Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Church ‘Problematics’ (Part 1)

This article is a short “heads-up” for church leaders and other decision-makers who are currently dealing, or will soon be dealing with issues of race, ethnicity and other so-called “equity” issues in the church. There’s a serious danger here, and you need to be aware of it before it arrives.

Because after it arrives, it’s almost too late.

The World We’re Living In

That’s the nature of the world we’re living in, and it’s the nature of the beast we’re currently dealing with, coming at us from the secular world.

Of course, I’m speaking of that ideology known as Critical Race Theory, or, more popularly, as Social Justice. You’ve probably heard of it, likely in association with politics or education. It’s a serious problem in both, actually. However, it’s very clear by now that it’s not staying a strictly secular issue, but is coming into the church apace. Before it arrives, it is essential that church leaders have some inoculation against particular tactics it invariably employs on entry into any new institution.

Being alert is going to involve understanding a little about the language, the tactics and the dynamics associated with Social Justice ideology. At this moment, there’s one key concept you need to have at your disposal if you want to diagnose and deal effectively with the onslaught of Social Justice advocacy in your church.


The concept you have to understand is called “problematics”, or, as a verb, “problematizing”.

Now, these are weird words. They’re invented by the Social Justice set, and their meaning is not what you’re going to guess, maybe. But to them, they’re the very first thing they need to get done.

Problematizing is simply the process of ferreting out any hidden racism from the status quo of a situation. It means diagnosing where the racism exists and suggesting ways in which it can be addressed.

But it’s important to remember this: a hallmark of Social Justice thinking is the belief that racism always exists, and is already present in any institution of any kind at all, whether government, school, social practice or church. All institutions, all of them, are always racist. All that remains is to uncover how.

Does that seem extreme? Well, Social Justice guru Robin DiAngelo, author of the abysmal but popular book White Fragility, puts it bluntly. She writes, “The question is not “Did racism take place?” but rather “How did racism manifest in that situation?”

In other words, racism is systemic, meaning it’s already inside all our “systems”, whether we know it or not, periodically manifesting, but always simmering down below the surface. That includes churches: they’re all institutions shaped within an inherently racist ethos, and as such, are all racist underneath their appearances, and whether their people, individually, are conscious of their racism or not.

Naturally, it is the people from Social Justice Clever-clever-land, the people who have been trained to believe this, who are uniquely gifted to be able to dig up and expose this racism. That’s the “critical” part of the term “critical theory”. It means that their disciples are the only ones who have the prophetic vision and keen understanding to be able to expose to you just how racist you are, and how lamentably misguided and evil all your procedures and institutions have become, up to this point.

That’s “problematizing”. They claim to uncover your problem for you. And the problem is always racism.

There are no exceptions.


Maybe your church was planted by Scots-Irish immigrants, and has just always had the same families in it. But according to the Social Justice advocates, the reason there are no brown faces to be found among you (or homosexuals, or disabled people, or whatever) is not that you lack friends, neighbors and acquaintances outside your own circle, nor is it that no brown people have chosen to come to your gatherings. It’s that you’ve been making your gatherings deliberately Scots-Irish in a subtle attempt to eliminate brown people.

You may protest that there was no such deliberate plot. The elders never sat down and decided not to have brown folks, or Chinese, or the disabled, or whatever, in their gathering. The people have never ever expressed any antipathy to foreigners of any kind. You’ve just been carrying on within the milieu you understood, behaving in the ways customary to your local church. But the problematizers will say that’s no good. Without even being aware of it, you’ve allowed your institution to become Scots-Irish. You’ve been ignoring social justice, and excluding minorities by negligence, if not by intent.

There’s no way to win. If you have a few persons of color in your congregation, why aren’t they leaders and teachers? It can never be that they’ve chosen not to be, or that the few you have are recent converts unready to teach or lead; it’s got to be racism. And if you’ve pushed some of the visible minorities into places of prominence in a misguided attempt to placate Social Justice advocates, then you’re really caught with your hand in the cookie jar — you’re guilty of tokenism! You knew you were a racist, and tried to cover it up by promoting minorities! You acted in bad conscience! And now you must do more, much more, to please the gods of Social Justice, for you have been deeply implicated in the sin of racism.

Problematizers always find the way to say racism is the ultimate explanation for how your church became the way it is. It always is; no matter what you’ve done or where you are now. It’s the unique wisdom of the problematizers to show this to you, and make you ashamed of what you’ve done, and then to guide you as to the next step of your repentance for your sin.

Problems Without End

But here another feature of problematization appears: it never ends. Remember that by Social Justice theory we are not even allowed to imagine that racism does not exist in a given situation; we have to ask “How did racism manifest?” or “How did it spring up and reveal its presence this time?” The same is going to be true of every subsequent situation you create in a vain effort to placate Social Justice advocates. Once you have brown members, you don’t have enough. Once you have enough, not enough of them are leaders, teachers or elders. Once you have leaders, teachers and elders who are visible minorities, there are other minorities still being “marginalized” or “excluded”, or else you haven’t done anything to redress the long period of time when there were no such minorities in prominent positions, so “whitey” or “the patriarchs” must vacate those positions for a long, long time, in order to rebalance the “historical inequity” of the many years when there were none … and so on. There’s always another way to problematize the existing situation, to find more racism to allege, and to rationalize more systemic changes. It never ends. If it ever did, there would be no more need for problematics, and no more prestige and power for the problematizers. Their usefulness would be over; and that cannot be allowed ever to happen.

It’s at the level of the problematizing, though, that the Social Justice warriors win the game. As soon as one accepts, even a little, that the problem is actually racism of any kind, then they have exactly what they need to start the game rolling. A crack is big enough for them to get a foot in, and a foot is enough to get a hand and a shoulder through, eventually.

Assumptions, Assumptions

But really, the problem is that when we let them problematize the situation, we accept their particular construction of it as a starting point. We have skipped the moment when we needed to interrogate both their explanations and their motives, and have granted them a “win” for which they did not even have really to fight.

Herbert Schlossberg has spoken insightfully about this sort of mistake in 1990’s Idols for Destruction:

Assumptions, in fact, are more powerful than assertions, because they bypass the critical faculty and thereby create prejudice. If someone argues the proposition that modern intellectual people do not believe in religious dogmas, I am able to judge whether his arguments are persuasive. The simple act of listening to an argument is almost enough to engage it. But if I listen to someone discourse on a related subject in a way that only assumes that modern intellectual people do not believe in religious dogmas, my mind tends to accept the assumption and bypass it in order to engage the argument which, in fact, depends on it. That bypassed assumption is the pocket of enemy soldiers that was ignored in an effort to engage the main body of the adversary, and it lies in wait to strike from the rear. A false assumption can be combined with an unassailable argument, which then proves the truth of what is false.”

It’s at the assumptive level that the battle needs to be won or lost. The problematizers want to drag us past that first, unchecked assumption that racism is the real problem, using false self-doubt and fear of being called racist to get us there. They’ve made us skip the step of accurately analyzing the problem, and to opt for a facile and most-often-false explanation for why the church is the way it is. That false assumption now lies in wait behind our lines, undermining all resistance to the Social Justice advocate’s accusations and her strategies to seize control for herself.

Let’s continue this tomorrow with a thinly-disguised practical example.

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