Acton Institute Powerblog

‘Jesus was a political revolutionary’: Ibram X. Kendi ‘rejects’ orthodox Christianity

Ibram X. Kendi lectures. (Photo credit: Montclair Films. CC BY 2.0.)

The best-selling author of How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi, has admitted that his so-called “antiracist” movement believes that Jesus was a political “revolutionary” and that trying to “save” souls is “racist theology” which only “breeds bigotry.”

Kendi’s excoriation of Christian orthodoxy come in a newly resurfaced video shot in 2019, inside a church, responding to an audience member who asks about “any role that churches or communities of faith can play in this antiracist movement.”

Jesus was a revolutionary, and the job of the Christian is to revolutionize society,” Kendi replies. “The job of the Christian is to liberate society from the powers on Earth that are oppressing humanity.”

He goes on to contrast “liberation theology” with “Savior theology” – “the form of Christianity that 80% of white evangelicals have when they voted for Donald Trump” in 2016.

In Kendi’s view, those evangelicals believe that “[t]he job of the Christian is to go out and save these individuals who are behaviorally deficient. In other words, we are to bring them into the church – these individuals who are doing all these evil, sinful things – and heal them, and save them.”

Of course, most Christians of all stripes believe that Jesus saves sinners and heals them, not the pastor or individual believers. But how does Kendi assess an evangelical faith that emphasizes evangelism?

“That goes right in line with racist ideas and racist theology,” Kendi asserts, because it requires personal responsibility. It teaches that the reason many people “are struggling on earth is because of what they’re doing behaviorally wrong.”

Kendi denounces the idea that “it is my job as a pastor is to, sort of, save these wayward black people, or wayward poor people, or wayward queer people. That type of theology breeds bigotry.”

“Antiracists fundamentally reject Savior theology,” Kendi says. Instead, he avers, Marxist-influenced “liberation theology breeds … a common humanity against the structures of power that oppress us all.” In reality the Gospel of wealth redistribution, far from emphasizing “a common humanity,” divides God’s children into alleged oppressor and victim classes.

It is illuminating to have Kendi, who literally wrote the book on the topic, note that “antiracism” informed by critical theory and manifest as “equity” is incompatible with orthodox Christianity. Likewise, it is notable that he “rejects” the Gospel explicitly to oppose the concept of personal responsibility – although the idea that different behaviors lead to different outcomes, on earth as in Heaven, is a core biblical truth. (See Proverbs 24:30-35 and 6:6-8; St. Matthew 25:31-44.) It may also explain why Kendi justifies discrimination based on the situational ethics of cui bono? – who benefits?

In other words, Ibram X. Kendi admits that he is offering his followers some “other Gospel” (Galatians 1:8).

The notion that Jesus taught political revolution – while popular among secularists or those who have left the faith – it is not evinced by the Gospels. Jesus’ only words about government counseled principled obedience, a message the Apostle Paul amplified about the very empire that sentenced him to capital punishment. While Jesus had no trouble correcting the scribes and pharisees, He never amended John the Baptist’s instructions to the soldiers upholding Rome’s brutal occupation and colonization: “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (St. Luke 3:14, ESV). The early Christians did not attempt to overthrow Caesar to “revolutionize society.”

Christians are not to ignore the plight of the poor. But Jesus’ message of wealth redistribution was always personal: “You give them something to eat”; “Go and do likewise.” Christians’ collective efforts at poverty relief come voluntarily through the church, not government welfare programs funded by compulsory taxation. Most importantly, Jesus’ teachings encompassed and emphasized much “more than food” and earthly needs.

The most effective rebuttal to Kendi’s talk came from Jesus – and was delivered in real time.

Engraved in a relief behind Kendi was Jesus’ idea of “the job of the Christian”: the Great Commission, in which Jesus commanded His followers to evangelize “all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (St. Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus’ words are partly obscured behind a copy of Kendi’s book, literally and figuratively.

Genuine Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that spiritual healing is the Great Physician’s purpose. St. Athanasius the Great wrote that some in his day asked why Jesus took on human flesh instead of another manifestation, such as “the sun, or moon, or stars, or fire, or air, instead of man merely”:

Let them know that the Lord came not to make a display, but to heal and teach those who were suffering. For the way for one aiming at display would be, just to appear, and to dazzle the beholders; but for one seeking to heal and teach the way is, not simply to sojourn here, but to give himself to the aid of those in want, and to appear as they who need him can bear it … Now, nothing in creation had gone astray with regard to their notions of God, save man only.

If He wished, Jesus could have become incarnate as a government. Yet it would have missed the heart of the problem: Kingdoms are governed by men. Only by redeeming the individual souls that make up the human race can the structures they create operate in righteousness. He came as a lowly servant, like us in every way except sin, to take on and redeem every aspect of the human person.

Jesus’ message foments a revolution of a much more fundamental and interior kind.

The Bible shows just how far removed the Gospel is from a utopian political philosophy when a man asked Jesus to intervene against his brother, who was unjustly withholding his portion of his inheritance. Jesus refused to intervene – and then taught the man a lesson about covetousness and trusting in God’s providence (St. Luke 12:12-28). This brother was not pushing a nebulous case of “social injustice” by citing data about disparate impact; this was clear, direct, economic injustice of which the petitioner was the innocent party, the victim. Yet Jesus did not grant his petition, instead inviting the man to replace his carnal mindset with a deeper, spiritual understanding of life – an invitation from which Kendi would benefit.

A transcript of the video follows:

Audience member: I’m curious if you see any role that churches or communities of faith can play in this antiracist movement.

Kendi: I’m a preacher’s kid, and my parents pretty much met in what was as known as the black power movement but more specifically for them the movement for black theology. And so they were both Christians who imagined that the church was supposed to be an engine of liberation, that Christianity was supposed to be a source of liberation for black people and humanity. They looked at Jesus as black, with a ‘fro, like they had their ‘fros. And what I sort of ultimately realized in analyzing the form of Christianity that they were raised in, particularly during the black theology movement, and, sort of, just, I should say, contrasting that with the form of Christianity that 80% of white evangelicals have when they voted for Donald Trump, I think one of the ways we can distinguish it is, one being, liberation theology. In other words, Jesus was a revolutionary. And the job of the Christian is to revolutionize society, that the job of the Christian is to liberate society from the powers on Earth that are oppressing humanity. Everybody understand that? So, that’s liberation theology in a nutshell.

Savior theology is a different type of theology. The job of the Christian is to go out and save these individuals who are behaviorally deficient. In other words, we are to bring them into the church – these individuals who are doing all these evil, sinful things – and heal them, and save them. And then, once we’ve saved them, we’ve done our jobs. And to me, antiracists fundamentally reject savior theology. That goes right in line with racist ideas and racist theology, in which they say, ‘You know what? Black people, other racial groups, the reason why they’re struggling on earth is because of what they’re doing behaviorally wrong. And it is my job as a pastor is to, sort of, save these wayward black people, or wayward poor people, or wayward queer people. That type of theology breeds bigotry. And so, to me, the type of theology of liberation theology breeds a common humanity, a common humanity against the structures of power that oppress us all.

Further reading:

Is Raphael Warnock right that ‘the early church was a socialist church’?

How socialism causes atheism

Kamala Harris’ ‘Equality vs. Equity’ video endorses injustice and discrimination

If anyone was ever a socialist it was Jesus’: Democratic Socialists of America leader

Jesus would vote for socialism: German socialist party

‘Communism is the increase of the search for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness!’

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson (@therightswriter) is an Eastern Orthodox priest and served as Executive Editor of the Acton Institute (2016-2021), editing Religion & Liberty, the Powerblog, and its transatlantic website. He has extensively researched the Alt-Right. Previously, he worked for LifeSiteNews and FrontPageMag.com, where he wrote three books including Party of Defeat (with David Horowitz, 2008). His work has appeared at DailyWire.com, National Review, The American Spectator, The Guardian, Daily Caller, National Catholic Register, Spectator USA, FEE Online, RealClear Policy, The Blaze, The Stream, American Greatness, Aleteia, Providence Magazine, Charisma, Jewish World Review, Human Events, Intellectual Takeout, CatholicVote.org, Issues & Insights, The Conservative, Rare.us, and The American Orthodox Institute. His personal websites are therightswriter.com and RevBenJohnson.com. His views are his own.