What's the big deal?

Voddie Baucham and Critical Race Theory

This article was printed in The Daily Item on November 7, 2021, and you can read it on their site here. I’m posting it on this blog with additional citations and information.

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Perhaps like many of you, I first came across Critical Race Theory (CRT) about 18 months ago, when one of my dear friends explained that she couldn’t support the BLM protests because they endorsed CRT.

I believed then, as I believe now, that most of the people protesting George Floyd’s death hadn’t given a second thought to CRT. Sure, there were bound to be a few radicals ranting about capitalism, but ordinary people didn’t care about academic theories. They had seen a video of a police officer killing a human being; their grief and anger had nothing to do with communism. They wanted justice, not a coup!

But later, when BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors said that she and fellow activists were “trained Marxists,” I was genuinely alarmed. I’ve studied the horrors created by Marxism in Venezuela, Cuba, and the former Soviet Union. I’m not a fan.

So I started reading. I read over 50 articles about Critical Race Theory (CRT), aiming for an even mix of liberal and conservative sources. I chatted with Dr. Kelly Hamren, a Liberty University professor whose dissertation focused on atrocities driven by Marxist-Leninist ideology in Russia. Finally, I went straight to the original source and read a few journal articles by Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the lawyers who helped coin the phrase and develop the theory, and Derrick Bell, one of the earliest influences on CRT.

I thought, read and prayed, and I’m going to share what I’ve learned in a series of articles. For now, I’d like to lay some groundwork.

It’s hard to cut through the bias.

CRT started out as a legal theory developed by civil-rights lawyers in the late 1980s. It draws from Marxist frameworks that go further back, but I’ll get to that later. If you want to study the source material itself instead of other people’s summaries, it’s not exactly something you can skim while drinking your morning coffee as small children climb onto your lap for a cuddle.

But shorter articles summarizing CRT are pretty biased, even though they claim objectivity. Liberal sources define CRT as essential for justice while conservative sources define CRT as inherently divisive and unfair. Both make assumptions and present them as truth. Unless you’re a legal scholar who happens to own the necessary textbooks, it’s hard to fact-check critics and supporters alike.

The Case of Voddie Baucham

One example of how tricky this “understanding” can be is in Voddie Baucham’s book and sermons. Baucham is a Black pastor who became one of the biggest Christian critics of CRT, and I think he identifies valid problems with both the theory and recent activism.

I listened to a few of his sermons on Youtube back in the summer of 2020 and took notes. Some of his claims were easy to corroborate. It’s true that Michael Brown never said “Hands up, don’t shoot!” This became a main rallying cry of BLM protests in Ferguson, and it was based on a lie.

On the other hand, in one of his sermons (around the 6 minute mark) Baucham says he’s reading a direct quote from a Critical Race theorist: “whites are incapable of righteous actions on race.” When I first heard that sermon, I thought Wow! That’s absolutely damning! If that’s CRT, it really is evil! But I couldn’t corroborate that claim elsewhere. It just didn’t line up with what I read from Critical Race Theorists themselves.

Nearly a year later, Lamb’s Reign blogger Joel McDurmon* compared Voddie Baucham’s quotations to the CRT book he was referencing. It’s incontrovertible that in his sermon, Baucham misquoted Critical Race theorist Robert Delgado. Delgado did NOT say that whites are incapable of righteous actions.

Voddie Baucham’s book, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Impending Catastrophe, contains additional misquotes. Some critics feel that Baucham seriously misrepresents CRT’s arguments, to the point of outright deception. More conservative outlets say Baucham’s mistakes aren’t that important, but agree that his citations are sloppy and he misquotes Richard Delgado.

As a Christian working hard to understand the pros and cons of CRT, Bauchan’s misinformation is personally frustrating, and it also illustrates why I, like many of you, have had such a hard time defining the tenets of the theory to make my own judgment of it.

In future columns, I’ll discuss the history of CRT as well as the origins of concepts like white privilege and structural racism.

*Correction: When this article ran in The Daily Item, John Reasnor was credited with identifying the misquote, when in fact it was Joel McDurmon.

The Nitty Gritty Details…

Because of word limits and the fact that it’s hard to make citation styles sound exciting, I couldn’t include all the information about Baucham’s misquotes in The Daily Item. I shared the main ideas in what you already see above, but if you’re interested in the nitty gritty details, read on!

On Alleged Plagiarism:

There is a bit of a hoopla over whether Voddie Baucham plagiarized phrases from author and mathematician James Lindsay. Lindsay himself says that Baucham didn’t plagiarize him, but Baucham does seem to lift specific phrases from James Lindsay’s June 20, 2020 New Discourses lecture. Neil Shenvi is a Christian apologist and conservative blogger who staunchly opposes Critical Race Theory, but he points out that plagiarism is still plagiarism even if it isn’t intentional and even if Lindsay himself disagrees.

I personally don’t care much about this, because it’s just a few phrases and is an understandable mistake, and borrowing a few words from a fellow CRT critic doesn’t change the meat of the argument. In other words, I don’t think it affected my efforts to understand CRT or its shortcomings.

On Misquoting Richard Delgado:

There’s also some hoopla over Baucham quoting (or misquoting) Richard Delgado. As far as I can tell, Baucham does NOT misquote Richard Delgado in his book, but he clearly DOES misquote Delgado in his sermon that you can still watch online. I shared the video link earlier, but here it is again around the 6 minute mark if you’d like to hear it yourself.

Neil Shenvi suggests that it’s a simple case of Baucham mixing up the quotation and his own commentary while glancing at his sermon notes, and I agree!

But we need to hold our pastors to high standards, and they should be very, very careful not to spread rumors or false witness about other people when they’re speaking from the pulpit. The phrase that Baucham misattributes to Richard Delgado is a doozy, and as someone who presents himself as a credible academic authority in the national CRT discourse, it’s not a mistake he should make.  

Saying that “whites are incapable of righteous actions on race” takes Delgado’s philosophy about group self-interest and transforms it into a sweeping religious declaration with breathtaking implications. But Delgado never said that.

Baucham must address the error. People have brought the misquote to his attention, and he should make sure a prominent correction is attached to the bottom of the online video. To do otherwise means he knowingly continues to preach false witness about Richard Delgado and CRT to anyone who clicks on his talk.

On Further Misrepresenting Richard Delgado and Critical Race Theory:

In both his Youtube talk and book, after the “whites are incapable of righteous actions” commentary, Baucham misrepresents another idea from Richard Delgado’s book.

He summarizes “So, Delgado writes, storytelling, narrative reading, is the way black people forward knowledge versus the science and reason method of white people. Science and reasoning is white. The scientific method is white.”

This isn’t what Delgado says! Honoring personal narratives does not mean rejecting science; ask any Christian sharing their testimony.

Delgado does analyze the power of stories to shape people’s understanding of reality, and says that it’s important to listen to the stories of marginalized people. This is hardly revolutionary, and is a far cry from saying “reasoning is white.”

(This July, the African American Museum posted an infographic on their website that listed the scientific method, “rugged individualism,” and hard work as aspects of white culture. So this idea is being pushed by liberals out there, and I’ll discuss this further in a separate piece. However, specificity is important, and Richard Delgado did not say or imply that science and reasoning are white–that is a gross oversimplification of his analysis on storytelling).

In Summary

I don’t think that Voddie Baucham is malicious, but even if it’s a mistake, he is misrepresenting Critical Race scholars.  This is pure conjecture, but I think he’s so upset about CRT that he gets carried away.  As Baucham tries to make a point, he exaggerates, makes assumptions, and loses track of what people actually say versus his own interpretation of what they say. 

Baucham would regain some credibility with me if he apologized and rectified his mistakes.  It would be a way to show that the truth is more important than winning an argument or always being right. Writers and journalists post corrections all the time; I attributed work to the wrong writer in the first publication of this very article!   But Baucham and his publisher flatly deny the misquotes and plagiarism claims saying it’s just a matter of citation style, and Baucham hasn’t addressed his broader misrepresentations of Delgado’s work.

Anyways, this is just one author/speaker that I’ve consulted in trying to understand CRT! You can see the multitude of sources I’ve needed just to fact-check Voddie Baucham, and then even more sources to fact-check the fact-checkers. It’s confusing and utterly exhausting.

Asked about Baucham’s discussion of his work by Faithfully Magazine, Richard Delgado responded:

“I think the writer whose work you are referring to was confusing me with someone else or just making things up, either of which is a bad idea when you are writing for an audience that values integrity and truth-telling!”

We need disciplined thinkers with the integrity to summarize the very best version of their opponent’s ideas before critiquing them, so that even their fiercest rivals admit that they’re fair. Such thinkers are out there, but it takes effort to find and identify them.