It is invariably a pleasure for an author when his book lands in the lap of a reviewer whose knowledge of the subject is as acute as that shown by Helen Andrews, who reviews my book on António Salazar in the February issue (“Benevolent Autocrat”). She observes that Salazar continues to divide opinion. J. K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, had modeled the character of Salazar Slytherin on the autocrat. I wonder if, in light of the onslaught the author faced from the militant trans lobby for daring to speak up for binary gender identities, she would still view someone who sought to defend society against the forces of chaos and permanent disorder in such a dim light.
By contrast, as Andrews points out, the late U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson (a Democrat) saw the Portuguese leader as a fount of sagacity. He may have regretted that Salazar had set his face so completely against multi-party democracy, but he was prepared to listen respectfully to Salazar’s argument that fierce competition among parties often comes at the expense of order and freedom.
Salazar was a strong advocate of peace and compromise during the eras of fascism and liberal democracy, both of which his traditional order fitted uncomfortably into. He played an active role in pursuing sanctions against Mussolini due to misgivings about his invasion of Ethiopia. He had no misgivings, however, about supporting Franco in the Spanish Civil War because he believed that, under a figure whom he never warmed to, Spain stood the best chance of enjoying the stability and progress that had long eluded it.
Andrews suggests that I regretted Salazar’s stubborn resistance to granting independence to the colonies. In fact, I believe it was a tragedy that Portugal’s role in Africa was extinguished abruptly thanks to the coup of 1974. If Salazar had been younger and more energetic, he might have pursued the policy of creating a Lusitanian Commonwealth that would have turned Portugal into a Euro-African state. It would surely have been a vast improvement on the tragic conditions in the ultramar since 1974.
We both are able to advance arguments that show Salazar was far from being a fascist. In Portugal there is no nostalgia for censorship, secret police, or strict economic prudence. There are conservative nationalists whose appeal is growing, but they are not seeking to whitewash Salazar’s record. He is viewed by many Portuguese as an unusual dictator. It was a jolt to some when his widely perceived honesty, the simplicity of the life he led, and the strength of his patriotism contributed to him being chosen as the greatest Portuguese person in history by 41 percent of viewers in a 2007 competition arranged by state television.
Salazar was a reluctant authoritarian who usually prevailed by agile statecraft, not crude force. His regime nearly always avoided displaying the form of militarism astonishingly on display in Washington, D.C., during the first weeks of the Biden administration. His Estado Novo (New State) was sustained not by urban elites but by cautious pragmatists drawn from the provincial bourgeoisie. They distrusted experiments and were not natural authoritarians. They saw Salazar as a surefooted guide who could shield Portugal from arbitrary and chaotic governance, under a system of tempered force and gradual but steady progress.
Salazar’s stoical approach to human folly meant that he kept paranoia at bay and never suffered burn-out despite so many years in power. Many today could learn a few things from his temperate approach to political affairs.
university of bradford
bradford, united kingdom
CRT on CRT
As soon as I read Carl R. Trueman’s “Evangelicals and Race Theory” (February), I was sharing it with as many people as possible. Not only does Trueman sum up the state of things in evangelicalism, but he also gives special attention to developments in the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination in which I am a pastor and a seminary professor. Though Trueman is right that the issue has become a lightning rod for us, I have found that the issues are sometimes misunderstood, especially in the wake of the controversial “Resolution 9,” which was passed at the 2019 convention in Birmingham, Alabama.
As I see it, the dividing line in our denomination is not between full-on critical race theorists and those who oppose CRT. It is between those who see CRT as a threat to the doctrine and unity of our churches and those who believe that this whole thing is much ado about nothing—a convenient way to dismiss legitimate concerns about ambient racism. The ones in the latter group aren’t so much proponents of every tenet of critical theory or of its offshoot CRT. Rather, they find that it contains some legitimate insights and some dismissible social theory but is otherwise benign. Southern Baptist critics of CRT, on the contrary, see the matter as a five-alarm fire needing immediate pastoral attention across our denomination.
I find myself in the five-alarm fire camp, and Trueman’s article demonstrates just how widespread and pervasive this problematic ideology has become. We are not debating, after all, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We are deliberating about an ideology that tears friends and neighbors and congregations apart wherever it takes root. It’s an ideology bathed in racial acrimony and offering an alternative “religious” identity to its adherents. Indeed, CRT is like a universal acid burning through and destroying our social fabric and compromising our faith.
As Trueman points out, critical theory fails to distinguish between social categories that are morally neutral and those that are morally implicated. For example, CRT sets race and sex right alongside sexual orientation and gender identity. While Christianity celebrates racial diversity and the complementary differences between male and female, it does not celebrate sexual orientation diversity or transgender identities. For this reason alone, critical theory and Christianity are like oil and water.
CRT also exacerbates social divisions rather than healing them. Critical theory and its offshoots create a kind of “oppression Olympics” among its adherents. One’s moral authority can be enhanced by intersecting identities of oppression. This kind of a social dynamic incentivizes grievance based on identity.
All of this makes for a cauldron of division. CRT may at times point to what divides us, but it is horrible at bringing remedy to those divisions. No amount of “allyship” ever really rights the ship. Identity grievance endures no matter how many penitent allies come onto the scene.
The gospel, on the other hand, provides an entirely different remedy. It doesn’t foster hostilities between social groups: It removes them. The gospel also doesn’t celebrate social identities that are defined by human fallenness and sin (homosexuality, transgenderism). If the Bible is true, then these identities can only be understood as features of the sinful nature that the gospel means to obliterate and to transform into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). The Church is supposed to be a counterculture of gospel unity that bears witness to a world divided by countless hostilities. CRT seems to incentivize those hostilities, whereas the gospel overcomes them.
Trueman’s essay demonstrates in spades that the CRT discussion is hardly much ado about nothing. It’s an urgent challenge to the faith and unity of the Church. Trueman could not have written a more timely article.
Much of the present conflict over critical race theory and intersectionality in the Southern Baptist Convention can be attributed to two distinct sets of priorities. One group of Southern Baptists have expressed concern about the present state of doctrinal integrity in the convention, fearful that we may need another “Conservative Resurgence” like the one that reshaped the SBC in the 1970s and 80s. Another group worries that much of the progress Southern Baptists have made in racial reconciliation over the past three decades is coming undone in the present political climate. The former group sees CRT/I as ideological poison that undermines the sufficiency of Scripture, while some from the latter group have borrowed conceptual tools from CRT/I in an effort to better understand the African-American experience. Many from both camps have denied the legitimacy of the other side’s fears.
Trueman correctly identifies the creedal qualities of CRT/I in its popular expressions like “antiracist” activism. Activists like Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and Ijeoma Oluo have worked to craft a secular civil rights movement divorced from the religious moorings of the past. Their postmodern epistemology emphasizes experience over objective truth. They preach views of race and sexuality foreign to the biblical worldview. In their metanarrative, white heterosexual male oppression is tantamount to the original sin, and equity, not mere equality before the law, is the ultimate salvation they seek.
While I have not witnessed or heard of SBC pastors or convention employees advocating for CRT/I in these more radical forms, I do understand the importance of vigilance against their slow incursion. The evangelical scholars who have claimed that CRT/I has value as an “analytic tool” seem to be more drawn to the early works of CRT/I writers like Derrick Bell and Richard Delgado. In these works, CRT/I provided a means of assessing antidiscrimination laws in post–Jim Crow jurisprudence, highlighting ways black Americans were disadvantaged in education, housing, and employment law.
Trueman’s article has resonated with people on both sides of the controversy in the SBC because he rightly recognizes these interests are not mutually exclusive. We can be concerned about the encroachment of postmodern ideologies and desire to work toward constructive, gospel-centered solutions for the racial crisis in America. We can acknowledge injustice, but we must offer gospel hope. In controversies like these, we must also be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to negate one another’s concerns in indignation.
new orleans baptist theological seminary
new orleans, louisiana
In his article, Carl R. Trueman probes the weakness of evangelicals on racial issues because of their history of supporting slavery in the nineteenth century, and he warns evangelical leaders not to embrace critical race theory lest they end up capitulating to the LGBTQ+ agenda. This would split evangelicalism and take most of it down the same path as liberal Protestantism: The old “mainline” denominations would die out, and a new liberalism would take their place as chaplain to the post-Christian culture.
Critical race theory proposes to fight racism with yet more racism. It defines the enemy as “whiteness” and demands that we focus on group identities. Group equality of outcome is the goal; what happens to individuals is of little importance. This is why black people who oppose the CRT agenda are abused mercilessly. Christians must reject this for theological reasons.
Each human being is created in the image of God: Despite being fallen and in need of redemption, we are equally valuable as individuals. Racism denies human individuals their God-given dignity, regarding them merely as parts of a collective. The individual has no intrinsic value; he or she is only valuable as part of the group. History is nothing but a power struggle between groups.
If evangelicals capitulate to CRT, they give up the doctrine of the special creation of man in the image of God. To embrace racism—either the old kind or the new kind—is to reject the doctrine of creation.
Craig A. Carter
pickering, ontario, canada
Carl R. Trueman replies:
I am grateful to Burk, Putman, and Carter for their appreciative responses to my essay. Both Burk and Putman are far more qualified than I to comment on the specific impact of CRT on the Southern Baptist Convention, but I find their accounts of the situation to substantiate those I have heard from other friends. The issue is not whether racism is an evil or not, or whether it should be opposed. It is whether the definition of racism and the antidotes proposed by CRT are appropriate for Christians or counterproductive. And Carter is surely right that what is at stake here is a belief in the real universal dignity of human beings based in the objective image of God, over against a slippery notion of dignity rooted in constructed community identities.
I only wish that the same thoughtful engagement had characterized my many critics on Twitter and elsewhere. Would that fewer of them had focused on the alleged inaccuracy of my claims about the genealogy and structure of CRT and more had addressed themselves to the three questions that were the actual reason for the article: What does it mean to say that everything white Christians have been taught is wrong? What is meant by the phrase “the so-called shared faith of white Christians and black Christians”? And why do leading black Christians seem to see no substantial moral difference between the lynching of a civil rights worker and the injuring of a man during an arrest for alleged criminal behavior? That there have, as far as I can tell, been no serious attempts to answer those questions would seem to confirm one of the most apparently contentious but to me self-evident claims of my article: CRT preemptively rejects all criticism as coming from colonialism and “whiteness” and is thus self-certifying. If the answers to those questions are simple and allay my concerns about CRT, why have they not been forthcoming?Until those questions are answered and those answers justified, the people making these claims have arguably slandered vast numbers of their fellow believers and apparently confirmed my worst fears.