Religious Right Pushes Effort To Whitewash History and Restrict Teaching About Systemic Racism

Former Trump administration official Russ Vought runs the Center for Renewing America (Image from Intercessors for America prayer call July 17, 2021)

Analysis

Religious-right groups and leaders are playing their part in the right-wing movement’s aggressive campaign to restrict teaching about systemic racism in American history, culture, and institutions.

Under the guise of protecting children from the supposed threat of “critical race theory”—an academic analytical approach to examining structural racism—the campaign against teaching about racism has taken form in incendiary right-wing media segments, attacks on teachers and school officials, and state and federal legislation.

In the hands of right-wing activists—pushed by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, former President Donald Trump, and other Republican officials, “critical race theory” as a term has lost all meaning. Instead, it has become an all-purpose label with which to smear teachers and liberal politicians as anti-white, Marxist, or America-haters—and to justify the whitewashing of U.S. history.

This discourse around critical race theory appears designed to inflame racial resentment and mobilize conservative white voters for local, state, and federal elections—a goal shared by religious-right groups that have joined the anti-CRT propaganda blitz.

One enthusiastic participant is Intercessors for America, a network of pro-Trump self-described “prayer warriors” that was closely aligned with the Trump White House and Trump aide Paula White. This summer, the network’s leader, Dave Kuban, portrayed critical race theory in terms of spiritual warfare. IFA is also distributing a “Critical Race Theory Action Bundle” including a toolkit that encourages religious-right activists to run for their local school boards using critical race theory as a campaign theme.

That toolkit was produced by former Trump administration official Russ Vought and his Center for Renewing America organization. Vought also appeared on a June 17 IFA prayer call, where he talked about helping lead Trump administration efforts to ban critical race theory within the federal government, in part by identifying what he saw as suspicious buzzwords. “In this context, the words ‘anti-racism’ does not mean that you’re against racism. It means that you’re for racism,” he claimed. “It means that you’re for racial discrimination to deal with equity or disparities that you identify.”

But Kubal was not to be outdone. On his June 24 call, Kubal shared a “prophetic word” that he said “the Lord gave me for the nation at this time as we battle critical race theory.”

Kubal’s and Vought’s messages are evidence that “critical race theory” means both anything and nothing as used in the moral panic manufactured by right-wing political operatives and media outlets. During that June 24 call, Kubal described critical race theory as more than a school curriculum or human resources policies, calling it “an attitude and a mindset,” adding, “depending on your theology, you could call critical race theory a spiritual stronghold, you could call it a spirit that has been released upon our nation.”

He also gave the term an evil Marxist backstory. In Kubal’s telling, critical race theory is the grandchild of critical theory, developed by Marxists in the 1930s to “tear down objective truth” and pit people against each other. He said critical theory was transformed into critical legal theory in the 1970s by people who twisted Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of hope and “pivoted it to focus on the oppressed/oppressor paradigm that the critical theorists talked about 40 years before this.”

“Bringing the demonic Marxist theory into modern day is what critical legal theory did in the 1970s,” Kubal said, adding that critical race theory is “a worldview that relies on the idea that there are two categories of people—the oppressed vs. the oppressor,” with race as the “dividing force in people’s lives.”

Kubal warned that even some Christian believers are being “duped” into a worldview that turns politics into religion and places too much emphasis on the pursuit of justice:

There’s a whole new generation of activists who have been taught that injustice is the only lens to view life. They’re committed to activism because they feel themselves are victims or that other people were victims, and somehow they’re responsible for injustice. Politics has become the new religion. You know, even many believers have been duped into this false outlook to the point where they value justice over regeneration. They care more about racial oppression than spiritual damnation. It’s a very serious moment in the church today, as so many people have been swallowed up by this thought of injustice and pulled into the fight of the oppressed and oppressor, seeing that as the only lens to view life.

Kubal also portrayed critical race theory as a “demonic lie” from which people need to be saved:

As we pray about the lie of critical race theory, now understanding the history of critical race theory, we’re going to pray that the eyes of the church would be opened to this demonic lie and that people would be able to see it for what it is—darkness—so that they could turn and see the light, that they would be delivered form the power of Satan.

During that same June 24 call, Kubal displayed two graphics that he said explain how the “spiritual forces” behind critical race theory use “negative emotions” to make people see themselves as victims or oppressors. He said the graphics help explain “what happens in people’s lives when religion is replaced by politics and politics becomes the religion of the day.”

“This is a spiritual battle,” he said, claiming that the only “antidote” to the “victim mindset” of critical race theory is “identity in Christ.”

Kubal shared the same graphics in his July 1 blog post, where he criticized Christians who “become social justice warriors desiring to right the wrongs of injustice,” claiming they have “chosen to care more about social injustices and spiritual damnation.”

Kubal’s call built toward the revelation of the “prophetic word” that he said God sent America through him:

This is an age of exposing and dividing. Be cautious of what you listen to and how quickly you come to conclusions. For the true church will hear my voice in these days. The truth is available. Do not be afraid or dismayed at what you see. I will prevail, and you will conquer. This is a day of great deception. But deception comes by choice. Free will to turn to true reality is still intact. You were born for this moment. Did you expect there would not be a spiritual battle? The current personnel of the army of God is sufficient. Everything I am doing is to expose truth, the structures, and the powers that rule this world. Will you listen to the truth? Or will you listen to the lie? My concern is for my people, the ones who have turned to me. They are the ones I love. Where they go, they will lead the nation. There is a remnant of my church left in this nation. They must remain true to me, focusing not on circumstances, but on me. Joy will only be found with this perspective. My joy will be your strength. Your concern for your family, your children, your grandchildren is natural. But you must rest in me. You must trust in me.

On the call, Kubal prayed that the church and God-fearing men and women would “rise up,” mentioning Loudon County, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., where some residents recently disrupted a school board meeting with raucous complaints about critical race theory and transgender-embracing policies in county schools.

IFA and the Center for Renewing America are far from the only religious-right groups joining the right-wing push to whitewash the history and reality of systemic racism in the U.S. Hillsdale College featured Chris Rufo, a right-wing think-tanker credited with launching the anti-critical race theory campaign, in the monthly Hillsdale newsletter, Imprimis. Rufo claimed that the goal of critical race theory advocates is an “equity-based form of government” that would see private property, individual rights, equality under the law, federalism, and freedom of speech abolished and replaced by “race-based redistribution of wealth, group-based rights, active discrimination, and omnipotent bureaucratic authority.”

The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank closely aligned with the religious right, is also among those pushing anti-critical race theory rhetoric. Heritage’s political action arm is promoting its own anti-critical race theory toolkit and is asking conservatives to urge members of Congress to support legislation to ban “racist teaching” in schools and “racist training” in the military.

The enthusiastic engagement of religious-right groups and leaders in the campaign to whitewash U.S. history is no surprise, given the movement’s near-complete alignment with Trump, and what recent scholarship has revealed about religion, Christian nationalism, and racial attitudes. Robert P. Jones, a pollster and author of “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” has documented that “the more racist attitudes a person holds, the more likely he or she is to identify as a white Christian.” Jones said recently that battles around critical race theory “are really fights to prop up what has always been a biased and inaccurate version of the country’s history—a lie really.”