A Response from JustUs to the Statement on the Gospel and Social Justice

The International Day of Peace gives us here at JustUs the opportunity to reflect on why we exist. JustUs was born out of the desire to equip people to respond to God’s invitation to join Him in His reconciling work – His shalom-making and peace-building work.

Peace-building is hard work. It requires knowledge, humility, perseverance, wisdom, grace, diligence, and energy. There are always going to be distractions and disruptions along the way and sometimes it takes great discernment to know how to proceed. The past few weeks have been a time where great discernment is necessary.

On September 4, 2018, a Statement on the Gospel and Social Justice was released by a group of thirteen initial signers. The signatories claim that the “social justice” movement presents “dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent Scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”

The Statement’s thirteen sections present affirmations and denials on various values that the signatories believe are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.

In the face of a Statement like this, it is tempting to go through each section and pick it apart. While there are individual points that we at JustUs can agree with, the overarching posture and narrative of the Statement is not in alignment with how we interpret the Bible or our role in sharing the gospel. Many articles have been written to refute much of what is presented in the Statement. But in the spirit of the International Day of Peace, we would like to take the writers at their word when they say they hope to stimulate the kind of “dialogue that can promote unity in the gospel of our Lord Jesus whom we all love and trust.” Promoting dialogue and unity are peace-building activities that we at JustUs can get behind on this International Day of Peace.

A key part of this dialogue is defining and understanding what social justice is and how it does in fact form an unalterable part of the gospel of the good news of Jesus. The term “social justice” does not have secular origins, but is attributed to a Catholic priest named Luigi Taparelli in the 19th century, describing a process by which justice is applied in society.[1] According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it has emerged since then as a philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people.[2]

The word justice is used throughout the bible and the concept above is one that is woven though the DNA of both the Old and New Testaments, as well as being overtly evidenced in the life of Jesus and the early church. In fact, the Hebrew words used throughout the Bible for justice [mishpat] and righteousness [tzadeqah], are complimentary and speak to the concept of all relationships being fair and equal as they will one day be when Christ returns. As Micah 6: 8 confirms, our role in this is, “[T]o act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.

The truths that Jesus spoke about salvation for all were backed up every day in the way he worked this message out with the poor and oppressed, those who felt the inequality of unjust situations and the lash of the oppressor in Roman times. He revealed this when he launched his Nazareth manifesto:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.
21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
(Luke 4:16-21 NIV)

It’s completely clear that Jesus stood with the poor and oppressed. Indeed, it was his proclaimed mandate as he began his ministry. We see it lived out in his actions, such as with the foreign woman at the well in John 4 and the paralysed man at the Pharisees party in Luke 14. All these and many other daily interactions show he lived justly. That in turn gave absolute power to his message of the coming Kingdom of God. He even went so far as to identify himself with the poor and marginalized, boldly declaring that eternal punishment or eternal life is predicated on how one treats “the least of these.” – the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25: 31-46)

Yet the statement says, “the obligation to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not definitional components of the gospel”.

….you can’t have an effective gospel that relegates justice and its social impact to an inferior part of the message of the cross. To do so takes away the power of the very message itself. Click To Tweet

It’s hard to use the Bible to give any credence to support this. Trying to take justice or the way we live it out of the equation of the gospel and elevate the evangelistic side of it as this statement seeks to, is impossible. It leaves a watered-down faith that is highly open to political misuse, something we have seen creeping into the Western church in ever growing ways. The statement sees justice as not only inferior to the delivery of the story of salvation through the cross, but as one that takes away its power. Yet the power of salvation for all is evidenced by the proof of compassion and love for everyone. We simply cannot find any evidence that one is inferior to the other. As Mike Frost recently wrote:

“Rather than seeing them as competing interests, I’d like us to recover the biblical idea that word and deed are interdependent activities of the church. Instead of evangelism and justice being seen as opposing each other on a see-saw, think of them as two interlocking cogs. As you crank one cog, it sets the other one turning as well”.[3]

The 1974 Lausanne Covenant, a key text in the development of modern evangelicalism is very specific on this point when it states:

“….we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and Man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ.”[4]

Put quite simply, you can’t have an effective gospel that relegates justice and its social impact to an inferior part of the message of the cross. To do so takes away the power of the very message itself.

The statement goes into a number of other contentious areas, including the proposition that:

WE AFFIRM that some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions.

 This statement is deeply ethnocentric and does not recognize that humanity’s brokenness impacts all cultures and that God works in and through all cultures. It leads people toward looking down on cultures different from their own; and particularly, given the perspective that this statement was written from, it gives licence to view those of us from so-called “Judeo-Christian cultures” as better than others, creating the sense of superiority that has often defined the darker side of Christendom. It leads to the ‘othering’ of people who are different from us, and that in turn has led to some of the greatest atrocities’ humans have perpetrated on one another.

It’s particularly hard to view this in the light of current events. Statements like these are always the product of the culture and worldview of the people who make them – in this case a group of privileged American men living in a context where the word evangelical has largely come to mean far right views that evidence the belief of those in political power. There are those who follow them who have a very limited understanding of both the wider world and the wider scriptural narrative and this gives security to the belief that ‘because our country is better than every other one, we are better than anyone else and we can treat them as lesser humans. We can build walls and camps to keep the others out, because they will pollute us if they come’. We don’t need to look too far into our past to see where that kind of thinking leads.

Further when you realise the cultural context the statement is written in, it sheds a different light on sections such as:

 In the church, qualified men alone are to lead as pastors/elders/bishops and preach to and teach the whole congregation.

…We reject “gay Christian” as a legitimate biblical category.

We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression.

Taking a step back and looking at these and other comments in the light of the socio-political time they are written, the statement seems to be a plea by those who have carried power, largely white, privileged, heterosexual males, to keep that power base just as it is; to not accept change and to forcefully reject and marginalize anyone who stands up against their worldview or understanding of faith. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman who has gifts and abilities that make you a leader. It doesn’t matter if you are a teenager who is struggling with your sexuality. It doesn’t matter if you are the victim of a racial slur or crime because of your colour or ethnicity, or a child being separated from your parents and locked into a camp because you come from outside the walls. Put bluntly, the statements says: We reject you. You are not welcome here.

In so doing, despite assertions of salvation being “granted by God’s grace alone received through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone,” with which we would also agree, the authors and signatories of this statement reject the lifestyle and actions of Jesus and those who follow him in the belief that the world can be made more just and fairer if we follow his teachings.

So on this International Day of Peace, and in the spirit of dialogue, we at JustUs respectfully disagree. We acknowledge that the political and cultural climate here in Canada is different than that in the US, but we stand firm that as followers of Christ we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, regardless of our national, cultural, political or any other differences; to live flavour-filled lives of justice and righteousness, in the biblical sense, that show the proof of God in our actions every single day. It’s no longer enough to stand in pulpits and shout about God’s wrath and judgment. In a world where there is little understanding of the true components of the gospel and where it has been taken out of context for political gain, we are on a dangerous path if we blindly accept the underlying beliefs behind this statement. Instead, we need to show the acceptance and grace that Jesus calls us to; to go the extra mile in our efforts to make this world a more just and caring place.

As Bernice King recently commented, “Jesus didn’t call it ‘social justice.’ He simply called it Love. If those who profess to follow him would only Love our neighbors beyond comfort, borders, race and religion, ‘social justice’ would be a given. Love makes justice happen.”[5]

The truth is that social justice is God’s love in action, demonstrated by the people who follow Him. It is the greatest demonstration of the proof of a coming Kingdom. Love can’t be argued with, it just is. God is Love. (1 John 4:8) And a statement like this does little to show that truth.

[1] https://statementonsocialjustice.com/articles/social-justice-threat-human-rights/

[2] http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2013/01/15/the-definition-of-social-justice/

[3] https://mikefrost.net/the-interlocking-cogs-of-social-justice-and-evangelism/

[4] https://www.lausanne.org/content/covenant/lausanne-covenant

[5] https://twitter.com/BerniceKing/status/1040031530620465153