The resurrection of the the nation’s race problems have resulted in a disturbing response from Evangelical leaders. While many responded with outrage and a manifest passion to address the gross displays of racial injustice, Evangelicalism responded by marshaling familiar theological forces to study and determine the compatibility of social justice and critical race theory with the Gospel.
The result of the work has been to distance the Evangelical church from the social justice movement, both the organization and the statement Black Lives Matter, and anything remotely left of conservative. We have succeeded in planting the seeds of negativity in the minds of the laity, so that even the mention of the words brings down evangelical wrath and skepticism. Without questioning the soundness of the work, I do have grave concerns about the intentions, the zealousness of the work, and the hearty acceptance of the findings. It resembles the very color of the metaphor.
24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!Matthew 23:24 (NAS)
Straining Out Gnats
In this passage Jesus points out that the Scribes and Pharisees tithe mint, dill, and cumin. While not technically required, it demonstrated how far they were willing to go in the smallest of matters to stay within the limits of the law. On the surface, their zealous work sounds laudable. Jesus, however, reaches for another Pharisaic practice to characterize their efforts.
It was also a common practice to strain water or wine to remove unclean things that may settle on the surface, like gnats. Their efforts to strain out gnats in order to avoid uncleanness, when contrasted with their neglect of what Jesus calls, “weightier provisions of the law”, like justice and mercy, exposed them as hypocrites. They should have done both, but to give so much effort to the small and neglect the weightier, sets off their hypocrisy and is itself the color of the metaphor. Can you envision them, squinting their eyes as they ensure there are no unclean gnats in their wine, then opening their mouths wide to swallow the unclean camel?
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.Matthew 23:23
In the same way the Evangelical efforts to show the errors in the culture’s response to injustice, in the face of our glaring history of neglect of justice and mercy, exposes us too as hypocrites. In our attempts to avoid the the uncleanness of liberalism, leftism, Marxism, and critical race theory, straining out the details, we have swallowed the camel of injustice and set off our hypocrisy. And it too is the color of the metaphor.
It does not escape my notice that Jesus pronounces a fearful expectation of disaster and denunciation of those who would in their blind hypocrisy lead other in the same hypocrisy. But I don’t doubt that many will marshal familiar theological forces to prove me wrong in my use of the passage. They may even result to, as often happens, simply assuming I am or calling me a liberal, leftist, or even Marxist. And further set off the color of the metaphor as they continue to neglect the weightier provisions of justice and mercy.
If there is any merit to the critique of social justice, BLM, and so forth ON CHRISTIAN grounds, then how should Christians (the church) react to the injustice? What shape should that take?
It seems to me that IF (and notice I am not committing myself to the idea that there is, here) IF there is something Christianly wrong with joining our voice in critique OR even joining our activism, then why does that automatically SEEM to pit the church against the cry for justice on the one hand, but join her WITH Donald Trump and the New Conservatives specifically?
To be frank, I am seeing at least two problems here, and maybe quite a complex of them. I want to talk about this more, but not merely to talk myself into a paralysis of analysis. I want to be clear about Jesus and the evil. I WANT to take a step FORWARD in the RIGHT direction, but not necessarily, and almost certainly NOT in the direction of THE RIGHT.
I am studying Lee C. Camp’s new book right now (I do recommend it, though I am quibbling with it too) called Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians. I sense he is dealing with THE REAL problems, though I remain skeptical whether he has the right conclusions. But at least, I think he is finally doing business with substance rather than just the smoke -n- mirrors.
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The evangelical church has always been able to make its values known. Pulpits all over the country give us a ready platform to reach millions. Just as we know where they stand on social justice and critical race theory, the country could know where we stand on the value of black lives and police brutality. Or maybe we do.
What shape would it take? It would simply takes valuing black lives and then responding appropriately. In the same way that lives of the unborn matter would be a appropriate response.
A clear response like this would remove the moral justification for indifference and systemic racism.