Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Equivocation Problem with Social Justice that the Theobros Make Worse

Featuring Rosato's Harriet Tubman Mural
Most regular people understand the term "social justice" in terms of common vernacular in the US -- through the simple meaning of the words themselves. In society, especially in America, our government aspires to grant each citizen rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We've spent our whole history working to make those liberties equally available to all her citizens. To most people, most Christians included, "social justice" means just that. It is the aspiration to see all people in society treated fairly and justly. Unless someone's taken particular classes in college or read specific literature that offers a different definition, most people understand these simple words in only that context. 

The problem arises when we think we're talking about the everyday meaning instead of how a profession or some other field of study uses the same term. Meanings become ambiguous, and we fall into logic errors, misunderstanding one another. Equivocation in language poses a significant problem within the Quiverfull movement because it uses terminology in novel ways, contributing to distortions in doctrine and leading to major issues in the practice of one's faith.

The Social Justice of the Frankfurt School and Critical Race Theory

In the 1930s, a group of people in Frankfurt, Germany, who sought to solve the worst problems of humankind looked to socialism to solve them. They gleaned ideas from Marx, Freud, and Hegel to develop a socialist view of struggles between groups in society, seeking ways to solve them. They became known as Cultural Marxists and the Frankfurt School because of their work at Goethe University in Frankfurt. They viewed capitalism as the most significant facilitator of oppression and focused explicitly on groups of people instead of individuals. They consolidated their beliefs in their Critical Race Theory (CRT) which established the general term of Social Justice as “the elimination of all forms of oppression,” but without further elaboration on any more specific meaning, leaving much of it up to interpretation. CRT became a precursor to the discipline of Critical Legal Studies, which sought to solve the problems of inequity between the poor and the wealthy within the legal system. (I am not a student of these systems to any degree and am largely unknowledgeable about these matters.)

Leaving the general definition of Social Justice unspecific renders its meaning unclear. How do people define "oppression," and "elimination"? Tools of justice oppress abuse and crime, and those tools should be appropriately utilized by society and not oppressed. Society should reform those tools if they add to oppression; otherwise, we have anarchy. That's where socialism steps in to offer solutions.

I hate oppression, and I hate racism in particular, as is well noted in the archive of this blog from the outset. I despise black-and-white thinking (no pun intended) and how ideologies reduce people to objects they claim to help as they sacrifice those individuals for the sake of their cause. For that reason and with this understanding, I reject aspects of CRT as my personal view of change because it seems as oppressive as oppression. My religious and political beliefs contrast starkly with CRT's strictly defined, all-or-nothing definitions of 1.) binary oppressor/oppressed groups (because it rejects all possible intermediary groups), 2.) hegemony as the only means by which societies change (with no possible alternative mechanisms of change), and 3.) lived experience that determines that I have no personal experiences of my own as an individual that give me empathy in any capacity for an oppressed individual.

I do not oppose the efforts of oppressed people to seek to change the systems that oppress them, and if they do so with a socialist approach, note that it's well within their rights as Americans to do so. Still, my view of how to understand the problem and how to change things differs vastly from that of CRT to which some iterations of Liberation Theology and the Black Lives Matter movement appeal. I believe that a Christian perspective offers the best means to change things, but the Evangelical Church at large has too oft' been a part of perpetuating the problem, especially in the South. In their rejection of CRT, some Christians make the very same all-or-nothing errors of logic that I see in CRT itself. Rather than pursuing a dialogue and collaborating effectively and honestly with people outside their camp, many Christians reject those who understand the dilemma differently.

Bullying, Branding, and Bogeymen

Those Christians claim to have the perfect truth about many matters and draw their own all-or-nothing categories that blackmail brand others into accepting their views on the matter. This Quiverfull camp and other general ideologues for patriarchy followed already-established ways of bullying that show us hegemony in action, a term that I used to describe aberrant Christianity in the first essay I wrote on the subject and tactics used in the gender debate.  Andrew Sandlin also used the term to describe aspects of the Quiverfull/Patriarchy movement.

Before the new revival started by men like Tom Ascol and Voddie Baucham, paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan and William Lind claimed that society and the Christian Church in the US unknowingly took their marching orders on how to live from the Cultural Marxists specifically. Geoff Botkin claims falsely that he was raised in a home by parents who were alleged acolytes of the Frankfurt School. They chose Cultural Marxism as a primary bogeyman on which they pin everything about culture they do not like, identifying it as THE primary source of secularism in the US. These men and their “Theobro” cohorts give the Frankfurt School too much credit for secularization in the US instead of viewing it as part of the worldwide paradigm shift away from Romanticism into Modernism and Existentialism. (That I do know much about.)

Some claim that as we approached the advent of the Twentieth Century, beleaguered parents couldn't be bothered with their children, so the sinful practice of Child Evangelism developed. This was part of some grand religious conspiracy to divide families into different age groups, robbing the family priest male overseer of his duty of discerning all religious material for the family, interfering with his ability to catechize his children properly. Per this view, Sunday School in churches came about as a strange, new practice because of the influence of Cultural Marxism.

I might find some of this persuasive, but I grew up in an Evangelical Christian denomination that taught Child Evangelism and established it as a specific field of religious study at about the same time as the founding of Frankfurt School. I am beyond convinced that Annie Beisel who founded the first Assemblies of God church and Bible College in Pennsylvania through which I received my basic Christian training never took marching orders from them. I'm also certain that the late Professor Emeritus, Dr. Robert O'Bannon of Lee University who trained my mentors (Boyd and Hanks) wholeheartedly rejected CRT. But this also illustrates the elitist mindset of this group of Baptists because they deny my status as a legitimate Christian. (They do not see the irony that this view of other Christians is as unfair as CRT's view that there is no intermediary category between the oppressor and the oppressed.)

Use Knowledge to Disarm and Reclaim Distorted Language

When most people hear the term "social justice," they do not understand it as a command from ideologues to take up arms against capitalists everywhere to destroy oppression in the world and topple the oppressors to equilibrate and redistribute their wealth by any means necessary. Most Christians, in particular, have likely never heard word one about CRT before the recent revival of it within the Quiverfull Movement which the Southern Baptists were happy to grasp because it creates a bogeyman to blame. When talking with a Christian apologist recently, he told me that I was in error as a Christian and no different than the evangelists of wokeism if I continued to use the term. I don't agree with that or the idea of CRT as the newly identified bogeyman. I believe the term can generate discussion about such matters, and I don't think that Christians should eschew it.

While Christians should be informed about the history of the Frankfurt School and their theories and how modern-day groups like Black Lives Matter incorporate CRT into their views as part of the discussion of the philosophical influences that have shaped America, I think that most people talk about social justice in the context of the term's own simple meaning. While the ideology contrasts with an Evangelical orthodoxy, I do not believe it's public enemy No.1. The Church serves as our worst enemy. Our grand failure lies in failing to live as discerning and loving Christians within our society as we promote institutions that often do more harm than good.

My best hope for America and the Church is much like what Suzanne Titkemeyer has said – that we will eventually stop swinging between extremes to find a place of plumb near the center that provides everyone with a reasonable, equitable balance of power. Over the last century, the Church blew so many opportunities to change for the better. Maybe God has employed the Rod of Men (2 Samuel 7:14) to bring about the desperately needed change, accomplishing what the Church in America neglected for centuries.

I recommend two good and free (!) resources that can help you get started so that you can learn more about the discussion, both of them videos: an Interview with Doug Groothuis (book) and a lecture by Neil Shenvi (blog post). Listen, read, and then make up your own mind about what it all means. Engage other people in respectful discussions, and if you don't know how to do that with humility and patience, you can pick up some tips HERE. And Suzanne recommends reading Reddit's breakdown of the new 2022 Frankfurt Declaration which refers to social justice.

Late Edit 01Mar23:  I neglected to list two additional references about a Christian perspective of Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory from the late John Robbins' Trinity Foundation (not to be confused with the nefarious Ole Anthony of Dallas).  Follow the embedded links to Part I and Part II.  If you're unfamiliar with John Robbins, he was the intellectual heir of Gordon Haddon Clark, one of the original Presuppositional Apologists and a world-class Christian philosopher.