The recent Social Justice and the Gospel statement has caused a great stir within the body of Christ. There are assumptions that those who created it or signed it are racists or contributors to racism, or simply naïve. So far, over 6000 fellow brothers and sisters have signed it. I’ve seen names from Mexico, India, UK, Pakistan, Belgium, Philippines, Tasmania, Queensland, Germany, South Africa and Canada. That’s just on page 1. Can they all be racists or naïve?
The two articles that have given the most push-back are written by Ryan Burton King, an inner-city pastor from the U.K, which was endorsed by the SBC ,my denomination, and Joel McDurmon, president of American Vision. What is troublesome about the responses of these two Christian brothers is their attempt to question the motives of those who collaborated to create the statement. In their articles, they offer very extensive reasons why they will not sign, with the hopes that others won’t sign either, lest they are racist patriarchal bigots (emphasis mine).
McDurmon goes so far as to state,
“This is a document the slaveholders could have written and signed”.
Sadly, that is inflammatory and a gross exaggeration of the Statement’s contents. The Statement is far from perfect but no man made document will ever be, nor should we expect it to be. Documents or statements are never neutral, nor are they equivalent to divinely authored Scripture. The Statement was not meant to be an exhaustive treaty on social justice nor was it meant to be confessional in nature.
Burton-King claims that the statement “represents a toxic agenda to discredit and undermine godly men and women crying out for Biblical social justice, national and ecclesiastical repentance and meaningful reconciliation”. That is a loaded accusation and uses trigger words like “toxic, undermine, and crying out”.
Leading terms, typically used in leading questions, lead another to answer a question by suggesting the answer for them. Lawyers use leading questions to pull out an answer from a witness that fits an agenda. Counselors are taught to stay away from leading questions so as not to taint a mental health issue. In this case, Burton-King lead his readers to automatically reject its contents by using trigger language at the onset of his critique.
I read the Statement a few times and what stood out to me were broad general descriptions about three main concerns that culture as a whole, not only in our country, is overtly wrestling with: 1) racism (ethnicity issues) 2) sexuality, and 3) gender. Again, the Statement is not perfect. It has a few contradictions and the wording in some spots is “iffy”, but for the most part, it’s not a horrible or racist document.
However, Burton-King does not see it that way. He assumes that the statement implicates well-known celebrity Christians who have “spoken out on abiding racial sins in America”. He literally drops a list of names who are exclusively known in main stream evangelical circles, the upper echelon of who’s who in American Christianity.
I worship and live in a majority refugee lower income to blue collar community and the reality is, only those with power in Christian circles know these names. Regular church folks and the lost in my community have no idea who these well-known celebrity Christians are, nor do they care what they have spoken out about. Their voices have no bearing on those in my community, along with many communities across the country and the globe for that matter. Their admonishments about justice will not trickle down because they continue to preach to and for each other. Sadly, those in Christian power circles are often a bit out of touch with those they claim to be a voice for.
Using these two articles as ammunition to reject the broad premise of the Statement reveals that a Tower of Babel is being constructed by bricks stamped with various social justice issues. Both articles insinuate that America only has a black and white problem, which are the skin colors mentioned in each article. Burton-King’s gushing admiration and loyalty to these names show that he has no problem with church leaders and celebrity Christians having big bullhorns and very marketable large soapboxes to cry out declarations of black/white racial and social injustice, ignoring that there are more people groups residing in this country.
By reciting historical facts of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy/white nationalism, basically sin associated with white folks, seems to be equivalent to Original Sin, not the Biblical reality that strife between ethnicities exist because of the Fall. Issues of superiority and sins of partiality are a cause and effect phenomenon, not solely because white people exist, as many attempt to assert. They are caused by Adam and Eve’s sin against God.
Quoting McDurmon’s article:
“I am sorry to have to say it, but people with power do not experience life the same way as those who suffer from it. This is why empathy is a thing. This is why we have to be commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves”
He fails to realize that those with “power” are not just “white people”, but also include the highly educated middle class celebrity Christian machine, both white and black and everyone in between. Including himself for that matter.
If he actually believed his own words, he then would have realized that he has no business discussing intersectionality, which is another issue he has with the Statement. His “position of power” does not allow him the insight to speak authoritatively on the implications of the term first coined by a feminist critical race theorist, Kimberle Crenshaw. She used the term in a paper she wrote in 1989 for the University of Chicago Legal Forum, titled “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Anti- racists Politics. She looked at two forms of male violence against women, domestic violence and rape. She insinuated that white women deal with domestic violence and rape differently than black women and these differences are evident due to structures, politics and representation in the public space.
In a nutshell, according to Crenshaw, women of color have strikes against them. Their woman-ness is one strike. Sexual orientation is another strike. Being black is yet another. If there are other identity markers that produce suffering, even more strikes. Where all these strikes of suffering intersect there lies a potentiality of greater degrees of oppression.
McDurmon claims that Christians don’t necessarily need to understand this very secular leftist ideology but he demands that “Christians better understand the problems that led to the existence of them” He also states that Christians fail to understand their “social duty” and that only true conscientious Christians know better than to “cut and run at the sight of broad nebulous terms“, like intersectionality.
Yet, because of his power due to having a large Christian platform and a Phd, he goes on to speak not only for women, he repacks the term to include more people, where he states that intersectionality, in “its most general form refers to how different classes of people in society experience power or the lack of it differently, and how belonging to multiple classes can compound that one way or another”.
He uses the example of the Greek speaking widows to legitimize the ideology behind intersectionality, saying they crossed multiple social classes in the first century because they were being overlooked, neglected and left out simply because they were 1) widows 2) women 3) Greek 4) were new Christians in a majority Hebrew context.
As a Mexican Latina woman of color, void of any power, who grew up in a single parent abusive household in a majority Hispanic lower socioeconomic context, formerly uneducated high school dropout, raped at 17, single mom to two toddlers by age 20, spending 6 months in a homeless shelter at 23, married a third “baby daddy” after conceiving again out of wedlock at 30, subsequently getting divorced at 33 due to domestic violence, having lived a life deeply entrenched in poverty, suffering and sin….my history bleeds “intersectionality”.
But God did not and presently does not use my history of suffering to define my identity. He saved me in the middle of a divorce, in spite of my suffering, for no other reason than His gracious and merciful electing love. He may have actual reasons for saving me but I have yet to figure those out.
Intersectionality gives women “power” by turning their suffering into identity markers. Instead of seeing value and worth based on Imago Dei representation, she is given permission to see herself through the lens of a secular ideology based off the past and present sins of others.
Crenshaw says intersecionality “identifies the sins and failures of others, specifically by failing to interrogate patriarchy, anti-racism and anti-feminism. She calls these Trojan horses that “import elements of patriarchy with anti-racism and racial power within conceptions of feminism”.
Thanks, but no thanks. Consider me cutting and running.
I signed the Social Justice and the Gospel statement.
I understand that puts me in the margins of the current trend of viewing oppression through the lens of secular ideology. However, because of past and former sins committed against me, which includes consequences of a life full of personal sin and failures, I will always be in the margins of evangelicalism. My voice will always be different because my life has been different. Once I share that I have a divorce under my belt, or that I have children by different fathers, like the Greek widows, I am overlooked, ignored and left out. I understand that signing the statement will keep me in the margins…and to be quite honest, I am very comfortable here.
I don’t and will never romanticize “the poor, the oppressed or the suffering”. I walked too long in those labels and just because there are Christians in evangelical spaces that expect me to place culpability of my former life of suffering on white brothers and sisters, I refuse to do that. And if my suffering is discounted because my skin is not dark enough, then all this oppression and suffering language is simply a guise to magnify the black and white story of America, leaving out droves of other ethnic people groups.
According to McDermont, he will not consider me a conscientious Christian because I refuse to embrace terms like intersectionality or it’s implications on the greater culture at large. He will assume that I must not love my neighbor because I am unwilling to place all culpability on a person’s history onto their present. Our histories inform our lives but they do not define us. With the Holy Spirit’s power, we are equipped to fight the effects of our histories in light of who God says we are.
Sadly, are we now expected to use history as a means to label an entire demographic of people based on their skin color alone?
It is for these reasons that I place all emphasis on the Gospel to change lives. God is building his church with the dramatically changed lives of millions of people of color across the globe, in the face of sin, suffering and oppression. He has never needed society to be a safe space for all people. He plucks people from unsafe spaces, gives them new hearts, new identities, and new lives, and for many Christians, does not rescue them from unsafe spaces, but rather, expects obedience, in spite of suffering and oppression. Obedience to the point of persecution and death, which is the fate for many of our brothers and sisters in other nations.
Loving my neighbor includes not just those with difficult histories of oppression but all people…from all ethnicities….yes, even those white folks that social justice advocates want to label heretics because, well…history tells us many were. Though not all.