There’s a fine line between making a stand for God’s truth in a divisive culture and further dividing it unnecessarily. The recent statement on the gospel and social justice aims to do the former. Unfortunately, it may be closer to the latter.
But let’s be honest here – it’s not as though no clarity is needed. Evangelical Christianity has become somewhat fractured over the past few years, as adherents become divided between a growth toward progressivism in the political sphere and apparent conservatism within church walls. This has inevitably impacted the Church, where a not insignificant number of survey respondents who call themselves Christians, or even evangelicals, do not necessarily agree on basic doctrine. This, presumably, is part of the motivation for the statement – to have clarity on Christian doctrine in an era where Biblical literacy is on the decline. It is a creed for the creedless, if you will.
None of this is problematic. The goal I have just laid out is just, and consistent with a godly concern for the church. Where the statement becomes problematic is in its alignment with particular sociopolitical implications, further solidifying the evangelicalism’s tie to Republican politics in particular.
To be clear, I am not here to condemn Christians for also being Republicans, nor am I here to make an argument for any other party or political philosophy. But the statement takes steps that are theologically unnecessary to bring clarity to Christian doctrine, and further the political divide in the church. Here are a few examples:
“We deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching.”
“We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression.”
“And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.”
So as to avoid sweeping generalizations, I should note that there’s much of the statement I agree with, and many of the signers I have great respect for. For example, I appreciate its emphasis on the culpability of all who maintain racist attitudes, and the statement that it is wrong to try to justify such past actions. It also draws what I think are appropriate lines on sexual ethics (although I question whether this was necessary, given how recent the Nashville Statement was). My disagreement with the statement is less on the nature of its content and more on the nature of its approach.
Take, for instance, the statement, “We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression.” Whose mind is such a statement going to change? The answer, pretty clearly, is no one’s. Conservatives will praise the statement and liberal Christians will condemn it as ignoring systemic injustice. So I ask the question, if it won’t sway any minds, and it will encourage divisions (the use of the words “privileged” and “victims” ensures this), what godly purpose is such a charged statement serving? If anything, it creates an obstacle to the gospel, signalling to Christians with more progressive views on race relations that their politics are not welcome in their church.
I understand that clarity is needed in the church, and I understand that, at least from the perspective of traditional conservative Christians, young Millennials who are focused on social justice can be distracted from the church’s ultimate mission. But the answer is not to attack such concerns as unbiblical. Learning to approach social issues in a biblical way is a must, but we cannot create such firm dividing lines that there is no room for political or social diversity within the church. Within the bounds of proper doctrine, the church ought to be a beacon of dialogue and community. This statement, by drawing firm lines on some issues that ought to be secondary (where the lines of orthodoxy are concerned) threatens to further the tribalism that continues to fracture the church.