For a number of months, the temperature has increased greatly on issues related to what is being labeled as the social justice movement. For many people, this has come as a big surprise, but for others the trajectory has been anticipated as things continue to develop. It’s often difficult to follow language, logic, and motive in a Twitter conversation (or debate). For that reason, I would like to point out some of the troubling terms that are emerging from the social justice movement that demand our attention.
Terms and Definitions Matter
For anyone who has ever engaged in a friendly debate on the doctrines of grace, it’s quite clear that to have a profitable conversation we must be using the same dictionary. If one person comes to the conversation with a different set of definitions—the conversation will be derailed from the very beginning. Back in the days of the conservative resurgence period, liberals and conservatives both embraced the term of inerrancy, but the liberal had a completely different definition for the word. Therefore, as we enter into important conversations and engage in necessary debates over matters of social justice—we need to understand that our terminology matters.
What exactly does social justice mean? Is a social justice warrior (SJW) one who is defending the gospel or is that individual guilty of putting emphasis on something that isn’t the gospel in order to promote and empowerment and unity agenda? How we view these terms and positions are critical in order to engage in this profitable cultural conversation. Intersectionality is another term that you need to be aware of in this social justice conversation. Although it was originally coined by a radical feminist to defend oppressed homosexual women—now that same strategy is being employed within evangelical circles. What does it mean to embrace complementarianism? There is a minimum and a maximum view of this doctrine, so which view is most biblically accurate? Such terms and how we define them are key to this conversation.
As we move on, I want to mention a few terms emerging from the social justice movement that trouble me. I will explain each term and how it’s being used within the social justice movement and why we should be concerned.
Christians should care for oppressed people, and we can state that with quite a bit of theological force. As we look back at the history of America, we see periods of time where oppression was systemic in nature and explicitly sinful. Such eras of time included oppression on black people and women. Even beyond the Emancipation Proclamation and eventual end to slavery—both groups were targeted with ungodly discrimination and systemic oppression.
As laws were passed, both blacks and women were eventually free to enjoy the same freedoms in America. Although our culture was slow to change, it eventually led to their advancement in our culture to our present day where both blacks and women occupy the highest seats in our nation. We have seen blacks and women as successful business owners, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, professors, and politicians. The richest black American is a woman—Oprah Winfrey. Her net worth as of February 15, 2018, is $2.8 billion, according to Forbes, making her the richest black American. Just take a look at the Supreme Court of the United States and the office of president as prime examples of how the former years of systemic racism and systemic oppression have ended.
We should be grateful for such freedom and advancement, however, the social justice movement continues to claim that we’re presently holding back people of color and preventing women from flourishing as God has intended from the beginning—within evangelicalism. Is that true? Specific leaders in evangelicalism are calling for the dismantling of present hierarchies so that a new era can emerge where this oppression will not continue. For that reason, the language of modern oppression concerns me; and if we’re brutally honest, people of color and women are not being systemically oppressed in evangelicalism today—it’s simply not true.
If the idea of oppression is one of the key motivating factors for this need for social justice, we must identify who’s being oppressed and how they’re being held back. According to certain voices within evangelicalism, people of color and women have been held back from climbing the ladder to the top within our organizational structures, institutions of higher learning, and local churches—so we must do everything within our power to reverse this oppression by an agenda of empowerment. If systemic oppression was true, there would be a need to work together for liberation. However, if true systemic oppression is not a reality within evangelicalism—why is there a such a radical push for empowerment?
Within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), we have seen a massive surge in conversation centered on empowerment. Scholarships are being set aside for people of color that are not being offered to white people at the same institutions. Many people are talking about the sudden need to empower a women to become the president of the SBC. Consider the language of Dwight McKissic as he posted the following on his Facebook just a few days before the 2018 annual meeting of the SBC:
If I thought Beth Moore would accept the nomination or be agreeable to being nominated, because of her qualifications and the current context the SBC finds herself in… I would nominate her for SBC President. The SBC is a parachurch organization – not a church. Therefore, there is absolutely not one Bible verse, or SBC constitutional bylaws prohibitions, nor any BF&M 2000 prohibitions against a woman serving as SBC President. Tradition, sexism, fear and other non-biblical factors would probably prevent any woman… from being elected President of the SBC.
Is the SBC really guilty of sexism or any other sinful oppressive behavior because we have not elected a woman to serve as president of the SBC? Should we create scholarships for people of color within institutions of higher learning just so that we can increase the percentage of a specific demographic in our classrooms who will eventually go on to occupy the office of pastor in local churches and serve as missionaries on the field?
Back to the important term of complementarianism—what exactly does it mean? If we truly believe that we have been guilty of holding women back, what does that mean for the future of our local churches if we engage in a “women’s liberation” movement in the SBC? Will we begin to see women preaching and teaching in the local church on a regular basis as the fruit of the social justice movement? What if a woman is elected as the president of the SBC, will she be invited to preach in the chapel services of the seminaries and Bible colleges of the SBC? How far will those who are championing the idea of systemic oppression be willing to press this issue of empowerment? What if our excitement about empowerment leads women to walk away from their calling that God has established from the beginning—one rooted in creation itself?
In many ways, the logical conclusion of the social justice movement is to embrace the unbiblical category of LGBT Christian. Just over one week from now, the Revoice Conference will be held in St. Louis. The front page of the conference states the following:
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
Did you notice the key word, “empowering” in the sentence? The empowerment agenda is fixed on liberating those who have been held back from flourishing. Therefore, this mindset claims that we have held back people of color, women, and homosexuals through systemic oppression that has prevented them from occupying specific offices, positions, or enjoying membership in our local churches. Is this true? Have we held back homosexuals from flourishing and refused to care for them properly?
Sure, it can be clearly documented that many Christians have refused to care for homosexuals in a proper Christ-honoring manner, but the best way to care for homosexuals is not to call them Christians. That would be a soul-damning mistake. Paul never calls homosexuals brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, he roots their identity in the gospel of Jesus and points to the past tense reality of their sin (1 Cor. 6:9-11). As Christ followers, they are new creations in Christ and they have a new desire to identify with Jesus and do war with their sin. To call struggling sinners “gay Christians” is to lead them into deeper oppression of sin rather than to the light of Jesus Christ. Owen Strachan observes:
There will be no “queer treasure” in the New Jerusalem. There will be nothing unholy in the celestial city, nothing sinful that will be brought to the worship of the crucified and resurrected Lord of the church. There is no righteousness in a believer, a truly born-again Christian, identifying as “bisexual.” This identification alone would not qualify a man or woman to serve at a Vacation Biblical School event, let alone instruct the church on sexual ethics.
As this social justice agenda continues to morph and move down the tracks, it’s essential that we have some important conversations. Can we engage in the necessary conversations with respect for one another? Sure we can engage in a Christ-honoring manner, but the reality is—many of the lead voices in the social justice agenda are unwilling to have an open conversation on these important matters.
We must fight to uphold the dignity of women as God has instituted from the beginning. We must encourage women to flourish within God’s design as image-bearers in the home, the local church, and beyond. However, to ask of women what God never asked is to lead them down a road of oppression and discouragement. We must likewise preach the gospel faithfully and labor for unity in the gospel that transcends all socioeconomic boundaries and ethnic lines. It’s in Jesus where we find true purpose, hope, and identity. This identity brings about true unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3-6). The same gospel that encourages women to flourish and unites different skin colors also brings about the salvation of sinners—including those lost in the perils of homosexuality. We should celebrate this gospel together.
In order for our engagement on these matters to be profitable we must understand the terms—but most importantly we must understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ we will find true unity and purpose to labor with one another to bring people out of darkness and into the marvelous light of Jesus Christ. May the Lord raise up gospel saturated ambassadors who bleed Bibline (like John Bunyan) rather than champions of social justice. The gospel has not been recalled and the Word of God doesn’t need a revision for our modern challenges within our culture. I fear that the modern social justice movement in evangelicalism is communicating to the world that the gospel is somehow insufficient to deal with our social challenges. The gospel is still the power of God unto salvation and the Word of God is sufficient.