Thoughts on the social justice statement (Part 1)
A pastor sometimes goes through a process of deciding how much attention, if any, to give an issue that has arisen in the culture or the wider church. Such has been the case for me with “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” issued in September.
I chose not to read it or to read about it – other than one or two news stories, as I recall – when it was released. I maintained that position for the next several months, seeking to avoid reading defenses or criticisms of the document. I didn’t discount the possibility I would read and comment on it. I just didn’t know if or when I would conclude I should do so in an attempt to help our church.
Meanwhile, I was made aware some in our church were discussing the statement. One or two members asked me about it. Finally, I decided I should read the statement and blog in response. Not too long after that decision, one of the men in our church suggested it was time that it be addressed within the church. I agreed.
This is the first of multiple posts on the statement, because I want to avoid a long article that addresses everything I want to say but is overwhelming to a reader. I plan to comment in these posts only on the statement itself, not on the larger debate about social justice or what has been said from any parties since it became public. I also acknowledge what I will write will fall far short of everything that could be said about the statement.
Bible teacher and pastor John MacArthur is the best known of the 13 initial signers of the statement. Other original signatories include Voddie Baucham, James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries and Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries.
In general, statements to clarify biblical teaching and Christian doctrine can be important and helpful to the church. This statement says a great deal I can affirm and any Christian should be able to endorse. For instance, its affirmations in particular of Scripture’s authority, the dignity of humanity, the gospel of Jesus, and marriage and sexuality are well-stated expressions of biblical truth and should be commended.
Some shortcomings exist in the statement from my perspective, however.
For one, it lacks precision, most notably in the introduction and first article, which is on Scripture. While this is likely not the statement’s most significant shortcoming, it should not be bypassed.
The statement doesn’t seek to define or explain “social justice,” the reason for its existence in the first place. Admittedly, it might be difficult to define. In the introduction, the statement uses the phrase “broad and somewhat nebulous” to refer to the concern about social justice.
While the statement addresses such subjects as marriage, sexuality and complementarianism, it primarily appears to be about ethnicity. And in this country, that largely means the 400-year-old relationship among black and white Americans brought about by the slave trade.
Without a definition, how are we to think about what the signers are talking about when they address “social justice?” Does it mean any more than justice in a society? Or does it refer in their minds just to the social justice movement and the wrong ideologies they see promoted within it? In their minds, does it encompass issues beyond ethnic relations? Justice for the unborn? Justice for the trafficked?
The decision not to explain “social justice” was undoubtedly purposeful. Maybe the signers felt no need to do so and chose not to wander into what they might consider “the weeds,” instead addressing justice positively and negatively in the article on that topic.
The lack of precision is more of a concern in how they handle the ideologies and people they seek to correct. Certainly, non-Christian and sub-biblical concepts are expressed in the name of social justice by those who are not gospel-centered believers. But the signers are not addressing those parties.
They say in the introduction they grieve to be “taking a stand against the positions of some teachers whom we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides. It is our earnest prayer that our brothers and sisters will stand firm on the gospel and avoid being blown to and fro by every cultural trend that seeks to move the Church of Christ off course.”
Earlier in the introduction, they speak of “questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories” that are “making inroads into Christ’s church.” In the first article of the statement, they say, “[W]e deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching.”
Are they saying the Christians they disagree with are devotees of questionable ideologies, including intersectionality and critical race theory, and not living under and guided by the authority of the Bible while they come to different positions on this issue?
It would not be a leap of logic to think some Christians reading the statement would assume so. Or they might conclude any Christian leader, pastor or fellow saint who has not signed the statement has adopted a misguided view cut off from Scripture.
Either would be unfortunate.