The year 2020 has unraveled the simmering spiritual unrest that have been plaguing America for many years. With the brutal killing of George Floyd, the call to destroy systemic racism has reached its fever pitch. Some Black Americans reacted with protests and riots. Many white Americans seemed to have surrendered to the rhetoric of systemic racism and white privilege. Even Hollywood actors have joined in the open repentance campaign of acknowledging their white guilt. What is more disturbing is that this worldview, which stems from Critical Race Theory rooted in Cultural Marxism, is redefining the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is no longer about what our Lord Jesus has done on the cross to end the bondage of sin. The Gospel is now being relegated as a tool to liberate the racially oppressed group from the hegemonic powers. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has now fused with the gospel of social justice.
"Is there anything wrong with pursuing social justice?", one may ask. A well-meaning, often very compassionate, Christian brother or sister finds it offensive or incomprehensible that there could be any other response but support for the social justice movement. To be clear, pursuing righteousness is the duty of all who proclaim to be disciples of Christ. But pursuing social justice as defined by our fallen world has the danger of deepening sin within the culture of the self-proclaimed oppressed group and consequently causing them to drift farther away from receiving Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
I want to try to explore the meaning of biblical justice to elucidate the difference in what the Bible says about justice and to make the case for evangelism as the most biblical Christian response to the current wave of social upheaval.
In the Old Testament, the most commonly used Hebrew word for justice is "mishpat". Mishpat in the OT refers to the faithful application of the Law laid out in the Torah
"Mishpat implies the whole determination and consequence of juxtaposed good and evil. It contains the establishment of law, the interpretation of ordinance, the pronouncement of verdict, and the legal foundation of the authority to execute sentence. The Judeo-Christian tradition accepts this as emanating from God. It is at the seat of the divine throne that rights are determined."
In this definition, the Marxist notion of equity (equal outcomes between people groups) is completely absent. Biblical justice focuses on God as the sovereign ruler who sets His law and order. Biblical justice is established by faithful obedience to His law. This law is wonderfully summarized by our Lord, Jesus Christ:
"Jesus replied: “‘Love [agapeseis] the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love [agapeiseis] your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophet hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-39).
God's law is completely embodied by the person of Jesus Christ whose sacrificial love was poured out on the cross to pay for our transgression against God's commandment to love Him first and foremost and to love others as the image bearers of God. When we violate this law of love, or sin, there is consequence to be paid ("For the wages of sin is death", Romans 6:23). The only way to bring about restoration into this fallen world is to pursue the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ:
"But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith." (Romans 3:21-25).
Our pursuit of God's justice centers around the commandmant to love God and others. The consequence of violation of this law is no less than death. The solution is to receive salvation by our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ and live our lives in faithful obedience to God. The end goal of the pursuit of biblical justice is the restoration of relationship with and worship of our one true God.
Our cultural definition of justice stands in sharp contrast to this biblical understanding. The social justice warriors in our culture shout with a megaphone, "Any form of disparity is injustice. Inequality between people of different race, sexual orientation, gender identity, is due to systemic injustice. Anyone that participates in systems that further the inequality is automatically guilty." According to the worldview of Cultural Marxism, the root of societal problems is not "our sin" but "the system did us wrong". The solution is not "repentance from sin" but to "overthrow the hegemonic power structure". As Christians, we must understand that affirming this cultural narrative will only cause our fallen world to deny the effects of sin within the culture and to move further away from God. The worldview that rejects the reality of sin will also blind those living in sin from seeing the necessity of salvation. Biblical justice calls for obedience to God's law creating shalom between people and God; secular idea of social justice calls for dismantling of any system of hierarchy even by means of violent destruction.
Let's apply this understanding more specifically to our current events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. To be fair, our Black American brothers and sisters have a deep historical wound. Their ancestors have lived through the very tragic part of American history of slavery, segregation by Jim Crow laws, abominable practice of lynching, redlining, to name just a few examples of true systemic injustice. Their cries about the negative consequences of historical oppression cannot be simply dismissed. However, there is more to the complexity of problems facing the Black American communities than just racism.
It is true that according to many statistics, there is large wealth gap between the white and Black Americans. According to Pew Research in 2016, the median wealth of white households was $171,000 compared to $17,100 for the Black households. But to simply point fingers at racism as the main causal factor of the wealth gap blinds one from seeing the more crucial contributing factors inside the culture of the Black community. In 2017, Center for Immigration Studies published shocking statistics. The rate of out of wedlock births in 2015 in native Black population was 77.3% compared to 30% in white population and 34.2% immigrant Black population. Also, there is a positive correlation between education level and the Black illegitimacy rate: 93.3% of women with less than high school education had children out of wedlock compared to 39.3% with a college degree. It stands to reason that having children as a high school teenager becomes a significant road block to achieving higher education which decreases their future income potential. Also according to 2018 statistics, 65% of Black families were single parent households compared to 24% in non-Hispanic white families. Single parent households will naturally have less income than dual parent households.
What about the stories of white supremacists unjustly killing black men? The Bureau of Justice in 2018 published the following statistics:
- Violent crimes committed by whites against Blacks: 59,777 (10% of total violent crimes against blacks)
- Violent crimes committed by Blacks against Blacks: 396,449 (70% of total violent crimes against blacks)
- Violent crimes committed by Blacks against whites: 547,948 (15.3% of total violent crimes against whites)
These statistics dispute the claim that white men are targeting Blacks. Just a cursory look at the numbers may even suggest that the opposite is true. This is difficult to explain just by invoking racism. How does white-on-black racism make a Black man kill another Black man or a white man?
Also contrary to the popular belief that white cops are targeting Blacks, in year 2019, 370 whites were killed by cops while 235 blacks were killed by cops.
What about the disparity in Black incarceration rates? Doesn't that prove how racist our judicial system is? According to 2016 FBI data on crimes, Blacks account for 52.6% of murder/manslaughter and 54.5% of robbery even though they make up only 13% of the U.S. population. These violent crimes are likely to be penalized with longer jail time. Whites on the other hand are more likely to commit crimes that may result in less jail time – rape, burglary, fraud, etc. If looking at the total crime distribution by race, whites account for 69.6% of the total crimes while making up 60% of U.S. population; on the other hand, Blacks account for 26.9% of the total crimes while making up 13% of U.S. population. The conclusion one may draw is that the Blacks are being over-represented in our criminal justice system. There are other facts that dispute the claims of systemic racism in our judicial system, but I will stop here since that is not the focus of this writing. I laid out the above facts mainly to state that we, as Christians, should be more prudent to not blindly accept the narrative provided by secular culture.
Many Black American, LGBTQ, and feminist communities have called for justice. But their form of justice is not to bring about obedience to God's commandments to love Him and His people. It is rather calling for equity between people groups. The Neo-Marxist worldview divides the world in two classes of people – the oppressed and the oppressor groups. Any disparity found between these groups are assumed to be due to some underlying systemic injustice. Claims made by those who belong to the oppressed class often cannot be refuted since doing so is akin to blaming the victims.
Also the Neo-Marxist expectation from those who belong to the oppressor class is simple admission of their guilt and perpetual repentance for being born into the oppressor class. If anyone from the oppressor class even dares to refuse to accept their guilt, they will be severely criticized. The theory of "White Privilege" is one of these examples. According to the Critical Race Theory, whites, by the very virtue of being born white, are guilty of systemic racism because they are born into an undeserved higher status in society. Refusing to accept this view will be met with severe criticism and be diagnosed with "white fragility".
In pursuit of their equity, the people belonging to the oppressor class (whites, heterosexuals, cis-gender males) are forced to give up their privileges to create a more equitable society. Policies like reparation, transgender pronoun protection law, gay marriage are a few examples of policies pushed by the Cultural Marxist agenda. Most Evangelical Christians tend to not give into the LGBTQ agendas. But when it comes to the issue of racism, there is willing tendency to accept the secular rhetoric of systemic racism and white privilege. Accepting the secular teaching that all whites, regardless of individual differences, are born into privilege in America, dehumanizes millions of people grouped based on their skin color.
What is white privilege but just another form of racial stereotype, not against the people of minority but against the people of majority? I want to ask my Christian brothers and sisters to consider the following questions. When we give approval to the viewpoint that systemic racism is causing certain Black individuals to lead a life of crime, promiscuity, and dependency on the government assistance, does it help them to see their internal sin or deny it? Does the attitude of blaming the system help them to come to Christ or drift away from our Savior? Doesn't accepting the narrative that whites are perpetually oppressing the Blacks cause more racial tension and hatred rather than solve it? Please give more careful thought before accepting any ideology that may become hindrance to the spread of the Gospel message of Christ.
I find myself being heart-broken knowing that some of our Black brothers and sisters are living as though they are enslaved, despite being free. There are numerous prominent Black American leaders who have risen out of poverty with sheer hard work: Ben Carson, Walter Williams, Shelby Steele, Glenn Loury, to name just a few of them. These Black intellectual leaders have reached out to the Black community for years to change their victimhood mindset but were often met with strong resistance from the very people they tried to help. Those Black Americans who embraced the message to rise above their victimhood have many success stories to share. Sadly, what the rest of America hears is not these stories of success but only the stories of oppression. Continuing to preach the same rhetoric of systemic racism will only deepen the sense of Black victimhood and white guilt while offering no practical solution.
Regardless of whether one believes in the reality of systemic racism and its role in the plight of Black American community, I want to assert that the response of the church has to be different from that of the secular world. While the world is crying out for equity, the church should be proclaiming Christ who makes mankind equal before God and who holds the power to set us free from the bondage of sin. Those who are set free by the blood of Jesus are free indeed in and out of whatever oppression this world may throw at us. Only by proclaiming the Gospel that we are all one in Christ – one as the fallen humanity saved by His grace – we can set ourselves and others free from the sin that divides us from each other and God. Just imagine the transformation in our society that will result from people seeing each other not as enemies but as image bearers of God our creator. This can only come from the Gospel. Only by this unifying voice of the Gospel, our church can stand united in this time of division and turmoil. Finally, I want to conclude with this one statement: despite all the solutions imposed by whatever popular ideology of our time, Jesus still remains as our best answer.
"Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:14-15).
Sae Kang, MD, is a medical doctor in California. She has a MA from Fuller Theological Seminary in Christian Leadership.