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. Continue reading
Over at the Washington Post, Eugene Scott has written an interesting opinion piece regarding Mike Pence’s commencement speech at Liberty University. Scott is concerned that warnings about Christian persecution fall into a victim complex that is not all that helpful for navigating through fruitful citizenship. Now, I do agree with some of what he says. But the more I read through it, the more I think some parsing is in order to get to the real concern. He says;
Religious persecution is real. The congregations of three black Louisiana churches that were recently burned down for reasons that some suspect were racially motivated know this. And so do the congregants of the synagogue that was attacked last month by a gunman; the suspect pointed to his conservative evangelical theology as justification for his hatred of racial minorities.
But accusing “Hollywood liberals,” the media and “the secular left” of persecuting Trump-supporting evangelicals might do little, if anything, to prepare the next generation of leaders to be good citizens working toward the common good in a religiously diverse nation. At worst, it could perpetuate the victim mentality that is so pervasive in our culture wars and that some believe has made this country more politically divided than at any other point in recent history. Such a framing may win you some political battles, but in the long term, it makes it much more difficult for the United States to become “one nation under God,” as Pence and so many others often pledge.
Now, I do think he’s right in that we can form a persecution complex and engage in fear mongering. After all, Jesus did say that we would have trouble in this world. We can’t surely expect that a secular culture will align with Christian values. Even though religious liberty was ensconced in the framework of this country’s founding, we do need to consider it is also not a guarantee to live out faithful Christianity. That’s not to say we should not care or make efforts to preserve it. But we can at least expect a Christianity believed and lived faithfully will be at odds with a culture that seeks to live for self. Continue reading
A couple of years ago, I penned a piece, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to My White Evangelical Church, that got a bit of attention. The piece was the product of growing concerns I had regarding where the racial reconciliation was headed. I had questions of whether we were legitimately seeking reconciliation or was an agenda being imposed on the body of Christ that actually is driving a wedge through it. And now that I’ve seen the movement morph into an anti-racist and social justice paradigm that adopts a worldview that seems to run contrary to a Christian paradigm in doctrine and practice, I stick by every word I wrote in asking the questions I had.
Speaking of which, there has been a lot of discussion on Critical Theory lately especially with the denouncement of whiteness in our churches. Neil Shenvi has done an excellent job in examining this theory and asking if integration is possible. Check out his website here and this hour talk. What I most appreciate about his work is that he doesn’t ignore the issues that Critical Theory is attempting to address given the very lengthy history that the false of construct of race has produced. We can refute Critical Theory as the means to bring correction but we can’t refute the annuls of history whereby the white “superior” race dominated every aspect of culture that subjugated those of the so-called inferior race (namely those of African descent) to a sub-human classification. That white superiority complex also has denegrating views of Jews as well.
So we do have to be honest with history and particularly churches’ complicity in maintaining this false construct. However, one of my concerns is how we imposing the weight of history on to the present as if slavery and Jim Crow are very much enforced and we’ve made no progress at all. Surely, we can recognize changing attitudes that have weakened the hold of racism on institutional and cultural infrastructures.
But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are still issues, particularly with prevailing mindsets that uphold some kind of racial superior mindset and wants to preserve white heritage…against Blacks, Latinos, and even Jews. And yes, even in our churches. Continue reading
The past few days, I’ve been observing the kerfuffle over the Sparrow Conference and the interview delivered by Ekemini Uwan. She spoke boldly about the need for white women to divest in whiteness by embracing their ethnic heritages and rejecting the power structure that whiteness created. She briefly explained that race was a false construct devised to create a classification of people and the result was whiteness that is rooted in plunder and theft. Unfortunately, the YouTube video was removed and her presence erased from the conference because some people couldn’t handle what she was saying. I personally believe that people weren’t hearing what she was saying and concluded that she was making racists statements against white people.
Moving past the conference and how issues related to race today are being addressed, I can see why some responded the way they did. We are bombarded by racialized sensitivities and the propensity to shut down any kind of pushback even when there are legitimate concerns about the way issues are being addressed. I do notice this tendency to create hyperbole and conflation especially around current events, political ideology and public policy. I get that those classified as white people are persistently told they are the problem and they need to bow down in silence and repentance to every jot and tittle of demands or else they are complicit in the perpetuation of racism. Nobody wants an accusatory finger pointed at them at all times. Particularly with Christians, I can see how off-putting this can be. I do observe that sometimes the focus on race can supersede our focus on Christ.
But we can’t deny the fact of how and why the false construct of the white and black race was created. It was constructed to create a hierarchal system whereby one class was deemed superior and one inferior. This hierarchal system emerged out of Europe based on economic trade that soon evolved into a full blown denial of personhood towards those of African descent. One only needs to look into the annuls of history to see how this resulted in power structures whereby one group of people, those classified as the white race, set the standard by which all else was subjected to including people deemed inferior solely because of the melanin and places of origin. Continue reading
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. Continue reading