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.”
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?
The social justice winds are blowing through evangelicalism. Today, the culture is making demands upon the church of Jesus Christ and sadly, some leaders are willing to cave to such cultural pressures in order to appear successful. What’s even more troubling is such success is being equated with biblical fidelity. In an age where the culture is leveraging specific agendas like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and “gay Christianity” against the church, certain leaders begin to use the controversies as an opportunity for success. Suddenly, pulpits are opened for women, “multiethnic” becomes a marketing tagline, and inclusive language is modeled within evangelical circles. What did Paul do when the Jews demanded signs and the Greeks sought wisdom? Did he cave to cultural pressures?
The cultural pressures that we experience today are nothing new. They have been pressed upon the church in various ages before—but although history repeats itself, those who live within such repetitions of history only have one opportunity to take the right turn and stand boldly upon the gospel. Paul was a man who faced immense pressures to compromise. When the Jews demanded signs, he could have given in and become a hero among the Jews. When the Greeks were seeking wisdom, he could have used his brilliant mind and eloquent tongue to satisfy their intellectual cravings. But, Paul did not bow to the massive cultural pressures. Instead, he preached the simple message of the cross which the Jews despised and the Greeks considered to be utter folly.
Paul wrote these words to the church at Corinth:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:18-25).
The culture is demanding activism from the church and a form of social justice that does not square with the biblical justice found in Scripture. Such cultural demands produces division rather than unity and they never fully satisfy the cravings of the culture. Today’s evangelical culture is filled with leaders who are repenting of their “whiteness” and suggesting that they had not fully understood nor preached the true gospel until they had become “woke” in their understanding of the gospel. Should we partner with women who teach deficient theology in order to satisfy the perception of the masses? If we open the doors to “gay Christianity” what about those who practice polygamy? The cultural cravings can never be satisfied through cultural messages. That’s why Paul pointed the church at Corinth to the sufficient gospel of Jesus and encouraged them to stand firm on the gospel under such cultural pressures.
The Greeks sought a philosophical worldview that satisfied their intellectual cravings and answered their complex questions about how to live a life of success. They needed answers to the perplexities of life and the silly message of a Jewish man dying a brutal death on a Roman cross was insufficient. They demanded more. They laughed at the gospel. Paul maintained his position on the cross and refused to compromise even in the slightest degree. He was confident that the message of the cross was the sufficient message to save Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, male and female and bring them into unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.
Today, when we have so many competing voices who are self-proclaimed experts on the latest social trends and are demanding that we employ the social justice model of ministry in order to reach a lost culture and bring unity among God’s people—we must not forget Paul’s message to the church at Corinth. If we cave to the social justice pressures—the message of the cross will be abandoned and the church will not be unified. Meanwhile—the culture will not be saved by social justice.
Rather than giving the people what they wanted, Paul gave the people what they needed. Will you and your church be satisfied with peddling the message of social justice while the lost are perishing? Will you continue to employ messages that are divisive and destructive within the body of Christ or will you simply stand firm without compromise upon the gospel of Jesus Christ?
It pleases God to save sinners through the gospel.It pleases God to unify his church through the gospel. Why would we want anything else? Remember Paul and his message to the church in Corinth when you hear the cultural pressures of the world demanding something other than the gospel.
It is no secret that the evangelical church is in the throes of controversy centered on social justice. This controversy, unlike others that the evangelical church has faced, is multi-faceted, multi-layered, and multi-dimensional. Within this cultural schism, we are answering important questions pertaining to ethnic division, discrimination against women, and seeking clarification on false categories such as gay Christianity.
With all of the dust swirling in the air regarding social justice, how can a local church remain faithful and stay the course for the glory of God?
Major on Expository Preaching
The first mark of an authentic church is the right preaching of the Word. Biblical preaching must remain at the center of the church’s life. Any deviation from the biblical approach of preaching will lead the church off track. What exactly is biblical preaching? The best method—the one that is most committed to the text of Scripture and remain the most pure revelation of the single meaning of the text within its context is expository preaching (verse-by-verse).
If expository preaching is not at the center of your ministry model you will soon enough derail into the high weeds of cultural trends, marketing gimmicks, political trappings, and theological error. During seasons of controversy, some preachers transform their pulpits into political stumps in order to dump loads of political garbage into the center aisle of their local church. Sadly, many churches have come to embrace political activists as the new prophets—and as a result they willingly exchange the pure gospel for political agendas.
If the people will be moved by the Spirit of God to engage the culture, it will not be on the basis of cultural and political jargon. It will be because of the sufficient Word of God was applied to their hearts by the Spirit of God. We must not muzzle the Scriptures in the life of the local church.
Practice Biblical Church Discipline
One of the fundamental building blocks of an authentic church is the practice of biblical church discipline. A church that is unwilling to hold one another accountable for sin, pure doctrine, and divisiveness is not a true church of Jesus Christ.
We must never forget, the depravity of the human heart has impacted the entire human race—including every tongue, tribe, and people on planet earth. Therefore, every ethnicity is capable of injustice, racism, and the sinful trappings of this present evil world.
In a recent interview “Beyond Whiteness” at All Saints Church Pasadena, Mike Kinman interviewed Kelly Brown Douglas on the issue of “whiteness” in which she stated the following:
“Whiteness” and Christianity just don’t go together. One of the ways, by the way, in which you can see this—“whiteness” is this construct that somehow blind one to the possibilities of the richness of whom God has created us to be and the possibilities of the fullness of the way in which we can live that out into this sort of just vision that is God’s…”whiteness” is a construct of privilege, it is a construct of exceptionalism, it is an oppositional construct which means it stands in opposition to the realities of God’s equal humanity.
Furthermore, consider the words of Ekemini Uwan in her interview with Elizabeth Woodson at the Sparrow event (for the full context, read the transcript):
Because we have to understand something – 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 (which we just saw two weeks ago with the college scandal – I have receipts here) so that the goal for our white sisters is to rediscover your ethnic heritage so I am not pulling something away from you without telling you to replace it , so the goal for you all is to recover what your ancestors deliberately discarded – so that means return to whatever that ethnic identity is, are you Italian, are you Irish, are you Polish, are you Turkish, whatever that was, you have to do that work to find out what that is, pull into that, learn what that cultural heritage is, Celebrate that. It’s going to be work on your part, but that IS the work. The work is to divest from whiteness and the work is also for people of color to divest from whiteness too. We do that by not centering whiteness, trying to actually begin to imagine a world where your whole identity is not bound to oppression, which I think is hard to imagine because we live in a white supremacist nation it takes a lot of work and you have to do a lot of unlearning, and I think what is sometimes so revolutionary, or at least one thing that might be revolutionary, about Truth’s Table, myself, Michelle and Christina, is that we do not center whiteness, you will not hear an episode about white guilt, we will never do an episode on white privilege. We center the concerns and the needs of Black women and we in some ways are trying to dream up what Black futures might look like apart from oppression – in some ways, I think that’s a glimpse of what the new heavens and new earth might look like. what would it mean to live in a society that is peaceful, to live in a place where we are not subjugated. So those are some of the things I’m thinking about.
This type of teaching should not only be rejected—those who spread it should be disciplined within their local churches. In the same way that the church should stand opposed to “white supremacy” we should likewise stand in opposition to ideology of “black priority” which is being pressed upon the church through social justicians, theologians, conferences, songs, and print media. We can’t continue to encourage divisiveness, ignore biblical discipline, and expect the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace as a result.
Love God Supremely
When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34), he quoted from Deuteronomy 6—the historic Shema which the Jews prayed twice every single day as a means of their devotion to the LORD. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We must come to see that in the Scriptures, the holistic devotion to God, the glorifying of God, and the enjoyment of God go together.
When we have ethnic pride that divides the church or a commitment to love and empower women or to empower gay Christians (a false category that’s being embraced by many today)—we fail to love God supremely. A hyper-focus on a group, class, or ethnicity is to miss the point of loving God supremely. When Peter looked away from Jesus to the waves and to himself he sank into the sea. We must keep our focus on God and refuse to be devoted to glorifying some specific felt need, political agenda, or cultural trend that is pressed upon the church.
If we are encouraged to love black skin more than we love God—we turn skin color into an idol. If we are taught to be committed to the empowerment of women more than the being devoted to God—we turn gender empowerment into an idol. Such empowerment and hyper-focus is not to be confused with doing justice. To do justice in the biblical sense will never lead anyone to have a lesser love and devotion to God. When people love God supremely they will not engage in ministry with the rage of postmodernity or social activism; but instead they will engage in ministry with the fruit of the Spirit.
Learning to love our neighbor as we love our self is key in the Christian life. In fact, Jesus upheld that as the second most important commandment immediately behind loving God supremely (Mark 12:30-31). Jesus stated that these were the two greatest commands.
In another place, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated similar words as he said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). When we come to understand Jesus’ teaching, it makes clear the need specified in Micah 6:8.
We are to love God supremely and as a result—we are to stand opposed to injustice both inside and outside the church. If we do justice inside the church, we will be led to engage in biblical church discipline. If we practice biblical justice outside the church we will be led to support policies and laws that uphold the respect, dignity, and value of all people as image bearers of God.
This means we will stand opposed to the mistreatment of people on the basis of their color of skin. That means when white people mistreat black people or any shade of skin color simply because of their skin—such ethnic division should not be tolerated. That means when black people purport ideas that “whiteness” is inconsistent with Christianity—we should reject that idea and not tolerate such foolish and divisive teachings. That means when women are discriminated against simply because they’re not a man—we should not tolerate that type of mistreatment and disrespect.
Doing justice means that we recognize that God is the creator of both male and female and every ethnicity on planet earth is the result of God’s creative genius. To do justice, we will not tolerate any mistreatment or marginalization of people based on their differences.
Doing justice means that we will not be pressed by the culture to define biblical roles and responsibilities in order to further define what injustice is and is not. In other words, to withhold the pulpit responsibilities from women is not to engage in discrimination against women in the church—instead it’s to hold to the biblically defined boundaries, roles, and responsibilities for both men and women.
Doing justice is not advocating for income equality. Jesus did not come to make sure we all had the same income opportunities. To make less money than another person is not discrimination or injustice. We must not allow the culture to define the terms or to control the agenda.
We must never forget that the ancient enemy of the church is crafty and often subtle in how he enters the church (Eph. 4:14). The goal of the devil is division and ultimately destruction (John 10:10; 1 Pet. 5:8). Our God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). This present social justice agenda is filled with much confusion and pregnant with much postmodern evil that must never be associated with biblical justice.
I still believe that the social justice controversy is the the greatest danger facing the church in our present day. In order to overcome the trappings and pitfalls of the social justice agenda—the church of Jesus Christ must remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that our labor is not in vain in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 15:58).
Last summer as a group of concerned Christian leaders gathered in Dallas, Texas for the summit on social justice, several times it was repeated by others, and by me personally, that social justice is the biggest threat to the church of Jesus Christ in the last one hundred years.
As we discussed these matters in great detail, as we were departing for the airport, a few of us got into one vehicle and one of the men from the back asked me directly, “How do you know that this is the greatest threat in the last one hundred years?” What I said in that ride to the airport I maintain to this very day, but now—with much more clarity.
The Three Headed Dragon
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings, interesting characters emerge onto the scene in TheLord of the Rings and The Hobbit. One formidable character is the great red dragon, the fire-breathing monster known as Smaug. The dragon has taken over Lonely Mountain and the entire story of The Hobbit is a dramatic build-up to the teamwork of an unlikely and eclectic group that is determined to overcome the dragon. The only way to do so is by storming the door and defeating the beast.
Throughout history, the church has faced a number of controversies and a number of dragons along the way. From legalism to ecumenism to postmodernism, the evangelical church has drifted through the years. Perhaps the biggest controversy to face the evangelical church in recent history has been the inerrancy controversy. This problem crossed denominational lines and affected many institutions and entities along the way—not to mention the local churches that were devastated. The story of the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention is nothing short of God’s providence. Other denominations never recovered when they were overtaken by theological liberalism.
The main issue, although filled with serious complications that were played out in the theological, legal, and local church circles—was the inerrancy of God’s Word. No matter how large the dragon, it had only one head. It was easy to rally people behind the cause to fight for the Bible. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June ebbs and flows from 5-9k people every June depending on the city, but during those years of controversy (in the late 70s), the local churches were busing in thousands of people to vote—to take a stand against error. In Dallas, Texas in the summer of 1985 during the heat of the resurgence, 45,519 messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention showed up to vote.
When people suggest that social justice is “the greatest threat to the church in the last one hundred years”—many Christians who know their history begin to see images of large crowds at the annual SBC meetings over inerrancy and they think of the church growth movement of pragmatism, and the Emerging Church movement and the racism of divided churches in the Jim Crow era—and they just don’t understand how social justice could be that big of a deal. We must remember, no matter what the beast is—if it’s liberalism, pragmatism, or some other theological or political conglomeration—those beasts had one head to focus upon during the fight. I’m arguing that social justice is a three-headed dragon—one that’s often difficult to define—yet one that has a powerful push both in terms of numerical and financial support. That’s what makes this social justice issue the biggest threat to the church in the last century.
Complementarianism—Does It Need a Revision?
The social justice controversy is complicated. One of the “heads” of the dragon of social justice is the issue of complementarianism. Simply put, social justice is driving us toward the need to redefine and clarify where we stand on women serving in ministry. This was one of the biggest issues facing The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary near the end of the inerrancy controversy of the SBC. You can see some of this in a documentary that was made by liberals to chart the “takeover” of Southern Seminary. Through the faithful leadership of Albert Mohler, the institution was led back to the biblical and theological position.
The Danvers Statement was first produced by The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988 and to this very day, remains a solid document that articulates the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity as designed by God from the very beginning. The point is clear—if such differences and if such roles were the product of God’s original design, why would we suddenly desire to redefine the boundaries for women in the local church? Many voices today are advocating for women’s leadership in the church so long as a woman is not ordained to the office of elder. Others are promoting the idea of a woman to lead in denominational life—such as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Such conversations have led to the recent release of the SBC Womens’ Leadership Network.
During times of controversy, we tend to focus upon what certain people cannot do rather than celebrating what they can do. In this case, we should celebrate what God has called women to do and help them fulfill God’s calling on their lives. We are not living in the past where women were, in many ways, discriminated against because of their gender. However, we should stand opposed to any agenda that presses the boundaries that extend beyond the God ordained roles and responsibilities for women in the church and culture. The social justice agenda is currently beating this drum that suggests we need to rethink complementarianism.
Ethnicity—The Modern Racism Debate
Craig Mitchell, in his explanation of Article 12 of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, writes the following, “The science of race is getting louder and clearer all of the time. Race is at best an overblown social construct that has been harmful to our society. It is a concept that is best forgotten.” He cites Svante Paabo, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany as stating the following:
What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded. 
In other words, throughout history, we have made a horrible mistake of dividing over the tone of skin. The melanin count in one person doesn’t make him a member of a different race of people—all of us can be traced back to one historic human—Adam.
However, throughout American history (and world history) we have often divided over skin color. Even after the slave trade was ruled illegal, our nation went through a difficult time of division in the Jim Crow period. Far more than water fountains were segregated. Much of our culture—including local churches were divided by skin color.
Since that time period, we have watched those days pass away. Much education and repentance has occurred through the years allowing for an equal playing field in various spheres of culture—including business, academia, athletics, politics, and the church.
Although we are living in days of great opportunity for all ethnic groups within the United States—and specifically within the evangelical church circles—we continue to see a resurgence of rhetoric regarding racism, discrimination, and white privilege. Certain evangelical voices are leading this conversation through confusing statements on social media and conference platforms such as the MLK50 event which was held on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. While many praised the event, it was filled with moments of tension and a lack of clarity on the person and beliefs of King himself.
Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr. recently posted a clip of a sermon where the following statement was made:
Social justice is a biblical issue…it’s not a black issue, it’s a humanity issue. It’s not a hood issue, it’s a global issue. And until we understand that Jesus himself said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach liberty to the captive, to set free those who are oppressed.” If that ain’t social justice, I don’t know what is.
Sadly, McKissick missed the point of Luke 4:16-30. A clear contextual reading of that account of Jesus in Nazareth will demonstrate that God often does the unexpected. Furthermore, the emphasis is placed upon the spiritual poverty and slavery to sin and how Christ delivers people from spiritual poverty rather than the social needs of individuals. The social justice agenda is hyper-focused on equality of opportunity and equality of social position both inside the church and outside the church. This is simply not the message of Jesus.
Through the years, the church has suffered the mistake of mission drift on social issues. We see this in many black church circles where they have turned the pulpit into a political stump, but it has likewise been in seminary education like the Carver School on Social Work that was closed in 1997 on the campus of Southern Seminary in Louisville. It was transferred to Campbellsville University in 1988. Albert Mohler, in a statement, articulated that one of the key reasons for the closing and transfer of the school was the direction that social work as a profession had taken in the last 20 years.
While we must stand upon a firm commitment to “do justice” and we must stand in opposition to injustice in our society and within evangelical circles—the current social justice movement has a different motivation. As a means of acknowledging the wrongs of the past, we are being encouraged to empower people with certain melanin count to high ranking positions within the local church and denominational circles. In some cases, even if the individual is under qualified for the position, it has been suggested he or she should be chosen in order to achieve a respectable level of skin tone diversity. This is severely patronizing to the black population—and anyone else with darker skin than whites.
In order to press an agenda, you must convince a population to accept your ideologies. The normalization of terms and ideas and theories such as “systemic racism” and “white privilege” is one means of continuing this agenda. Many people today haven’t even been willing to pause and honestly evaluate evangelical circles to see if systemic racism is really alive across the system (which is different than individuals). In the same way, many people haven’t paused to evaluate the theory of white privilege within evangelical circles.
Once again, if it does exist, why are we not all working together to name the names of leaders, institutions, and entities that are engaged in this sinful discrimination scheme? We do this with sexual scandals and discrimination against women, but we aren’t willing to call names with racism? Could the ideas of systemic racism and white privilege be nothing more than a political strategy to deconstruct hierarchies and to gain political power within the evangelical church?
As we continue to see a growing divide among ethnic groups within evangelicalism, the way forward for the proponents of social justice is merely a repeat of historic mistakes regarding collectivism and a hyper focus on group equality rather than biblical justice for the individual. Samuel Sey explains:
Over time the term ‘social justice’ became associated with critical theorists and Neo-Marxists from the Frankfurt School in Germany. They rejected universal rights or human rights as a basis for justice. They essentially rejected liberty for individuals as the hallmark for justice in society. They believed, instead, that parity between groups were the mark of justice in society. They rejected individualism and embraced collectivism. They did not define justice as equality of opportunity; they defined justice as equality of outcome.
In our ongoing debate on social justice in the area of ethnic division, we must evaluate the conversation and see if we are interested in establishing biblical justice for all, or if we are advocating for advancement and empowerment for our group. That’s what separates biblical justice from social justice. The agenda of social justice is interested in power—not unity nor is it interested in biblical justice. If the machine can use such tactics as social solutions to ethnic division in order to obtain the power, that’s often how the game is played.
Gay Christianity Demands Inclusion
In 2014, as a direct response to the controversy caused by Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary released a comprehensive response to Matthew Vines. In the opening chapter, Albert Mohler writes the following:
Evangelical Christians in the United States now face an inevitable moment of decision. While Christians in other movements and in other nations face similar questions, the question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question. 
In our present social justice conversation, the false category of “gay Christianity” is being promoted by evangelical leaders—many of whom speak in major evangelical conferences and lead evangelical institutions. If you search on Google for “gay Christianity” (as of 4-3-19), the second listing on the first page is for Living Out. This is a ministry devoted to helping those who experience same sex attraction and clearly states the following on their website:
Can you be gay and Christian? Is it a sin to be gay? How do you live life without sex? How do I support my same-sex attracted Christian friend/family member?
We are a group of Christians who experience same-sex attraction bringing out into the open the questions and dilemmas that gay Christians can often face.
Recently, Tom Buck, who serves as the senior pastor for the First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas devoted nearly a week for the release of four consecutive articles (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) that pointed out the errors of the Living Out ministry and called for separation and acknowledgement regarding the endorsement of the ERLC and Russell Moore—among other evangelical leaders. Since then, the ERLC has removed their endorsement, however, you can still see it on the web archives.
If we are to be committed to biblical justice, how can we both love people and accommodate error at the same time? That is precisely what the proponents of gay Christianity are asking the church of Jesus Christ to do. Heath Lambert provided clarity on this issue by writing the following:
Is a “gay Christian” consistent with the gospel of Christ? Matthew Vines’s answer to this question is the exact opposite of the one provided by historic Christianity. Vines’s book, God and the Gay Christian, is an unfortunate reversal of thousands of years of moral clarity about homosexuality. 
He goes on to make this statement, “What is at stake in this debate is nothing less than our love for troubled people and the very gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Make no mistake about it, the capitulation on the false category of gay Christianity and the acceptance of new “ministries” such as Living Outand Revoice demonstrate that the LGBTQA+ proponents are planning to bang on the same door, use the same rhetoric, and demand the same equality that has been shouted loudly through this social justice conversation from the beginning.
The Way Forward
The way forward is not to continue to shout at one another or to talk past one another. In fact, we must avoid misrepresentation and labor to achieve unity through the cloud of controversy. As we continue to talk, study, and work through this controversy—there is a better way forward. I would like to propose a few suggestions.
Commitment to the Sufficiency of Scripture: Unfortunately, the social justice agenda is primarily a political agenda. There are theological talking points that often get brought to the surface, but the fabric of the agenda is politically driven and motivated. In order to untangle the web of controversy, there will need to be an uncompromising commitment to the sufficient Word of God. There is no controversy and no trial too big for God’s Word.
Conversation. There hasn’t been much conversation happening on the issue of social justice. There has been no real serious conversation. It has been primarily a one sided conversation with responses shouted back and forth—mostly in the 280 character limit of Twitter. At some point, there needs to be a honest and transparent conversation between people who talk to one another directly.
Pursue Unity in the Gospel of Jesus: True unity will not come as a result of the social justice agenda. It will only cause division and compromise of doctrinal fidelity. The only means of true unity will come as a result of seeing ourselves marked by our union with Christ. This is not the outward mark of circumcision as the Jews often misunderstood, but by the circumcision of the heart. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross (Gal. 3:28-29).
Do Justice: The call of all Christians is to practice biblical justice and to stand against injustice. We must do this within society and evangelical circles (local churches and denominations). We must love people and care for people properly and biblically. This means that we must not tolerate discrimination of people based on skin color and gender. Once again, the Bible is clear about how to do justice, walk humbly, love God supremely, and love our neighbor (Micah 6:8; Mark 12:28-30).
The only way to honor Christ, protect the gospel, and to gain the trust of people is by standing upon the Word of God without compromise and acknowledging error when necessary. Where necessary, and it may be necessary at some point, we must be willing to divide friendships over important theological issues—specifically those that denigrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Until then, we pray for unity and peace as we continue to work through the controversy of social justice.
Martin Luther once urged ministers of his day to take action and to not be lazy. He stated:
Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture … The call is: watch, study attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well … The devil … the world … and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent … This evil. shameful time is not the season for being lazy, for sleeping and snoring. 
You can describe social justice in terms of a train with boxcars to identify an agenda or a three-headed dragon to identify the threat. I still believe this is the biggest threat to the church in the last century. Once upon a time, Martin Luther stormed the door of the Roman Catholic Church and took on the beast of a false religion. Today, we must not underestimate the three-headed dragon of social justice. We must not forget that while we see the beast of social justice, this enemy of the church is merely a puppet for the true dragon—Satan himself who hates Jesus and God’s church. Be alert (1 Pet. 5:8). Stand firm (Eph. 6:13b-14a).
Megan Gannon, “Race is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue.” Scientific American.com(February 5, 2016).
Albert Mohler Jr., ed., God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, (Louisville: SBTS Press, 2014), 9.
Fred W. Meuser, Luther the Preacher, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Pub, 1983), 40-41.
It is no secret that American politics has been overtaken by identity politics—one of the popular layers in the social justice agenda. There is a political agenda involved in using one’s identity group to gain power. The conversation has become so intense, that political groups are using every strategy possible in order to virtue signal voters and to gain support.
Elizabeth Warren, a white woman from Oklahoma, understands the power of identity politics as she has recently been trying to identify as an American Indian. The “white” category has been polluted by identity politics leaving people like Elizabeth Warren no other option other than self-identity tactics. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “It’s important that we don’t ignore the power of identity because it is very powerful, especially for women, especially for the rage of women right now.”
Intersectionality was originally coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a political activist and radical feminist, in order to help identify and aid individual classes of discrimination or victim groups. Through intersectionality, the more victim groups a person identifies with—the more power they can obtain. What Kimberlé Crenshaw was able to do in the leftist world of the LGBTQA+ movement through intersectionality is now being used to leverage a social justice movement within evangelicalism. How is identity politics infiltrating and changing the church?
Hinderance to Discernment
There are many scandals and schisms facing the church today. With the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the #MeToo movement, an intense focus upon identity politics within the evangelical church has impacted the politics of denominations and the conversations within local churches around the nation. It should be pointed out that the grievance industry is a very lucrative industry and it has now entered evangelical circles. Has this intense focus on victim categories and identity politics hindered the church’s ability to discern?
Take the issue of human sexuality and gender identity for instance. The United Methodist Church has already made historic decisions about their embrace of egalitarianism, but now the debate is centered on human sexuality. Although the outcome is uncertain, most people believe the entire denomination is gearing up for a massive split.
Within the Southern Baptist Convention, a new conversation arose in the weeks leading up to the 2018 annual meeting in June that was centered upon the denomination’s historic position on complementarianism. While many offered up their opinions, we must not forget that just prior to the Convention, Beth Moore wrote a very important article that garnered much support and sympathy. The article was titled, “A Letter to My Brothers” and in her letter she discussed details of marginalization and discrimination based on her gender. In the weeks leading up to the SBC meeting in Dallas, Texas—pastors from all over the nation were debating the issue of a woman serving as the president of the largest evangelical denomination in America. That debate is in motion to this very day and will likely continue over the next few years.
However, that raises the question about discernment. Has the church lost its ability to discern due to the cloud of identity politics? A large number of Southern Baptist pastors would not embrace Beth Moore’s theology, but due to identity politics and the perceived need to empower women within evangelical denominations—she receives a pass on her deficient theological positions. Does one’s identity or victim category take priority over truth?
In a similar struggle, both the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) have been marked by the Revoice Conference controversy of 2018 that has promoted many troubling ideas and positions regarding same-sex attraction and LGBTQA+ Christianity. Although not officially connected to the Revoice Conference, it was held in a PCA church in St. Louis in 2018 and founder, Nate Collins, identifies himself as a Southern Baptist. The Revoice Conference mission states that they exist for the following purpose:
Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.
The point is clear—homosexuals will use the same social justice playbook to gain recognition and acceptance as other groups who have gone before them within evangelicalism. Now, another ministry has arisen within evangelical circles with a similar purpose under the name, Living Out. One of the first questions they tackle on their website is the question of whether or not a person can be gay and Christian? The hyphenated Christian is becoming more and more acceptable within evangelical circles.
Many black Christians are instructing white Christians to be quiet and listen on matters of social justice. Women who fit into a victim category are elevated to a platform and given a greater voice within the evangelical church. Likewise those who claim to be gay and Christian are suggesting that they must have a place at the table to talk too. Has sola Scriptura been replaced by sola identitatem? Has identity politics hindered our ability to exercise good biblical discernment?
Pragmatism is the historic thorn in the church’s side. The wave of the pragmatic movements such as the church growth movement have left the evangelical church weak and superficial in many ways. When churches, seminaries, and denominations make decisions based upon the desired benefit rather than the truth of God’s Word—it weakens the church. The desire to be culturally relevant has caused many churches and denominations to crumble.
Today, identity politics has entered the evangelical church. Some leaders are instructing pastors on how to diversify the color of their church staff in order to reach across ethnic lines within their communities. In some cases, they are being encouraged to choose lesser qualified black leaders over more qualified white leaders in order to reach the goal of diversity among church leadership. Once again, such a pragmatic decision is harmful upon the leaders chosen and the church as a whole—and the desired benefit will not outweigh such capitulation. While many conservative evangelicals embrace the sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of Scripture—they give greater priority to pragmatism in how they make decisions.
Identity is not only based on ethnic identity, but also gender identity. Why did the United Methodist Church vote to allow women to serve as pastors on May 4th, 1956 in their General Conference? It certainly wasn’t a theological decision, because the text of Scripture is abundantly clear regarding the office of elder (see 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1). It was a pragmatic decision in order to appeal to the masses and a desire to offset the declining numbers within their denomination. That move didn’t work, so now, they’re discussing the issue of homosexual leaders within their denomination. Once more, it’s a pragmatic move. When the church bows to pragmatism—the boundaries of Scripture are ignored in order to accomplish goals.
Will the Southern Baptist Convention go down the same pragmatic road? In many ways, the denomination has been traveling the road of pragmatism for years. However, will the denomination that stood courageously upon the inerrancy of Scripture and returned to a commitment to God’s Word repeat disastrous patterns of the past? Will the identity politics of American culture cause the massive ship of the Southern Baptist Convention to drift so far off course that it will be lost in the sea of social justice identity politics? What decisions will the SBC make on women in leadership? Will the SBC continue to embrace intersectionality and a form of evangelical affirmative action in order to move certain non-white ethnic groups through seminary programs with the goal of diversity among SBC missionaries and pastors serving on the field?
The outcome has yet to be determined, but what we must recognize is that without a firm anchor in God’s Word and without a firm commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture—the SBC and other evangelical denominations will drift far off course and will likely never be recovered. Pragmatic decisions regarding ethnic diversity, new definitions and boundaries for complementarian positions, and an embrace of the false category of LGBTQA+ Christianity will prove to be a tragic mistake for the church of Jesus Christ.
What is our Identity?
In the fall of 1620, 102 colonists sailed for the New World on a well known sea vessel known as the Mayflower. These Separatist Christians renounced the religious practices of the Church of England and believed that the Church of England was beyond redemption. In 1630, another group would join the Separatists in the New World. This group is known as the Puritans. During the “Great Migration” of the 1630s, some 21,000 English settlers came to New England. When these farmers, fishermen, merchants, lawyers, and entire families walked off of the boats—they had one common book among them—the Geneva Bible.
As they formed communities—the Christians planted churches. The churches found their identity in Jesus Christ. The church in America today is being driven off course by identity politics. The identity of the church today is being attached to the color of skin and the priority of gender empowerment rather than Jesus Christ.
The church has been through an identity crisis before. After the church was established by Christ—followers of Jesus were called Christians which was originally a term of derision. What the anti-Jesus movement was attempting to do was to identify the followers of Jesus with his name—specifically the office of the Christ of God. Today, the church boldly identifies with Jesus by embracing the title—Christian.
When Paul wrote to the church in Galatia—he pointed to the union that both Jews and Gentiles have in Christ. The bond is Jesus and the church’s identity cannot be focused on ethnicity or gender. Paul wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:27-29). Paul said almost the same thing in Colossians 3:11. We don’t find our identity as the “woke church” or the “black church” or the “white church” or the “hipster church.” Instead, we find our identity in Jesus. We are Christians.
In days of confusion and mission drift, the church must find encouragement in the promise of Jesus in Matthew 16:18. During these days of confusing identity politics, we must courageously reject the need to identify the church of Jesus with the woke movement of the social justice agenda. We must boldly stand in opposition to the intersectionality politics in light of the fact that we have a sufficient Word that is capable of guiding us along the broken roads of our culture (Ps. 119:11). For me and countless thousands of Christians across America—the Word of God is enough.
If the church continues to feed the monster of identity politics—it will eventually bite the arm that feeds it. Consider the direct connection between identity politics and the freedom of speech restrictions and hate crime legislation that are quickly approaching the church in our day. These items are not isolated nor are they disconnected from the overarching social justice agenda. Today the church is becoming increasingly woke, but in reality it needs to be awakened to the truth of the gospel alone.
As I explain in the sermon, not only is it the building blocks for a brave new religion, it’s absolutely a flat denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. Do we really need to attach “woke” to the church of Jesus Christ? Is it really necessary to connect “social justice” with the gospel? Should Christians be laboring to make leftist political strategies sexy and cool? In order to live under the banner of the gospel as a slave of King Jesus—is there another manifesto or document or book that’s necessary to achieve God’s glory among his people in a broken sin cursed culture other than the Bible?
With all of the competing voices, books, conferences, and blog posts being written that suggest otherwise, I stand firm on my position that the Bible is sufficient and nothing else is necessary to achieve God’s will for his people in this fallen world. We don’t need to replace theology with victimology or the Scriptures with sociology. However, we’re living in a time when intersectionality and social justice tactics are being employed as a new church growth model.
Meanwhile, the boundaries of complementarianism are being revisited, racial tension is increasing among ethnic groups, and homosexuals are knocking on the door with the same demands from the same playbook of social justice. That’s why the social justice agenda is such a dangerous agenda.
Finally, it is a grotesque error to suggest that the framers (including me) of “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” are ignorant of injustices and social ills in our culture. The fact is, we believe the sins are real and present in our culture—even within the evangelical culture. The difference between us and the proponents of political social justice methods is that we believe the Scriptures are sufficient to address every evil, every injustice, every sin—no matter the size or complexity. Just as the Reformers embraced sola Scriptura during the days of the Reformation, we too continue to embrace sola Scriptura in our present culture as we face different challenges—none of which are bigger than God’s Word.
How is intersectionality a brave new religion? It replaces the gospel and central, rejects the sufficiency of Scripture, and through a woke cultural lens—works to rescue people from oppression and injustice. Once again, the question must be raised—is the gospel enough? Is the Word of God that brings the good news to the sinner who is lost in the darkness of our sin cursed world somehow not enough?
I trust the sermon will be an encouragement to you. I leave you with the very words of Charles Spurgeon in which I concluded my sermon in the conference:
This weapon is good at all points, good for defense and for attack, to guard our whole person or to strike through the joints and marrow of the foe. Like the seraph’s sword at Eden’s gate, it turns every way. You cannot be in a condition that the Word of God has not provided. The Word has as many faces and eyes as providence itself. You will find it unfailing in all periods of your life, in all circumstances, in all companies, in all trials, and under all difficulties. Were it fallible, it would be useless in emergencies, but its unerring truth renders it precious beyond all price to the soldiers of the cross (Sermon: Matthew 4:4).
Therefore my brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labor is not in vain in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 15:58).
*All sermons and the panel discussion from the social justice conference can be accessed here.