The Long March through the Institutions of Society
On an almost daily basis, I talk to friends who lead churches around the USA who are trying to understand what is happening in our culture and how to help the people in their churches to be faithful to Jesus in light of what is happening.
It seems like the basic framework and foundations of our society are changing rapidly.
But maybe it hasn’t been as fast as we think.
The “Long March through the Institutions” was a phrase attributed to the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and then coined as a succinct mission statement by Marxist student activist Rudi Dutschke in the 1960s.
The phrase is used to describe the intellectual takeover of a society without need to resort to a military conflict. Instead, the strategy focuses on slowly winning over the chief institutions that determine the direction of a culture and thereby creating a soft revolution from within those institutions. So, the focus was on the universities, then the unions, the arts, the K-12 schools, the media, then corporations, and finally the society as a whole.
What once looked like a slow, long march, is now looking more and more like a quick, short march. The Marxist roots are mostly the same, but the manifestation is different this time. Business is not perceived as the enemy. Rather, it’s the ideas that do not match Marxist frameworks that are seen as the enemy. This new philosophy is rapidly ascending in American culture, even while it is not called communism or socialism. More on what it is called below…
Marxism in its various forms is an enemy to the gospel of Jesus Christ. One cannot uphold a Marxist worldview and uphold Jesus as one’s savior and king. More on this point below, too, and some key resources I recommend to those who lead churches…
But first, note two things that have happened in recent years which lead us to a place where we have never been before in American society.
Both of these changes have accelerated since the fall of Soviet Communism and the Berlin Wall in 1989. Many thought Marxism was dead only to find that it sprang back to life in a new, less clearly defined and yet ever-present way.
First, radical leftist beliefs and values have gained more and more influence in our universities year after year. It is hard to get exact numbers on the viewpoints wittingly or unwittingly promoted by professors, but notice the significant decline in the number of conservatives that teach in universities in the USA.
1969 – Approximately 1 in 4 were conservatives
1999 – Approximately 1 in 10 were conservatives
2019 – Approximately 1 in 17 were conservatives
What these ratios show us is that more and more people—in the most impressionable period in their lives—are hearing only from those who personally hold to left-leaning or Marxist ideas.
The old adage used to be that most people were liberals coming out of university in their 20s, but they became conservatives in their 40s through experiences in the professional world.
But that has changed.
More and more are coming out of university as left-leaning and now joining a critical mass who have kept their views and who are now changing the institutions where they go to work. The result is that these institutions, more and more, reflect the left-leaning values taught in the university.
Secondly, the influences on the left are moving further to the left, into a witting or unwitting Marxist worldview (and away from true, freedom-promoting liberalism). Starting about twenty years ago, Critical Theory was introduced more and more into the soft sciences in universities (humanities like history and psychology) and then, in the last ten years, it has moved into the hard sciences (math, engineering, etc.) and now into all fields. It now is the dominant philosophy.
What is Critical Theory?
The Colson Center has created a five-minute video explaining Critical Theory that we recommend to everyone (click here).
Critical Theory is a combination of post-modernism and Marxism designed for a world of big businesses and institutions. It is a framework that both diminishes objective thinking (because there is no “objective truth” in post-modernism) and affirms a more rigid oppressor-oppressed mindset at the same time.
It is a framework, when established, that rejects the ideas of a liberal society, where ideas and beliefs are freely debated and discussed, in favor of a more Marxist viewpoint only. There are only winners (the ideas, beliefs, and classes/groups that prevail) and losers (the ideas, beliefs, and classes/groups that lose). The currency that matters is power. The end result is that there are ideas that can be spoken and ideas that cannot be spoken. Dissent is shut out prior to debate by suppression and cancelation.
Here are three key flashpoints that reflect Critical Theory’s influence and challenge to both liberal ideas (i.e., which promote freedom) and conservative ideas (i.e., which preserve values that built Western civilization):
- Critical Identity Theory – a critical dismantling of the power structures by which privileged identities oppress minority identities (e.g., LGBTQ identities).
- Critical Gender Theory – a critical dismantling of the power structures by which men oppress women.
- Critical Race Theory – a critical dismantling of the power structures by which a white-dominant society inherently oppresses racial minorities.
Now, it’s no surprise that groups have oppressed other groups throughout history—with regard to race, gender, LGBTQ, etc.
It is not as though disciples of Jesus can study history and conclude, “no injustice to see here.” Of course, there have been terrible injustices perpetuated by people in power. The real questions are these: What is the true cause of the injustice? Is Marxism the best way to frame the injustice? What is the best way to fight the injustice according to God’s Word?
These critical theories propose the path of cynicism, by which white people, for example, are automatically assumed to be racist (see Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility). Or biblical views of gender roles in the church and home are automatically assumed to be misogynistic. Or the view that God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman is vilified as homophobic heterosexism.
Critical Gender Theory, Identity Theory, and Race Theory are just three examples of these cynical theories, but there are others, including the joining of culture Marxism with economic ideas as in New Monetary Theory. Once people fully adopt these beliefs (as they have been discipled into), it is hard for them to match it with a biblical viewpoint. For example, the biblical path for fighting injustice is the path of repentance and reconciliation—not suspicion, division, and revolution (whereas one looks in vain for reconciliation or forgiveness in Critical Theory).
Here are a few recent samples of the fruit of these dissent-canceling beliefs that we now experience:
- Christian organization like Focus on the Family and others, are being censored or banned by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube because of their discussions on homosexuality, atheists and abortion.
- Organizations like RENEW.org have experienced suppression on platforms like Facebook and through Google without explanation or response to requests.
- Biological men now play in women’s sports, destroying meaningful female-only competition because of transgender identity imposition.
- Admission to universities like Yale and even corporate boards listed on Nasdaq will now based on explicit racial preferences.
- Government policies are now based on equity and not equality (two very different concepts).
- Large corporations, like one near where I live, have fired employees because on their private Facebook pages they have expressed disapproval for the beliefs of the organization Black Lives Matter.
This clash of worldviews is not clear at first to many, but once you see it, you will recognize its surprisingly ubiquitous reach. And once a person has been converted to the Critical Theory worldview, that person’s thinking, believing, and acting will fall in line with these cynical theories. Only a de-conversion will stop them from rejecting key parts of Biblical teaching.
More and more, I am hearing from university-age and young adults who grew up in church but, after attending universities and work environments where these ideas are taught and supported, are struggling with their faith. Their parents often lament that their children live in a world where everyone thinks their parent’s church is racist, misogynistic and homophobic.
In many ways, the world is out-discipling us.
We have to wake up and take distinct actions to fight back . The stakes could not be higher. The spiritual weapons we must fight with, as parents and churches, are the beliefs and ways of thinking based upon God’s Word. As Paul says,
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
We must move back to disciple making. We must make deep, authentic, and substantive disciples. There is no other way forward.
At RENEW.org we plan to take a stand and help renew churches, leaders, and everyday disciples of Jesus in this battle. We will be providing key resources as they become available in the months and years ahead.
Here are three key books as a starting point for understanding this “long march.”
Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay
The march through the institutions of our society is gaining so much speed that classic liberals (philosophically and politically) are joining political conservatives in their concerns and push back against what is happening. Two self-proclaimed liberals (and atheists) have written one of the best critiques of critical theories. Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay wrote a book in which the title Critical Theories is crossed out in favor of the title Cynical Theories, with the subtitle How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everyone (Pitchstone). This book explains Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, Critical Gender Theory, etc. and will help you understand why more and more churches, church leaders, and conservative disciples will automatically be labeled racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc.—and why more and more church leaders and disciples will find themselves confused, cancelled and discriminated against. It is a must read for every church leader who wants to be informed about the direction of our culture.
Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, by Rod Dreher
Rod Dreher wrote Live Not by Lies (Penguin Random House) as a less scholarly and more accessible book. It describes an emerging “soft totalitarianism” that more and more of us will be experiencing in universities, politics, human resource departments, and other areas of life. The book describes how disciples of Jesus in communist countries clung together in discipling groups (our language, not Dreher’s) to survive persecution in the former Soviet Union, and how we must learn to do the same today—even if the “soft totalitarianism” of our time differs from the more overt totalitarianism of Soviet communism. Live Not by Lies is good primer that will train disciples for faithfulness in the midst of hostilities that will come in the future, as more and more in the North American culture adopt a post-truth and cultural Marxist mindset.
Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth, by Thaddeus J. Williams
Thaddeus J. Williams just recently edited and published Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth (Zondervan Academic). A church leader friend of mine described it as the book he was waiting to find. The authors help Christian leaders think through twelve key questions. My friend Alisa Childers writes, “If you are a Christian concerned about oppression, injustice, racism, and other moral ills that plague our culture, there may not be a more important book your read this year.”
Again, take note: we must go back to disciple making. In many places, our culture is out-discipling the church and our current ways of doing church are not sufficient.
Let’s stand up and ask God to help us! We are praying that God will not let our children and churches be fully captured by cynical beliefs and critical theories. We are praying for revival. We are praying for renewal.
We are praying that God will lead more and more back to King Jesus and His path of repentance and reconciliation. The path of Jesus is what our bitterly divided society needs so badly.
God has renewed societies before.
Our commitment is to renew the teachings of Jesus and ask God to fuel a disciple making movement.