Beginning around this time last year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis endeavored to change the way race is taught in Florida schools. In the public discourse, this political movement began with largely inaccurate concerns over the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools. Since then, it seems to be moving into how we discuss this country’s racial history generally. Under DeSantis’s guidance, Florida passed the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which, amongst other things, banned teaching that someone’s privilege or oppression can be based on their race, or teaching anything that could make someone feel guilt or anguish because of their race. These vague and amorphous guidelines created a chilling effect in schools across the state. Public schools shut down their libraries until they could decipher whether the books on their shelves complied with the law. Teachers are left with little guidance on how to talk about slavery and racism in America, especially when coupled with previous laws that create an obligation to discuss certain subjects. More importantly, the law affects how publishers are drafting textbooks. The most egregious example was a publisher’s attempt to tell the story of Rosa Parks without mentioning her race. The goal seems clear—this whitewashing of history is a poorly veiled attempt to obfuscate the effect of racism on our past and present.
How we tell history is important. The quote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” attributed to Winston Churchill, remains true. If we are not willing to tell, and retell, and teach our history in its fullness, with all its negativity and messiness, we set ourselves up for two problems. First, as the quote says, we create the environment in which we can more easily repeat the mistakes of the past. Second, even if we manage to avoid repeating those mistakes, we still hamper our ability to address the lingering effects those mistakes have on the present. In an odd irony, the actual study of CRT is seeking to discover these lingering effects by examining our history. As a society, we cannot avoid the mistakes that racist ideologies caused us to make if we are not teaching them, studying them, and telling the stories of how these evil ideologies were manifested in the lives of those who were oppressed by them. We will continue to lie to ourselves about the lingering effects of racism in our society if we are not teaching, from youngest to oldest, the horrors of how these ideologies came to be and using the teaching of history as a warning. The truth is, we cannot even tell the story of how we improved as a society if we are not faithfully telling the history of where we came from and how we got to where we are.
Unfortunately, the church (both Adventism and the Christian church writ large) in this country seems to suffer from the same problem. A lack of historical and critical examination of racism in the body of Christ continues to hamper us from addressing and improving the way this ugly history affects us today. While this is certainly true with regard to race, it applies in other contexts as well. We should be willing to tell the truth about the times and places where our theology has led to bad outcomes. We should be willing to admit that our history is marred by the mistreatment of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We should be honest about the mistakes of our past. We should be willing to examine our history to tell these stories, so that we can learn and grow as a community and as followers of Christ.
Not only would this bring healing to those people we harmed and to our community as a whole, it would also help us live out the Great Commission that is at the center of our church’s existence. The type of church that is willing to admit its mistakes, while establishing itself as a loving community in search of truth, is a community that can be attractive to others. Gone are the days when having the truth was enough. What we need today is more than just having the truth. We need to be willing to speak the truth, truthfully. Not just about who God is but about who we are, who we have been, and how we are using Christ as our history and example so that we can be better.
Notes and References:
 It is important to note here that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a graduate course of study (most often taught in law schools) that seeks to examine the legacy of racialized policies in different systems in the United States. Under that more accurate definition, there are very few, if any, examples of CRT being taught in public schools in Florida.
 Stop W.O.K.E. stands for “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees. It was subsumed into a larger bill, the Florida Individual Freedom Act.
 You would be hard pressed to convince me that this chilling effect isn’t part of the point with this type of legislation.
 It is believed that Churchill was paraphrasing the philosopher George Santayana who said, “Those that cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
 For example, a lack of historical understanding of racism in the Adventist Church frames the discussion of segregated conferences in ways that often imply that the regional conferences left the state conferences. Actually, segregation was what the church was willing to accept when Black Adventists demanded equality within an integrated church structure.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found by clicking here.
Title image by college.library via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
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