel that–just as Moses had warned–disaster would follow their sin. His words devastated and angered those choosing sin over God. Yet his message concludes with a hope that the exiles could savor after they watched his warnings of captivity come true. God would raise up a new city of David, a new people of His own, planting them Himself, never to be uprooted (9:11-15).


Watch: Bible Project video on Amos

Listen: Amos 3-7

Exile: Sunday, March 13 – Jonah

Read:

Israel too was a country divided. The Northern Kingdom had split off years ago. They were coming out of a time of “prosperity and relative peace from pesty neighbors.” Years of fairly stable leadership had “created luxury and ease for many and spawned poverty and injustice for numerous others” (1). There had been grassroot stirrings that things were not right; a growing feeling of malignancy was creeping through the country’s moral fabric. The king at this time was a man named Jeroboam II. “He did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 14:24). His namesake, Jeroboam I, was the founder of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who had quickly steered the people of God toward idolatry (1 Kings 12).

However, in the middle of all this stands Jonah, a man of God, who speaks for God and assures the king that God will restore the borders of the land. Jonah, in his lifetime, assured the nation that others would not infringe on their territory. But actually, the story of Jonah is the story of God caring about other nations, and opposing the pride of Israel, the people known by His name—all through the same mopey, reluctant prophet. 

What we see follow in the book of Jonah is best described as satire. Perhaps, looking back, people realized just how silly this prophet was. Jonah himself was real, as seen by how Jesus references him alongside other historical figures (Matthew 12:38-42). But the book of Jonah makes a statement about the patriotic figure and his country. The people bearing the name and waving the banner GOD, if their resident “man of God” is any indication, seem to be the ones who respond least appropriately to Him. While the winds and waves obey His command, “pagans” from other countries bow the knee on a dime, and even the livestock repents when confronted with God’s word, the man of God from the people of God is vomited out by the fish that just can’t stomach his pride. 

Jonah also shows an amazing lack of awareness for his surroundings. While the sailors offer sacrifices to Yahweh overhead, he vows in the belly of the beast that if God rescues him, he will worship Him in the temple . . . presumably the temple in Bethel presided over by a cow statue. The place they called “the house of the Lord” had never had God in it! Later, he is seething over God’s patience and compassion with the Assyrians (Ex 34:6-7) . His distortion field is massive: he can’t stand God for being so good, or see how twisted his own desires are, as he weeps for a weed when God preserves the entire populace of the Assyrian capital, including their cattle.  

As Christians–God’s people who are supposed to represent him today–let’s read Jonah understanding that it was written to satirize people like us. When economic prosperity or simply a history of religiosity lead us to condemn God’s love for those we call our enemies, be careful. We may find ourselves swallowed up. Or as God asks Jonah—no matter what you think about what God is doing—“Is it right for you to be angry?”


Footnotes:

  1.  C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 39.

Watch: Bible Project video on Jonah

Listen: Jonah 1-4

Exile: Sunday, March 6 – Moses

Read:

God had humored Moses and gone with Israel. Now it looked like a big mistake. After arriving to the land God had promised to give Abraham generations ago, nobody wants to go in! At the climax of the movie, the hero, finally able to fulfill destiny, turns back and says, “Nah” (Num 14).

Now, after the previous generation of ingrates has died off, God has once again brought the nation of Israel up to the border of the land he promised their ancestors. But this land, and the relationship with God, came with some warning labels. Before they cross the Jordan river, Moses divides the people into two groups who then scale two mountains that sit across from one another, forming a natural amphitheater. One recites all the good words, the blessings that will come if they follow God. The other group recites all the bad words, the curses that will come down on their heads should they forget God. From one side of the mountain echoed . . . 

If anyone creates something wonderful that they then secretly treat as God;
If anyone does not honor their parents;
If anyone cheats others through self-made loopholes;
If anyone mistreats or makes fun of the handicapped or helpless; 
If anyone deprives the immigrant, the refugee, the single mom, or the foster children justice;
If anyone is sexually perverted, dishonoring their family or creation;
If anyone secretly murders his fellow human; 
If anyone uses money as an excuse to kill people;
Let them be cursed (Deut 27). 

And then from other side of the valley, they heard:

If anyone listens to and follows Yahweh . . .
You will be blessed in the city and in the country;
You will be blessed by work, investments, and a family that produces and provides for you;
Yahweh will disrupt the plans of your enemies;
You will be known as unique and gifted people;
You will make whatever you do better, and bless others with your wealth;
If you listen to and follow Yahweh;
If not, all these things will flip and become curses for you.
You will suffer all the plagues I inflicted on Egypt—to set you free—if you turn and become the oppressor. Instead of rescuing you, I will send a foreign, unfeeling army to besiege you. You will be scattered all around where you can worship whatever you want. But you will have no peace. (Duet 28). 

Both groups rededicated themselves to Yahweh, signing themselves up for all the blessings and curses that would follow.

But immediately after the ceremony, God levels with Moses: not only is he going to die soon, but also God’s people are going to quickly turn away from him, and inherit all the curses they just said yes to. Even though they had just promised to live by what God said–blessings, curses, and all–they wouldn’t do it. They could do it, and Moses had urged them to choose life and remain loyal to the God that loved them (30:11-14). But their hearts would need to be circumcised, fundamentally changed, before they could truly love him with all their heart and soul (Deut. 30:6). Until then, they would experience both, blessings and curses. 

Moses already knew. He knew the character of the people and their children, whom he had led for so long. He knew the nature of his own twisted heart. They could not remain loyal for long. And so, instead of a song of celebration, Moses goes off to die after singing a song of doom over Israel. 

From the outset, the nation was founded on this story.

Watch: Bible Project video on Deuteronomy

Listen: Deuteronomy 27-33

Exile: Ash Wednesday, March 2 – The Marriage

Read:

It was possibly the biggest wedding ever planned. Yahweh had descended to the mountain. The people of Israel had consecrated themselves, preened for the ceremony. They had covenanted together and exchanged vows—but with a wrinkle. Because when God came down in his terrible glory, thunder and fire, voice like a trumpet, and power that made the mountain tremble, his bride cowered. They could not bear his voice. Instead, they sent the best man—Moses—on ahead to arrange things. They had said, “I do,” to one another with lengthy vows, done the equivalent of exchanging rings (the two stone tablets, a symbol of their covenant), and shared a meal. Then it was time for the big party. 

But first, God asked Moses to come up to him. Why not go ahead with the party? God was laying out plans for how he would literally pitch his tent among them so they could be together. They had to figure out the logistics of how this God—so good and but also so uniquely different (hear: holy)—could live with his people. No one had been near to God since before Adam and Eve had been exiled from his presence in Eden. But as God and Moses planned, all hell was breaking loose below them. 

Maybe their fidgeting was understandable. This wasn’t 40 minutes of picture-taking. They had been waiting on God and Moses for 40 days! Israel wouldn’t wait any longer; it was time to take things into their own hands. They begged Aaron to make a Yahweh for them. They would still love God . . . just, in their own way. So they spent all their money, all the wealth they had accumulated since God had rescued them from slavery down in Egypt, and Aaron used his talent to make an idol to represent Yahweh. “Here are the gods who rescued you from Egypt,” Aaron says. “Now let’s get this party started!” And then an orgy of eating, drinking, dancing and sex ensues as the people pleasure themselves without their husband.

On the mountain, Moses saw Yahweh’s eyes burn with wounded rage. He almost wiped them out that day. Moses managed to hold him back, remind him who he was and what he had promised (Ex 32:14). Even then, Yahweh couldn’t bring himself to go any further with his people who had so quickly and callously rejected him (33:3). Only, again, when Moses begged him, and said there was no point in them going to the land he had promised them if he wasn’t with them, did Yahweh agree to go (33:12-17). 

God carefully laid out two more stone tablets, like rings—the symbol of their commitment to one another. A commitment both he and Moses knew Israel would break. Yet he would still vow himself to Israel again. Then he reminded them why he would do it. He said, “I am Yahweh. I am an empathetic and gracious God, not with a quick temper, overflowing with loyal love and integrity, always loyally loving thousands upon thousands, and faithfully carrying away twistedness, betrayal, and failure. But I never fail to bring evildoers to justice, even if it takes generations” (Ex 34:6-7). 

Moses knelt before Him and cried, “Please, Yahweh, go with us! You’re right, they’re fickle people. Carry away our twistedness and our failure . . . and make us your own!”(34:9). 

It wasn’t going to be easy. They had hurt Yahweh, apparent by the fact that even after his tent was standing, and Yahweh entered the tent, no one was allowed to enter—not even Moses (40:35). 

We will get fidgety. We are still just as fickle. But as we start this journey through exile, let’s soak in this story, and remember God’s character, even after he is brutally betrayed: patient, loving, compassionate. He still makes a way to be with his people, even when they turn away from him. In a sea of instability, not least of which is our own affections, let’s never forget his integrity is our anchor. 

Watch: Bible Project video on Israel and the broken covenant

Listen: Exodus 32-34; also check out Psalm 106, where the songwriter reflects on Israel’s story of betraying Yahweh and His faithfulness toward them.

Exile: Some backgrounds and definitions

If y’all are anything like us, the exile part of Biblical history is the haziest. Even in our Bible story sets we love and use in our ministry in Madagascar, we basically jump from King David to Jesus, with a brief stop to hear how Isaiah predicts Jesus.

But in terms of Israel’s story–the story of the descendants of Abraham–exile is a critical epoch, a fulcrum. Much like how we view our own wars as Americans, or 9-11, or, now, COVID-19, the exile is a major historical event for Israel that divides her history into two parts: pre-exilic and post-exilic.

So, we want to give some brief background info and starting definitions as we try to dive deeper into the words of the prophets around exile. If you want to go further in your study, here are a couple of great resources to explore:

In the meantime, here are some ideas to get us started.

Exile

Exile connotes the loss of all that is familiar and comfortable. Emotionally, it is characterized by confusion. In the Bible, exile starts in the Garden of Eden, when humans decide to define what is good or bad on their own, without God. As a result, they can no longer live with God and they are cut off from him, Eden, and life itself. But God promised to bring them home and defeat their enemies through another person. 

God promised Abraham, one specific human, he would bless the world through him. Though he told Abraham to leave his home, he would give him another home in the Promised Land. Year after year, people waited for God to bring them home to this place. And though God continued to work through people (like Moses) and save Abraham’s people from death, slavery, etc., they never quite got back to the Garden. Eventually God did come to live with them. They finally made it into the Promised Land. They built a flourishing empire under some good kings—like King David that made people believe that perhaps everything was coming back together. But it wasn’t to be. 

God had already warned them that their people would continue to do things their own way, and it would lead to ruin. The one kingdom split into two, the Northern and Southern kingdoms, and people began worshiping everything but Yahweh their God. God continued to use people, prophets, to try and rescue the nation from itself. But eventually, both Israel and Judah were attacked, defeated, and exiled by other nations. And the hope became that, somehow, God would not only return them to their Promised Land but come to live with them and rule over them again.

The Divided Kingdom: North and South

Under King Saul, then David, and finally Solomon, the Hebrew people had been a united nation. However, due to bad leadership, buried tensions resurfaced and the nation split in two. The Northern Kingdom was known as Israel, as it comprised most tribes from Israel. The Southern Kingdom was primarily the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with Jerusalem still as its capital and, importantly, the temple where God lived. The Southern Kingdom was called Judah. To centralize spiritual power, the kings of the Northern Kingdom made a new capital in the city of Samaria, and a new temple in the city of Bethel. The temple at Bethel was home to a golden calf idol that Northern Israelites worshiped as Yahweh. 

Israel’s capital, Samaria, was sacked in 922 BC by the Assyrians, and the people of the Northern kingdom were either enslaved back in Assyria, or culturally assimilated with others imported into the territory. Assyria tried to conquer the Southern Kingdom at this time as well, but God prevented it. 

Judah’s destruction was a slow burn. First, in 587 BC, the Babylonians forcibly removed all the most educated people and exiled them to Babylon (think of Daniel and his friends). Then, when Babylon’s new territory would not submit, they completely razed the city in 593 BC.

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The Prophets

Beginning with Moses, Israel needed a go-between. Moses is the prototypical prophet: speaking to God’s people on God’s behalf, but also empowered and used by God to deliver his people. In this way, prophets, and those of their ilk, are always a partial fulfillment of God’s promise to defeat evil through the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15). 

Later, Yahweh began the tradition of communicating with the nation of Israel through these prophets. Through men and women like these, God tried to pull the nation of Israel back from the brink. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about prophets, whether then or now, is that they were not officially part of either the ruling class or the religious class—they were not priests or kings. They could be anybody. They stood outside of these as a third eye of sorts, a way for God to hold his people, and especially their leaders, accountable. 

It’s also important to remember that although we know these people as true prophets today, they were not acknowledged as such during their lifetime. Prophets and messages of all kinds existed during this time, both good and bad, true and false. Often, the things they warned of happened after they were gone. In this way, prophets are usually honored—acknowledged, even listened to—in hindsight.

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Conclusion

America is not Israel. Yet, the story of Exile, as told through the pages of the Bible, is the story of how the mighty fall, how an entire nation, that had outwardly pledged allegiance to God, had actually always believed God pledged allegiance to them. It is the story of the corrosive effect of power, as rulers and religion do violence to the weakest in society. It is the story of how God will not leave the guilty unpunished, even through multiple generations, even those he had wanted to bless. 

But it is also the story of profound hope. Not the kind of hope that only glimmers when the sun is shining, but hope that radiates out when all is darkness. God is always calling his people back, sending them prophets to hold them accountable and remind them of his promises. Ultimately, the exile is how God prepared a nation for the Messiah, Jesus. You see, all God ever wanted was a human through whom he could bless the entire world. So eventually, Jesus comes to be that human, through whom God would start to bring everything back together. 

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:11-13, NRSV).


Footnotes:

  1. https://i0.wp.com/faithelement.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/timeline-graphic.png

2. http://www.thebibleinitiative.com/daniel

Exile: A Lenten Study through the Prophets

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 2, 2022 (this week!). Throughout church history, Lent has been a time which many Christian faith traditions have set aside to fast, to pray, and to actively anticipate the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter.

For an exploration of the history and practices of Lent, and how they can encourage us especially during the challenging times these last few years have brought, listen to this interview with Esau McCauley. Tim Keller also has some extensive resources on Lent, and even the practice of Lent for Evangelicals in the Lent Project his ministry put out several years ago: some definitions, an exploration of grace in the practice of Lent, and other resources.

This year, we want to focus during the six weeks of Lent on God’s words to His people, the descendants of Abraham, through the prophets. The story of the descendants of Abraham climaxes in the fulfillment of God’s warnings to them through the prophets: that if they did not obey His commands, He would send them into exile, putting them at the mercy of other nations. These messages are accusations of sin, calls for righteousness, and finally, promises of hope in a future redemption after the time of exile.

That hope is ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. He is the plot twist that brings Israel’s exile to a close. His coming makes obedience possible for those who accept Him . . . and, conversely, also makes them exiles and misfits in their own families, nations, and cultures, as new members–first and foremost–of God’s new family in his eternal kingdom.

Please join us in studying God’s words through the prophets. As we reflect on the plight of the descendants of Abraham as exiles, may God teach us how to live as exiles in our world, awaiting a future hope of ultimate redemption when Jesus returns.

We will post 12 times over the next six weeks, starting with an introduction post this Tuesday. Each post will be a storied reflection on one of God’s messages through some of His prophets: Moses, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Malachi, and, finally, John the Baptist.

Each post will be organized into three sections: read, watch, and listen. First, you can read the storied reflection on the prophet’s message. Then, we’ll link a Bible project video to watch, which will provide an overview of that prophet or book of the Bible. Finally, we’ll share scripture passages from each prophet’s story and book of the Bible. We encourage you to listen to these passages–on your commute, while you’re washing dishes–throughout the week. Where we can, we will include other helpful resources, too.

We’re looking forward to taking this journey together!

Mahafaly Bible Stories: Priests

It’s me, the Traveler, and I have a story to tell you. It’s a story from a book of holy writings called the Bible. This book is a collection of many stories, and they have all been brought together to tell the whole story. It is the story of our ancestors, and our story. Let me tell it to you.

This story is called, Priests . . .

When the Prince of Creation chose Moses to be the leader for those tribes of Abraham, he also appointed Aaron, to be a a sacrificer, the one to carry the curse of those tribes of Abraham to the Prince of Creation. So then, the Prince appeared to Moses: “Mosesy! Say this to Arona . . . ‘When he will do this work, let him shower. He will have one male zebu secured. It will be killed by him in order to cleanse by blood the his own curse because of the curse upon his household.

After, he will have two male goats secured. And the one, slit the one’s throat, in order to cleanse by blood the curse of those tribes of Abraham. And the blood of this male goat and the blood of this male zebu sprinkle around that taboo place of sacrifice there. After, one male goat will be taken by him, the second. This male goat, do not kill this one, but there on the head of this male goat his two hands will be placed, the curses of those tribes of Abraham, all of them then and there, will be narrated by him. If that is done, this male goat will be thrown out by him to wander far away out there. With that their curse will be far away from them, and with that will be their relationship with the Prince.

But this also will be a rite that must be done by them, year after year after year that they may pass down this work through the generations, the tribes of Arona will pass it down through the generations, that’s down through his household.'”

“Yes,” said Moses. And so, you see, Moses went, the Prince’s decree was narrated to Aaron by him. Aaron also did what followed the rite made by the Prince.

But those tribes of Abraham, they grew and they became many. And the wrong they did became even greater still. So, Aaron sacrificed year after year and his offspring also passed that work down through the generations.

That is the story taken from there in the Holy Writings, so that the Prince had relationship with those tribes of Abraham.

Resource Spotlight: CRT

CRT became a must-read topic for us when the SBC seminary presidents issued a statement that announced CRT to be at odds with the SBC confession of faith. I read this book so that I could get a something more than a second-hand account of CRT (this book is not technically a primary source but a primer). 

This is not a book review. If you want to know more about CRT, I would suggest finding someone who ascribes to it or even reading this book to find more primary sources. Our evangelical tribe has shown an astounding ability to listen to one of our own dismantle CRT without a definition of it or having ever even listened to someone who actually holds that opinion.

If we don’t like people forming opinions about us before they’ve ever asked us a honest, open-ended question, then we can’t to the same to others. I think Jesus said something like that.

There are plenty of YouTube videos and blog posts nay-saying CRT and their proponents. They probably even have a point. But they are chemists and ministers. Are they smarter than me? I’m sure they are (another reason I’m not trying to review this book). But I’m not going to tell you why you shouldn’t embrace CRT or why it’s incompatible with Christianity. I’m just going to tell you what struck me and leave the Holy Spirit one less impersonator. You’re in good hands.

Based on reading this book that serves as an introduction to the topic, I’d have to suggest Derrick Bell as a good, first primary source as much as his name comes up.

What is CRT?

Consider this quote, “The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law” (pg 3).

Two quick insights to glean from the above introduction to CRT: (1) CRT does a lot of historical work to set (especially legal) decisions and actions within their wider context, (2) CRT is not only not interested in status quo but is distinct from civil rights discourse because it deconstructs status quo in search of systemic answers. To me it’s as simple as this: if you were already convinced there were some big things that needed to change, you’re going to be open to CRT, because it is transparently trying to shake things up.

Among self-proclaimed influences they list:

  • critical legal studies and radical feminism
  • European philosophers such as Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida
  • American radicals such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, MLK Jr., Cesar Chavez
  • and the Black Power and Chianco movements

Now there’s probably at least one name on here that makes your heart race. But hang on. I don’t know how many times I have had people tell me “CRT goes straight back to Marxism!” But it at least made me stop and think to see the Americans on this list. Black, Christian prophets like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and MLK Jr. are forerunners to CRT, and MLK Jr. was unfairly labeled a Marxist in his time. So let’s just remember, these brothers and sisters of ours, also all challenged the status quo and said our institutions were rife with and founded on sin. For crying out loud, Frederick Douglass (among a lot of other things) said American Christianity and Christianity proper were incompatible! (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 94-95). I’ve gotta give credit where credit is due; CRT has Christian roots as well.

Does CRT have it out for “whites”?

What white people need to understand is that out of all racialized groups (of which whites were primarily the ones doing the racializing), people designated as white in the last 400 years have not been persecuted or oppressed, and definitely not in the same way as other racial groups by “white people.” I have heard people complain that acknowledging this reality brings division and only compares suffering. If we’re arguing about subjective suffering, I agree that can get tricky. But CRT, at least at this level, is just working from objective historical fact.

White people and white culture are definitely being singled out. But it’s not because of the color of our skin, or “reverse racism.” I believe we all still agree (but I may be going out on a limb here) it was clearly “white people” who invented the illusion of race and who were doing the oppressing in slavery, Jim Crow, and through the Civil Rights movement. So even if you want to exclude everything from the 1960’s to present, “white people” specifically deserve to be talked to about racism. Not because you as an individual are a racist, though I have certainly acted like one in my life, but because our ancestors built things to favor people that looked like them, and often on the backs of others.

Why don’t we just stick with the Bible? I would ask, does the Bible contain the history of world civilization from the last 400 years? No. So while it calls out supremacy, “don’t consider yourself more highly than you ought,” (Rom. 12:13) and makes God’s judgment against injustice and marginalization clear (Amos 5:10-24), it doesn’t specifically call out white supremacy. But if we still think the holocaust was evil and clearly against the teachings of scripture, then why would we not evaluate our own country’s white supremacy? Again, Jesus said something like that.

Why does CRT prioritize the voice of non-whites?

It is also true, even though they want to deconstruct generalities of identity, Crits (as CRT activists call themselves) hold to an “unique voice of color” because of our specific historical context. They explain, “because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, American Indian, Asian, and Latino writers and thinkers may (emphasis mine) be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know. Minority status, in other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism” (pg 11).

I emphasized that “may” in the quote above because, as I read this primer, I was struck by the circumspection and honesty with which they introduce the reader to CRT. We are told that CRT has an internal tension between materialism and idealism, economics and identity, practice and theory, etc. We are told of the disagreements external and internal to this movement. The authors describe how not all people of color agree, and how people of color have even oppressed each other. They are attaching, for the reader’s benefit, the relevant court cases and decisions that have prompted these debates. You do not have to agree with them. They don’t all agree with each other. But they do a very good job, in my opinion, of giving the lay of the land.

However, people in our tribe have essentially said the voice of color doesn’t exist. We all have access to objective facts, so it doesn’t matter if it’s six white guys making a decision that primarily affects people of color. Only that’s not true, we don’t all have equal access to the truth. We all have blindspots. And, again, if you read Frederick Douglass (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 31) it becomes apparent that white, Christian Americans spent a lot of effort blocking people of color access to the truth and the voice to express it.

Forgive me for a stupid illustration: if you love seafood, you may not be aware that you always try to take your wife to seafood restaurants. But your wife, you does not like seafood, is keenly aware of your blindspot, and is in a better position to let you know about it.

It’s up to us to listen to people who can see our own blindspots much more clearly.

Is CRT going to destroy our identity?

I have heard CRT described as a “trojan horse,” meaning once we let it infiltrate our institutions, it’s game over (i.e. we will lose what it means to be SBC, for example). I think it’s fair to point out you can’t really have a trojan horse when everyone rejects it out of hand because it makes them uncomfortable. CRT is more of a black sheep than a trojan horse for most of us.

As I understood, (just reading a book, not an expert here), CRT is concerned with generalizations, but specifically racialized generalizations. Of course, they acknowledge that race has no scientific basis in fact. But the context of American history and European colonization reveals that, while fictional, race has been a very powerful generalization in our recent, global history. Even Intersectionality and antiessentialism, tenets or offshoots of the CRT discussion, are pushing back, or eliminating altogether, the generalities that constitute individual identities. So for instance, “I’m more than just Christian. I’m a Baptist, a Southern Baptist, actually. And a man, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like candles!” Even that is an example of how CRT is trying to get at what I am and what I’m not.

I would argue that, sure, if we started teaching CRT in our institutions, people will definitely continue (it’s already happening) questioning their identities. Now, I always thought the goal of higher education was to honestly question and evaluate all perspectives. And let’s not forget, on this day last year, a group of light-skinned Americans, many identifying themselves as Christians, stormed our nation’s Capitol. Surely our Christian identity in America is far too unexamined.

Conclusion . . .

This book provided a very helpful overview of CRT. It also helped me realize that our problem as white people and, especially in my tribe, is not understanding the wider context (race, economics, hegemonies, social dynamics, etc.) of our own history. The reason for this reticence is that to honestly investigate the wider context will implicate our socially-constructed group (white people) in oppression. An example of this would be how SBC history never evaluates the damning words of Frederick Douglass alongside the inception of the SBC (formed over sending slave-owners as missionaries), even though they are a mere month apart.

Now, CRT is absolutely open to the accusation that they deconstruct more than they construct. I do believe there is great potential for people in this movement to lose sight of the importance of an essential identity. As in, I can envision someone saying, “I’m not all the things you say I am,” but still left wondering, “Then what or who am I?”

I think Jesus, not majority culture, has an answer for that. I think it is inevitable these conversations will be taking place more and more, especially in the wider culture and especially as the world grows more diverse and less white. Christians have the opportunity to model a Christian essentialism that places Jesus at the center of their lives . . . while the world fights off the vestiges of white supremacy and builds a new tomorrow.