The Race Issue: How Social Justice is Disrupting the Church and Confusing the Gospel

The Race Issue: How Social Justice is Disrupting the Church and Confusing the Gospel

We are living in a post-Christian society. After being greatly influenced by the ideas of post-modernism our culture is in the midst of a great sexual and moral revolution. The mob mentality of anger-filled leftist students seeks to control university campuses and our culture as a whole can’t figure out how to say “no” to any group—resulting in men who pretend to be women dominating athletic competitions, homosexuals demanding a new definition for marriage, a new women’s empowerment agenda, and the outright celebration of victimhood.

The social justice train is moving at such a rapid pace that when it derails (not if, but when)—the crash will be so catastrophic that our culture and our churches will never be the same again in America. At the heart of this whole debacle is the race issue. In many ways, the race issue has been turned into a weaponized form of social justice reform that is seeking to gain political power and control.

How should we address it? With all of this social justice rhetoric and call to reform, why are we not seeing great advancements and unity within evangelical circles? Could it be that the solution being offered by many evangelical voices today is actually stoking the fires of controversy rather than offering the healing balm of God’s sufficient Word?

Confusion Over Terms: Words Matter

When it comes to race, we are led to believe that there is a multiplicity of races that make up a sea of humanity. Although that’s a widely held position, it’s a relatively new position and one that does not square with the biblical text. According to the Bible, there is only one human race and we can all be traced back to one human being—the progenitor of the human race—Adam. When referring to humanity as a whole, it’s best to separate race and ethnicity. There is one human race with a multiplicity of ethnicities.

According to one of the original signers of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, Craig Mitchell, writes, “The science of race is getting louder and clearer all of the time. Race is at best an overblown social construct that has been harmful to our society. It is a concept that is best forgotten.” As you can imagine, the craftiness of the devil has led people to war over the color of people’s skin. While we have progressed beyond the days of slavery and Jim Crow laws, there has been a massive uptick in racism and division based on skin color over the last ten years in America—and the church of Jesus Christ has experienced the wake of such problems as well.

Many leading voices within evangelical circles are holding to the position that systemic racism and systemic injustices are still holding black people back from succeeding in our nation. This is a hotly contested debate and one that will continue on for a while; nonetheless, we must consider the power of words and the ongoing struggle for control of the dictionary. Terms such as systemic racism and white privilege carry quite a deal of meaning and how we employ such vocabulary is vitally important. Before one embraces the full ideas of systemic racism and white privilege it would be a good idea to consider the reality that such terms are pregnant with much political baggage and have been constructed from a political environment that has depended upon such theories and ideas in order to fuel cultural movements. That pattern continues today with the social justice movement.

Disruption of the Church: Identity Matters

The church (ἐκκλησία) is the assembly of God’s people who are saved by faith alone in Christ alone and gather together in local assemblies for both service and worship. In a literal rendering of the Greek – the term means a called out assembly. Christ founded his Church and made a definitive statement – “The gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).

The first use of the term church is found coming from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 16:18. Interestingly enough, this is a passage where Jesus was asking about his own identity and then pointing his followers to their identity within the church. However it must be seen to go much deeper than that as well.

When we see God’s sovereign selection of Israel in Deuteronomy 7, we don’t see Israel’s identity being centered on Israel. In fact, when the Jews became guilty of mission drift regarding the purpose of the covenant with Abraham (see Rom 4) and Jewish identity was raised to a level that turned into nationalism and racism—they failed to see their true identity was rooted in Christ (the greater Moses, Melchizedek, and David).

Unfortunately today, we are suffering from an identity crisis. We can call it racism, to use the term, but within evangelical circles it’s really an identity crisis. Is our identity in Christ alone, or must we major on melanin count and create platforms of power for specific people based on the color of their skin?

Several months ago, Eric Mason released a book titled, Woke Church. In it, he makes the following bold assertion:

To apply this we must be awakened to the reality of implicit and explicit racism and injustice in our society. Until then, our prophetic voice on these matters will be anemic and silent. Being woke is to be aware. Being woke is to acknowledge the truth. Being woke is to be accountable. Being woke is to be active. This is the call of God on the church and on every believer. [1]

To make the claim that the mission of the church is to be “woke” is to be guilty of false advertising at best and egregious mission drift at worst. Furthermore, Jesus doesn’t need to ride the wave of pragmatic cultural trends in order to complete his mission through the Church. I would further argue that Jesus was not “woke” in his earthly ministry and doesn’t need that label for his Church today. The term “woke” emerges from the black nationalist movement as an urban colloquialism. Needless to say, to attach “woke” to “church” is to create something other than what Jesus intended in Matthew 16:18. Do we need more than a Jesus identity? Why do followers of Jesus need the “woke” language attached to them?

Another example of this identity crisis is found in an article written by Kyle J. Howard titled, “Counting The Cost: Engaging Church in Ethnic Reconciliation” where he wrote the following, “I would be a bitter angry man if it wasn’t for the local church and the faithfulness of its people. My desire to plant a minority led multi-ethnic/cultural church has only grown and my excitement to do so has never been more intense.”

If our identity is in Christ, why must we continue to labor to plant “minority led multi-ethnic” churches? Should the determining factor be melanin count or the giftedness of the leader? If Paul labored to drive home the message of unity for the Jews and Gentiles in his letter to the church in Ephesus (and surrounding cities), why would we continue to labor for specific people to lead based upon skin color? Paul writes:

Ephesians 2:13-14 – “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”

When we see that our identity is in Christ and through the church we all (all ethnic groups) come together through the blood sacrifice of Jesus and are one in Christ and remain so by the unity of the Spirit who works in us to produce this bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

Confusing the Gospel: Jesus’ Work Matters

Today’s social justice machine has created a hyper-focus on melanin count—and a passionate charge of guilt for those who are born white. For instance, Thabiti Anyabwile tweeted the following on March 28 of 2018:

Don’t know how I can be more explicit than “repent of whiteness.”

While this was a long Twitter thread, when asked for clarification, Thabiti Anyabwile tweeted the following:

Yep. The consequence is disproportionate. We suffer far more when whiteness goes unrepented. Always have. Not trying to create a false equivalency, just to say we can only get our logs *first* and then help with the “specks.”

We have seen similar comments arise to the surface within evangelical circles recently. In an interview with Elizabeth Woodson, Ekemini Uwan stated the following:

Because we have to understand something – whiteness is wicked. It is wicked. It’s rooted in violence, it’s rooted in theft, it’s rooted in plunder,  it’s rooted in power, in privilege…

Interestingly enough, after a train wreck of controversy erupted at the Sparrow Women’s Conference, @SparrowWomen issued an apology and explanation by which Ekemini Uwan, who goes by the Twitter handle @sista_theology states the following:

This is not an apology. This is a terrible PR clean up job and a terrible one at that. I went into that racist space and did what I was supposed to do, tell the truth as a fully embodied BLACK woman.

Looking beyond the obvious differences on what happened at the conference, it’s obvious that Uwan has no problem lecturing everyone at the conference on how “whiteness” deserves repentance, but she has no trouble embracing her black identity as she references herself in the tweet above as a “BLACK woman.” This is just the tip of the iceberg of the divisions and confusion related to what many are insisting is the sin of whiteness and how those of us who are born white need to repent of this original sin. Ekemini Uwan was praised by Thabiti Anyabwile and Jackie Hill Perry. The social justice divide continues.

As this ethnic divide continues, evangelical leaders are bringing the political talk of reparations into the church. Not only is this a highly charged debate, it finds its source in politics and deconstructionism and redistribution of wealth—not the gospel. Yet, evangelical figures such as Thabiti Anyabwile seem to support reparations. This is one more example of how the social justice agenda is confusing the gospel.

The Bible points to the reality that our original sin is not based on skin color. It’s imputed to us through our relationship to Adam. Paul makes the case abundantly clear in Romans 5:12-14 and once again as he writes, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Nowhere do we see any connection to skin color as sinful, but instead, the guilt of Adam’s transgression is imputed to us, as David makes clear in Psalm 51:5. The gospel is that in Adam all die, but in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Cor 15:22). Paul doesn’t command Jews to repent of their Jewish identity or Jewish power in Romans 3:23, instead, he pointed them to repent of their sin of unbelief. In many ways the Jews had turned their identity into an idol, and that’s a modern pitfall for all ethnic groups to guard against.

We must not forget that this world is not our home. We are merely “sojourners and exiles” passing through (1 Pet 2:11-12). Our eyes are to be fixed on a better home—one whose maker and builder is God (Heb 11:10). Darrell B. Harrison observes the following:

Social justice advocates are, in my humble opinion, admirably but misguidedly hoping to remake this present world into one wherein justice and righteousness are consistently observed by all. But if God’s Word is clear about anything, it is that you and I are innately unrighteous and, consequently, we are wholly incapable of consistently adhering to society’s ever-shifting standards of righteousness let alone God’s (see Rom. 3:23; Ecc. 7:20). Which is why the vision of the late Dr. James Hal Cone (1936-2018) – a man whom many regard as one of the founders of black liberation theology – that “Love should be a controlling element in power, not power itself” will continue to be a mirage in this life, because the same sin that divides us from God divides us from one another.

We should not press upon people to offer another payment for their sins if Jesus truly paid it all (John 19:30). We must all (every kindred, tongue, tribe, and nation) come to Christ for redemption. The gospel is not a Jewish gospel. It’s not the gospel of the white man. It’s the gospel of Christ—for the Jew first and also the Greek (Rom 1:16). Jesus is the Savior of sinners throughout the world (John 3:16; 4:42). In Christ alone we find true reconciliation to the Father and genuine reconciliation to one another. Revelation 5 is a glorious picture of God’s love for every people group on planet earth.

Until we arrive in that glorious scene—we live with much hope as we walk the broken roads of this present evil world knowing that Jesus paid it all. True reconciliation will not be found at the foot of the political stump, in the laws of a broken society, or in the social justice agenda. True reconciliation will come only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • The first Adam damned us.
  • The last Adam saved us.
  • The first Adam led us away from God.
  • The last Adam brought us near to God.
  • The first Adam imputed to our account the guilt of sin.
  • The last Adam imputed to our account the righteousness of God.
  • The first Adam cursed us by birthright.
  • The last Adam saved us by faith.

Until we all come to the foot of the cross and cling to the work of Jesus alone, we will continue to see a divide growing between ethnicities. We can labor for unity within our local churches, through accountability, through church discipline—and as our local churches grow brighter with the identity of Christ Jesus rather than the cowboy church, biker church, black church, white church or any other identity—we will grow closer and closer together in Jesus.

Jesus paid it all

All to him I owe

Sin had left a crimson stain

He made it white as snow

[1] Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice, (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 32.

Dr. Josh Buice serves as the pastor of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia — just west of Atlanta. He is the founding director of the G3 Conference, the author of the theology blog DeliveredByGrace.com. Dr. Buice studied at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his M.Div. and D.Min. in expository preaching.
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