A certain segment of the evangelical pastoral community has decided Christians should embrace social justice. More prominent evangelicals are pushing back, saying “No.” I think both sides get it wrong.
John MacArthur, one of the great theologians of our age, has pushed back against the tendency of some evangelicals to embrace social justice. Though admittedly oversimplifying his point, he essentially argues that we should preach the gospel. MacArthur and a dozen or so other Christian leaders also released a “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.”
Others, mostly younger theologians, pushed back on MacArthur, and some tried to argue that “intersectionalism” is in scripture. I will not bore you with the fine points of intersectionalism, which is Marxist culture theory, but I do agree with one criticism against MacArthur: We need to better define what social justice is.
Christian humor site The Babylon Bee has the best actual working definition for what modern “social justice” is. According to the Bee, social justice is “a Marxism-inspired construct that sees everything in terms of power versus the powerless.” Social justice, in other words, is not caring for the widows, orphans and poor, but embracing the idea of classes and identity politics. Intersectionalism comes into play thus: The more you identify with supposedly powerless classes, the more power society must give you. In other words, a one-armed black Muslim homeless lesbian must be given greater standing in society than a one-legged white Southern heterosexual Christian male who lost his leg in Afghanistan because he represents the white male patriarchy.
Social justice uses the logic of the insane asylum, and adding intersectionality to it adds acid to the diet of the nutters. Christians should steer clear of it. The liberal theological idea of the “social gospel” compounds the problem in that its practitioners believe we can create heaven on earth, which we cannot. Wrap up all three concepts and Christians turn into sweat equity for Marxist mobs.
Ultimately, the problem with social justice, the social gospel and intersectionality is that they embrace classes and identity politics where authentic Christianity teaches that “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” (Galations 3:28). Christians are not supposed to elevate one class of people in society, even to compensate for another group’s elevation. We are to treat everyone equally always.
Likewise, groups like Black Lives Matter, antifa, etc. may have Christian members, but their leadership is secular and progressive. As scripture teaches us, the things of the world hate the things of God. These groups are very much of this world, and Christians diving into them will inevitably compromise their witness.
So what should Christians do? They should take a lesson from James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Too many Christians and evangelical churches have abdicated their responsibilities to government. They have scrapped their food banks. They have turned their church-based schools into top-tier academic institutions that price out the poor and middle classes while failing to offer scholarships. They have begun to resemble the world.
Christians should avoid the social justice mobs, but they should not be afraid to call for equality. Scripture demands it. They should be willing to stand up against police brutality. They should call out government for behaving unjustly. But they must be explicitly Christian. We will not draw others to us by looking like and sounding like the world around us. Too many Christian social justice practitioners want to look and sound like the “cool kids” they will never see beyond the pearly gates. Too many other Christians have so overcorrected they think a silver-tongued sermon on a Sunday morning is all Christ demands.
Christians have ethical obligations to their faith. We need the sermons on Sunday, but we need dirty hands in the world reflecting the cleansing power of Christ.
Erick Erickson is a prominent conservative writer, speaker, and radio talk show host. You can find more of his writing at The Resurgent.