Justice without Jesus?
We have people who have made justice their God, yet another instance of the litany of humanity’s idol worship. We have people defining justice as they see fit rather than wrestling with what Biblical justice is. And, in the end, we have people abandoning Christ.
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Michael O. Emerson has written an article at Christianity Today that comments on the social justice movement and how some Christians are “distancing themselves from the faith” in order to work for justice in society. It’s called, Goodbye Christ. I’ve Got Justice Duty, and I encourage you to go to the link and read it.
Emerson begins by giving two examples. The first is a white male pastor who became concerned about racial inequity and how the church has been complicit in maintaining white dominance. Emerson lists some of the ways he watched him change as he moved away from the kind of faith he held to a commitment to justice.
- He began to question his interpretation of the Bible.
- He began to question whether or not personal morality really mattered as much as he had previously thought.
- His language changed and became “saltier” as he fought against injustice.
- His countenance changed and he became more frustrated, angry, and bitter.
- His sermons changed and he depended less and less upon the Bible.
Emerson also describes a white female professor, serious about her Christian faith. As she began to study more about racial justice, she became more and more frustrated with the church, which didn’t seem to care. She distanced herself from her faith community. She began to question many of her previous ideas, including her sexual identity. “I will not live in the repressive gender binary system that is unjust, limiting, and harmful,” he quotes her as saying, adding that she came to see the Bible as promoting unjust systems of oppression.
Two people, two stories. They represent what I see repeatedly. Christians grow up in faith defined as an individual relationship with Christ. When they learn that God cares about justice, and when they see the whiteness and complicity of the faith they claim, they either become tied tenuously to that faith, mocking many aspects of it, or they leave it all together. (Emerson)
Michael Emerson cites others who have observed this kind of transformation. And he concludes, “Ultimately, we have what my pastor Peter Hong calls ‘Justice without Jesus,’ resulting in frustrated, embittered ex-Christians joining others bent on bringing justice to the world no matter the means. Only the end goal matters.”
But Emerson thinks this is a dangerous bypath, and that a commitment to the biblical Christ is the only way to advance true justice by practicing “the politics of heaven” rather than those on the left or the right. He acknowledges that the church has made this exceedingly difficult in many ways and for many reasons, but he encourages people to seek out communities of faith that are less dominated by white privilege, to read books that promote justice from a biblical perspective, and to learn from Christian activists who are already engaged in the work itself.
I have sympathy for what Michael Emerson says here. However, I think he is naïve about how faith-change occurs.
One of the hallmarks of Internet Monk has been its insistence that escaping “mere Churchianity” can and usually does involve a journey into the wilderness. Some people simply have to leave. Out of the institution, beyond the boundaries, and into unmarked places where one must deconstruct one form of faith in order to reconstruct something else in its place. This journey may take a long, long time. The way and its resemblance to anything that looks like a traditional religious path might not apparent.
And we must be patient with people on the journey. Who knows where they may land?
I hate to see anyone break from Christ and become “converted” to another cause. But when the bourgeois church presents a Christ who is ignorant and unconcerned about issues like racial and social justice, then perhaps the church is not where Jesus may be found after all.
And perhaps some of these folks that Michael Emerson is so concerned about will actually find the real Jesus in the neighborhoods and streets, blessing the poor, the mourning, the meek, and those hungering and thirsting for justice today.
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NOTE FROM CM: I have removed several comments. Some of you cannot read a post and comment without the subject being diverted back to the POTUS and related matter. The author of the post I’m commenting on today said nothing about DT, showed no inclination toward supporting him, agreed that the U.S. church has been complicit in racism, recommended several resources for Christians who are interested in social justice, and even set forth, in general terms, a Christ-centered definition of justice and shalom. His article was a lament that people are leaving the church, not that they are leaving right-wing politics. Please stay on topic.