By Scott Allen
A powerful ideology has swept out of our universities and into the broader culture with incredible speed and force in recent years. Today, it is the dominant worldview, not only of our systems of education but of much of our elite, professional culture, including big business, big tech, media, entertainment, and nearly every aspect of the federal government.
It is also making significant and alarming inroads into evangelical churches, universities, and organizations, many of which attempt to sync historic Christian beliefs with the basic principles of this ideology to one degree or another.
This ideology goes by many names—identity politics, critical social theory, Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, antiracism, and cultural Marxism, to name a few—but its millions of devotees signal their loyalty to this belief system by speaking proudly of their commitment to social justice. While this term has historic Christian roots, since the 1970s, it has been captured, redefined, and pushed into service as the primary label of this deeply anti-Christian worldview.
In today’s broader culture, the term “social justice” means the work of dismantling and deconstructing traditional systems, structures, and norms deemed to be oppressive and the redistribution of power and resources from oppressors to victims in the pursuit of “equity,” or equality of outcome.
Let’s look at a few core axioms upon which this definition rests:
There is no God, and therefore, no objective truth or objective morality. Reality is socially constructed and is reduced to a zero-sum competition for power, control, and domination between various social groups.
Human beings are, at root, evolved social beings and the products of social groups they belong to, particularly groups based on race, sex, and gender identity.
The world is divided into “oppressors” and “the oppressed.” Nothing exists outside these categories. Oppressors are morally evil, and oppressed victims are morally innocent.
At present, White heterosexual males are the “oppressors.” Everyone else is oppressed by them to some degree. Over centuries, this oppressor group has established an elaborate web of social systems, structures, norms, and narratives to advantage (or “privilege”) itself at the expense of everyone else.
Proof of the existence of systemic oppression is found in group disparities. For example, if White students have higher per capita SAT scores than Black students, this disparity necessarily proves that our educational systems are “systemically racist.” Ibram X. Kendi articulates this axiom with admirable clarity: “When I see racial disparities, I see racism.” The same applies to disparities between sexes or any disparity between “oppressor” and “oppressed” groups.
To be “woke” is to be conscious of this vast and often hidden array of systemic and structural oppression. To fight for social justice is to engage in the effort to expose, deconstruct, and dismantle these oppressive systems and structures and eliminate all group disparities in pursuit of a utopian equality of outcome.
Starting in the 1950s, these basic worldview presuppositions took root and incubated in American and European universities, particularly in schools of education and social sciences under the broad rubric of “critical social theory.” Today, university graduates shaped by this ideology are in leadership positions in nearly every area of society, reshaping our institutions and culture with alarming speed.
Understanding something about this ideology is essential for faithful Christian living in the twenty-first century, particularly as it relates to the education of our children.
Here are ten things every Christian should know about social justice ideology:
1. Its roots are in atheistic philosophy.
Social justice ideology can be traced back to the Continental philosophical tradition and to the ideas of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Georg F.W. Hagel (1770-1831), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). From this ideological soil, both Marxism and postmodernism emerged. The architects of social justice ideology were atheists and social revolutionaries, including the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), the French postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984), and the Frankfurt School social theorist Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979). Because their starting point was secular atheism, ideological social justice and biblical Christianity are distinct and incompatible worldviews. They are opposed in their understanding of reality, power, authority, human identity, morality, epistemology, and much more. These differences matter. They will eventually lead to vastly different kinds of societies.
2. It diminishes the reality of human beings as unique individuals.
According to social justice ideology, human identity is entirely socially constructed. People are reduced to puppets of social forces, powerless to rise above the communities they belong to. In this view, the notion of a person as a unique individual is radically diminished. Christian theologian Nancy Pearcey explains this dehumanizing belief: “Everyone’s ideas are . . . merely social constructions stitched together by cultural forces. Individuals are little more than mouthpieces for communities based on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” The idea of the person as an individual, with agency, creativity, and God-given rights and responsibilities is anathema to proponents of social justice ideology.
3. It is virulently anti-family.
A leading organization advancing social justice ideology today is Black Lives Matter. Its mission statement includes a commitment to “disrupt the Western prescribed nuclear family structure.” For BLM, and other social justice organizations, the traditional family, built upon the foundation of male-female marriage and sexual monogamy, is a source of evil and injustice. The male-female binary is oppressive toward transgender and queer groups. Male-female marriage is oppressive toward gays and lesbians, and male leadership in the home (“the patriarchy”) is oppressive to women and children. Herbert Marcuse, a key leader in the development of social justice ideology, was a “founding father” of the sexual revolution. This upheaval has utterly devastated marriages, families, and children since the 1960s with its skyrocketing rates of divorce, cohabitation, sexually transmitted diseases, collapsing fertility rates, and abortion. Speaking of abortion, it is described by social justice advocates as “reproductive justice.” But this so-called “justice” has led to the most horrific injustice in American history—the violent deaths of more than sixty-two million innocent children since it was legalized in 1972.
4. It is anti-American.
A key supporting pillar of social justice ideology is its loathing of America and our constitutional republican form of government grounded in individual liberty. Its proponents regularly portray the United States according to its worst historical attributes while completely ignoring the good. They regularly speak of how systemic racism is found in the very DNA of our nation and how America is defined by slavery, colonization, greed, exploitation, racial superiority, misogyny, imperialism, and genocide. Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke for social justice advocates everywhere when he wrote: “White supremacy is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.” In her introduction to the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones adds, “Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written.” This highly selective and deeply distorted (not to mention profoundly ungrateful) view of America is a necessary precondition for the revolutionary agenda behind social justice ideology. There is absolutely nothing worth preserving or improving upon. It all must be torn down, discarded, and replaced.
5. It hides behind innocuous euphemisms and redefined words and manipulates human empathy.
Social justice ideology is deceptively branded by various innocuous euphemisms, including “social justice” and “equity, diversity, and inclusion.” It is “antiracist” and believes that “Black Lives Matter.” Only haters, bigots, and white supremacists could oppose such things. Yet, none of these words or phrases mean what you might think. In fact, the ideology inverts them. For example, “equity” means equality of outcome, which demands various forms of social engineering whereby different groups are necessarily treated unequally. Diversity is strictly limited to skin color, sex, and gender identity categories and doesn’t apply to diverse viewpoints within groups. If your skin is Black, you are expected to think and act “Black.” This isn’t diversity but oppressive conformity. “Inclusion” certainly doesn’t apply to members of so-called oppressor groups; rather, such individuals are expected to exclude themselves or be forcibly excluded. This same manipulation of language is applied to words like “justice,” “racism,” “marriage,” and “white supremacy.” Older, established definitions have been jettisoned, replaced by new definitions that promulgate the ideology. Social justice ideology also manipulates our natural human empathy and twists it in service of the ideology. Whether it is pushing the false narrative of “hands up, don’t shoot,” or repeating mantra-like the words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe,” it advances by manipulating strong emotional responses while bypassing reason, facts, and evidence.
6. It is hostile to the foundations of free, self-governing nations.
Proponents of social justice ideology have utter disdain for traditional liberal values such as respect for individual rights, free speech, religious liberty, property rights, and personal achievement. Zinnia Un, the Director of the Department of Equity and Inclusion for the Tigard-Tualatin School District near Portland, Oregon, describes systemic oppression as an amalgamation of “colorblindness,” “individualism,” and “meritocracy.” These and other traditional values are social ills to be eradicated. In the summer of 2020, the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History released an infographic describing the hallmarks of systemically oppressive “white culture,” including:
The individual is assumed to be in control of their environment
The traditional family
Emphasis on the scientific method
The importance of the Judeo-Christian tradition
Hard work is a key to success
Work before you play
Plan for the future
Are these “White” values, or are they ancient biblical values that have shaped cultures over millennia? While social justice ideology decries “white culture” as an oppressive evil, the real target of its contempt is Judeo-Christian civilization and its foundation: the God of the Bible.
7. It advances by fostering divisions, hostility, and grievances.
If we are not creations of God, made in His divine image, then there is no “human nature” we share in common, and there is no basis for social unity. If we are defined by our “identity groups,” which are in a never-ending, zero-sum competition for power and domination, then there is no basis for forgiveness or reconciliation. The inevitable result is division, tribalism, and hostility. Wherever social justice ideology takes root, whether in schools, churches, businesses, or families, the result is always the same: conflict and polarization.
A key tactic of social justice advocates since the 1960s has been to invent and normalize “identity groups,” including such ill-defined categories as “Hispanic” and “Asian-American,” not to mention “White.” These groups are then classified as either “victim” or “oppressor” with various penalties accruing to oppressors and benefits to victims, such as advantages in hiring, government contracts, school admission, and social services. Because victimization is incentivized, many are constantly on the lookout for some way to bolster their victim status. They are hypersensitive, ready to take offense at the slightest “microaggression,” and even resort to hate-crime hoaxes in some cases.
8. It repudiates the aims of the civil rights movement.
Martin Luther King Jr. famously dreamed of an America where his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. How different this is from the ideology of social justice, where the very notion of “colorblind” is viewed as hateful and oppressive. Social justice ideology, instead, promotes racial essentialism. It elevates sex, gender identity, and skin color to the very pinnacle of human identity. For proponents of Critical Race Theory, all that is important about you can be known by your skin color, with judgments made on that basis alone. Let’s call this what it is: racism. Social justice proponents renounce Martin Luther King’s famous dream and the civil rights movement he fought so hard to advance by repudiating colorblindness. Social justice ideology isn’t about healing racial divisions but exacerbating them, which is exactly what is happening in America as this ideology expands its influence.
9. It is revolutionary and totalitarian.
Advocates of social justice ideology constantly talk about their commitment to “deconstruct” and “dismantle” various social systems, structures, and norms. At a 2018 Human Rights Campaign awards banquet, Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway spoke for many when she declared, with tears in her eyes, “Together we are not going to just question this myth [referring to the “hegemonic narrative” imposed by dominant White, straight males], we are going to destroy it . . . Let’s tear this world apart and build a better one.” At heart, the ideology of social justice is revolutionary, and the revolution it seeks is based on the pattern established by other totalitarian socialist revolutions in places like France, Russia, and China. The tactics used in this revolution reflect the ideology’s rejection of historical Western, liberal traditions. It isn’t interested in civil discussion, compromise, argument, or debate. Instead, it utilizes highly coercive power tactics reminiscent of Mao’s Cultural Revolution: speech codes, bullying, shaming, and “cancel culture.”
10. It is deeply entrenched in our systems of education.
The advances that social justice ideology has made in the culture are largely the result of focused, strategic efforts to embed it within our systems of education, both K-12 and higher education. Our teacher training schools are strongholds of social justice ideology. Dropping any pretense of religious neutrality, the Biden Administration Department of Education is pushing hard for public schools across the nation to indoctrinate students in a profoundly anti-biblical “social justice” curriculum and pedagogy. In a May 2021 article in City Journal titled “The Child Soldiers of Portland: Public schools are training children to become race-conscious revolutionaries,” journalist Christopher Rufo exposes in great detail just how deeply entrenched social justice ideology is in three Metro-Portland school districts. The same thing is happening all over the country, hidden behind nice-sounding words like “diversity” and “antiracism.” Thankfully, some states, like Idaho and Tennessee, are banning Critical Race Theory-based education.
It’s past time for Christian parents and educators to fight back. The future of our children and our nation depends on it. Not only do we need to eradicate social justice ideology from our systems of education, we need to rediscover our own rich, biblical educational tradition that aims at virtuous self-government, wisdom, and human flourishing.
Learn more about how the core tenants of ideological social justice contrast with those from a biblical worldview in Scott Allen’s book Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis.
FOUR POINTS OF ACTION
1. Keep learning.
You can’t fight against something you don’t understand. Continue growing in your knowledge of social justice ideology as greater knowledge leads to more informed and effective responses. Here are people and organizations I follow as trusted guides, not listed in any particular order: Chris Rufo, Neil Shenvi, James Lindsay (see his New Discourses website), Allie Beth Stuckey, Monique Duson (Center for Biblical Unity), and FAIR (The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism). You can follow them on social media, and many have blogs, books, podcasts, or helpful websites.
2. Engage members of your family and local church.
When you notice friends, family members, or leaders of your local church succumbing to the deception of social justice ideology, don’t remain silent, but engage them respectfully. As you do, here are some tips: Pray first! God has the power to change hearts and minds. Be gentle and courteous. Assume the best as far as motives and intentions. Listen carefully and ask questions. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers, but be ready to search them out. Have resources ready to direct them to (see action point one). Make sure your motivation is rooted in love and not merely to win an argument. As Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:25-26, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil. . . .”
3. Engage publically.
Most people encounter social justice ideology at work or school. At work, it often takes the form of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training, which inculcates the core presuppositions of social justice ideology on employees. Consider respectfully approaching your employer and sharing your concerns about this training. Ideally, you will want to do this with other like-minded employees. At school, there is now a vibrant national movement to eliminate curriculum and teaching based on the presuppositions of ideological social justice and particularly Critical Race Theory (CRT) from public schools. Do what you can to engage and support these important movements. You can learn more about what is happening in your area through networks like the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR).
4. Don’t merely critique: Offer a better alternative.
Speaking out against a destructive, unbiblical worldview is essential, but it is equally important to offer authentic, biblical alternatives. This is particularly true when it comes to education. Speaking out against CRT in public schools is vital, but just as crucial is putting forward an alternative rooted in distinctively biblical truths. If this is something you haven’t thought much about, I encourage you to begin a journey of discovery with this important new book: Don’t Let Schooling Stand in the Way of Education: A Biblical Response to the Crisis in Public Education by Darrow L. Miller.
Editor’s Note: Renewanation fully endorses the author and his writings, but be aware that some of the sources recommended in this article, though excellent on this particular topic, are not evangelical Christians.
Scott Allen serves as president of the Disciple Nations Alliance. He is the author of Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis. Scott is married to Kimberly and the homeschooling father of five children.