Recently influential, evangelical pastor and author John MacArthur headed up and was the lead signatory of a Statement on Social Justice. This statement has a lot of problems. I typically write about lightsabers and super heroes, so I am probably not the most qualified person to break down why this statement’s views on issues like racism are so appalling. The Internet being what it is, a simple google search will reveal well written articles that eloquently tackle this issue. However, I did want to address one part of the statement that I found especially erroneous:
WE DENY that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church.
I fundamentally disagree with this. This denial follows their affirmation that the “primary role of the church is to worship God.” I suppose I fundamentally disagree with this as well. Instead I affirm the United Methodist Book of Discipline which states the purpose of the church as such: “The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
The church’s purpose, its reason for existence, is to make disciples of Jesus Christ through proclaiming the good news and simultaneously through being the fulfillment of the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Social activism is simply the means through which this command is fulfilled. Seeking social justice, resisting oppression in whatever form it presents self, and speaking truth to power is at the heart of the church’s work in the world.
I struggle to come to grips with how someone who seeks to follow Jesus could have a stance that is against social justice. I think there is a key quote from the Lord of the Rings that helps define what social justice is and why it is important. Frodo and Sam are carrying the one ring to Mount Doom, and they are beginning to realize how hard their task is and how much opposition that is ahead of them. Things seem bleak and nearly impossible, but Sam offers a glimpse of hope when he says, “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Activism for social justice is simply fighting for the good in this world. The world is fallen and broken by sin. Yet through Christ, the light of God has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it. That light is redeeming the world, the whole world, one soul at a time. The reason why I struggle to understand why a disciple can be against social justice is because the New Testament has a consistent message of joining God’s work in Christ to redeem and transform the world.
This redemption is not just spiritual, it has a real world component. When Jesus started his ministry he read from Isaiah and proclaimed, “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 to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
While Jesus did deliver people from the spiritual bondage of sin and he proclaimed the good news of forgiveness of sin, Jesus also met real human needs. He healed the sick, cured the disabled, and provided food for the hungry. The ministry of Jesus was based just as much in meeting the needs of the poor and oppressed as it was saving souls. The disciples of Jesus are supposed to follow in this pattern.
Perhaps the book of James makes this most clear when it states in James 2:18, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
The deeds and good works we take part in do not earn us salvation and forgiveness of sins, but rather they are the manifestation of a vibrant and active faith. Jesus met the real needs of the least advantaged and marginalized. Anyone who takes following him seriously must do the same.
Social activism is essential to the gospel and it is part of the primary purpose of the church because seeking greater justice in society for all peoples is how we have deeds of faith, meet the needs around us, and transform this world. Statements on social justice that protect privilege and deny the necessity of standing up for the oppressed and providing for the poor are not what this world needs. There is good in this world, and it is worth fighting for. Therefore, what this world needs are Christ minded, social justice warriors who will fight for the good.