Christian rockstar says critical theory, woke ideology is sparking a ‘civil war’ among Christians in the US
For years, John Cooper has been known for his role as the lead singer in the Christian rock band Skillet. But recently he has become more outspoken about what he sees as a serious threat to Christianity in America.
The following has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Fox News: You talk about in your book how you had this experience of turning away from the temptation of having this great career but also not including Jesus in it. It was a little bit after that when you started to notice these different things that were going on in the church.
John Cooper: Yeah, it was that way. So, that was probably around 2010 — the story that you were referring to. It wasn’t a temptation in the sense that I was tempted to leave my faith behind, but it was a temptation — it was challenging truth … it was: well, you don’t have to leave Jesus behind but what if you didn’t talk about Jesus in order to get to a place where you can do more for [Jesus]? It was my introduction into that very deceptive type of mingling of truth … making something seem one way when it was really another.
It was shaking because of that, but it was a couple of years later — probably 2012 — when I really began noticing so much was happening. I didn’t understand some of the terminology that was being used. All of a sudden, we had a big move of — at the time, I would not have known to call it social justice. Now I realize what it’s called is social justice. But we had all of the social justice activism happening and I was finding myself confused about where to land. I knew that I wanted to be a light to the world and I want[ed] to share the Gospel of Christ. And I believe a part of that is loving people, and helping the poor, and so on and so forth, but there were things about the social justice movement that gave me a lot of red flags and I didn’t quite understand what was happening. That is when I began to really delve into culture, philosophy, and those types of things.
A lot of this is very theoretical and abstract … I think people are probably still wondering — what if I see a Black Lives Matter flag at my church or what if they use the term systemic racism? Of course, it’s going to vary but what are some of the things that you tell people are signals that they’re going down this track?
I think one of the difficult [issues] has to do with language and definition of terms. And so one of the things that was very hard for me in that 2013 and ’14 time was I would read things, and I’m like well the language kind of sounds right but there’s something off. It took me several years to realize that people were just changing definitions of terms. You might be talking about justice and I might be talking about justice but we might mean two very different things. So, I think some of it is asking for clarification of people’s terminology.
What kind of Christian isn’t against racism? I mean, that would be a very strange thing to not be against racism. But I need to know what you mean when you say [you oppose racism] so that I know what I am marching for or what I am standing up for … Can we have a definition of terms? That would be really nice. Honest conversations are really hard to have these days because people are … ready to fight and so I just pray — I’m not suggesting I always do a good job of this — but I always do pray that I could be full of the spirit of God in order to be gracious toward someone that I disagree with. I can’t be responsible if they will reciprocate that to me – and I know that I have strong opinions and I say things firmly — but I really want to have those conversations
In your research, did you look at when these ideas started to seep into Christianity in the United States?
Maybe I won’t say when because that probably takes somebody a little more knowledgeable than me. I do think that most people would say that the last 10 years is when they noticed the shift, and maybe they didn’t know what was happening until the last four years.
But 10 years ago, people started going hey, what’s the deal here? What does this mean? Why do I think it entered [the church then]? I think that we had our first fully educated adult group that was totally indoctrinated in academia, into woke ideology, into social justice, into critical race theory, into all of these things — and they basically imported the secular definitions of these words into Christianity. So, people like myself and most normal people … your average person going to church didn’t realize that we were talking about two different things.
That’s one of the biggest ways I think that it happened. I do think it also happened because a lot of people have, I believe, good intentions. That means that they look back at America and our history of racism in this country, and the church. All of the times that the American church did not step up as I believe she should have. There were some people [that did], but there were a lot of people that didn’t. And we look back at that and say man the church missed some big opportunities to be a light to the world — to have stood up during Jim Crow laws and during redlining, and during all of these various things. Because of that, we don’t want to be on the wrong side — we don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, and so people I think were kind of going along with a lot of the terminology. They were going along with the terminology without understanding what they were going into, and now I think that’s becoming very clear. We’re having a bit of a church split because a lot of people really believe one way and a lot of people believe another way. I think we’re seeing a civil war in the American church — over social justice.
You talk about standpoint epistemology and how a lot of this is rooted in personal experience and emotion. There are a lot of debates in Christianity about charismatic gifts and how you discern God’s word versus what your own emotions are saying. But it seems like you’re describing postmodernism as this thing that almost sequesters knowledge according to individual experience. So, you’re no longer dealing with this traditional conflict between internal movements and doctrine, but it’s like you’re creating a separate lens for viewing scripture and all these other things that play into Christian experience.
It is so academic and sometimes I tell people — I think people like reading my book or my podcast because I say things in ordinary terms. It’s almost mystical. What you’re talking about is so metaphysical that your ordinary person’s like ‘I don’t really know what that means.’ I do think it all goes together in a world view that is very experience-based. It is a different worldview than historical Christianity. It just is.
So, if you want to talk about, for instance, critical race theory. Critical race theory has become this bogeyman term and some people get really mad when you bring [it] up. So, let’s not say what critical race theory is. Let me just say what it does … CRT is responsible for a new Christian book … that is a book of prayers, including a prayer that says ‘God please help me to hate White people.’
… A conclusion of CRT is that … majority-White churches that don’t have Black leadership are racist. But if they do have Black leadership, they may be racist because they’re tokenizing Blacks. But if they have a Black man that they believe is gifted, and they want to send him to a Bible college – after that man gets done with Bible college, if he comes back to the White-majority church and the White-majority church keeps him for their own, then they could be guilty of racism for holding talent in the White community and not sending it out to the Black community. But if that Black man comes back afterwards, and they send him back to the Black community, it’s proof of racism because they don’t want to be under Black leadership.
CRT is the reason when Trump tapped Amy Coney Barrett to be a Supreme Court justice, Ibram Kendi tweeted out ‘you know, many White people adopt Black kids — because Amy Coney Barrett has two adopted Black children — many White people adopt Black children to use them as props. It doesn’t mean they’re not racist.
CRT Is responsible for all of these things. We don’t have to even get into the academics of it. If everybody is scratching their heads going, how can all these things be true when just 10, 11, 12, 13 years ago, we were getting to a society that really wasn’t talking about the color of people’s skin all that much? Yet, we talk about it all of the time now. So, it has made everything in life seen through a monocausality of the color of your skin. It’s those kinds of things that I see as a completely separate worldview than Christianity. But it is being imported into the Bible, and then people are using Bible scriptures along with that worldview — but they don’t actually go together. They’re kind of imposing a wrong worldview with the words of Christ. So, now the words of Christ don’t mean the same thing as they historically have meant.
You were talking about this in your last podcast — about how there’s almost a new mediator or conduit of truth that’s created because of this hidden knowledge that only certain people can have. So, then it allows them to reinterpret scripture or doctrine in certain ways.
I would say there’s probably two aspects of that. One aspect of that would be a product of liberation theology. There’s even a subset of liberation theology called Black liberation theology that is very, very influential. Most of the, what I would call, woke pastors would say that they don’t follow Black liberation theology but they’re very influenced by it
…The idea for liberation theology is that for the oppressed group of people — that’s the poor, that’s the outcast, the whatever — that they kind of become the mediator. Even in Black liberation theology, the late James Cohn says basically that if Whites want to come to Christ, then they have to come through the Black community. But it’s not up to the Whites if they want to come — they have to have the permission of the Black community, which really puts the Black community in the position of mediator. It redefines sin and it redefines redemption. Yet, it uses most of the same language we use about the redeemer, Christ, and redemption, and sin and being born again. It uses the same terms, but it’s actually very different.
The second aspect that you’re mentioning is the one of standpoint epistemology. That says that basically I as, let’s just say hypothetically I’m a woman, I as a woman have an understanding, a lived experience that you as a man cannot have. And so therefore, I have access to truth that you can’t understand. You can’t learn it, you can’t experience it because it only comes through life experience. That sort of standpoint epistemology is very much a personal relativism.
It’s very much a personal, whatever I say it is because that’s what I’ve experienced. And if you break out standpoint epistemology, if you take it from an individual perspective and you put it into a collective — meaning okay, I’m a woman but it’s not about my individual woman’s life experience. I am just a part of a collective woman’s experience. So, that’s when you break into identity politics. Now, you have warring tribes [where] all women have a collective experience of oppression. All Blacks have a collective experience … Now, it becomes groups of people [rather than individuals] – and so you once again redefine sin and guilt, not according to me as an individual but me as a White man.
You see? Now, I’m a part of a collective group. All of these things redefine Christianity. The problem with going to church and hearing somebody preach these things is sometimes you don’t know if we’re talking about the same thing when it comes to redemption. What if they’re not talking about personal redemption? They’re talking about the redemption of an ethnic group of people or of a sex? … You really have to become, all of a sudden, extremely vigilant, which is really difficult because you want to be gracious, but you don’t want to be ignorant. So, you’re in this place of hyper-vigilance all of the time, and it’s stressful. I think that people from all sorts of walks in Christianity feel it, but can’t always define it.
It seems like there’s a lot of miscommunication. There seems to be this resentment towards the idea of objective truth, because the people who use that term or determine what it is — they really haven’t had the experience of what other people have had. And of course, it’s part of Christianity to help those people … How should the church reach out and establish common ground and empathy while also not compromising on truth?
I think what’s so painful for me is that I want to be a voice for unity. I so desperately want to be a voice for unity — and I have had these conversations, I’ve had dozens of them. The problem is that if you’re not clear on the truth aspect, then you cannot have any true unity … So, you try to boil it down to just the gospel, but when you do that, you find out that you’re not defining the terms the same way and so the Gospel becomes, again, a relative term … My friend will say … part of the gospel is speaking out for the poor and oppressed.
And I say, okay I think I know what you mean — and then they say, therefore, we need to march because, just as the Biden administration said when they commented on the [Ma’khia] Bryant shooting. The Biden administration just says that’s systemic racism. Well, my woke pastors’ friends also think that it’s systemic racism.
So, now I have to go march for something because, to them, it’s a gospel issue. To me, that’s not a gospel issue and that is not systemic racism. That’s a different worldview than mine. It’s built on something different, so how can we have truth? In their minds now — my woke friends — in their minds, I am someone who claims Christ but does not stand up for the least of these … even though I think there’s a pretty good argument to be made that the police officer saved the life of a girl, of a Black girl at that.
In a way, I would feel like I would be marching for injustice. So, we’re actually at a time when I do think we have to have the conversations in love, but I am not prepared to give in on truth — not one centimeter, not one inch, because there is no such thing as unity outside of the truth. It’s faux unity, it’s make believe, it’s pretend, it’s perception of unity without any actual truth behind it. That’s what I try to hold in tension: Love and honesty with people, grace for the conversation, but unwilling to bend on truth.
There’s a certain level where you don’t want to compromise certain truths or ideologies that you believe to be true, but at the same time, are there things that Christians can learn about other peoples’ experiences?
I am definitely a solutions-type guy and I keep reading everything … that comes out from the AND Campaign … They say that they are, you know they don’t want to be polarizing and they want to bring Christians together from both sides of the aisle. I keep reading what they say but they don’t give me any solutions. I keep desperately waiting — can you give me a solution besides me having to say ‘systemic racism’ and march for something that I don’t believe in? Can you give me a solution? Can I give money to something besides [blacklivesmatter.com]? Can I give money to something that will actually help and will actually train, will actually educate, will actually feed the poor?
But there really are no solutions coming out besides what I view as performative … I want solutions. I think the Bible has some solutions but I’m not hearing them from the people that I wish I was hearing them from. The Bible gives us a lot of solutions; things like promoting sexual morality, promoting marriage, promoting fatherhood, working hard, work ethic, teaching the wisdom of Proverbs. I don’t hear any of these solutions coming frankly from the other side — all that I hear is march for systemic racism and I don’t know what that is going to do. But I do know this — if you apply the wisdom of Proverbs to your life, you will thrive, and there is nothing that can stop you from flourishing because you are acting within the design of God.
On the other hand, what I hear from BLM is destroy the nuclear family — that’s the opposite of what God has said. All I hear is let’s have the government take care of more people. Well, that’s the opposite of what God says. It’s the parents’ job to govern the children. That is your mandate from God, and you can’t buck against the design of God. You buck against the design of God, it bucks back. I am all about the solutions and I am desperately asking the other side to give me some besides ‘you need to know how hard my life has been.’ I believe them. I believe them that life has been that hard, but there’s nothing I can do about that.
I’m not doubting that it hasn’t been hard. I’m not doubting the experience. What can we do to make it better besides something performative or besides something that I feel is actually against the design of God — such as breaking up the nuclear family and promoting villages of moms to raise kids, having the government take care of children, and dumping more Planned Parenthoods in neighborhoods of color? I don’t think any of those things are going to work. So, genuinely, I hope that my heart comes across that I want to be somebody who brings unity and … I am genuinely asking for solutions.
What seems to be the core of this debate is how each side views human nature. You talk in your book about the dynamic of the fall and what that means in terms of our relationship with God. There’s a tendency among humans, according to the Christian worldview, to commit these acts of evil — sort of like a disorder or straying from what’s good.
I think that’s what so confounding to me – that there are so many woke pastors, leaders that are well smarter than me, well more educated than me, much more intelligent than me, but they are building their philosophies on a worldview that ignores human nature — and that is Christianity 101, that’s basic theology. It comes from a humanistic worldview … psychology would say people do evil because they have suffered trauma.
So, if you do something bad in your life, it’s because you have suffered something in your life. Therefore, you’re semi-alleviated of the responsibility for what you did because someone did something to you. But that’s not what Christianity teaches. I know, again, that’s academic, so let’s put it in practical terms.
In practical terms, what that means is someone kills someone, and we don’t need to put them in jail. We need to find out where they are hurting — it’s not their fault. That is like an extreme version of restorative justice. That is the abolish all prisons, abolish all police idea. That is a humanistic idea that says If we just get humanity good enough, then no one would ever need anything. Therefore, no one would ever commit a crime because everybody will have everything they need. That ignores human nature …
We see that in all sorts of these social issues right now. We don’t want to talk about — is there something in the heart that is causing people to do bad things or is this just some kind of product of power structures and systems? The latter is not a Christian worldview, but the conclusions of so much of the woke church are based on the presuppositions of that atheistic worldview.
It’s really confounding to me … The other weird thing about it is that in that worldview, interestingly enough, as an individual, one could be a hardcore racist, one could be a hardcore ‘I don’t like those kind of people because they all (fill in the blank).’ You can have that in your heart, but as long as you project whatever sentence on social media you’re supposed to project, or as long as you go to a march, or as long as you put a black square on Instagram when you’re supposed to, then all of a sudden, you are alleviated from sin — even though there’s nothing that’s actually changed in your heart.
You’re now not responsible for your sins but you are responsible for everyone else’s.