The Problem With the Recent Evangelical ‘Social Justice’ Movements

A person attends the MLK50 Conference, hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Gospel Coalition in Memphis, Tennessee, in April 2018.
(PHOTO: ERLC)

The term “social justice” has become quite a buzz word in evangelical circles in recent years. Social matters like immigration, racial reconciliation, and sexuality are taking center stage in conferences and online discussions, with loud voices expressing strong opinions.

Other voices are beginning to object to the direction of such discussions, expressing concerns over the impact of secular leftist political and social thought upon some of these evangelical movements. John MacArthur and others are starting to weigh in, and all signs indicate that these debates aren’t going to calm down any time soon.

As I’ve followed with interest these controversies over the past few years, I’ve come to see that although there is a lot of discussion about these things, most of it has involved throwing terms and philosophies around with little clarity, and there are very few places to go that carefully explain the nature of concerns with where these recent evangelical “social justice” movements appear to be headed.

I count myself among those with concerns about much of what is being said by these “social justice” evangelicals, and I would like to simply lay out the nature of my concerns. I do not mean to speak for all who are concerned, but I think what I write here summarizes many of the problems with these recent developments within some quarters of evangelicalism. This essay is meant to inform, not necessarily fully explain or defend.

A little background

First, where are these discussions happening?

I think two cultural matters sparked recent tensions within evangelicalism over social issues, and they were occurring around the same time: immigration policy (especially with Islamic refugees attempting to enter the US) and prominent shootings of African Americans (including Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown). Sexuality entered the mix with claims that some evangelicals were starting to soften their views concerning homosexuality. These funneled into the 2016 Presidential election, with Donald Trump’s personal behavior and rhetoric adding fuel to an already growing fire.

Several prominent evangelicals raised strong opinions about immigration, refugees, shootings, and Trump, creating tension among evangelicals over political and social matters that appears to be unprecedented.

Within the last year, some of these evangelicals have organized conferences that further sparked debate. Conferences like MLK50 (sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC along with the Gospel Coalition), Together for the Gospel (with several message explicitly addressing social justice and racial reconciliation) and Revoice (a conference “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”) have brought the tension to maximum combustibility.

Don’t we support social justice?

So why are some of us concerned about these recent conferences and discussions? Are we against justice? Are we in favor of racism?

Hardly. It is simply irresponsible and dishonest to claim, as I have seen many times on social media, that those who are concerned about recent evangelical “social justice” movements are in favor of injustice or racism. Such a claim is an unfortunate straw man.

What we are concerned about is how such discussions are being framed, how terms are being redefined, and the influence of secular leftist ideology on such discussions.

Confusing race, ethnicity, and culture

The first concern I have with recent social justice movements is that many evangelicals have seemingly adopted very secular (i.e., not biblical) categories of race, ethnicity, and culture. For one thing, according to Scripture, there is only one race—the human race (Acts 17:26). The whole notion of racial distinctions based on genetic and physical distinctiveness comes from Darwinian evolutionary theories and is simply unbiblical (not to mention scientifically disproven).

Scripture does have the category of ethnicity, which biblically refers to various people groups unified by geography, politics, heritage, and culture (e.g. Rev. 7:9). But the problem is that many evangelicals have also adopted the common practice of equating ethnicity and culture, which is also invalid biblically. Ethnicity refers to a group of people united and living together, while culture refers to the common behaviors of a group of people. The two categories are not equivalent. All people of every ethnicity are equally good and made in God’s image, while cultures (understood as systems of behavior) are produced by beliefs, values, and worldviews, and thus may be better or worse when compared to the values, beliefs and patterns of behavior advocated in Scripture (1 Peter 1:13-19).

Secular racists (like white supremacists) and leftists (like multiculturalists) perpetuate these confusions over race, ethnicity, and culture. The former assumes that one group is genetically superior to another. The latter assumes that all ways of life are equally good and valid. Neither is biblical.

This also broadens considerably what should be accurately defined as racism. With these secular definitions, any criticism of one set of behaviors as wrong or inferior to another is considered racist.

It would do evangelicals well to re-evaluate their definitions of these categories based on how Scripture discusses them. The rest of the problems I am going to elucidate are, I believe, symptoms of this fundamental problem, which is why I devoted a chapter to the subject in By the Waters of Babylon and have written several articles and blog posts on the issue, including the following:

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Christian Post, Scott Aniol

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