The problem is not about social justice

The past few days, I’ve watched the internet ablaze over this statement on social justice and the gospel. I read the statement and largely agree with many of the points and had trouble with others. My overall take, as I read through it was it seemed to set up a dichotomy where one was either for the gospel or for social justice as if orthodox believers can’t be involved in matters of social justice and still hold to biblical Christianity as historically articulated.

In his response to the statement, Joel McDurmon has expressed my concerns well;

In the name of a “closer examination” of the issues, the document not only offers no real “examination,” but precludes any future discussion on aspects central to the topic. It brings unnecessary division, demagoguing, grandstanding, pigeonholing, and fearmongering—all while neglecting any defined or substantial discussion of some of the actual points of disagreement or denial.

This document is not about issues, even though it uses pointed buzzwords. It is about power and alignment—tribalism. In the name of standing firm for Gospel truth, it works to solidify one group of believers against another group by demonizing the other with broad, undefined labels. The result is something like the following sentiment: “social justice” (undefined) is evil, and either you agree with us (sign the document), or you are dangerous to the church.

The aspect about power is a hefty charge that I’m not sure about. But I wholeheartedly concur that underneath the nebulous buzzwords lies a dividing stake that says either you are with us and for Christ or against us and against him. I’m pretty sure the crafters of this statement were sincere about upholding Christian orthodoxy and wanting to take a stand on factors that, at least in their mind, worked against it. But the the premise of the concern rests in an area in which there is a spectrum of beliefs that all do not work against the church.

Herein lies the problem. Now I surely understand where there can be legitimate concerns about slides into liberalism and undermining of the gospel of Jesus Christ as historically defined rooted in the whole counsel of Scripture. I get that intrusion of a “social gospel” might be a concern though we should be judicious in how we define that. And I can certainly appreciate the admonition regarding worldly paradigms. But what the document does is pretty much label anyone who upholds to any form of social justice as an enemy of the church.

Listen, we can have disagreements on the role of the church and social issues without it necessarily devolving into a social gospel. (McDurmon does a pretty good job of breaking this down and I commend reading of the whole article.) We are after all called to good works (Eph. 2:10), told to be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-14) and commanded to love neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37). That’s more than just preaching the gospel but living as those who lives have been impacted by it. We are not disembodied beings, disconnected from the effects of a fallen world. I find it hard to believe, if for example, the crafters and supporters discovered a sex trafficking ring going on in the vicinity of their churches, they would do nothing to address that situation and minister to the victims. At least I hope not. That’s social justice.

Unfortunately, the term has become a nebulous buzzword that is drawn as a weapon to define who is or is not acting within the confines of biblical Christianity rather than focusing on the actual definition aligned with biblical truth. I can find a whole other group of Christians who affirm Christian orthodoxy and also advocate for addressing social issues in the world. But a problem rests on that side too, when addressing social issues becomes the litmus tests for legitimate Christianity according to mandates that need to be addressed (i.e., white supremacy, police brutality, etc.).

But setting up this dichotomy of who is or is not for Christ and his church based on broad stroked allegations and without the benefit of parsing out where people actually stand with respect to orthodox beliefs of the work and person of Christ, we do nothing more than create “I follow Paul” and “I follow Apollos” camps (cf. 1 Cor. 3:4). Is Christ divided?

This is why I say the problem is not about social justice really but about how we are treating Christ’s body in an already noisy, divisive world. Are we lumping our brothers and sisters in these divided camps and demonizing them because we don’t agree with their stance on social issues? Are we striving to see if one upholds the tenets of Christian faith before accusations of opposing Christ and his church? Because here is the question that matters more than these broad brushed statements;

  • If you believe in the eternal Son of God, the Christ who laid down his life for our transgressions according to the Father’s will;
  • If you’ve confessed him as Lord and trust in his all sufficient sacrifice for sins;
  • If you believe in the work of the Holy Spirit that he has baptized us into ONE body even with all our differences, different personalities, histories, experiences and perspectives that yes, sometimes will ruffle one another’s feathers;
  • If you believe that God called that body to reflect his glory;
  • If you believe that he is sanctifying us, to present us to himself as a body without spot wrinkle or blemish in that day of redemption even through we have different perspectives on issues of this day;

Then I probably should treat you as one who belongs to the family of God over one who opposes it. We need to stop treating each other as enemies and strive in earnest to join together for the glory of the One who calls us friend.

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4 thoughts on “The problem is not about social justice

  1. Keith Williams September 8, 2018 / 2:33 pm

    Thank you, Lisa. Well said.

  2. Evan September 9, 2018 / 12:35 pm

    When we divide so easily, it makes one question the significance of what the idea of being “in Christ” ever could have meant to those who call others out publicly, based on societal issues they are strongly drawn to.

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