A Question of Social Justice

Only thing we have to fear is fear itself FDR in his inaugural speech in March 1933 was alerting the nation that fear was making things worse. Fear is such an incredible force, it has the power to bring people to their knees, paralyze some from moving at all, and make people run for safety due to some perceived threat to their well-being or way of life. Such is the power of fear that it can make grown men and women cower and seek to create borders around all that they hold dear. Unfortunately, this can especially be damaging when those who profess to have a relationship with Jesus Christ use fear as a means to justify violations of justice or to attack others within the Christian community. Fear often can pit us against those we profess to love. Fear can take normally rational people into the abyss of anxiety and make them utilize weapons they would generally not in order to avoid changing, to maintain comfort, and often makes situations worse by creating unneeded/unwarranted conflict.

It is in a stance of fear where Evangelical Christians find themselves with the topic of social justice. So much so that as recent as September 2018 a group of prominent Evangelical Christian men authored and published a statement https://statementonsocialjustice.com/ in order to take a stand against the evil of social justice. These men believe that social justice is corrupting the Gospel of Christ and is an attack on His church. They felt so passionate about this new obsession a growing number of believers have and how much of threat it is to the church/gospel that they issued a 14 point statement to debunk it. As one of the writers, Tom Ascol, wrote in a September 4, 2018 blog post; we determined to make a public stand together in hopes of warning about the dangers we see in some of what is being promoted in the name of social justice.

This public stand comes at an interesting time in our history not only do we currently have a nationalistic, racist, and xenophobic president (he who must not be named) that was overwhelmingly voted for and continues to be supported by White evangelical Christians (80%), the rise of hate crimes and police brutality against people of color is rising at alarming numbers . Not to mention that The Gospel Coalition held a huge MLK 50 celebration/conference where many evangelicals called out the church for supporting white supremacy and ignoring issues of race the month before the statement was released. For these men the time seemed ripe for a broad sweeping indictment against social justice. A combination of what seems like righteous indignation and overwhelming fear that Christians were being led away from fundamental Christianity that is overwhelmingly based on White theology.

The fear of socialism is pretty evident throughout the statement. Socialism in the sense that equality is far more important than be united in Christ. That political socialism is creeping into the church and the language being used by many Christians doing justice work is creating attacks on the oneness of the church and making believers turn from God to humanism. There is also a rise among many evangelicals who are questioning issues of race especially in stances of police brutality, which I believe can traced back to the killing of Mike Brown and Ferguson. The statement reads like a cautionary tale where the church needs to be protected or else things will fall apart and the church will fall victim to secular culture.

When describing what this final project was all about, this declaration stuck out to me Write about what pisses you off it made me laugh and exclaim; there isn’t enough paper in the world for me to write about what pisses me off. Snark is a gift and it should never go to waste. As this assignment’s deadline looms, I found that the thing that has been pissing me off the most lately and most especially this first semester of grad school is evangelical Christianity and it’s unwillingness to come together over issues of justice, mercy and grace. Over the past two years my place of employment has come under attack for creating spaces to talk about injustice, racism, and sexism. Many were accused (myself included) of making issues where none exist. Some individuals were completely roasted online by colleagues and students for creating divisions by calling out injustice and race issues. One would think at a Christian higher education institution that these issues would be welcomed and openly engaged unfortunately no.

The situation is so out of hand that using the term social justice is equivalent to swearing on the campus. Some staff and faculty are so adamant that social justice is not a gospel issue that they openly bad mouth others who advocate for it. The board even got involved at one point and ultimately decided to axe our president for his diversity stances. There is also the situation of my former church which I mentioned in my race workshop paper and how it was the impetus for me leaving that church. I have been wounded and deeply traumatized by the negative reactions to social justice, race, equality, and feminism so that when the statement was released on September 5, I was not at all surprised but deeply grieved. The statement made me revisit all the hurt/anger of the past two years in a fresh way it was raw and ugly. I’m utterly disgusted and deeply saddened by this statement as it fails to acknowledge that many devout/sincere followers of Christ see justice work as an outpouring of love. The love so freely given by God and his redemptive work. Many understand the commands to love God and love people as not only a model for life but a mandate to work for justice. So, that is why the statement pisses me off, as to why it is a justice issue this statement is a direct violation of the principles of Human Dignity, The Common Good, Solidarity (virtue and principle) and it is based on a reductionist view of Gospel.

Within Christianity, statements like this are nothing new throughout history, Christians have come together to scrutinize and respond to perceived threats to the faith. These are designed to address cultural shifts, societal pressures on the church, and answer scripturally to these so called threats. Many are well intentioned and address real issues, though not all hit the mark correctly as they will create divisions that are not entirely necessary. They can also be distractions, the energy and time used to craft such statements could be used elsewhere in helping the poor, the disenfranchised, victims of hate crimes, fighting systemic injustices, or simply creating healthy/loving communities.

This statement presents a truncated Gospel, one that reduces the Gospel to just salvation. It does not take into account the words and actions of Jesus in the New Testament. It reduces the work of Christ to just being the means of reconciliation with God, the eraser of sins (personal sins) it does not take into account that Jesus came to bring about the Kingdom of God. In the book of Mark, Jesus preaches about the kingdom of God, which is really the good news. In the book of Luke (4:18-19) , Jesus makes this proclamation: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus went to synagogues where ever he travel to preach this message, which often was not well received by the Jewish leaders of the day. This is the true richness of the Gospel and like many in Jesus day, we want to change the message and perhaps kill the messenger. Jesus’ message is not just a way to receive salvation, it is a way to live life. Thinking through this statement, it seems to me that the authors of this statement are modern day Pharisees.

Perhaps that is too harsh a criticism of these men and their intentions or maybe it is not harsh enough. Jesus even warns the Pharisees of his day in Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. This statement was not only written exclusively by men, but they are also all white men there is no inclusion of Christians of color or women (it’s like we don’t matter). Not only does it uphold the patriarchy of our day, it is fairly racist in its terminology by trying to uphold the standards of white supremacy (read culture affirmation) and it is political in tone though the authors try to deny this. The statement also reeks of privilege as Tom Ascol puts it, On June 19 of this year I had the privilege of meeting in the iconic Herb’s House coffee shop in Dallas with 13 other men to discuss our common concerns about some teachings and practices being advocated in the name of social justice. We had never been in a room together but all accepted the invitation of Josh Buice, who was aware that we had similar perspectives on this growing movement . All of these had never been in a room together but knew enough about the threat to their comfort, privilege, and supremacy they could craft such a statement.

At first read of this statement, I thought to myself, just ignore it but at this time there are over 10,000 signatures on it and that just gnaws at my soul. There was a slight arrogance in me that wanted to rip it up theologically point by point but after much thought, that didn’t seem like the wisest use of my time or yours. Plus, I do not wholly disagree with all the affirmations in this statement. There is some good stuff in there that I can get fully back like the affirmations in Imago Dei, Scripture, Justice, and Salvation sections though we deny areas are not something I can support. This statement takes much for granted, for instance no terms are defined not even social justice.

The authors throw words like intersectionality, radical feminism, critical race theory, privilege, relativism, authentic justice, and even heresy without taking the time to define what those words mean. They just assume everyone who reads this will understand what they are saying but those words are loaded with meaning and are used differently by Christians and non-Christians. It astonishes me that educated people even signed this document before asking questions about the meaning behind what they authors intended. The very thing they are trying to protect the church from, is not even remotely defined in the statement. From that perspective this is a weak stance to take and perhaps they should have taken more time to craft their proclamation.

What is dangerous in this statement is the supposition that getting the right doctrine, will then set everything else straight. That if you affirm that racism, misogyny, classism, and injustice are sins against God and the oneness of the church, then there won’t be problems these things will somehow magically disappear. It takes for granted the process of sanctification, the fact that we are humans prone to mistakes, free will, and ego/pride. Simply because you believe wholly in the redemptive work of Christ and your identity is in Him, does not automatically mean one won’t be racist, sexist, classist, and will be completely motivated to do justice. One just need look to the Apostle Peter and know that having a relationship with Jesus does not erase the issues we struggle with, the biases we have, and the pride within us. Not only did this man walk with Jesus, serve with Him, and have access to Him, Peter was also a hot head, a liar, and a racist. The scripture recounts many times where Peter messed up from the time he tried to tell Jesus he wasn’t going to die, to cutting off a man’s ear, denying he knew Jesus (three times) and then to being rebuked by Apostle Paul for treating Jews above gentiles.

Perhaps an unintended consequence of this statement is that one could read it, agree with it, sign it and go on their merry way. It does nothing to motivate those that agree with it do to change anything about how they live. The status quo can remain, you can believe in Jesus, the Scriptures, and in the church but do nothing for the poor, abstain from changing/dismantling systemic evil, and criticize those who do justice work. Christians throughout history have been well intentioned, loved Jesus, and wanted to live their lives for God but didn’t do anything to stop slavery, genocide, wanted to stop the suffrage movement, upheld Jim Crow laws, and wanted nothing to do with the civil rights movement. It seems that all of these people would have been fine signing this statement since one can still be a part of the church and change nothing no rocking the boat here.

Interestingly the statement is written in a creedal way, it wishes to mimic the tone of creeds like Nicene and Apostles by its affirmations. Leaves one to wonder who gave them this authority and by what right can they issue such a statement. As far as I know, they are not church fathers, just prominent pastors within a small section of evangelical circles. This is where I think a significant injustice is occurring to the principle of common good. The breaking apart of community, the intentional splitting of Christian fellowship, and creating a society of division and impeding people from making conditions better in social life for common community. It utterly destroys the oneness of Christ they are so desperately trying to preserve for the evangelical Christian community. Many earnest Christians truly believe that social justice is imperative to a life of faith that Social justice is about turning things the right way up the way that God intended. It is God who demands justice in a world where injustice is rife.

Solidarity comes under attack in this statement via many of the affirmations, particularly the ones on Sexuality/Marriage, Complementarianism, Race/Ethnicity, Culture, and Racism. There is division created in the ways these affirmations are worded and what the denials state. Race issues come under great attack and makes it easy for people to not stand with brown/black brothers and sisters who face discrimination, prejudice, hate crimes, and racism. It puts a great deal of onus on people of color to just forgive and get over it. Attacking social justice the way the document does sends a very clear message that they only identity that matters is the identity in Christ. That to take a stand for people of color in name of justice is to create problems where none exist. Jemar Tisby puts it this way, While Christians from many traditions, races and ethnicities have displayed a concern for social justice, it is a topic that particularly concerns black and brown folks. We have endured a long history of race-based discrimination that did not simply disappear after the March on Washington, the passage of the Civil Rights Act or the election of the nation’s first black president. Statements that dismiss social justice send a message that the ongoing marginalization many minorities still experience and struggle against is of no concern to their fellow Christians. Or to God. Or to the Bible. The family of God cannot stand united in solidarity with the continued marginalization of people of color. How can we serve the oppressed, stand with those in poverty, or act for the good of everyone when we cannot acknowledge the experiences of people of color?

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A Question of Social Justice. (2019, Apr 08). Retrieved October 19, 2021 , from

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