Scheduled for March 4th, the Veritas Forum, a Christian organization that prides itself on asking “life’s hardest questions,” intended to hold a virtual discussion on the topic of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Veritas’ website asserts the principles of why they hold rigorous debates this way: “The Veritas Forum is committed to courageous conversations. We place the historic Christian faith in dialogue with other beliefs and invite participants from all backgrounds to pursue Truth together.” It would seem then that a lively dialogue on the Christian response to race relations and reconciliation would be a subject that Veritas would not shy away from.
On June 9th, 2019, the Southern Baptist Convention passed Resolution 9. That resolution defines CRT as “a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society….” The resolution states that CRT has been appropriated by many individuals and is “insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify…” Nevertheless, the resolution also asserts that using CRT “can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences…”
The passing of SBC’s Resolution 9 immediately created a firestorm of responses from within the Baptist community. Prominent Christian voices like John MacArthur and R. Albert Mohler have harshly rebuked the passing of the resolution, labeling it as a step towards post-modern liberalism and neo-marxism. Mohler specifically identified CRT as a form of identity politics, adding, “We have to see identity politics as disastrous for the culture and nothing less than devastating for the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Such rebukes have led to notable movements within the Southern Baptist Convention, such as the formation of the Conservative Baptist Network and an attempt to remove Resolution 9 altogether.
To say that CRT is a hot topic within the Christian community is an understatement.
On the evening of March 1st, just a few days before the scheduled forum between Dr. Neil Shenvi and Dr. Willie Jennings, Veritas cancelled the event.
Veritas’ rationale for the cancellation reads as follows: “With respect to our March 4 Forum, we failed to live up to our values. We did not pair one scholar with relevant subject-matter expertise with another of equal expertise, and we did not describe their credentials accurately. We also recognize that there are deeper racial dynamics at play, and we lament any pain that we caused. We apologize.”
The main issue stated by Veritas, that of professional expertise, stems from Dr. Shenvi’s doctoral work being in theoretical chemistry, a field unrelated to CRT studies, while Dr. Jennings is a Yale divinity professor and the author of the book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race.
In the aftermath of the cancellation, Dr. Shenvi spoke with Christian Post. He agreed that “it was a mistake” that Veritas labelled him a leading expert on race. Still, he admitted being disappointed the forum was cancelled, and since both parties agreed to the forum beforehand, he didn’t see a problem with the premise of the dialogue. In their follow-up article, the Christian Post highlighted a mixed reaction to the forum’s cancellation, with some calling it “weak” while others extolled Veritas’ decision. Just like Critical Race Theory itself, the situation surrounding the Veritas forum has created a fissure in Christian circles.
Rod Dreher of The American Conservative found strong words of disdain to describe the forum’s cancellation: “Seriously, though, how are we supposed to have any kind of conversation about racial reconciliation when progressives go to pieces over penny-ante invented slights, and the kind of people who ought to be telling these sectarian shriekers to take a hike instead fall all over themselves to appease them?” Intriguingly, however, he lessened his rebuke in a series of updates to his article wherein he began to recognize that the problem was rooted in academic standards rather than race: “I can see the problem, and why Veritas did what it did, even though I roll my eyes at the status-consciousness of academia.” Dreher then asked perhaps the most important question this entire situation has raised: “Would Veritas be able to find a college professor who is both Christian and willing to publicly oppose Critical Race Theory?”
Dr. George Yancey, Faith Ascent’s 2020 Keynote speaker, has offered to take Dr. Shenvi’s place as the academic counter to Dr. Jennings’ position on CRT. As of the writing of this blog, Veritas has not publicly responded to Dr. Yancey’s offer. Dr. Yancey has written multiple books on the subject of race relations in America, and specifically has studied and written on how the issue of race impacts the Christian community in America.
At Faith Ascent, the mantra that we’ve placed on the front page of our website states we are “equipping today’s youth for tomorrow’s climb.” But what exactly is “tomorrow’s climb?” The Apostle Paul uses a similar metaphor in the midst of his armor of God discourse:
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
In order to be wise and “always ready to give an account for the hope” that is in us, we must honestly and proactively listen to advocates for positions that may sound unorthodox to us. We owe it to the next generation of believers to listen well to the arguments for and against Critical Race Theory. We should not be fearful of those who hold disparate views. Paul himself reminds us that we should hold fast to the Gospel, knowing that it is our final and wholly sufficient measuring rod of what is true and good and pure (Galatians 1:6-11).
Faith Ascent has had Dr. Shenvi present his views on Critical Race Theory before. You can watch his full presentation right now! You can also watch Dr. Yancey’s provocative work on race relations that he presented to us last Summer.
We hope that the Veritas Forum moves forward with someone like Dr. Yancey to provide counter-points to Dr. Jennings’ views because this is a conversation worth having. As Dr. Shenvi has said, “We need to talk to each other rather than yell at each other. We need to call each other brother and sister rather than call each other racist and Marxist.” We at Faith Ascent hope that difficult conversations do continue to take place within the Christian community, and that our younger Christian brothers and sisters would be all the stronger for it.