Baucham, V. T. Fault lines: The social justice movement and evangelicalism’s looming catastrophe (Washington, DC: Salem Books, 2021). 270 pages. Amazon link.
By Brandon Knight, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Communication
William Carey University
Due to the recent growth of social justice advocacy, many evangelicals are asking legitimate questions of their leadership such as, “Are current calls for social justice the same as biblical justice?” Voddie Baucham is a familiar African American voice within conservative evangelicalism. Baucham is a former pastor, cultural apologist, and current Dean of Theology at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia. In his latest book, Fault Lines, he attempts to answer growing concerns through a rhetorical exposition of social justice. By doing so, he hopes to challenge the recent seismic shifts within the leadership and laity of conservative evangelicalism.
In the Introduction, Baucham utilizes the metaphor of an earthquake and the processes leading up to the seismic shift as well as the aftermath in order to develop what amounts to be a startling realization: that many within evangelicalism are being deceived through their good intentions. Thus, the debate among conservative evangelicals centers upon what Baucham calls Critical Social Justice, which is interlocked with various theories—Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality—and grounded on political ideologies. Discussion regarding Critical Social Justice, however, is not new to Baucham who has experienced various conflicts with other evangelical figures like Thabiti Anyabwile and even Christian musical artist Lecrae regarding this specific issue. Therefore, he begins by preemptively defining these theories from the original theorists themselves because his arguments are so often written off as fallacious. More specifically, he wants to underscore a prime bifurcation in the discussion regarding social justice among evangelicals: Can CRT be a helpful tool for Christians to engage the world? Or is CRT not merely a tool, but rather a totalizing political ideology?
In the book’s preface titled Thought Line, Baucham begins with a definition: “CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. […] CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy” (p. xv). This definition, which originates from the University of California Los Angeles Luskin School of Public Affairs, according to Baucham demonstrates poignantly the totalizing nature of CRT, as it eradicates individual racism via a more universal qualifier—systemic. More importantly, argues Baucham, it pits Americans against one another on the basis of race and historic blood guilt, dividing the church to an extent that denies that Christ died for racial reconciliation. As a result, Baucham senses a calling to expose the deceit currently taking place as cries for social justice beckon the evangelical public to fulfill the mission of God’s kingdom on earth via anti-racist activism, all the while transforming its discourse and, inevitably, its theology.
Throughout the book, Baucham is careful to give examples and ample reason as to why he believes a catastrophe is looming. One of the main examples discussed in chapter two occurred at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 2019 regarding Resolution 9 on Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, which uniquely affirmed the usefulness of CRT as an analytical tool. To Baucham, its placement in the lineup—which was haphazardly combined with Resolutions 10-13—in addition to the misuse of time allotments seemed to indicate the hope among SBC leadership that the resolution would pass without debate. Such thoughtlessness regarding the division over CRT, according to Baucham, seems suspect and requires great attention moving forward: “I fully expect to see book-level treatments, Master’s theses, and doctoral dissertations analyzing the origins, background, political maneuverings, and theological implications of the Resolution 9 controversy” (p. 141).
More questionable were the actions of the resolution committee with the original submission, which was rewritten into a CRT-affirming final resolution despite still bearing the original author’s name, Stephen Feinstein, whose original submission opposed CRT. In essence, rather than hearing and considering the concerns of many evangelicals regarding CRT, members of the resolutions committee redrafted and submitted a resolution in favor of CRT which stated, “Whereas, Critical race theory and intersectionality alone are insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify, which result from sin, yet these tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences…” (p. 145).
In response, Baucham suggests that merely saying CRT is useful in analyzing social ills is naïve, at best, because of the underlying motivations and agendas of the original theorists—many of whom were antithetical to religion, namely, Karl Marx. Even despite heavy questioning by some SBC representatives, the resolutions committee leader Curtis Woods reinforced the CRT-affirming resolution resulting in more questions than answers among Southern Baptists.
In chapters four through seven, Baucham explores signs of CRT’s influence within evangelicalism even beyond the happenings of 2019. For instance, in chapter five titled A New Priesthood, beloved and respected pastor and past-International Mission Board president David Platt in 2018 defined racism utilizing the jargon of CRT at Together for the Gospel. More convincing to Baucham’s argument were statements made by Platt in 2020: “‘I want to sacrifice more of my preferences as a white pastor … I need to grow … I do not want to speak from the Bible on issues that are popular among white followers of Christ…. And I know, as a white pastor, I have blind spots, so I am part of the problem’” (p. 102). Such a reality depicts what Baucham defines as Ethnic Gnosticism, whereby ethnic minorities are eligible to sense racial/social injustices, while ethnic majorities are unable to see racial/social injustices whether in the system more broadly speaking or in their own actions. Thus, one can unintentionally encourage racial inequality without even knowing it, a concept known as hegemony. The overarching end to such a perspective is a stifling of discourse, which is questionable, to say the least, especially among supposed Protestants: “If black people know racism, and white people cannot know racism (and are racist by default as a result of their white privilege), then the only acceptable response is for white people to sit down, shut up, and listen to what black people have to say on the matter” (p. 103). Ultimately, Baucham is attempting to shine a light upon a new orthodoxy that, in many ways, has shut down conversation and created division within conservative evangelicalism.
Beyond Baucham’s questioning of the underlying motives and ideologies of social justice advocates and movements like Black Lives Matter, he primarily emphasizes their continual bearing of false witness (Chapter 10). For example, Baucham calls into question several public figures who have voiced support for BLM regarding racial injustice. He discusses the well-known Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem in 2016 in protest. Baucham’s issue with Kaepernick’s supposed social justice advocacy, however, is the specific example of racial injustice referenced.
In an interview with NBC News, Kaepernick attributed his kneeling during the national anthem to protest of the confrontation between San Francisco police and Mario Woods who died during the conflict. Kaepernick’s retelling of the confrontation paralleled the current and popular metanarrative in the media in which police are hunting and killing unarmed black men—even in the face of contradictory statistics (pp. 47-50). Rather, Woods was shot by the police due to him wielding an eight-inch-long knife. In chapter three, titled Seeking True Justice, Baucham attempts to strengthen his argument by enumerating the momentum of BLM and other social justice advocates by challenging the validity of recent racial “martyrs” like Michael Brown and Breonna Taylor. In most of these publicized instances, argues Baucham, the media and social justice advocates coalesce to bear false witness for the betterment of their political agendas (pp. 58-61). Even in the case of Breonna Taylor, the media argued it was a No Knock warrant despite eyewitness accounts that the police announced themselves more than once. More significantly, Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker admitted to firing the first shot after the police announced themselves. Yet lies persist and dominate American reality, even going so far as to suggest that Taylor was asleep in bed. The truth, suggests Baucham, is lost for the narrative that garners ratings and activism even amongst the evangelical community.
Regarding Ethnic Gnosticism, Baucham demonstrates the issue of so-called social justice whereby it urges others to listen and amplify black voices (Chapter 5). Of these shifts in culture, the most important issue to Baucham is the new cosmology created by Critical Social Justice. In a recounting of the original days of creation, Baucham describes a restructuring in lieu of social justice whereby whiteness is created resulting in privilege, complicity, and, ultimately, fragility. From this perspective, the new original sin (i.e. parallels with the Judaizers in the Galatian church who focused their efforts on law rather than grace, especially as influential figures like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi sell millions of books on how to examine oneself for racist tendencies: “In other words, antiracism means more than simply being ‘against racism.’ The new definition adds the dimension of activism. The anti-racist, therefore, is one who ‘does the work’ of exposing, combatting, and reversing the ubiquitous influences of racism in the past, present, and future” (p. 87). If Baucham is correct, the undergirding theology of social justice subsequently neglects the cross and its impact upon racial reconciliation. Rather, it seeks to rebuild the partition (Eph. 2:14) which Christ destroyed by placing “race” as the spiritual signifier for all people, even those who have believed in the name of Christ.
Of course, many will disagree with Baucham’s work; and that is understandable. Nevertheless, the most important aspect of this book, from a rhetorical standpoint, is that it starts a conversation that has not been taking place within conservative evangelicalism. Baucham’s rhetorical translation of social justice reveals a fuller picture of the movement that has somehow remained concealed due to the overwhelming social support for social justice advocacy. Thus, the resulting discussions that emerge among readers of this book may prove to be the best way forward. Evangelicals are asking valid questions: Where is the line of demarcation when desiring biblical justice? Should we accept these underlying perspectives that are driving cultural discussions, even if they distort the truth? As usual, more questions than answers. Baucham’s Fault Lines, however, is a worthy attempt at putting forth a few.
This book would provide great supplemental material specifically at Christian universities and colleges in order to provide a unique perspective of the social justice movement within conservative evangelicalism. For instance, if using Fault Lines as an undergrad book review for an Argumentation & Advocacy class, students can be challenged to clearly delineate Baucham’s commanding arguments and respect as he offers rebuttals to opponents. The book also fits well for a Political Communication course in which professors and instructors can add varying voices by contrasting Baucham’s book with that of Bryan Loritts’ Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All or Eric Mason’s Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice. Both Loritts and Mason’s books offer a passionate perspective of the biblical call to social justice. Ultimately, the incorporation of this text among Communication Studies curricula is a direct response to Baucham’s call for more rigorous debate and discussion among evangelicals regarding the topics most dear to our hearts. “Gone are the days of Luther and Erasmus slugging it out over the question of original sin. […] One of the negative results of this is no longer being able to deal with ideas without attacking the people who hold them” (pp. 132-133). Incorporating Fault Lines in our classrooms, even if we disagree, may be the best step forward in correcting these negative results and gaining a clearer picture of justice.