If you’ve been paying any attention to American Christianity lately, you’ve probably heard of the “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel“. If you’ve taken the time to read it, chances are you’ve found at least part of it to be confused and/or concerning, and when you consider that thousands of prominent Evangelical (in this post Evangelical means any Christian group who affirms any form of Biblical-Inerrancy, which yes, still refers to a broad range of viewpoints, but at least narrows it down a little) it becomes especially alarming. If you still haven’t read it and would like to, you can find it here.
While it is well-organized and not particularly dense, “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” is somewhat lengthy so I’m not going to over the entire thing today. I will look at a few highlights and compare them with the Bible (which they claim to have based it on) and reality. I’ll then briefly summarize why Social Justice is integral to the Gospel and the ministry of Jesus, the principles on which Christians supposedly follow.
- (Stated Purpose): “We invite others who share our concerns and convictions to unite with us in reasserting our unwavering commitment to the teachings of God’s Word articulated in this statement.” So far nothing inherently wrong, but as we’ll see their purpose comes to clash with the content of their statement.
- “We deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching” Well, it appears we’re running into problems right on the first page. First, let’s take a moment with what each of these ideologies actually is.
- Intersectionality: “An analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.” (Wikipedia) It appears that intersectionality is not a set ideology, but rather a problem-solving method for discerning how aspects of society can oppress the marginalized in society. Saying this contradicts scriptures is like saying using a calculator or psychology contradicts it, far too generalized too actually mean anything. In addition, we can consistently find in both the New and Old Testaments teachings and commandments to lift up the marginalized in society, specifically forming a key part of Jesus’ ministry.
- Radical feminism: “A perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.” (Wikipedia) First of all, it’s important to note that no perspective within feminism believes or calls for women ruling over or being treated “more equal” than men. If someone believes and/or acts upon that, they are no longer a feminist. Throughout most of Church history, we have seen Christians striving to change society (and often succeeding) for better or worse. And hopefully, now we all view men and women as equal and believe they should be treated as such. Again, nothing un-Christian here, though you are welcome to disagree with this approach to feminism personally (I myself tend to lean more towards traditional Liberal feminism with a tinge of Black and Marxist feminism).
- Critical race theory: “A theoretical framework in the social sciences that uses critical theory to examine society and culture as they relate to categorizations of race, law, and power.” (Wikipedia) This denial just has some nasty racial subtext. It’s essentially calling for freedom from accountability of Christianity’s racist past. No, not all Christians supported slavery, and while they were also at the forefront of the abolition movement, just as many if not arguably more supported it. The problem is Scripture can be twisted to mean almost anything you want, often leading to oppression/exclusion. So denying a research method that seeks to examine racism in society betrays underlying beliefs of the documents’ creators.
- “WE AFFIRM that God created every person equally in his own image. As divine image-bearers, all people have inestimable value and dignity before God and deserve honor, respect and protection.” No complaints here, I actually like this one.
- “We further deny that Christians can live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness.” There’s a difference between literal biblical and Christian righteousness. One often calls for violence and oppression, the other will always call for peace. Once again, the problem with following a “biblical” model of righteousness is that the Bible can be twisted into almost whatever you want, evidenced best in the slavery/abolition debate. Both justified themselves with Scripture, but clearly only one was Christian.
- “WE DENY that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living.” Unfortunately, the Abrahamic law does not cover all possible legal or moral issues, and some of it clearly very wrong (as Jesus himself taught). There are many things that nearly all Christians (and people in general) consider wrong, but are not explicitly covered in the Bible. Once again, this denial is an attempt to escape accountability, because “if it’s not explicitly there they should not be bound legally by it.”
- “WE AFFIRM that all people are connected to Adam both naturally and federally.” Please define and justify the statement “connected to Adam…federally”.
- “WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel.” Yes, the gospel books are themselves complete. However, the Gospel itself is the Good News, which can be summed by both the Great Commandment (Love God, Love others) and the Great Commission (Go forth and spread the Good News). I would think the Great Commandment includes Social Justice, and the Great Commission is not really directly related to, being in itself concerned with evangelism.
- “Further, all who are united to Christ are also united to one another regardless of age, ethnicity, or sex. All believers are being conformed to the image of Christ.” While noticeably lacking in a few demographics, I have not contention with this statement.
- “We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.” Technically true but laws and regulations can reduce sinful behavior, especially that which bring harm to others.
- “WE AFFIRM that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith.” I really don’t see what this section is doing in a statement on Social Justice. The only reason I could think of is the authors are basically saying “If you don’t agree with us, you’re not a real Christian”. So to the other 40,000+ Christian denominations out there, many of whom view Social Justice as a positive force or for some even an integral part of Christianity, sorry. I guess according to these guys your fake.
- Most of the “Sexuality and Marriage” section Regardless of what you think about subjects such as gay marriage, we really need to stop saying sexual orientation is a choice (because it’s not). In addition, their statements on gender expression are wrong, because “male” and “female” does not mean the same thing in every part of the world. Western gender norms are quite different than those we would see in biblical times, as well. And conversion therapy? Just no.
- The entire “Complementarianism” section: Separate but equal is not equal.
- “All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace.” Fair enough. It’s an old concept, but it checks out. Move along.
- “WE AFFIRM that racism is a sin” I hope so.
- “We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions.” Here it is, literal, explicit, they’re saying it themselves, no subtext required denial of Christianity’s role in racism. No, racism is not Christian, and no, not all Christians back then were racist but racism and slavery were most definitely convictions of not just evangelical Christianity but other groups as well for hundreds of years. This is an explicit denial, not an apology or even an explanation!
- “Historically, such things [Discussions of Racism] tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.” So the church discussing racism will ultimately lead to departure from the good news…not sure I follow.
Ok, so maybe I looked at more than a few points, but it was kinda’ hard not to.
Is an interest in Social Justice actually newfound in Christianity? If you know your history (or have access to Google), it appears not: “The Gospel,” preached abolitionist Gilbert Haven in 1863, “is not confined to a repentance and faith that have no connection with social or civil duties. The Evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme.” (https://www.dallasnews.com)
A recurring theme in many Biblical teachings is caring for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and lifting them out these situations.
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Mathew 25:40, NRSV)
A significant part of Jesus’ ministry involved social justice. His teachings were radical and viewed as “heresy” by many of the leading religious leaders at the time. I truly hope this document represents a minority belief in American Christianity, but it’s over 8,000 signers (at the time of this writing) suggest otherwise. To reject social justice is to reject the Gospel itself.