Our world is divided, our nation is divided, and in many ways—the evangelical church is divided. We live in a broken world where both the soul of man and creation itself groans for the return of King Jesus who will make all things new. The new heavens and the new earth will be filled with unbroken relationships and a world without injustices. All systems will be pure and without the stain of imperfection. That’s why each Lord’s Day as we enjoy a little piece of heaven on earth with the gathered church—we join John the apostle in praying, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” because even our foretaste of heaven is imperfect and stained with sin.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s quite apparent that all is not well in evangelicalism. We are more divided today than at any other time in recent history. We are fractured and we continue to fracture as lines are being drawn in the sand regarding social justice. With social media as a megaphone, many people are screaming at the world while claiming to be right as they throw one another under the bus with disdain and divisive rhetoric punctuated with emojis and hashtags to drive home the point. Does that sound familiar? Does that sound like biblical Christianity (Eph. 4:31-32)?
One of the most intense areas of division is based on ethnic lines. How do we engage without sinning against one another and against God in this tense season of church history?
Listen to One Another
In recent months and years, many people who embrace social justice ideas have been doing much of the talking, much of the speaking, and much of the preaching. With the release of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel in 2018, things changed. The Statement hasn’t caused division, but it has been successful in putting a spotlight upon the division that already existed.
The common technique today is to avoid dealing with real issues. Those with white skin who disagree on matters of social justice are often rejected without consideration and labeled racist. People who have more melanin count who disagree on matters of social justice are often titled an “oreo” or “coon” and completely dismissed from the conversation.
Since the release of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, not one robust theological rebuttal has been released. With all of the men and women who passionately disagree with the Statement—surely someone could take time to demonstrate where the biblical errors are within the Statement. Could it be that most of those who passionately disagree with the document are refusing to listen and could it be that many have not read the Statement that they’re opposing?
Conferences are being held where black speakers are making radical statements suggesting that “whiteness is wicked. It is wicked. It’s rooted in violence, it’s rooted in theft, it’s rooted in plunder, it’s rooted in power, in privilege.” Such statements are publicly praised rather than confronted by other black leaders in evangelical circles. The moment a white person addresses it, he or she becomes a racist. Are white people not allowed to speak? Are white people being asked to sit down and listen while black people do all of the talking? The wise path forward would be to listen. Black people need to listen too (Prov. 15:32).
Recently the G3 Conference released a graphic with an invitation for a FREE panel discussion at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention where a group of us will be discussing the issues of social justice and how these ideas have influenced many within evangelical circles. By the slanderous remarks and critique on social media you would have thought that we were dressed in KKK hoods announcing that we were coming to promote white supremacy. The reason for the pushback was that we didn’t have a black person on the panel. One such example of the heated rhetoric and slander was when Bishop Talbert Swan tweeted following:
Yes, 5 evangelical white men who signed an anti-social justice proclamation are unqualified to speak on the topic of social justice.
Yes, they’re unqualified to tell women “how to function in their roles as women.”
— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) May 23, 2019
While we did extend an invitation to a few different brothers who happen to be black, we didn’t invite them because they have black skin. We are not interested in meeting a quota. We stand unashamedly opposed to tokenism. We believe that idea to be sinful and patronizing of our black brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s about giftedness and who can communicate the truth on the issues—regardless of skin color.
In a Facebook post, Dwight Mckissic Sr. added to the divisiveness regarding the upcoming panel discussion by writing:
So let’s see if I have this correct. THIS is the panel first that wants to discuss social justice (of which they know nothing about) and then to define it as dangerous. This is a joke before it even gets started. I wonder if they will discuss police brutality? I wonder if they will discuss their misogynistic theology? I wonder if they will discuss the penal injustice system? This panel is like having atheists discuss the dangers of preaching on Christianity. Give me a break.
Still others, in another Facebook thread, bragged about registering for multiple seats at the event in order to occupy seats and prevent people from attending. Once again, these people claim to be our brothers and sisters in Christ, but refuse to listen to anything that challenges their own position. This divisive and defensive posture is following the same spirit that has now literally overtaken the university system in our country as liberals refuse to listen and even become violent in their protest of any speaker who would dare to challenge the validity of their own postmodern positions and philosophical ideas.
For black people to shout “white supremacy” charges at white people who have never owned a slave, never supported Jim Crow laws, and have no patterns of racism in their life or ministry practices is at best divisive and at worst racism. For white people to ignore real injustices and real racism is problematic as well. We are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). Both sides of this conversation must learn to listen to one another and to pursue unity in the gospel. When those who embrace social justice ideas hear the opposing side articulate their positions—they will discover that we are not opposed to helping people nor are we rejecting the fact that real injustices exist in this world. The dividing line will be based on how we choose to engage the brokenness of this world. Simply put—social justice is not biblical justice. They are not the same thing.
However, as we listen to one another, when given an opportunity to respond—there may be a need to offer correction or point out the error of a specific position based on the authoritative Word of God. When we point to solutions, we need to center our positions on chapter and verse—with a biblical foundation.
Listen to God’s Word
When it comes to addressing evil and error, does truth have a specific color? Must the truth be spoken by a person with a specific melanin count in order to get the message across? Is it really true that lived experience is necessary in order to address issues in our culture? Is a heterosexual white male permitted to use the Bible to address the sin of homosexuality or does he need a resume that includes homosexual activity in order to point out error? Interestingly enough, that was not the approach of the apostle Paul as he addressed division among Jews and Gentiles. He was not a Gentile, but he understood the issues and he understood their complaints. Likewise, he pointed both Jew and Gentile to the gospel.
When Paul wrote the letter to a divided church in Ephesus, he didn’t talk to the Gentiles about “Jewish privilege” and seek to inform them on how they had systemically held back the Gentiles from the grace of God. Likewise, he didn’t speak to the Jews about “Roman privilege” and explain how they had been systemically oppressed and discriminated against for years based on their ethnicity. Instead, Paul refused to engage through political methods or social rhetoric. He pointed both groups to the sufficient gospel of Jesus and the work of Christ on the cross where true unity is found and where the “dividing wall of hostility” is broken down (Eph. 2:14).
Social justice is not about helping people. Many people who are swept up into the dust cloud of social justice cannot possibly understand how certain groups could stand opposed to helping people. Quite simply put, social justice is about gaining power and dethroning people from seats of power and authority. Take Ekemini Uwan’s statement for example at the Sparrow Conference where she said the following:
So then when we talk about white identity, then we have to talk about what whiteness is. Well, the reality is that whiteness is rooted in plunder, in theft, in slavery, in enslavement of Africans, genocide of Native Americans, we are sitting on stolen land, if you are in America, we are sitting on stolen land, everywhere in America, this is the reality of land that was stolen from Native Americans and we have to recognize and acknowledge that. It’s a power structure, that is what whiteness is, and so that the thing for white women to do is you have to divest from whiteness because what happened was that your ancestors actually made a deliberate choice to rid themselves of their ethnic identity and by doing so they actually stripped Africans in America of their ethnic identity.
Notice her focus on “whiteness” as a power structure that needs to be eliminated. Once again, social justice should not be confused with a movement that’s interested in helping hurting people—it’s more about deconstructing the hierarchies which is a move right out of Jacques Derrida in his postmodern work titled Of Grammatology. We must all work diligently to distinguish between social justice and biblical justice. We must all likewise work diligently to separate ourselves from those who cause division and offense to the gospel by promoting worldly ideologies and divisive methods of deconstructionism that mirrors worldly techniques rather than the commands given to the church of Jesus. In short—we must not only listen to one another, but we must listen to God’s sufficient Word. Those who oppose social justice are not denying that genuine injustices exist. They are very much in disagreement about how to engage such injustices in this broken world. The question of sola Scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture must be addressed at this juncture.
The message of social justice is pregnant with political rhetoric, methods, and ideas that simply do not square with the gospel of Jesus. When we pause and consider the fact that Jesus did not come as a social justice warrior to free oppressed people from discrimination and systemic injustice, but instead, he came to die for guilty hell-deserving sinners who deserve the wrath of God on their very best day—things start to come into proper perspective.
Likewise, when we read through the Word of God, we don’t see the apostles encouraging the use of social methods, social justice, and other politically charged ideologies in order to pursue unity or to reach a community. It doesn’t matter if it’s slavery, the dignity of women, or the ethnic division between Jew and Gentile—the apostles are consistently pointing people to the cross of Jesus. We have a sufficient message, so why would we desire to trade in the Bible for social justice ideas?
The dividing line in all of the confusion of the social justice debate comes down to whether or not we will engage real sin, real injustices, and cultural complexities through the authoritative and sufficient Word or will we engage such issues through the broken methods of postmodernism and political strategies?