The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe
by voddie t. baucham, jr.
salem books, 270 pages, $24.99
Several years ago I sent a manuscript on race to an evangelical book publisher. I was surprised to read the editor’s response that this book would not advance racial reconciliation—despite the book’s containing a majority of chapters by black thinkers. I quickly learned that for some evangelicals, certain black voices are not worth listening to.
Among those voices is that of Voddie Baucham, a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) who now serves as dean of a seminary in Zambia. After Baucham signed a statement criticizing an emerging version of Critical Race Theory, his cellphone stopped ringing with invitations to speak at SBC events. Once a favorite black Christian voice, he was suddenly a pariah.
Baucham’s new book, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe, explains why. Many evangelical leaders have embraced the dogmas of the new antiracist movement: that America is systemically racist and that white privilege today oppresses people of color. Baucham credits white Christians for wanting to show compassion, but thinks they have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. He argues that their new “social justice” is neither social (it divides) nor just (it is racist). Worse, it is contrary to the Christian gospel.
Raised by a single mother in Los Angeles and Texas, Baucham was bussed to an all-white school where the n-word was thrown at him. He maneuvered his way through drugs, gangs, and poverty to eventually become a Merit Scholar in high school. His cousin was shot by a drug dealer while selling crack, and his father died from prolonged use of the same drug. At Houston Baptist University he was “more black than Christian,” sporting a T-shirt featuring Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Elijah Muhammad. He and his wife decided to join a church where everyone didn’t look like them, so he worked on the staff of a predominantly white Baptist church in Texas. Their kids heard insensitive and racist comments, but Voddie and his wife discovered that these white Christians “battled the same demons, struggled with the same ups and downs, wanted the same things, and feared the same things I did.” The Bauchams have nine children, seven adopted as babies.
Much of Fault Lines consists of research-laden arguments that the Black Lives Matter movement and Critical Race Theory are based on false narratives. Perhaps the most prevalent narrative is that whites generally, and police particularly, are hunting and killing unarmed black men. Baucham proffers studies by Harvard economist Roland Fryer and the National Academy of Sciences and others to prove otherwise. Fryer, who is black, found that “on the most extreme use of force” there was no racial difference in either the raw data or when contextual factors are considered. The only statistically significant difference was that “black officers are more likely to shoot unarmed whites, relative to white officers.” An NAS study showed that in violent crime involving police, white people are shot at disproportionately higher rates than blacks.
Baucham shows that most of “what we know” about famous black victims of violence is legendary rather than factual. For instance, Michael Brown never actually said the famous words “Hands up, don’t shoot!” But Daniel Shaver did, a white man who was shot and killed by police after waving a pellet gun. George Floyd’s case, meanwhile, was not unique: It is strikingly similar to that of Tony Timpa, who was killed by police after calling them to report he was off his meds and needed help. Officers placed their knees and hands on his back and neck for fourteen minutes, and mocked and laughed at him while he was screaming, “You’re gonna kill me!” The officers were neither arrested nor charged. We never heard of Tony Timpa, Baucham adds provocatively, “because he was white, and his case did not advance the right narrative.”
Another false narrative for Baucham is the notion that racial inequity proves racism. Accepting this notion requires us, Baucham notes, to repudiate reams of research on the disparate causes of inequality.
On the subject of “structural racism,” evangelical journalist David French has written that in the aftermath of segregation, “black Americans . . . often lacked the resources to purchase homes or rent apartments in wealthier neighborhoods with better schools.” That was true enough shortly after the end of segregation, Baucham says; but this “equity” argument about today’s disparities is unhelpful. It not only confuses correlation with causation, but also encourages “a victimology mindset that teaches disadvantaged people that their only hope is the benevolence . . . of well-meaning white saviors.”
Besides, Baucham implies, these critics demean black agency. Why is it, he asks, that one hundred years after slavery ended (1965), blacks were doing better on many measures than they have in the sixty years since the Civil Rights Act? For example, two-thirds of all black American children were living with both parents, compared to one-third in 1995. “How, then, given the fact that the trajectory worsened after 1960, can slavery and Jim Crow be the cause?”
Yet the Baptist pastor’s principal problem with evangelical leaders who think we can learn from CRT and BLM is that both are antithetical to Christian faith. The authoritative guide to CRT proclaims that once racism is seen as systemic, “no white member of society seems quite so innocent.” Baucham helps us recognize that this “condemns based on melanin.” Although CRT “constantly uses the words, it holds out no hope of salvation, restoration, or reconciliation.” In contrast, Baucham argues, the apostle Paul says he no longer regards anyone according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5.16), and proclaims that Christ brought us justice through the Cross and is our peace with both God and others (Eph. 2:13-22). The Christian answer to racism is forgiveness from changed hearts—which only the gospel enables.
BLM as an official movement, he adds, has Marxist-Leninist and pagan leanings. Patrice Cullors identifies herself and her fellow BLM co-founder Alicia Garza as “trained Marxists”; Cullors and a fellow BLM activist have openly talked about using religious rituals to connect with the dead. And before the BLM website was sanitized for mass consumption, it proclaimed BLM to be against the nuclear family and wanting to “foster a queer-affirming network.”
Baucham wonders why evangelical elites care so little about abortion, “which is the number one killer of black people in America”—nineteen million black babies since 1973—which he calls the “unspoken epidemic in Black America” and “an unreported genocide.” Planned Parenthood is America’s principal abortion provider, its founder wanted to eliminate blacks, and 80 percent of its clinics are in minority neighborhoods. Sadly, laments Baucham, most blacks are pro-choice. Before Obama’s presidency the majority of black Christians were pro-life, but the first black president’s abortion militancy changed that. He wonders why evangelical elites decry one-issue voting when sometimes, as with the Jewish question in the 1930s, slavery in the 1860s, and civil rights in the 1960s, there really is one overriding issue.
This book is not without faults. It needed better copyediting, uses too many secondary sources, and should have included an index. Baucham has also gotten into trouble for misquoting sources; no doubt this is a matter of haste rather than deceitfulness, but such mistakes don’t help his cause. Meanwhile, readers of this journal might fault Baucham for his confidence that the biblical text, without an orthodox tradition to guide it, is sufficient to keep the Church in the Truth.
But Baucham’s critics would be badly mistaken to focus on these issues and to miss this incisive theological criticism of antiracism by one of our country’s best and boldest thinkers on the subject.
Gerald McDermott recently retired from Beeson Divinity School and is the editor of Race and Covenant: Recovering the Religious Roots for American Reconciliation.
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