Sitting on the credenza behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office is the bust of Latino civil rights leader César Chávez. Other leaders of the movement decorating the most powerful place on the planet—Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Robert F. Kennedy—give a clear signal to the 46th US president’s agenda for America. Among his first acts as POTUS, President Biden signed an executive order on “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.” Among the order’s mandates, “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.” The executive order met with exuberant joy from the left and harsh criticism from the right (#BidenErasedWomen). In a real sense, such action is not surprising in a liberal democracy (i.e. Western democracy) focused on the elusive quest for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” by many who are socially marginalized.In a real sense, such action is not surprising in a liberal democracy focused on the elusive quest for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” by many who are socially marginalized. Click To Tweet
At the heart of the executive order is an apparent association with Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT/I). Not that CRT/I are responsible for the president’s executive order, they certainly contribute to a milieu focused on challenging, “the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law” (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017:loc 131). The CRT notion of Intersectionality rightly recognizes that identity is complex. Joel Modiri notes, “It is thus crucial to examine how the intersection of race, gender, class, nationality, sexual orientation, religious and cultural beliefs, (dis)ability and other identity locations induce multiple forms of discrimination and oppression” (2012:418). While the president’s executive order is a contemporary example of an attempt to curb the discrimination inherent in the intersection of identities, it also exposes a strategy to legislate a new morality. In such a climate, Christians are left to wonder how to respond.
Unfortunately, the church of the 21st century has been threatened by saltlessness. Her witness in America is often usurped by the desire for power, and shamed by the growing compromise of her leaders. Unwittingly led by an increasingly impotent Christology, the church tends to confuse cultural engagement with the exertion of influence over political, economic, and societal systems that favor a form of Christlikeness made in the image of a myopic appeal to the American dream that is completely foreign to the first century disciples. How can the church stand in the gap for injustice without the testimony of Christ as her sole anchor? His love, humility, and reconciling work form the foundation for any engagement of culture.Unwittingly led by an increasingly impotent Christology, the church tends to confuse cultural engagement with the exertion of influence over political, economic, and societal systems that favor a form of Christlikeness made in the image of a… Click To Tweet
The Church and Social Transformation
In the absence of a coherent strategy for social transformation, we suggest a missiologically theocentric framework as a path forward. Such a framework begins with God’s mission, manifests in a radical discipleship that looks like Jesus, and acts in a community of saints who inherently address injustice as ethical humans. To be ethical, according to the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is to make God known as good by risking to live like Jesus. By extension, the church (the community of saints acting ethically with all humans) is God’s instrument to bring social transformation. Neither political, or economic, not even societal systems can bring this kind of sustainable, and peaceful change; nor can an executive order of a president. It has never worked and it never will.
The church, however, exercising a proper ecclesiology focused on Christ—more than any political, economic or societal institution—is uniquely positioned to identify racism, classism, and related issues of intersectionality. The very actions of Christ must lead the church to critique current cultural contexts and assess them in light of Christianity’s clarion call for unity among diversity (Eph 2:11-22), measured economic stability (1 Tim 6:8-10; 17-19), and necessary care for those on the margins (Gal 2:10).To be ethical, according to the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is to make God known as good by risking to live like Jesus. By extension, the church (the community of saints acting ethically with all humans) is God’s instrument to bring… Click To Tweet
At the same time, there are clear Scriptural calls for the church’s uniqueness in society as a beacon of true humanity; that is, the expression of the God-become-human, Jesus Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Such a humanity recognizes that we all bear God’s image, and that God created us, male and female (Gen 1:27). He has imbued us with certain abilities that are at the same time complementarian and egalitarian in nature.
Our ethical posture, Bonhoeffer’s idea of “I relate ethically to others, ergo sum,” then must come from seeking the well-being of all humans. It dispenses with power dynamics that pit one group against another. Instead, its posture is as a servant, laying down personal rights and willingly taking on responsibility for the well-being of the other; even standing in the other’s place to share her pain from oppression, and frustration from discrimination. It vicariously bears the guilt of a society for the effects of bias, whether implicit or explicit, and it strives to reconcile all things in Christ as an expression of the mystery of the gospel (Eph 1:10). This ethical nature creates space to give voice to the voiceless, unity in the unique expressions of identities, co-equality in mutual submission, and stays focused on God’s mission while standing on level ground in its shared responsibility mandated by Christ himself to make disciples of all peoples (Matt 28:19-20).Instead, its posture is as a servant, laying down personal rights and willingly taking on responsibility for the well-being of the other, even standing in the other’s place to share her pain from oppression, and frustration from discrimination. Click To Tweet
The actions of POTUS portend the next four years in the United States. Similar action has already occurred in many countries around the world exposing a global moral vacuum. The church’s inability to recognize clear social realities has invited social philosophies like CRT/I to fill that void and we shouldn’t be surprised. Until we have a cohesive and coherent path forward to genuine social transformation, the church will continue to be on the margin of any significant change. So, hang on. Here we go. Another bumpy four years!
Adapted from the forthcoming book: Social Injustice II: Evangelical Voices in Tumultuous Times. Join our mailing list to be among the first to hear about the book’s release in April 2021.