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Critical Race Theory, the Christian, and the Meaning of America
By Douglas Groothuis
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a revolutionary neo-Marxist ideology that is incompatible with the founding ideals of America as well as with the Christian worldview. This ideology was behind much of the George Floyd riots of 2020, which were animated by the claim that America is and always has been unjust toward people or color. I cannot address this claim in depth here, but it is paramount for Christians to understand the philosophical assumptions at the heart of “the American experiment,” if we are to defend what is good about our country and seek to correct what needs reforming.
What is America?
What should Americans think and feel about their country? The United States government was formulated by men well-versed in the philosophy and history of civil government. As American historian Richard Hofstadter wrote:
The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics, and law to solve the exigent problems of their time. No subsequent era in our history has produced so many men of knowledge among its political leaders as the age of John Adams, John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, James Wilson, and George Wythe.
That is exceptional, but some tar the whole enterprise as racist and shameful. To settle this matter, we will consider the American creed.
The American Creed
America is as much a set of principles as it is a place. There is a reason why the ill-fated but heroic demonstrators at China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 raised American flags. We will thus speak of the American creed. Americans are not catechized into this creed in the formal manner done by a church (although we need that). However, America has a creed of a certain kind. It has been put in several ways, but essentially states that:
1. America is a republic, affirming that government is only legitimately constituted upon “the consent of the governed.”
2. America recognizes the potential and weaknesses of human nature, so it does not concentrate power in any single branch of government.
3. America affirms and promotes religious and political freedom, equality, and opportunity.
4. America allows for and encourages upward mobility through individual initiative—the “rags to riches” story or attaining “the American dream”—not through state action.
5. America is a beacon for the nations, or a “city set on a hill,” as Cotton Mather said in a famous sermon. We are a sacred trust between God and “we the people.”
6. America endeavors to honor and hold true to its founding documents. Thus, calling something “unconstitutional” is a reproach.
7. America is a place where moral and political reform is possible within the founding ideals and without violence.
8. America is a land that welcomes legal immigrants who want to become Americans and find a better life.
The American creed is shaped by our founding documents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—as well as by salient aspects of our history, such as the Revolutionary War (freedom from England), the Civil War (freedom for African Americans), World War II (the victory over fascism), and the Cold War (the victory over Communism).
America as a nation began in 1776, but long before that, settlers came with a mission to the New World—such as those on board the Mayflower, which arrived in 1620. Before arriving, most of the male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact, which captures the American spirit of fearing God and wanting
to covenant… into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and… hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony.
The American creed has freedom or liberty for its backbone, but not license. It is a freedom ordered by law and guided by conscience. It is freedom from tyranny and freedom for virtue. This is a creed to live up to, not an excuse to fail. It allows us to look at America’s failings—whether its treatment of Native Americans, African Americans, women, etc.—with neither excuse nor defeatism. It is no accident that in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. called for America to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ ”
While America is not a Christian nation by official creed, it has been a God-fearing nation informed by, at its best, a Christian conscience. The American form of civil government is essentially covenantal in its origin and constitution. A covenant, in the theological sense, is more than a contract. A covenant is made with a sense of honor and obligation before a transcendent reality. It stipulates a binding moral relationship among the people of the covenant who consent to it. A contract, by comparison, is a contingent arrangement made between parties for mutual financial benefit. It is a business transaction, not a sacred trust.
The Founders articulated a covenant by declaring the United States’ moral right, under God, to separate from England and to begin a new nation, which would secure God-given rights through government. Its inspiration was, ironically, the traditions of liberty developed in England over centuries, as Winston Churchill noted. It is a republic in that its government is directed by the will of the people according to set principles and procedures, as opposed to any one person or one class of elites controlling the nation. The Declaration rejected not only the king’s right over his colony, but the divine right of kings in favor of a republican government. Consider the majestic Preamble to the Constitution, which is made by “we the people,” not by any sovereign.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
America fought for its freedom from England and declared its distinctive identity in the Declaration.
Just as the Hebrew republic could fail through disobedience to God, the American republic could be lost through the negligence of its citizens. When Benjamin Franklin was asked what the Constitutional Congress of 1787 had given America, he replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” In a letter dated January 9, 1770, George Washington wrote, “The establishment of our new Government seemed to be the last great experiment, for promoting human happiness, by reasonable compact, in civil Society.” It was a well-conceived, though imperfect, experiment—one that could be improved upon or that could fail entirely.
Abraham Lincoln reflected on his place in the meaning of America. “I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.”
Consider Lincoln’s lapidary phrase— “his almost chosen people.” America was not the new Israel, but it was a new nation with a self-reflective creed which began with a Declaration. In 1862, Lincoln wrote, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” The Great Seal of America indicates this sense of call and destiny as well. The first act of Congress after the signing of the Declaration of Independence was to create a Great Seal that would, through image and words, distill the essence of the nation. On it was written Annuit Coeptis, which means “undertaking favored by Providence.” Below that was written Novus Ordo Seclorum, which means “a new order of the ages.”
Britain abolished slavery in 1807. America lagged beyond it and other nations and only abolished it in 1862, though slavery within it was neither total nor established on principle. That slavery existed at all was a sin; that it was opposed and eventually abolished in America is a victory. CRT to the contrary, America is not rotten to the core, as seen in its founding ideals and the progress it has made in granting human rights to its citizens. As American Christians “seek the welfare of the city” where God has placed them (Jeremiah 29:7), they should take sober stock of their nation’s strengths as well as its weaknesses.
 Douglas Groothuis, Fire in the Streets: How You Can Confidently Respond to Incendiary Cultural Topics (Washington, DC: Salem Books, 2022).
 Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), 145.
 Quoted in Os Guinness, Last Call for Liberty (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 19.
 See Guinness, 24–28.
 “From George Washington to Catharine Sawbridge Macaulay Graham, 9 January 1790,” Founders Online, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0363.
 “Address to the New Jersey State Senate,” Abraham Lincoln Online, February 21, 1861, http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/trenton1.htm. Emphasis added.
 “Annual Message to Congress: Concluding Remarks,” Abraham Lincoln Online, December 1, 1862, http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/congress.htm.
— Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary where he heads the Christian Apologetics master’s degree program. He is the author of sixteen books, including Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed (InterVarsity-Academic, 2022), and Fire in the Streets: How You Can Confidently Respond to Incendiary Cultural Topics (Salem Books, 2022), from which this essay is taken.
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