Neil Shenvi is one of the most platformed opponents of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality within the church. However he is also the least trustworthy “ally” in this cause. For starters he attends Summit Church (JD Greear) and endorsed Resolution 9 allowing Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality to be used as analytical tools.
Consider this tweet by Neil Shenvi below.
Although lowercase-“i” intersectionality can be used as a neutral, analytic tool, the slide into capital-“I” Intersectionality as a worldview is subtle, rapid, and dangerous.https://t.co/OplAEe0fVo
— Neil Shenvi (@NeilShenvi) August 11, 2020
There is a distinction Shenvi is trying to make here between an ideology and a worldview. Before diving into his article, I want to point out how lowercase letters usually work in these instances. For instance, if I say “I’m libertarian”, it means I believe in small-government, Non Aggression Pact, etc. However, if I say “I’m Libertarian,” it means I am a member of Libertarian Party which is a fiscally conservative socially Marxism political organization. In this instance the proper adjective/adverb denotes a specific organization while the lowercase denotes an ideology. Consider also the connotative and denotative difference between “democratic” and “Democratic” and see the same findings. Now, in my own writings, I do capitalize Conservatism when not many others do because I want to highlight the political movement in America. So there is some commonality in the distinctions, Neil Shenvi and I make with words, however, if there is far greater variance in the definition of “conservative” than there is “intersectionality.” Conservative can be used to describe low risk behavior or in politics be used to describe conserving the principles of America’s founding. The word conservative has a far wider semantic range than intersectionality.
Neil Shenvi reviews Partricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge’s short book Intersectionality where he gleans this distinction.
On page 2, the authors give a clear, succinct definition of intersectionality, which I’ll quote here in full:
Intersectionality is a way of understanding and analyzing the complexity in the world, in people, and in human experiences. The events and conditions of social and political life and the self can seldom be understood as shaped by one factor. They are generally shaped by many factors in diverse and mutually influencing ways. When it comes to social inequality, people’s lives and the organization of power in a given society are better understood as being shaped not by a single axis of social division, be it race or gender or class, but by many axes that work together and influence each other. Intersectionality as an analytic tool gives people better access to the complexity of the world and of themselves.
To summarize in less technical terms, the concept of ‘intersectionality’ states that people are complex and can’t be understood as the sum of their identity markers. For example, the experience of a poor, unwed mother is qualitatively different than the experience of a poor man, or a poor married mother, or a wealthy unwed mother. She will experience unique challenges and have unique needs that we will miss if we focus only on her gender or marital status or class.
What I find problematic is that Neil Shenvi’s summation of the authors’ definition of “intersectionality” is not supported by the text he cites. The idea of intersectionality, as defined by these authors in this excerpt is that there are many categories people fall into and to understand them better is to explore more categories they fall into than just the surface level ones. The bolded text that Shenvi highlights is not a proper understanding of the text he cites.
He then goes on into the meat paragraph where he believes these authors draw a distinction between between “intersectionality” and “Intersectionality.”
This narrow definition of intersectionality is further illustrated by the authors’ concern that intersectionality can be used by people who do not share their allegiance to social justice. For example, the authors conceive of intersectionality as a “critical endeavor” committed to “criticizing, rejecting, and/or trying to fix the social problems that emerge in situations of social injustice” (p. 39). Yet they realize that intersectionality is “not universally understood this way” (p. 40), and lament the fact that “some projects invoke intersectional rhetoric in defense of an unjust status quo… [using] intersectionality as an analytic tool to justify social inequality” (p. 40). They give the example of white supremacist literature employing intersectional reasoning, and conclude: “Ironically, intersectionality as an analytic tool is deployed not as a tool for democratic inclusion, but rather to justify racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual segregation and subsequent social hierarchy” (p. 41).
It’s seems very likely that these authors are Marxists.
Coming from ardent proponents of intersectionality, this claim is important. Collins and Bilge fully recognize that ‘intersectionality’ can be used as an ‘analytic tool’ in the service of ideologies they do not share, even ideologies like white supremacy that are morally reprehensible.
What Neil Shenvi fails to realize here is how being woke and being racist are two sides of the same coin. The only difference is whether you believe being white is bad. Therefore both woke Marxists and white supremacist can hold the same worldview with the one difference being an affirmation or a condemnation of whiteness. All things considered, this is a hairline between to ideologies. The authors are perhaps blind to this reality, though this is one of my major criticisms of White Fragility. Neil Shenvi takes this admission by the authors to suggest that intersectionality can be a neutral tool, failing to realize that Critical Race Theory materially incentivizes white supremacy. The byproduct of this analytical tool is wrongfully dismissed by Shenvi as direct opposition.
From there it becomes apparent that this book goes down the rabbit hole of social justice. and this is where Shenvi highlights the broader worldview versus the “neutral” definition.
They then comment: “those oppressed today [are] homeless/landless people, women, poor people, black people, sexual minorities, … disabled people, and the young” (p 160-161). God hates oppression and commands us to seek justice, but it’s crucial for Christians to understand that these terms have been redefined by critical theory, such that ‘young people’ and ‘sexual minorities’ are viewed as ‘oppressed’ groups who need to be ‘liberated.’
Yet all of these groups cannot whole cloth claim to be oppressed, at least in America. I would argue that none of them are. But Shenvi draws singles the ones he disagrees with out.
The distinction between the two is legitimate and important, but is one that people may easily miss. Moreover, when the word ‘intersectionality’ is used in popular culture, it far more often refers to the worldview than to the tool. For that reason, Christian should be exceptionally careful and discerning in how they employ ‘intersectionality,’ mindful of the unbiblical ideologies in which the term may be embedded.
Neil Shenvi ends with advocating a nuanced approach to lowercase intersectionality. But even if we go back to the authors’ definition, the value placed on experiences is one rooted in postmodernism, which is also not compatible with Christianity. This ultimately signifies the “narrow” definition largely indistinguishable from the “broadened” definition that encompasses six elements according to the sociologist authors. The operative definition of “intersectionality” on the Evangelical Dark Web is this:
Intersectionality – the navigation of postmodernism where personal experience is given hierarchy depending on the lens of the individual. The more intersections of oppression, according to Critical Theory, an individual has, the clearer the more valuable their experience is.
Whether capitalized or not, the denotation is unchanged, as our definitions show the progression of a Satanic worldview where the theories of postmodernism and intersectionality originate. One cannot have intersectionality apart from postmodernism.
Moreover, Neil Shenvi upholds an endorsement of Resolution 9 at the beginning of the article, which signifies his purpose was less to review a book and more to point out that Resolution 9 appropriately spells out the use of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. This is apparent with no other examples of intersectionality being used in without Social Justice, than white supremacist (which isn’t an actual counterexample).
Neil Shenvi seems to think that employing these theories that ultimately stemmed from Marxism will result differently with proper parameters that he admits can easily fall away. I would argue there is a much longer book written on that subject called, The Lord of the Rings.