I’m sitting on a couch looking out an apartment window in Brisbane, Australia, as I write this. It’s the first day of our vacation here, but I’m sick with some allergy or bug. To be honest, I’m thinking what they say about Australia is true: “Everything here tries to kill you—including the air!”
So, to divert my mind from pending “death by Australia,” I’m reading and blogging. I’ve turned back to an issue that because of what seems like limited upside, I’d just as soon ignore: social justice.
I’ve drafted a few pieces that I hope to post over the coming weeks. But before I post them, I thought it might be good to answer a question my wife put to me: “Why write about it now?”
It’s a fair question and one some readers may have. So let me try to give my “why” answers as succinctly as possible in order to provide context for the posts that hopefully follow in the coming weeks.
First, the “social justice debate” continues to fracture the church. I hoped things would calm down and the dispute would not become a permanent feature of Christian fellowship. I thought that engaging the issue in this forum would only add fuel to a fire that seems to give more heat than light. About a year ago, I drafted a series of articles but decided not to publish them hoping things would get better. That wish has not come to pass, so it seems some comments may be necessary. I hope they will be useful.
Second, truth claims are at stake. I assume everyone involved in the discussion is or ought to be interested in the truth. The truth makes us free (John 8:31-32). That’s supremely true of the gospel and the Scripture, but it’s also true of truth in general. There are claims about the gospel, the Scripture, history and social science that need articulation or defending for the sake of Christ and the church.
Third, misrepresentations continue. From the beginning of the “debate,” it seems to me that representations of proponents of justice were misleading and inaccurate. That hasn’t changed with time. I hope to show, in some cases, where things have been off-kilter.
Fourth, most readers will be unaware of the tremendous private pressure that’s been placed on faithful brothers and sisters in their churches and workplaces. I have been free from that pressure (at least to my knowledge), but I have been grieved to see faithful brethren not only misrepresented publicly but also have their careers, livelihoods, reputations, and relationships assailed in more private settings with their employers and church leadership. As recently as this morning I’ve received a call from someone seeking support and wisdom in dealing with this more covert opposition.
Fifth, the misrepresentations have gone global. Until about three months ago, I thought of the “debate” as largely a U.S.-based disagreement. I think it primarily is. But I’ve also become aware that the misrepresentations of the issues and of some saints have spread to and effected churches abroad. A church-planting pastor from India expressed pain over relationships that have been frayed. Pastors in Quebec were hesitant to attend a planned meeting to think about justice from the Scriptures. Pastors and elders from Zambia talked with me for about an hour trying to figure out what is going on between brothers who formerly labored together in the gospel. Seminarians in Australia sheepishly asked for clarity on what appears confusing to them. An email from a short-term mission team serving in Thailand recounted how a faithful and solid missionary there had taken in false and uncharitable representations. All of these encounters have occurred in the last three to four months. The United States exports so much to the rest of the church world, for good and for ill. Based on what I’m hearing from brothers and sisters elsewhere, I’m concerned the exportation of the social justice debate has been for ill. I’m concerned that not contributing to the discussion only further confuses and hurts the global church.
Sixth, I hope my own heart and conscience are clear enough to now write well. I haven’t always spoken or acted well in the last couple of years. Hence my apology to those I’ve offended. With God’s help, I hope now to say a few things that critique the anti-social justice position and a couple of things that clarify my own view. I hope, by God’s grace, to do that in a redemptive way. Please pray for that.
So, that’s it. That’s the “why now” answer I would give. As I dig into this, I want to renew my commitment from a couple of weeks back:
I hope to reverse [my] errors and sins going forward. I commit to extending as much charity as I’m able in my writing. I do not intend to coddle or mollify, for that sometimes would be sin of another sort—either flattery or dissembling. But I do hope to be clear and perhaps confrontational without being uncharitable. I do hope to be incisive but not judgmental. I do hope to state facts well while not wrongly extrapolating or generalizing. And I do hope to make my meaning, audience, and subjects of critique unmistakable.
For most of the last two years, I’ve been listening to the views of others. While I’ve been active on Twitter, I’ve intentionally not engaged some discussions at blog length. I’ve benefitted from a great deal of my listening. Much has been said. However, much still needs to be said. I hope to be useful to the Lord’s cause, his church, and righteousness as I say my part. I hope you will pray for me as I renew my commitment to pray for you when I write.
I do not intend a long series of posts, perhaps four or five. And I do not intend to engage in a lot of back-and-forth with a lot of people. The wide number of voices have usually added confusion, so I’ll try to limit any responses to those I name or engage in these posts. I think we need smaller conversations where possible.
Lord willing, we begin next week with a general statement of my view on the relationship between justice and the gospel. Until then, grace, mercy and peace to each of you.