Last year around this time, the statement on Social Justice and the Gospel came out and set off a firestorm. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was sitting in a breakfast joint in Hartford, CT just hours away from my flight back to Dallas. As I scrolled through the statement, I found myself nodding a lot. But the more I nodded, the more I also grimmaced. As I wrote about in The Problem is Not About Social Justice, I saw pretty clearly the set up of the statement–you were either for Christ (and the framers of the statement) or against Christ. There was no middle ground. I suspected that the statement would have the effect of reinforcing camps that would devolve into tribalistic disputes. People would be accused, and sometimes unjustly, of aligning with a pro- or anti- social justice camp with just the utterance of a few statements. I suspected the result of the statement would spawn more feuds than fruit, even though there were many good points in it. That’s what happens when you set up that kind of dichotomy.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what I’ve seen play out over the past year. Even my own orthodoxy has been called into question because I won’t lock step with anti-social justice advocates in repudiating wholesale social justice even though I have issues with it depending on what you mean by “social justice.” But when you lump the term into a nebulous definition (that can have a range of meaning) and slap a “social gospel” or “anti-gospel” label on it without digging into the weeds to separate the wheat from the chaff, that’s what you’re going to get.
As I stated a year ago, I can appreciate the concern of the framers. They felt something was at stake and the gospel needed to be preserved. After all, the church has seen its fair share of opposition to orthodoxy and councils and such were formed to contend for the faith that was handed down ala Jude 3.
But here is where I think the slippery slope began. And let’s be clear about what slippery slopes are: an idea or course of action which will lead to something unacceptable, wrong, or disasterous. Surely, this can be said of some advocates of social justice who have incorporated the language of critical race theory and intersectionality and uncritically adopt these views into their Christian paradigm. But it also can be true of anti-social justice advocates who are so opposed to anything that smacks of social justice that mistreatment of brothers and sisters in Christ ensue replete with 9th commandment violations.
This has been the fruit of that statement.
What I’ve heard over the course of the year is that the statement was necessary because the gospel needed to be preserved. Social justice, along with it’s critical race theory, intersectionality, and liberation theology is not only a threat to the gospel but works against it; it is another gospel. Sure, once you’ve framed a paradigm that way it makes sense that you would see the urgency to combat it.
The problem comes when we don’t take time to parse out what advocates are actually trying to address within the framework of a biblical worldview and when those paradigms become the worldview by which to address issues as opposed to the gospel. There is a difference. And from what I’ve seen with all the articles, tweets, blog posts, and FB statements, there has been sparse attempts to make distinctions. I mean, God forbid you be nuanced like that to try to get to the truth of what people are actually saying.
This has been the fruit of that statement.
Now don’t get me wrong. I surely understand the aggrevation of the mounting infiltration of elements of the social justice paradigm: the persistent pounding on race, defining the body of Christ in terms of whiteness and blackness, generalized accusations against white evangelicalism, imposing guilt on all whites unless they measure up to every jot and tittle of expections and demands of dismantling white supremacy. While I would not call this another gospel it sure is a distraction to it and a disruption of the kind of Christian fellowship informed by Scripture. As I my friend Karen recently said, Christianity is not just counter-cultural but other cultural. We don’t follow the dictates of the world to achieve results. Jesus’ paradigm gives us a better way. But that doesn’t mean employing these elements are necessarily another gospel and it depends on how you define the gospel according to Scripture. Believe it or not, orthodox people don’t all see eye to eye on this but they will agree that Jesus is at the center of it.
In my mind there had to be a better way of addressing the issues than a statement that basically set up a lynch mob to attack anyone who did not side with its framers and advocates. Tragedy all around.
For me personally, I’ve become so weary of the social justice wars, seeing brothers and sisters tear each other down, publically, as the world watches. I find myself increasingly gravitating towards Paul’s commendation to live a quiet life, meaning to live out my commitment to Christ, his body and his world in ways I am convicted of in Scripture try to stay away from all the ugliness.
That leads me to mention a new ministry project I’m involved in. I’m joining the team of Reformed Margins and co-hosting a podcast with Marcos Ortega called Family Discussions. Marcos and I don’t always agree and definitely have a difference of opinion on matters of social justice. But we are brother and sister in Christ and think that matters far more than where we stand on these issues. The first episode airs September 10th.