Have you heard about the white evangelical backlash against critical race theory? Let me explain.

First, it's important to note that this is just the latest manifestation of a running conflict within American evangelicalism.
That conflict is now entering the middle stages of a neo-fundamentalist split. But unlike earlier fundamentalist movements, which were as much motivated by doctrinal as cultural differences, this split is fueled primarily by culture war rhetoric and political tribalism.
There has been a growing divide b/t college-educated evangelical clergy & non-college laity. The clergy are more likely to either sympathize w/ or at least be sensitive toward broader social changes in America.
Those changes include the rise of religious "nones," increasing religious pluralism, and growing public awareness of systemic racial injustice.

For the neo-fundamentalist, these are all existential threats that justify the support of even unsavory culture warriors.
However, while evangelical clergy only get their congregants in the pews one to three times a week, Fox News and talk radio get them every day, all day.
The worldview of lay evangelicals is much more shaped by what they consume from politically-conservative media than by what their pastors preach from the pulpit. And that message tells them to be afraid, very, very afraid. America is changing and it's almost always for the worse.
That influence gap is heightened by how unequipped most evangelical clergy are to address social issues, both a relict of early 20th century evangelical backlash against the social gospel movement & the utter failure of most evangelical seminaries to bother w/ political theology.
However, until the last several years, that underlying tension wasn't often enough to break into open conflict. It would bubble up every now and again, like after 9/11 when opposition to mosque building became a popular culture war stance among political conservatives.
By contrast, people like Russell Moore of the South Baptist Evangelical and Religious Liberty Commission, supported the rights of muslims to build mosques, which led to a viral backlash moment at the SBC in 2016.

But those fissures broke wide open once Donald Trump resurfaced so much of the festering nativism, racism, and religious bigotry that is a lingering part of America's history.
Thus Moore's criticism of Trump led to a movement to censure and drive him out of the SBC, which has ultimately worked as he leaves the ERLC for Christianity Today. Popular preacher Beth Moore was a target as well after her criticism of Trump's misogyny.

But nothing strikes more deeply at the worldview of neo-fundamentalist groups than the cause of racial justice. Criticism of policing, the push for systemic reform, and calls for repentance for historic racism deeply challenge the neo-fundamentalist view of America.
Either America is a chosen nation with an exceptional role to play in the historical unfolding of the divine drama. Or Americans are just another fallen people, its churches whited sepulchres, and America's position in history resembles more that of Rome than Israel.
To admit that America does not hold an exceptional position in God's plan for humanity strikes at the core of a religious nationalism that has been taught and retaught through Christian schools, media, and churches over the last several decades.
The battle for racial justice strikes at the heart of that self-conception. If racism is, indeed, America's "original sin," something that continues to mark its core institutions, including the church, then it can't be dismissed as a small problem safely relegated to the past.
Worse yet, for the neo-fundamentalist, acknowledging that racism remains a significant problem means acknowledging that so many conservative theologians and pastors were wrong. And if that's true, that means people who aren't evangelicals were...right. Quelle horreur!
Take, for example, neo-fundamentalist Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Now, if systemic racism is a real problem that demands repentance and making amends, then his church would have to grapple with some rather ill-concealed racist skeletons.
First Baptist of Dallas was the largest Southern Baptist church in the country in the 1950s when it was pastored by W.A. Criswell, who was an ardent segregationist. Preachers like Criswell and Jerry Falwell did everything within their power to fight the civil rights movement.
But when evangelical segregationists like Bob Jones, Falwell, Criswell, et al realized they lost that battle, they generally tried to shove that past under the rug and act like their role in that systemic racism never happened.

It was a begrudging acknowledgement of changing mores, not a real act of repentance. In other words, some of the most powerful conservative clergy of the 20th century never actually dealt with the evangelical churches' complicity in Jim Crow. It was repentance deferred.
And thus the festering consequences of systemic racism remained, though most white evangelicals could ignore it given how deeply segregated conservative churches remained. Out of (white) sight out of (white) mind.
But as younger generations of evangelicals of diverse backgrounds learned about this past, they were horrified by what they found, by the unwillingness of past generations to repent, turn, and and embrace the cause of racial justice in Jesus's name.
When the Black Lives Matter movement began in Ferguson in 2014, and as it grew over the years until cresting with the George Floyd protests of 2020, these younger evangelicals saw a moment of possibility, a chance to address the mistakes of past generations.
Evangelicals, especially those with lots of college-educated congregants in metropolitan areas, joined the marches and protests.

It was the culmination of several years of real possibility for change. Influential conservative pastors like John Piper & Tim Keller had authored books calling for racial reconciliation. Groups like the Gospel Coalition sponsored conferences about the gospel & racial justice.
But even as conservative evangelical support for addressing racial injustice grew, so too did a neo-fundamentalist backlash backed by equally influential conservative clergy like John MacArthur.

This, of course, gets tangled up in all manner of cultural politics given longstanding white evangelical ties to the GOP, but opposition to the racial justice movement is even more a constant among the neo-fundamentalists as fidelity to Donald Trump, the pandemic response, etc.
However, those who seek to avoid the messy obligations stemming from the church's role in systemic racism have a very basic problem:

Almost all their fellow evangelicals with actual training on the history, sociology, and theology of racism in the Church don't agree with them!
What to do? Well, find "experts" who say what you want them to say, even if you have to invent them or borrow them from elsewhere.

This is easy to do given what confessing scholar Mark Noll calls the "scandal of the evangelical mind."
This is how we've arrived at a point when evangelical seminaries look to a "homeschooling physicist" and self-educated expert on race named Neil Shenvi to provide reliable information about what he calls "Critical Social Justice."

It's how Al Mohler, arguably the most influential Southern Baptist today, could invite an atheist hoaxer named James Lindsay onto his podcast to lambast critical race theory.

It's how New Christian Right activists like Christopher Ruffo can get away with bragging about their bad faith efforts to weaponize evangelical ignorance about "cultural Marxism" and "critical race theory" in order to score points points in a broader political struggle.
The neo-fundamentalists are relying on ill-informed and often non-evangelical "experts" instead of listening to confessing believers with actual expertise. Why? Because the story the faux experts tell them is a lot less threatening. It soothes their uneasy consciences.
The Bible has a term for these guys: false teachers. There have always been those who are willing, when God's people are confronted by injustice, to say "Peace, peace, when there is no peace;" to "dress the wound of God's people as though it were not serious." (Jeremiah 6:14)
There are always "wolves in sheep's clothing," (Matt 7:15) possessing in this case a truly lupine cleverness. The wolves cull the sheep by making them fear that their shepherds are the *real* wolves; their preachers have been infected by cultural marxism & cannot be trusted!
To put my religious historian's hat back on for a moment, there is no repairing this breach. The flight of many Southern Baptists from the denomination--including many of its most prominent black ministers--is just a harbinger of the coming divide.

But we should expect that divide to grow into a chasm that splits through each of the major evangelical denominations. That's because the two sides make mutually exclusive claims that cannot be reconciled.

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More from @PMatzko

27 May
"Imagine thinking..."

You've probably read a lot of tweets opening with those two words. I've written them before.

But it's a bad rhetorical habit and not just because it's snarky; it's that it fundamentally means the opposite of what it says.
The author is NOT actually encouraging an act of imagination; rather, they are saying that the object of derision is so outlandish that they *can't* imagine it being correct.

But that often says more about the author than it does the object. It's a failure of their imagination.
I suppose I take this seriously because I'm a historian. We spend a lot of time training our brains to do an unnatural act, which is to temporarily step outside of our personal experiences, time periods, and cultural contexts and attempt to inhabit the point of view of another.
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It's important to understand the machinery of reactionary thinking so that we can see it as it's happening. The reactionary fears change that is disruptive to the social institutions they value & which undermines the cultural power they wield via control of those institutions.
Take the recent debate in conservative & Christian circles over Critical Race Theory. For those of us with scholarly training, this is bizarre not least because CRT (and the intellectual headwaters from which it flows, critical theory and the Frankfurt school) are old news;
they are products of theoretical trends in the mid-20th century. It's a bit like if your preacher, today, suddenly started decrying the trend of women with bobbed hairstyles and wearing flapper dresses.
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10 May
A good example of how a classic libertarian critique -- in this case anti-competitive rent-seeking -- only gets traction on the Left when plugged into a culture war framework w/ a victim from a sympathetic group.

A new ice cream store was delayed by months because an existing ice cream store filed a complaint w/ the Planning Commission.

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27 Apr
If we did resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, it would have vast, negative, unintended effects. You couldn't just target Tucker Carlson or whatever pundit/outlet you dislike.

How do I know that? Because I wrote a book about those effects last time we tried the Fairness Doctrine.
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