Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022 – When Dr. King Spoke to the APA

To remember Dr. King, I want to focus on his visit to the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in 1967. He was invited to speak to a division of APA – Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues – by Kenneth Clark, the first Black president of the APA.

According to Thomas Pettigrew, president of SPSSI at the time, the majority of the APA board did not want King to speak, saying his invitation was “too political” and warning that psychologists would not be interested in what he had to say. However, over 5,000 people showed up forcing the organizers to secure the largest meeting room in the venue.

The title of his speech was, “The Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement.” Below are some excerpts:

For social scientists, the opportunity to serve in a life‐giving purpose is a humanist challenge of rare distinction. Negroes too are eager for a rendezvous with truth and discovery. We are aware that social scientists, unlike some of their colleagues in the physical sciences, have been spared the grim feelings of guilt that attended the invention of nuclear weapons of destruction. Social scientists, in the main, are fortunate to be able to extirpate evil, not to invent it.

If the Negro needs social science for direction and for self‐understanding, the White society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject. The present crisis arises because, although it is historically imperative that our society take the next step to equality, we find ourselves psychologically and socially imprisoned. All too many White Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions—the Negro himself.

White America is seeking to keep the walls of segregation substantially intact while the evolution of society and the Negro’s desperation is causing them to crumble. The White majority, unprepared and unwilling to accept radical structural change, is resisting and producing chaos while complaining that if there were no chaos orderly change would come.

Negroes want the social scientist to address the White community and “tell it like it is.” White America has an appalling lack of knowledge concerning the reality of Negro life. One reason some advances were made in the South during the past decade was the discovery by northern Whites of the brutal facts of southern segregated life. It was the Negro who educated the nation by dramatizing the evils through nonviolent protest. The social scientist played little or no role in disclosing truth. The Negro action movement with raw courage did it virtually alone. When the majority of the country could not live with the extremes of brutality they witnessed, political remedies were enacted and customs were altered.

In 2018, the Journal of Social Issues revisited the speech with a special issue titled, “Tell It Like It Is”: Commemorating the 5oth Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Call to Behavioral Scientists.” Former  SPSSI president, Thomas Pettigrew contributed a piece summarizing his assessment of how social psychologists have answered Dr. King’s call to “tell it like it is.” He wrote, “Summing up all the papers, we can only give a mixed answer to the key question as to whether we have answered Dr. King’s 1967 call. ”

Pettigrew continued:

In general, SPSSI and social psychology have done reasonably well in researching much of what Dr. King called for a half century ago. But the hard truth is that we have failed to communicate our findings sufficiently to the public; thus, the full meaning of this large body of work has been effectively resisted by many white Americans…

National surveys provide a glimpse of the extent of our failure to communicate our findings to the American public. Recent Pew Research Center surveys show only 36% of White Americans think racial discrimination is involved in Blacks having “…a harder time getting ahead than Whites,” only 22% believe that Blacks “are treated less fairly in the workplace,” while 38% believe that the United States “…has made the changes needed to give [B]lacks equal rights with [W]hites.”

Generally, the development of critical race theory is dated after the assassination of King. However, one can see in his 1967 remarks the seeds of some of CRT’s points. King very specifically referred to “radical structural change” (systemic change) that was needed for Black Americans to achieve equity. King said white Americans were “poisoned” by racism and called on social scientists to document this. Now, social scientists are condemned by critics of CRT when they document and call out the poison and say exactly what King said in 1967. The bitter and discouraging irony is that many of these critics invoke decontextualized King quotes they like in order to criticize CRT and tell us King would also reject CRT. The APA address calls that project into question.

 

A Note about Critical Race Theory and Roots

A brief note about criticism of Critical Race Theory in Christian academia.

Critics of CRT invoke the historical connection of CRT theorists to the Frankfurt School with the primary mischief being the connection to Karl Marx. Tracing ideas back to Marx is like an intellectual scavenger hunt. The more connections you find, the better you feel about opposing CRT (or whatever you think CRT is, today).

The problem with this exercise is that anyone can play with any set of ideas. I am just sitting over here wondering when the focus comes back around to the devil’s major of psychology. You can trace psychology’s roots back to any number of unsavory characters. Regularly through my undergraduate and graduate schooling, I heard from Christians that I was wasting my time at best, and sinning at worst, by being in psychology. Freud and Skinner and Ellis and Rogers(!) were all atheists and pagans and had nothing to offer Christians.

Nouthetic and biblical counseling continue this theme in the present day although the heat isn’t as hot as that which is directed at CRT. Psychology will no longer bring down civilization; CRT surely will.

Let’s face it, much of what is taught in any academically sound Christian university requires comfort with a host of concepts that make CRT look tame. I don’t know how long we can hold on before the whole of Christian academia is routed by the worldview warriors. Before long, we will be engaged in a multifront war. When will the theistic evolutionists have to run for cover? Will Freudian psychoanalysis or Rogerian therapy once again be theories that dare not speak their names in Christian circles?

I remember when truth was truth and the mission of the Christian professor was to find it wherever she/he could. Mine for gold, spoil the Egyptians, all truth is God’s truth; those phrases meant something. Common grace allowed non-Christian image bearers to find and articulate truth even while beginning with faulty assumptions. Now, apparently, Christian profs are supposed to put on a hazmat suit if there is a whiff of the world on ideas and claims that are not manifestly Christian. Best just to keep socially and academically distant from that stuff.

What I am getting at is that CRT isn’t any more troubling than other things we teach in psychology and the other social sciences. If there is something wrong with evaluating CRT and using aspects of it when it is valuable, then there won’t be much of a social science curriculum left when CRT critics continue their work on the rest of our majors.

Psychology v. Christianity

For an illustration of a Christian ministry targeting psychology in the same manner as many Christians are targeting CRT, consider this teaching article from Andrew Wommack Ministries. Wommack and faux-historian and Christian nationalist David Barton are mutual supporters and work together on projects.

Wommack says, “Modern psychology was brought to the forefront by Sigmund Freud in the late nineteenth century. Freud certainly wasn’t a godly man. He was obsessed with sex and linked every problem of man to the sexual drive.” Referring to Matthew 7, Wommack says the fruit of psychology can’t be good because the roots (Freud) are bad.

Wommack then does with the entire discipline of psychology what many Christian writers do to CRT: creates a team of straw men to incinerate.

Here are four major tenants (sic) of psychology that I believe are incompatible with biblical Christianity:

1) We are products of our environment.

2) Therefore, we are not responsible or accountable for our actions.

3) This leads to placing blame for our actions on anything else but on us, making us victims.

4) Self-esteem is paramount.

I doubt Wommack means psychology has renters, so he actually claims there are four major tenets for the whole discipline. The first one might apply to a radical behaviorist but not to a behavior genetics proponent. An existential psychologist would vehemently disagree with point two. I don’t know of any approach that advocates victimhood. Self-esteem is important, but it is so 1960s-1970s to say it is paramount. Self-efficacy and self-regulation became a research preoccupation of social learning theorists during and after that era. The point is that Wommack does to psychology what Christian critics often do to CRT — shake out the nuances and make it into to something which can be easily demonized and dismissed. One might ask a certain Christopher Rufo about how to do that with CRT.

I recognize that no one currently is accusing psychology of being the biggest threat to the gospel and the church, but I wonder how long it will take for the culture war guns to tire of CRT and point in some other direction. We haven’t had our turn for awhile.

 

Does Critical Race Theory Threaten the Gospel?

A lot of evangelicals are saying it does but I don’t see how.

Over the past month, I have been reading critical race theory analyses in search of how they might threaten religion in some manner. Thus far, I haven’t encountered any mention of the Bible, the gospel, or religious criticism. There is frequent mention of white privilege, colorblindness, and systemic racism. However, nothing in the analyses I have read asks anyone to change their religion or modify their beliefs in God. The only change at issue is social change in the direction of justice. Critical race theory analysts hope to highlight the insidious nature of racism in various institutions where white people are often blind to it.

As far as I can see so far, critical race analyses don’t make claims about the deity of Christ or whether He rose from the dead. There are no theological claims involved that I can find. I didn’t feel that my faith was challenged at all. There was no way of salvation offered.

What is challenged is the status quo. In one analysis, I read this passage about a private school’s decision to hire a diversity coordinator.

A CRT analysis would explore the ways in which the multicultural courses and programming challenged and changed racist practices and policies. A limitation of the liberal commitment to diversity was manifested in Well’s hiring one person, an African American, to attend to the school’s diversity initiative. Making her responsible for teaching all the multicultural courses and providing all the programming and professional development in the areas of cultural sensitivity and awareness demonstrates the school’s lack of commitment to diversity. This token commitment to diversity, which rested solely with one person, and encompassed a wide range of responsibilities, essentially ensured that change at Wells would not be sweeping or immediate. Thus, with the limited human resources Wells employed to “diversify” the school and the curriculum to create a more diverse and inclusive schooling environment, it guaranteed that changing the racist remnants of the “Old South” would not likely happen quickly, but incrementally and superficially instead, if at all. An abiding limitation of liberalism is its reliance on incremental change. Interestingly, those most satisfied with incremental change are those less likely to be directly affected by oppressive and marginalizing conditions.

On the surface, it appears that the school is working to make change, but an hard look at the situation from the minority perspective doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. When examined in this manner, it becomes clear that the school isn’t serious about diversity, but that their efforts may be to assuage guilt or to hold off public criticism. The analysis can’t get to the motive and doesn’t appear to try. However, the point is that the response isn’t sufficient to address justice and equity for minorities.

I haven’t agreed with every analysis I have read. Some use so much jargon I am not clear what they mean. However, I have not encountered any articles which ask me to convert to another religion. I have not been asked to give up mine. Seeing racism which is embedded in institutions and social practices is eye opening and sobering. Often, it makes me angry. I feel resolved to do what I can to help the situation. But what I don’t feel is an urge to convert to another gospel.

 

 

 

Mark Driscoll’s Christian Theology v. Critical Theory is Awful and Needs Footnotes

I don’t know what else to say about this “book.” Driscoll has taken lots of well deserved criticism on Twitter about it and I want to point out another great source: Wenatchie the Hatchet. Go check out WtH.

WtH is a hatchet for sure. In his new post: “Mark Driscoll’s Christian Theology vs Critical Theory could probably use at least one footnote giving credit to Stephen Eric Bronner’s primer on critical theory,” WtH shows how Driscoll is up to his old tricks of using other people’s material as if it is his own.

Beyond this, the book is just bad and nearly incoherent. I am going out on a limb to say Driscoll isn’t using ghostwriters anymore. At least he didn’t on this one. Here is WtH’s comment after 40 pages of it:

40 pages in and this is perhaps the most breath-takingly dubious and egregiously bad faith ranting I’ve ever seen Driscoll do, even compared to his William Wallace II rants from 21 years ago. I’ll eventually have to write about this dumpster fire of pamphleteering incompetence but I’ll want to go back and revisit how much Driscoll’s stated views seem indebted to systems of patronage.

He is being kind. It is that bad.

I intially thought I would critique it but I don’t know if it is worth it. Here is just one section:

Those Jews and their theories; brought the Holocaust on themselves.

There may be serious critiques of CRT; this has never been and will never be one.