On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson Missouri. Soon enough, the city erupted in rage against law enforcement and Twitter exploded with the hashtag #Ferguson. Today, the names Michael Brown and Ferguson are inseparably connected with the Black Lives Matter movement. Five years later, we are still divided and the social justice agenda continues to create an ever growing division throughout our nation and within religious circles. It’s time that we stop using Michael Brown as a tool for social justice.
False Narratives and Social Justice
Much of what we know about Michael Brown is a lie. Soon after the city was turned into a war zone, it was discovered that the narrative that fueled the rage was actually false. The stories that were popularized and published in newspapers and on television from the sidewalk of Ferguson stated that an unarmed black man was shot with his hands up by a white police officer.
Dorian Johnson, a friend of Michael Brown, gave a story to police officers and the media that ignited the explosion of anger and frustration— eventually turning the city into a war zone. The DOJ report states on page 44 that Johnson “made multiple statements to the media immediately following the incident that spawned the popular narrative that Wilson shot Brown execution-style as he held up his hands in surrender.” That was actually a lie. It was a lie that forever changed Ferguson and created a massive divide among ethnicities throughout the United States.
It would not take long before Michael Brown’s name would show up on t-shirts calling for justice while also being attached to the #BlackLivesMatter social media buzz that swept across our nation. Crowds marched through cities chanting “Hands up” — “Don’t shoot” in protest. It would strike a nerve in the hearts of people across our nation. Hands up poses were offered up by CNN news anchors on live television and by five professional athletes—players for the St. Louis Rams as they took the field for a game after the DOJ report cleared officer Wilson of wrongdoing in the death of Michael Brown.
The whole story of the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” was a lie. It was fabricated by Dorian Johnson who became known as “Witness 101” to stir the hearts of Ferguson with anger and division. In short, Johnson weaponized Michael Brown as a tool of division against the police officers that he despised.
According to page 8 of the DOJ report:
Although there are several individuals who have stated that Brown held his hands up in an unambiguous sign of surrender prior to Wilson shooting him dead, their accounts do not support a prosecution of Wilson. As detailed throughout this report, some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation, credible [or] otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time. Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported either to federal or local law enforcement or to the media. Prosecutors did not rely on those accounts when making a prosecutive decision.
While credible witnesses gave varying accounts of exactly what Brown was doing with his hands as he moved toward Wilson – i.e., balling them, holding them out, or pulling up his pants up – and varying accounts of how he was moving – i.e., “charging,” moving in “slow motion,” or “running” – they all establish that Brown was moving toward Wilson when Wilson shot him. Although some witnesses state that Brown held his hands up at shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe Brown then dropping his hands and “charging” at Wilson.
Michael Brown as a Tool for Politicians
As expected, Michael Brown was used by politicians to press a narrative and connect with voters who were very much impacted by the whole story of Michael Brown. Today, the same thing continues—even though it has been stated openly and publicly that Michael Brown was killed by a police officer while breaking the law and engaging in violence against an officer of the law. Elizabeth Warren tweeted out the following:
In short, politicians are continuing to use Michael Brown’s name for their own political agenda and as a result—they popularize the lie that he was innocent. This creates further division among ethnicities, fuels racism, and fuels disrespect for police officers throughout the nation.
Michael Brown as a Tool for Evangelical Leaders
In April of 2018, several evangelical organizations including The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Gospel Coalition teamed up for a conference on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. The MLK50 event was held in Memphis and was intended to serve as “an opportunity for Christians to reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and the culture. It created the occasion to reflect on where Christians have been and look ahead to where we must go as we pursue racial unity in the midst of tremendous tension.”
However, during the event, a spoken word poem was offered up on the main stage of the conference before all attendees and those watching via livestream. The poem was titled, “Dear Mike Brown.” The artist who performed the spoken word poem is Preston Perry. He tells a powerful story that follows a narrative of injustice. He begins with a personal account with police officers on a chilly January morning in Chicago before moving to the story of Michael Brown.
The first line about Brown states, “Dear Mike Brown. I don’t know you. I don’t know if your unarmed body rose from his bed that morning planning to stick his hands in a squad car.” Notice how Preston Perry uses the carefully chosen language of “unarmed body” to further the false narrative of police brutality. Like politicians, even after the release of the DOJ report, Perry uses Michael Brown to further divide ethnicities and plant doubt in the minds of evangelicals in the MLK50 conference. In his poem, Perry asks the following question:
Dear Mike Brown, your death got me thinking a lot, and I wonder if Fox News ever considers you human or if they purposefully paint you beast in the minds of their viewers. Convinced themselves that every bullet that dove head first in your organs carried justice, numbed America’s conscience concerning you.
While Preston Perry promoted the false narrative of injustice by officer Wilson, it had already been established in the justice system of the United States that Brown’s death was justified. Sadly, as horrible as the scene was, and as tragic as death is, Michael Brown did receive justice. Swift justice in the streets of Ferguson.
The sad reality is that this is not merely a political event. It was a religious event for evangelicals and it promoted further doubt, division, and hatred for police officers in the name of justice. If anyone should understand what true justice looks like—it should be the evangelical community—those who call upon the Lord and have a proper biblical lens by which to look at the broken world that surrounds us.
Why Does Michael Brown Matter?
We can learn some powerful lessons from Michael Brown. We learn that truth matters, justice matters, life is precious, and racism is evil.
The Scriptures reveal to us the importance of telling the truth. When people lie—it not only distorts the facts—it can put people’s lives in danger. When Satan lied to Adam and Eve, it brought death into the world (Romans 5:12; Genesis 3). When Abraham lied to Abimelech king of Gerar about Sarah—it endangered her and Abimelech (Gen. 20:2). All through the Bible we find story after story that reveals the importance of the truth. Proverbs 12:19 says, “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” Ferguson learned this dreadful lesson in August of 2014.
We are called to be people of justice. The very justice system of our nation is derived from the commands for God’s people to seek justice in the Scriptures (Micah 6:8). Although imperfect as a national system of justice, God’s justice is pure, righteous, and will one day be finally accomplished at the final judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). Until then, every Christian must labor in gospel ministry with peace, unity, and a commitment to biblical justice.
Racism is an ugly monster that is alive in our nation (see Article 14 on racism in The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel). We see it in specific pockets and while it moves in the shadows often—it rears it’s ugly head at times for the whole world to see. Racism is not a white thing. Racism is a sin that is rooted in the depravity of the human heart and is employed by all ethnic groups at times. When the world is stirred with confusion, we must labor to promote the imago Dei—all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Michael Brown matters because he was created in the image of God. Black lives matter for the very same reason that police lives matter. Life is a precious gift from God, we must all recognize this truth.
The social justice agenda is not a friendly movement of peace. It has ugly political motives that lie beneath the surface. If you have a hard time grasping that as a reality, ask yourself an honest question—why would politicians continue to use the false narrative of Michael Brown as a means of pursuing justice? Furthermore, within evangelical circles, why would Michael Brown be used in a spoken word poem on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s death to promote biblical justice? Was justice not served for Michael Brown? Was officer Wilson acting out of injustice against Michael Brown? It’s past time that we stop allowing people to use Michael Brown as a tool for social justice.
What exactly is the social justice agenda seeking to accomplish? Five years after the tragic death of Michael Brown, it’s time to admit that Michael Brown has been abused. He was not abused by officer Wilson, but he continues to be abused by those who seek to use him as a tool of division in the agenda of social justice.
The social justice train continues to roll through evangelicalism, and one of the core tenets of this ideology is an elevation of lived experience. Proponents of the social justice movement are pressing the idea that a particular lived experience is necessary in order to navigate the challenges of this messy world with devils filled.
Let Me See Your Résumé
Have you sat through an interview for a job only to hear at the conclusion of the interview that according to your résumé, you don’t possess the experience necessary to perform the job that you’re interviewing for? The person conducting the interview is telling you that you need more experience and you need to build your resume in order to be given the opportunity to work and perform that specific job.
With the rise of the controversy surrounding the social justice movement, many people are demanding a particular lived experience résumé in order to grant certain people a voice into the issues and challenges facing us in our day. The idea is simple. If you haven’t lived and experienced what it means to be the subject of discrimination and injustice (on various levels, as a woman, a minority, a homosexual, and various other groups)—you can’t speak to the issues because you haven’t experienced it yourself.
In short, some voices are suggesting that unless you’ve experienced it yourself, you need to stop talking and start listening because the lived experience résumé turns specific people into social experts and what they say must be accepted as truth—without question.
How can this approach to justice be acceptable if justice is outside of us and if the Scriptures, which Martin Luther called the external word (which did not come from within us but originated with God) is our source of final authority? Should we ask for someone’s lived experience résumé or should we ask for what the Scriptures teach?
Put on These Glasses
I can remember walking into a movie that was 3D movie just a few minutes late with a group of friends. It took me a minute to get to my seat and get settled. When I looked up at the screen, everything looked blurry and certainly not high quality or high definition. However, when I got settled, put my drink in place, and slipped on my glasses, everything changed. Suddenly, the colors were vibrant, the imagery went from a flat screen to a realistic 3D image, and it was as if I was standing in the Hobbit’s hole—the book had come to life before my eyes.
In our social justice saturated culture, today people are suggesting that you you must be able to see and understand the lived experience of others in order to feel their pain, walk in their shoes, and to be awakened to the real life struggles of our neighbors. If you can’t see it—you can’t possibly understand how to fix the problem—which in most cases is yourself or as you will soon discover, you are at minimum a part of the problem.
Writing in the Huffington Post, in an article titled, “My Lived Experience of Social Justice Work” Jonathan C. Lewis states the following:
Social entrepreneurs carry two different ‘résumés of reality’. First: you and I grow up within a particular community and tribe. Possibly (because of skin color, economic hardship, gender, religion or other comparable outsider status), you have known the isolation and sting of being the Other. Your history, naturally and invaluably, will inform your social justice work. Or, maybe your life experience has been easier and more protected. Either way, we each have an inherited résumé.
The other résumé is earned in apprenticeship. We volunteer, train, intern and work to soften the jagged edges of life on behalf of the discarded and the left out—whether at home, abroad, or both. Without sharing in the world’s suffering, without feeling the sharp jabs of injustice, without witnessing the torching rage caused by inequality, without sensing the frustration of the impossible, our social entrepreneurship – like a fire waiting for a match – lacks the heat of conviction.
The common argument for those who are engaged in the grievance saturated social justice movement is that without a specific lens of experience, you can’t fully understand and you can’t possibly see the world the way it really exists. In short, you need a certain set of special glasses to see the world properly, and unless you have the right lenses to gaze through, you will remain blind to the injustices surrounding us on a daily basis. While Jonathan C. Lewis isn’t writing from a Christian perspective, that’s precisely the same language being used within evangelical circles today.
Science of Biblical Reinterpretation
When we open the Bible and read it, there are specific rules that must be put into practice in order to understand it properly. These rules and methods are known as hermeneutics – the science of biblical interpretation. A shallow and haphazard reading of Scripture can make the text say anything. For instance, a misreading and cherry picking of a single verse of Exodus 13 can cause people to claim the Bible says to sacrifice your firstborn son to the LORD. That’s certainly not the case, and we need to know how to read the Bible through a specific lens.
The meaning of the text is singular and it’s set by the intent of the human author. Therefore, the literal, grammatical, historical approach to the text is essential. It should frighten us that within today’s social justice quagmire, people are actually arguing for a reinterpretation of the Bible based on our modern historical context. This method will not only do violence to the biblical text, but it removes it from a fixed position with a fixed meaning and causes the text of Scripture to be fluid, movable, and adjustable as culture and history changes.
Consider the tweet from Jemar Tisby:
A lot of Christians reading theology but we need some more folks reading U.S. history, too. To properly apply Scripture you can’t just learn the historical context of the Bible. You have to know your own historical context as well. #historymatters
It may be true that Jemar Tisby is simply trying to know how to best apply the ancient text to his modern context, but notice one of the replies to his tweet in the thread by Bradley Mason:
I can say that a careful, honest reading of history changed my mind entirely on colonialism, race, economics, politics, & even theology. I know including theology will frighten people, but it’s difficult to tell what ideas have been supplied by your context until you study others
One of the terms that has become a staple in our social justice debate over the last couple of years is the term woke. It’s really a word filled with great baggage. It originated out of the Black Nationalist movement as an urban colloquialism and is presently employed by people such as Eric Mason, author of Woke Church, as a description of people who can accurately see the injustices of our world and know today what they did not previously know in the past. They are awakened to the issues.
In his book, Woke Church, Mason writes:
It is a struggle to emerge with a strong sense of self and dignity, while being fully aware of the perception of our people in the eyes of white America. Most African Americans have had at least two life-altering experiences that are burned into their memory—the moment they realized they were black and the moment they realized that was a problem. 
Mason goes on to suggest that this “double consciousness” is a reality for minorities in America. He argues that unless a person possesses a third consciousness which is a Christ Consciousness it will not be possible to be fully woke. Mason writes:
Our Christ Consciousness elevates our awareness to our responsibility to care for and love our brothers—even those who don’t look like us…Therefore, to be fully woke, one needs to have all three aspects of consciousness. 
We must be careful in reading the ancient text through the lens of our present context. The Bible is not about America. Doing so will lead to all sorts of confusion and errors. While the Bible was not written to America or to your neighborhood in America—it certainly does address it and must be rightly applied to it. Reading the Bible in the wrong direction and importing meaning from a modern context is a revisionist approach—which must be rejected completely. We don’t need a modified Bible—we need the Word that God breathed into existence and that accurately diagnoses the injustices, sinful practices, and points us to the solutions within the gospel of Jesus. In short, the Scriptures are sufficient and they transcend all cultures, all experiences, and serve as our final authority.
What About History?
When writing to Timothy who served as the pastor of the church in Ephesus, Paul didn’t talk about the need for Timothy to have a specific set of lived experiences in order to address the injustices of temple prostitution. While there were massive challenges for Timothy to face in how he addressed marriage, the covenant keeping responsibility of men, the picture of the gospel, the sacrificial love that men should have for their wives, among a multitude of other cultural issues such as idol worship and more—Paul pointed Timothy to the Scriptures (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
When we send missionaries to plant churches and train leaders around the world, we should train them in language, culture, and various other factors that will aid them in proper communication and provide them the necessary insight to address specific challenges with the culture—but we don’t school them in sociology or place our confidence in worldly disciplines. We send them with one message that transcends all cultures on planet earth—the sufficient gospel of Jesus!
That’s how John Paton impacted the New Hebrides. Once filled with savages who ate human flesh, and after Paton’s ministry through the gospel, the people were civilized and the islands were filled with churches who bowed to Jesus Christ. How did he accomplish it? It wasn’t through the tenets of social justice or the ideologies of the world. It was by the power of the gospel of Jesus.
Paton had never eaten human flesh nor had he built a résumé of lived experience among savage people. His Scottish upbringing was nothing remotely close to the culture of the New Hebrides and he was even called a fool for wanting to go in the first place. Although he possessed no lived experience resume from the New Hebrides culture, what he did have was the pure unadulterated gospel of Jesus—a message that is capable of addressing all cultures—civilized and uncivilized.
When will we as brothers and sisters put down our foolish sticks and return to the sword of the Spirit and address culture with confidence, love, and passion to see people bow to King Jesus?
- Eric Mason, Woke Church (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 26-27.
- Ibid., 27.
Today a big announcement is being made by Founders Ministries regarding a very important documentary that chronicles the story of how we’ve arrived at the very juncture of the modern downgrade of the SBC. I want to explain why this is so important and how you can get involved.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist Church setting as a boy, I heard stories about how the liberals entered seminaries, rose to rank in the SBC, and turned the ship down a liberal path. The stories I heard were shocking.
After sensing a call to serve the Lord in pastoral ministry, I moved to Louisville, Kentucky with my wife and soon I would learn the name Molly Marshall, I would read the book A Hill on Which to Die by Paul Pressler, and I would watch the film “Battle for the Minds” in a summer elective course taught by Dr. Russell Moore. I would learn more stories regarding the horrible theological liberalism that nearly sank the largest Protestant denomination in America. The story of the conservative resurgence of the SBC is one unique chapter in church history, however, it seems as if we are at another crossroads where some within the ranks of the SBC are determined to take the SBC down another broken road of theological liberalism. The question remains, by what standard are they leading and making such decisions?
During the 2019 SBC meeting in Birmingham, we were told by the Resolutions Committee that Critical Race Theory is merely an analytical tool by which we can assess our culture. That is simply not true. The social justice train continues to steamroll through denominational structures, seminaries, and local churches. Methods such as intersectionality must not be embraced as a mere analytical tool. We’re being asked to replace theology with victimology, swap pastors for sociologists, and trade theologians for political activists. By what standard are such decisions being made?
Today, we have a movement that insists on normalizing soft complementarianism, soft intersectionality, and in the blink of an eye—the SBC will be too far gone to recover from the storm of social justice. Sadly, there are many people in the SBC who are caught up in the social justice movement out of emotion or sympathy for the perceived victims of our day. In reality, a small number of players understand the big picture agenda of deconstructionism and the power grab tactics that are being employed. Could it be that the SBC is being played for a larger political agenda in the cultural sphere? Why is there suddenly such a massive push toward a redefinition of complementarianism? By what standard is the systemic racism idea being pressed upon the SBC? Is the Bible sufficient or must we employ critical theory in order to address problems within the local church and the culture as a whole?
This question is central and I’m excited about a new documentary that is being produced by Founders Ministries where that very question is going to be answered.
By What Standard? God’s World, God’s Rules is a documentary that presses those questions by showing how godless ideologies are influencing evangelical thought and life.
Take a moment to view the trailer for the new film and consider offering your support financially as well. Help us spread the word about this important documentary. No longer are we simply hearing stories about the past—we’re living in the midst of a massive controversy and we have an opportunity to impact the outcome. How can you get involved?
- Watch the trailer
- Consider contributing financially to the project
- Share the link on social media
- Look for ways to engage in conferences and meetings
- Tell the truth to your friends and family
- Tell the truth to your local church
- Show up at the SBC and vote
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:
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).