Jemar Tisby, head of the blog formerly known as RAAN, has suggested, in an article run on the Religion News Service (RNS) site, that those of us involved in writing the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel should be “avoided.” Those are his words. I like quotes, so here we go:
I’m tempted to refute the recent statement on the gospel and social justice point-by-point — showing how it falls short of the Bible’s call for justice. But I think our time would be better spent on other pursuits. There’s too much work to be done — work that will be delayed by endless debates.
Here’s my advice.
Many of the people who authored and signed this statement have large ministries and platforms.
Find other authors, preachers and teachers from whom you can learn. People like Austin Channing Brown or the podcasters and bloggers at Truth’s Table or The Witness, where I am a contributor. Or read Howard Thurman, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Bryan Stevenson, James Baldwin or the other writers who have explored issues of justice.
If the supporters of statements that dismiss social justice as a distraction from the gospel headline a major conference, state your concerns to the organizers. If nothing changes, then don’t go.
If they do an interview on a podcast, find another episode to listen to. If they write more blogs to state their case, share other ones instead.
So there you go. Let’s analyze: the first presupposition is that Mr. Tisby could rather easily “refute” the Statement, but that is so easy to do, and there are so many more important issues pressing upon him! There is a dismissiveness here that is very clear and represents a common theme amongst many of those pressing CRT and its associated concepts within the Church.
But, since he possesses this great capacity to refute this statement (but cannot be bothered to do so right now), he will endow us with his wisdom in the form of sage advice. And that advice?
Divide the church.
Wait—is that not the very thing so many have been saying his movement leads to? Well, yes, it is.
“Avoid them.” From the first response I personally offered to the MLK50 presentations to this day I have had one central core to my concerns: because the movement is based upon external categories and hierarchies of importance and is not derived from biblical categories of redemption and anthropology, the tendency must, of necessity, lead to division. How else could it be? Creating “black spaces” or “white spaces” or actually pitting one ethnicity against another based upon supposed ancestral sins will create internal schism, tribalism, within the body. It is inevitable because it is being promoted despite the unitary work of Christ in saving, despite there being only one righteousness imputed to any believer, despite the same Spirit dwelling in each and every believer. Theology really does matter!
“Avoid them.” Segregate. Close your hearts and minds to those raising serious biblical and theological objections, despite their collective dozens of decades of ministry in preaching, teaching, pastoring and apologetics. Listen to us, not to them! Do not compare and contrast! Do not ask questions, do not listen to both sides! One narrative, one input. Don’t read their blogs. Don’t attend their conferences. They are bad! We are good! And who was it again who said, “This will lead to division”?
I’m sorry, but Jemar Tisby cannot, in fact, “refute” the statement point by point. Isn’t it ironic that others supportive of the “social justice” movement have made a different argument, specifically, that there really isn’t anything controversial or meaningful in the statement, that everyone can agree with it (some of their number said this in the hours after it came out)? Which is it going to be, as it cannot be both. If it is unremarkable, how can it be refutable point by point?
Let me illustrate my point by reference to the only specific he cited from the statement. Here again are his words:
Although much about this statement needs discussion, I will highlight one section in particular.
It reads: “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.”
The best word to describe the assertion above is “ethnocentric.”
Who gets to decide which cultures and which assumptions are closer to biblical truth? For most of American history, white Christians have claimed that privilege. That privilege is now being challenged.
I have noted that this portion has “triggered” most of those who have drunk deeply at the well of today’s modern societal paradigm. To the biblically-grounded Christian, the statement is rather, well, unremarkable indeed. A society that embraces the light provided by God’s revelation, both general and special (i.e., from the creation and from Scripture), will be blessed by God over against those that refuse that light from the Creator. How can one read the minor prophets and not see this? It is hard to say. In fact, isn’t this what real “social justice” is all about, i.e., making God’s truth known to the nations and praying and working toward the submission of men and women, boys and girls to the Lordship of Christ, which, then, we pray leads, by God’s blessing, to this very result?
But notice the blatant agnosticism promoted by Mr. Tisby. After identifying this basic, biblical concept as “ethnocentric” (it is theocentric, actually, based upon a consistent application of a worldview that begins with God as the Creator of all things, which is what makes it so abhorrent to those of the cultural left, who are anything but theocentric in their thought), Tisby opines, “Who gets to decide which cultures and which assumptions are closer to biblical truth?” Really? The tribe engaging in human sacrifice, rape, and horrific tribal warfare in worship of pagan deities cannot be identified as farther from biblical truth than those that have enshrined biblical law against such activities in their very civil code? From whence comes such utter moral, ethical, and yes, biblical confusion? We are truly left wondering! Are these the words of one truly steeped in the prophetic witness of the Scriptures? Are the followers of the one true God incapable of being able to tell the difference between good and evil, proper foundational assumptions and those that stand against God’s truth?
Thankfully, we are not left with Tisby’s agnosticism, but we are left without any basis for accepting either his self-claimed ability to refute the Statement point by point as well as his call to divide, separate, and segregate from those expressing objections based upon the clear concerns enunciated, from a serious biblical perspective, in the Statement.