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Review of Fault Lines: Towards a More Expansive View of Evil

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been around for a long time. I pursued an education minor at UC Berkeley during the mid-1990s and Paulo Freie’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) was required reading in my ED190 class. Power dynamics is the bedrock of critical theory - the broader belief system for various types of oppression including racial, gender, socioeconomic, cognitive, disability, and sexual orientation. I vividly recall a class session where my instructor, a female graduate student, dressed in black leather, barked commands, and marched around the classroom, slapping a black riding crop on students’ desks. Her cosplay was exhibit A on the oppressiveness of traditional education. I remember classmates rolling their eyes at one another and taking it all in with amusement. 

The non-role play class sessions were stimulating in other ways. We had good discussions and our instructor worked hard to treat us as peers and engage us in dialogue. This emphasis on dialogue as both a means and ends to learning shaped my views on education and spiritual formation. In fact, dialogue informs the values of the church I lead today. At the same time, I also recall how conspiracy theory-driven these ideas seemed to me. Anything and everything could be considered a sign of oppression. I remember thinking there was no way these crazy theoretical ideas would ever become mainstream. 

Twenty-five years later and the ideas previously confined to the halls of Tolman now proliferate in board rooms, classrooms, churches, movie theaters and homes. At the time of this writing, Voddie Baucham's Fault Lines ranked #97 (#1 in Christian Personal Growth) on Amazon's Best Seller list. That is incredibly popular for a non-fiction, non-self help book written by a conservative evangelical pastor. I reviewed Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility a couple of years ago and felt it would be helpful to do the same with a book on the other side of the political/ideological spectrum. I also wanted to read a thoughtful, Christian critique of critical race theory (CRT or “wokeness”) which includes antiracism, the Black Lives Matter movement, and white fragility. Fault Lines fits that bill. 

This book addresses a complex topic and many of my thoughts are contradictory. Let me attempt to address the different audience groups who might read this post. First, Baucham is addressing Christians. He makes appeals to Christian values. He uses biblical language. Most importantly, he assumes his audience shares his belief in and understanding of sola scriptura (scripture alone).

If you’re a progressive-leaning Christian, I’d encourage you to to read this from a relational perspective and a receptive attitude; to have an open mind and give the author the benefit of the doubt. Baucham is our brother. He is a family member whom Christ’s blood paid for. You have doubtless heard many of the arguments Baucham makes and I would admonish you to think through them deeply. Wokeness scares anti-CRT evangelicals because CRT is at the center of the cultural zeitgeist. It is incredibly popular and pervasive, especially in academia, urban centers, and large corporations. Insurance companies and makers of socks and underwear have jumped on the BLM bandwagon. Throughout church history, Christians have debated about how to interact with culture. This is important and good. It’s normative Christian behavior to view what’s culturally en vogue through a lens of suspicion. It’s also vital that Christians think critically and recognize our propensity to be inconsistent and unaware.

For example, I see posters plastered in front of homes and on storefronts where the first line reads “Black Lives Matter” and the second: “Science is Real”, which addresses conservatives’ dismissal of climate change. Unfortunately, I have witnessed strong anti-science and anti-evidence tendencies from CRT proponents when it comes to race. I am not alone. Please don’t skip past the section that examines the reported details of the race-motivated incidents of the past two years. Please don’t dismiss evidence because the witness was white or “broken” or simply: “because systemic racism”. Don’t commit the same error you accuse your opponents of. Since it’s easier to say what not to do than what to do: Please ground your CRT understanding in biblical language, according to scripture (and not just Old Testament), with a sound biblical hermeneutic. Please exercise humility and acknowledge the excesses of the CRT movement before making your counterarguments. This is a good example. 

If you’re a conservative-leaning Christian, I’d encourage you to to read this from a critical perspective. Baucham makes a biblical case but it’s far from air-tight as I hope to demonstrate. I see excesses and errors in his book. My post will identify some but ultimately that’s your job not mine. Don’t just swallow this book’s arguments and regurgitate them all over a coworker during a mandatory diversity training. Don’t accost your pastor with these arguments. Baucham is a preacher. I believe he employs hyperbole strategically to make a point. Recognize that and don’t take yourself too seriously. Instead, do listen to others. Acknowledge the excesses and lack of humility in the other. Many of my conservative-leaning friends in the bay area stay silent due to the cultural climate here. Most importantly, try to see what is valuable and good in the Critical Race Theory. 

Unfortunately, as with so much messaging in this culture, this book is unlikely to change anyone's mind about the social justice movement. Those who uphold CRT will be reinforced in their beliefs and those who are suspicious and afraid of CRT will feel further justified in their stance. 

Like White Fragility, I was confident starting Fault Lines that I wouldn't agree with a lot of what Baucham said. What surprised me is how much I did agree with and support. I was pleasantly surprised by how conciliatory his tone was, especially at the end. Throughout the book he works hard to be charitable, consistent, fair-minded, intellectually honest, and grounded in scripture. His prose is easy to read. I would be honored to be friends with him and I’m sure we would engage in many spirited debates. I will start by discussing what moved me, what I disagreed with, and what my takeaways are. 

Where Baucham is right

Baucham makes numerous noteworthy points. The first two chapters chronicle his ethnic and spiritual journey. Having almost no memories of his father, he honors his mother's sacrifice, protection, advocacy, and discipline for and of her son. In the second chapter, he explores the tensions of being a black Christian - how to navigate ethnicity and faith. Baucham exhibits tremendous courage in standing on the unpopular side of an issue, not just against non-Christians but Christians as well. He discusses his rise in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) until he was branded a "radical" for advocating a boycott of Disney and public schools due to their overt LGBTQIA+ agenda and his open identification as a Calvinist. Baucham is not afraid to be a lightning rod of controversy. I would object to any accusations about his being an Uncle Tom, falling victim to internalized racism, or attempting to become white. This simply is not his track record.

In the third chapter, Baucham discusses the individual cases of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, and Breonna Taylor. His analysis of each incident is detailed and precise and he does a good job in highlighting how pertinent details of each case were obscured because they "did not fit the narrative".

His chapter on the 2018 Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel and account of how a social justice resolution was modified and passed at the 2019 SBC annual meeting was fascinating. Baucham gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his perspectives of those events and though I'm only hearing his side of the story, he shares observations about efforts from prominent Evangelicals to quell discussion, drastically modify a resolution, and then coerce its passing. It is a poignant irony that proponents of CRT can fight against coercion and abuse of power with tactics that are abusive and coercive. 

Baucham presents a CRT principle he terms “ethnic gnosticism”. Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that bases salvation and redemption on esoteric knowledge (gnosis). In Baucham’s framework, ethnic gnosticism is hidden knowledge only accessible by Black, indigenous, and other people of color. Black and indigenous people have increased access to truth because their oppression is greater (hence, BIPOC). By the same token, white people cannot access truth and if a person of color makes anti-CRT comments, then he or she has been broken. DiAngelo’s White Fragility is a case in point whereupon a white person is caught in a Kafka trap (79) where denying guilt is proof of guilt.  

Problems with Baucham’s argument

Baucham sometimes stumbles in reading attentively and portraying CRT accurately. He quotes Latasha Morrison, a Christian leader and the founder of the Be the Bridge curriculum. Her definition of racism includes systemic injustice and closes with "in addition to the racist beliefs and actions of individuals" (82) and then a sentence later, Baucham responds to her definition with "We are no longer dealing with the hearts of men". That is precisely not what her quoted definition states. And then later he continues this falsehood by saying the social justice movement denies the role of the heart, which Morrison's aforementioned quote also explicitly does not support. 

Baucham continues: "At the heart of the 'woke' movement lies the idea that the sin of racism is no longer to be understood as an individual sin." (84) Again, this is also simply not true for other "woke" pastors. He references Pastor Daniel Hill's White Awake as another exhibit of CRT co-opting Christendom. I've read White Awake, spoken with Hill about his book, and nowhere does Hill deny the role of individual sin; in fact, if anything his book helps expose the unintentional way in which the sin of partiality pervades American evangelical culture. What "woke" Christians are working to expand the definition of racism beyond intent to encompass impact. Beyond what is conscious and intentional to that which is unconscious and unintentional, a definition that is biblical (sacrifices for unintentional sin). Overall, it's not a tragic miss but it is upsetting and distracting that someone who derides "false witness-bearing" can provide a textbook example of constructing a straw man.

Reconciling Baucham’s perspective 

Overall, this book helped me understand why many Christians object to the social justice movement and its dangers. These dangers are real and yet as Baucham himself notes in the case of atheists like Lindsay and Pluckrose, you do not need a faith perspective to recognize the excess, hypocrisy, and coercion. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianioff have discussed at length in their insightful book. Harper's Weekly issued its own statement. A recent Atlantic article describes the social justice movement ("Just America") as relying on "intolerant dogma and coercive tactics" and the central irony of "justice is power". 

I'm aware of these excesses and yet as we learn to read scripture through Eastern eyes, I've learned the Bible is much more than moral sayings directed to individuals. The Bible showcases the implications of unintentional sin by people groups (Leviticus 4:13-21) and the minor prophets consistently rebuke Israel and her leaders for failing to rule with justice and show compassion on the marginalized and the foreigner.

In the New Testament, Paul speaks of justice in addressing abusive masters: "For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done" (Colossians 3:25). Here justice is not an earthly endeavor but rather submission to God’s ultimate responsibility.

The gift of CRT to Christians is it offers a selective and overlooked lens by which to evaluate man’s fallen nature. It is a partial understanding of the doctrine of sin. It is selective because it limits its focus on oppressors and views institutions primarily (and sometimes solely) through the lens of power. In the past, this lens was overlooked because the nature of power excludes the powerless. The bible contains a profound understanding of power dynamics. The Christian faith understands sin to be pervasive - sin affects all people, irrespective of color and sex, and sin infects all people at a heart level. Because CRT offers an incomplete diagnosis, it offers only a partial solution - coercive tactics to subvert and equalize power. On the other hand, the Christian faith’s all-encompassing view of evil requires a total transformation of the heart and subsequently, institutions. 

Take-aways from Fault Lines

What's my takeaway? As an Asian American pastor, it is my responsibility to preach the gospel in the language of the people I minister to. Much of the language in the social justice movement can be translated into and interpreted out of biblical terms and principles. Partiality is certainly the larger umbrella of -ism under which racism, sexism, favoritism, and able-ism and others are covered. Paul's speech at the Areopagus in Acts 17 is one example of how the gospel can affirm aspects of culture while rebuking what is antithetical. In Baucham's narrow and individualistic hermeneutic, there is no room for social justice language. His Christian worldview is binary - it has no room for gradations of color. As an Asian American that came to faith through the ethnic church and spent 27 years there, I'm better equipped to read the Bible through a collectivist lens and an acceptance of uncertainty, tension, and ambiguity.

As a young Christian, I loved to hear specific ways in which I could live out the Christian life. Many Christian leaders are celebrated because of their ability to give detailed instructions on behavior. However, I quickly realized practical imperatives needed to be contextualized and frankly, taken less seriously. One example during college was Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Purity culture was fruitful for me in marrying early because also I didn’t take it too seriously and realized some of the specifics were impractical and trivial. It also felt weird to venerate someone who was the same age as me. As Westerners, I think we often have an all or nothing mindset.We often take on the fool’s choice - either complete acceptance or utter rejection. It’s hard for us to step into the “I don’t know” and “I’m not sure”. Baucham offers his readers the gift of a healthy dose of skepticism for ideas. But just as CRT offers a partial diagnosis through skepticism of power, we can maintain a healthy skepticism of prevailing ideas while simultaneously affirming ways in which culture points to Jesus. That’s one way to embrace uncertainty, tension, and ambiguity.

In chapter 3 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire discusses dialogue as a means to transform the world. He highlights humility, a profound love for mankind, and critical thinking as prerequisites for dialogue. Earlier in chapter 1, he explains how oppressors are motivated by material consumption. These principles are compatible with historic Christianity. However, there are current strains of CRT that are coercive, dogmatic, and cruel. One resounding CRT answer seems to be: Bring down oppressors to a lower level and value the oppressed through resource accumulation. And yet the Christian response is never to lower another person or coerce material redistribution. Christianity does not operate by demoting the powerful but by elevating the powerless. This is what we can agree on as Christians, no matter where we stand politically.

In conclusion, if you’re a progressive-leaning Christian, I recommend reading Fault Lines to understand how your conservative family members and friends think about this topic. There may be better anti-CRT books out there but I appreciate Bauchan’s commitment to orthodoxy. I would encourage thoughtful engagement with his hermeneutics and theology, which has weaknesses (as others have noted). I would consider Baucham’s strongest objections and work towards addressing those excesses. Lastly, I would not take him too seriously. Like many preachers, he engages in hyperbole in order to get people to stop and think. So don’t get baited but do stop and think.


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