In studying for a recent sermon on the 85th Psalm I spent a little time refreshing myself on the Sons of Korah. This group wrote lyrics for Psalms to be used in the national worship of Israel. 11 of their compositions survive scattered a bit through the 150 Psalms of the Biblical book. They are scattered because the Sons of Korah operated over a number of successive generations. The story is a little complex and best understood by backing up to the beginning – or at least – a beginning. Moses and Aaron were Israelites from the tribe of Levi. Aaron and his descendants were appointed to be the high priests and larger priesthood who would perform the services in the tabernacle – and later – the temple. The rest of the Levites served as helpers of one sort and another according to the line of their descent from Levi. To sharpen that up a little, Levi had three sons – Gershon, Merari, and Kohath. The descendants of Gershon tended the fabric tent of the tabernacle itself. Before the tent was set up permanently at Shiloh, it had to be taken down, folded, packed transported, and set up again in the new location every time the Israelites moved (40 years plus worth). The fabric would also need mending and parts of it would need replaced from time to time. The descendants of Merari tended the wooden frame on which the fabric was suspended. It also had to be taken down, transported, set up, mended, parts replaced, damaged carvings looked after, etc. The descendants of Kohath tended the implements used in the ceremonies – the ark of the covenant, the menorah, the big brass bowl, smaller bowls and pans, tongs, shovels, knives, incense- dispensers, lamps etc. used by the priests in the various ceremonies. There was also firewood to be chopped, water to be fetched, blood and ashes to be disposed of, etc. All these chores were also divided among the Levites but the three ancestral groups had their main tasks originally in reference to the tabernacle. All well and good.
Early in the course of things, a Kohathite named Korah became the leader of what is called the ‘grumbling rebellion’. Korah spread discontent among the people and eventually got the ear of enough followers to feel emboldened to call for the stoning of Moses and Aaron, an abandoning of the entire promised land project and a return to Egypt – this would include a return to the gods of Egypt in favor of Yahweh. God caused the earth to open up and swallow Korah and a couple hundred of his associates. But – the text specifically notes – the sons of Korah did not perish with him. We presume they were not caught up in the rebellion. They lived and continued to serve as they had been called. Scripture hints and the rabbinic writings assert that they did a little more than this – that they set out as group to overcome the negative legacy of their father. More on that in a bit. Some generations later we come across a descendant of Korah you would recognize. His name was Samuel. Among other things, Samuel would anoint David as the king to replace Saul and be the next link in God’s ongoing covenant with Abraham. David would do a lot of things. Among them, being something of a musician and composer himself, David would take thought for the worship music of Israel. He, of course, wrote many Psalms. David also appointed Asaph (a descendent of Levi through Gershon), Ethan (a descendant of Levi through Merari) and Heman (a descendant of Levi through Kohath) to carry on and expand the worship music project. In this generation, the Kohathites under Heman officially organized themselves as ‘The sons of Korah. (Another group of the ‘sons of Korah’ took up military like operating as something like what we call ‘Special Forces’ but that doesn’t really come in to the present narrative). The Sons of Korah under Heman were top- flight lyricists. Check our the first few verses of Psalms 42 and 46 as familiar examples of their craft. Or, look especially at verse 10 of Psalm 85 at the part about mercy and truth meeting together and righteousness kissing peace.
I specially note two things about all this.
First – a couple of updates on past blog entries.
But – here is the thing, Critical Race Theory directly challenges this political understanding and method of mine – At least I perceive that it does. And, if CRT is correct – it should challenge my understanding and methodology. If CRT is correct, all the things I wish to ‘conserve’ need to be trashed. So, it becomes important to try to understand what CRT is.
The first thing to note is that Critical Theory preceded Critical Race Theory. Critical Theory arises from Marxism (Which does not mean that it’s all wrong). Emerging Critical Theorists said that previous sociology concentrated only on ‘understanding’ societies and cultures. What was needed, they said, was a scientific project not simply to understand but to critique/criticize societies and cultures, educate people as to the hidden levers of power that dominated their lives, challenge power structures and liberate humans from the circumstances that enslaved them – even if they were unaware of their enslavement. Although Critical Theory has undergone several changes over the years – the primary thought has been that the ‘founders’ of societies and ‘influences’ of culture create and steer cultural structures, economic systems, political philosophies, etc. that operate to their own advantage. This kind of shaping and steering, Critical Theory asserts, can be done consciously or unconsciously; the founders and influencers are after all, captive to the cultural assumptions in which they were raised. Hence – yes Lincoln freed the slaves but he still believed that white people were essentially superior to black people. In case you didn’t know, Lincoln did believe that at the time. Read the Lincoln/Douglass Debates. There is some evidence that Lincoln’s thoughts on the matter were changing before his untimely death. And arguments can be raised that preserving the Union for reasons of economic advantage and the maintenance of military and political power were as important motivators for Lincoln as his more humanitarian anti-slavery views. See! It was about preserving a way of life that was advantageous to Lincoln and people like him! Well, it wasn’t all about that but we would be foolish to think such factors were absent.
Moving on! Critical Race Theory narrows the focus of this societal/cultural critique and correction to, well, race. In our case, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln et al were white men who, though somewhat racially progressive for their times, still held views and participated in practices quite out of step with our times. This is true. They hailed from the very white European cultures Critical Theory was directed against. Also true. Consciously and unconsciously, they shaped our nation/society/culture to the advantage of people like themselves – WEALTHY WHITE MEN! Well, that is the question. At least it is the central ‘critique’ offered by CRT. The founders may not always have known they were doing it. We may have forgotten it was done and fail to perceive the racist currents of the ocean in which we swim. (Note: I am speaking here, as best I understand it, in the voice of CRT advocates.) So, the goal of CRT is to educate people as to the hidden levers of power that affect their lives, critique the racism embedded in our culture, and free us all from the circumstances that enslave us – even though we may be unaware of our enslavement. And the reason we don’t realize our enslavement is that American White racism is as pervasive and invisible as the air we breathe. Even laws which are formally and technically ‘color blind’ get bent by the invisible forces embedded in our culture (Store security watch black kids closer than white kids, judges and juries are harder on black men than on white men, police look at black people with more suspicion, etc.) so that the outcomes are racist. And until we realize and correct these things, we are all racist by virtue of our inclusion in the corrupt culture.
There is my best attempt to explain CRT. You may accept it completely or reject it completely as that is your (to use a loaded term) privilege. For myself, I recognize that there is some truth in it. And – I took the time to read ‘Not My Idea’ and ‘Woke Baby’. Although I thought Woke Baby was silly – in the silly vein of the equally silly ‘Feminist Baby’ of which it is an imitation – neither book is quite what its critics allege. I can still only give them one star. Maybe a star and a half for Not My Idea and half a star for Woke Baby. It averages out.
Now, I will tell you that despite seeing some truth in the central tenets of CRT, I find the movement’s corrective prescriptions to be unconscionably evil.
Overturning law enforcement will not set anyone free.
Judging people by their skin color – even as an adjunct to their culture – will never bring us together.
And most importantly, race is really not the issue.
I do not deny that there is a capricious cruelty loose in mankind nor that it results in barbarism, abuse, and exploitation. This is a central tenet of my belief system – Christianity. And I need everyone to understand that I do not identify as ‘White. I identify as ‘Christian’! I have more in common with another Christian of any shade of brown than with a non-Christian of my own particular hue or blood line. To employ the cliché – we suffer from a ‘sin’ problem not a ‘skin’ problem. Consider that darker brown Africans practiced slavery, cruelty, extreme otherness, etc. long before they met any Europeans. The Aztecs – another shade of brown – practiced slavery, torture and human sacrifice before their euro-encounters. And when white Europeans only knew each other – they were not universally kind to each other despite all being essentially the same shade of brown. To mistake a human problem for a narrowly racial problem (or an economic problem or …..) is to make a wrong diagnosis – which will always lead to a wrong prescription.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church