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Parents from Biden-voting areas such as Westchester County (NY), Maricopa County (AZ), and northern Virginia have been protesting the teaching of critical race theory in their public schools. They object that it divides students by race and intimates that skin color denotes either guilt or innocence. 

Christian parents often assume that evangelical institutions are free from such secular ideologies. But recent developments at three leading evangelical schools suggest they need to look more carefully.

Wheaton College, Billy Graham’s alma mater in Illinois, is famous as a premier center for evangelical learning. But Wheaton has recently adopted harmful strategies in its approach to race. According to one professor who wrote me anonymously, only a few Wheaton professors are woke, but many critics of their agenda are “hesitant” to speak up. The beliefs of Wheaton’s Office of Multicultural Development, led by a cabinet-level chief intercultural engagement officer, were on display last April at Wheaton’s first annual “Racialized Minorities Recognition Ceremony.” Sheila Caldwell, Wheaton’s chief diversity officer until just a few weeks before the event, was the main speaker. Caldwell complained that she had been “imprisoned by a racialized caste system . . . and was expected to be deferential to the patriarchy” around her. She implied that Wheaton was also part of this racialized system. She added that Larycia Hawkins (the political science professor Wheaton fired for refusing to uphold the college’s statement of faith on the uniqueness of Christ’s salvation) had been “pressured to stay in her place in the American caste system.” 

At an evangelical college, the approach to all issues—including race—should be grounded in the gospel. Yet Caldwell’s message was not the beauty of salvation by the Trinitarian God, but the need for people of color to exercise power in a racist society. In a letter to students, faculty, and staff, the president of Baylor University recommended a resource on race that encourages readers to assess their thoughts and feelings using Tema Okun's “characteristics of white supremacy culture”—characteristics that include individualism, objectivity, linear thinking, and logic.  

One professor at Baylor told me he is “infuriated” that the university has not used this country’s race debate to show how Christian faith can transform the conversation. “[Baylor ought to be showing] the church and the world what it means to say that all human beings are made in the image of God and have intrinsic dignity, and that race or national origin should have no bearing on these truths. Yet [Baylor] mimics the secular world, albeit with a light touch of Bible verses and fewer harangues about privilege and ‘whiteness.’”

Of course, not all Baylor staff and faculty are woke. Some have been working behind the scenes to alert the administration to the dangers of adopting secular dogmas. But some at the college continue to teach the same woke axioms found at most secular colleges today—that America is systemically racist because of ongoing white privilege and that white students need to repent of their ancestors’ racism because it is their own. Baylor’s Office of Equity and Inclusion has promoted these messages in student orientation, Student Life programs, some chapel programs, and in some classrooms. Rarely, however, are these teachings subjected to public academic critique. 

Wokeness at Wheaton and Baylor stays out of most classrooms, and is usually limited to the reach of inquisitors from their inclusion and diversity offices. But Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, promises to spread it to every class on campus. The university recently released a “Report of the Task Force on Racial Justice” that recommends lessons on anti-racism be inserted in both core curriculum and disciplinary courses across the university. That means that math, science, and music classes must take out something to make room for lectures on why America is systemically racist. The man commissioned to oversee those curricular changes has retweeted messages that “some white people were going to have to die” for lynching to stop, that we live in a white supremacist society, and that America is no different today from what it was in the 1950s and ’60s.   

The Samford Report, recently endorsed by its board of trustees, recommends that every student organization be required to stage at least one event on race each year “to remain in good status with the university.” Parents might wonder why a math or chess club must talk about race in order to survive. 

Students, faculty, and staff at Samford are required to submit to “implicit bias” training, which psychologists have criticized for unstable findings that are useless as predictors of real bias. A Samford professor who went through the training recently concluded that it has its own bias—that white males are always biased and must yield to women and people of color. His group’s trainer warned that expectations of “competence and excellence” must be set aside.

Why are evangelical universities adopting secular strategies to address a spiritual problem? As one professor put it, administrators are “risk-averse” and hope this will save them from being called racists. But what if their anti-racist solution to racism is itself racist? And what if, in their attempts to avoid criticism, evangelical colleges embrace a secular gospel that has nothing to do with true kingdom diversity?

Gerald McDermott is editor of Race and Covenant: Recovering the Religious Roots for American Reconciliation.

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