When I was a journalist a standard saying in the newsroom was “never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.” It was a joke. Every reporter and editor I knew or worked with was dedicated to finding the facts and making sure stories were as accurate as possible. We could never have anticipated then that a whole “news” network would embrace that joke as a principle of reporting, or that political leaders would deal in blatant “alternative facts,” otherwise known as lies.
The latest faux outrage from the Big Lie, anti-vaccine, conspiracy theory crowd is about Critical Race Theory. School boards and state legislatures across the country are rising up in protest at the teaching of the role that slavery and segregation played in America, and continuing systemic racism. They claim that Critical Race Theory labels all white people as oppressors, and all Black people as victims, and “teaches Americans to hate America.”
In response there are efforts in some states to ban all teaching about racism. A Texas bill goes so far as to forbid teaching that slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and white supremacy are “morally wrong.” It also bans much teaching about women’s suffrage, Native American history, and writings by Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass.
This is a clear case of not letting the facts stand in the way of a good conspiracy theory.
Dr. Catherine Meeks, the director of our diocese’s Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing (Absalom Jones was the first African American Episcopal priest) explains Critical Race Theory this way:
“A group of legal scholars turned their attention to refuting the idea that the law was objective and apolitical as they worked to find the best ways to approach racial justice work. When this search began it was called Critical Legal Studies. They found a great fallacy in the argument that the law is objective, neutral, principled, and not influenced by social and political considerations. They believed that the law could be complicit in helping us to maintain an unjust social order by reproducing racial inequality.
“Their inquiry led them to the formulation of CRT which is composed of ‘a body of legal scholarship and an academic movement of civil rights scholars and activists in the United States that seek to critically examine U.S. law as it intersects with issues of race in the U.S. and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice.'”
In other words, Critical Race Theory has nothing to do with curriculums in K-12 schools, no matter what you may hear on Fox News or from some school board members or state legislators.
Why is this of concern to people of faith?
Well, first of all, Truth is an essential part of the character of God and of Jesus. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Jesus says. On the night before he dies he tells his followers that the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, is the “Spirit of Truth” that will guide his disciples “into all truth.”
To follow Jesus is to follow the Truth. The uproar over Critical Race Theory is just the latest in a long string of lies and conspiracy theories espoused by our former president and his disciples. Many of them would be laughable, except that lies have consequences. Violence and needless deaths have resulted from these lies.
Michael Curry, our presiding bishop, says that as Christians “we believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition. Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life. The normalization of lying presents a profound moral danger to the fabric of our society.”
The Bible also has something to say about teaching history. “Take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and to your children’s children,” Moses tells the people of Israel.
As people of faith it is important for us to know our history — all of it. The Bible is in many ways a history of the interaction between God and God’s people. It does not whitewash the unpleasant parts. Israel’s sins are there in full display. How can we move into a better, more faithful future if we refuse to acknowledge the sins and mistakes of our past?
Many of you know that in 2015, the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I participated in the retracing of the successful Voting Rights act from Selma to Montgomery. On the Montgomery side of the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama are several tributes to those crucial events in our history.
One tribute is a pile of 12 large stones from the Alabama River. On one is carved a verse from the Book of Joshua, an instruction from God to the people of Israel who have crossed the water safely. God instructs the people to put 12 stones from the water where children can see them. This is why: “When your children shall ask you in time to come saying, “What mean these 12 stones?’ Then you shall tell them how you made it over.”
Unless you are in Texas and teaching that part of our history is forbidden.
Here is the link to Dr. Meeks’ article on what Critical Race Theory is and is not: