Evangelicalism and Injustice Part I

Evangelicalism has been very good at preaching the good news, but falls a bit short on doing justice.


I am taking a break from considering the difference between “the righteous” and “the wicked” in Scripture to return to a related topic that erupted publicly in recent weeks: racial injustice. It is related because God’s character is righteousness and justice at His core.

As an attorney, I have had the privilege (and sacred duty) to devote some time to a local organization known as Administer Justice that serves the poor, vulnerable and under-privileged in communities around the country. A great many of “those people” are minorities, immigrants and “the working poor”. I’ve had the honor of getting know some real servants of the Gospel in the process, like Bruce Strom, the founder and executive director of this organization.

I am reading through his book, Gospel Justice. I’ve owned the book for a long time, probably years. I started it a long time ago, and I am still not through it yet because ( I admit) that other, more “interesting” subjects and diversions have distracted me from the seemingly mundane subject of justice.

If I truly want to know God’s heart, to follow Jesus and to work out my salvation as God works within me to will and to act according to His good purpose, though, I need to be concerned about justice – because it’s at the foundation of God’s throne. (Psalm 89:14)

We can’t talk about justice in the United States in the 21st century without talking about racial disparities resulting from centuries of racial injustice. The recent events following the killing of George Floyd (and others) have focused national attention on the issue. As the national dialogue continues, we in the Body of Christ need to engage.

There is a great need for the Body of Christ collective to participate as God would have us get involved in the discussion, action and changes necessary to address racial injustice. My own neighborhood in the Body of Christ is the American evangelical church. Thus, I write this with my evangelical brothers and sisters in mind.

The following passage in Bruce Strom’s book inspires my thoughts today:

“The division between Jews and Gentiles was the great divide of the first century.
“In America that great divide is race, and it remains a leading contributor to injustice. In their book, Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith examine the role of white evangelicalism in race relations. Based on extensive interviews and study, they conclude that the evangelical church, with its focus on individual salvation, not only misses the opportunity to break down the great divide between the races, but also contributes to it.
“This view is shared by my friend Ed Gilbreath, who wrote Reconciliation Blues. ‘A sad tendency of evangelical faith is to elevate the act of evangelism over the humanity of the people we want to reach…. Apparently, any time an ethnic minority speaks out against race-related injustice, he risks being branded a malcontent in need of therapy.’
“Racial injustice is real….
“We must not walk on by [like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan] as if racial injustice does not exist. We should listen to our neighbors of color who understand well the injustices in their community. And our friends of race should not give up, but seek opportunity to lead by example.”

I am reminded that the evangelical tradition is informed by people like Luther and Wycliffe. They championed the principal that salvation is by faith in the grace of God, not by works that we can do. That and the primacy of Scripture and the need for individual members of the Body of Christ to read Scripture for themselves and to pray to God our Father – not through some intermediary, but directly – one on one.

These things have driven the evangelical church to seek and save the lost, proclaiming the Gospel with the message of salvation to individuals who believe, repent of their sins and put their faith in the lordship and salvation wrought by Jesus on the cross. These are hallmarks of evangelicalism. They are indeed central to the purposes of God.

I am reminded further that, when Jesus stood up in the Temple to announce the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4, he read this from the Isaiah scroll:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel…. (v.18)

When the evangelical church considers the Great Commission –  “[G]o and make disciples of all nations….” (Matt. 28:19-20) – preaching the Gospel comes primarily to mind.  Evangelicalism has been a champion of preaching the Gospel. 

But, I think that sometimes we forget that Jesus didn’t stop there. The passage in Isaiah from which Jesus read continues on well past preaching the good news (quoting from Isaiah 61:1):

He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

Continue reading “Evangelicalism and Injustice Part I”

A Mic Drop Moment in First Century Galilee

Inside of ancient synagogue in Capernaum – Israel

If the phrase, “mic drop”, had been coined in the First Century, Jesus would have cornered the market. One of those mic drop moments occurred the day his ministry began.

Picture this. Jesus walks into the church (synagogue) where he grew up. Everyone knows him well. They all knew him because he grew up in the community. Nazareth was a small-town place, so they knew him very well.

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to the church. It was the church where he grew up and went to Sunday school. He was still very much part of the church community as an adult. When he attended church on that Sunday morning and stood up to read, he was doing what he had done before. Only this time would be different.

Jesus had been making quite the stir lately. His cousin, John the Baptist, was well-known for his unrelenting, uncompromising message about the coming of the one, the Messiah. (Luke 3:4-6)

Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.

Cousin John was literally quoting Isaiah 40:3-5 as if it were coming true out there in the countryside, outside of town where he spent most of his time. Crowds of people made their way out to hear him, but he wasn’t very popular among the church leaders. In fact, they rather despised him, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. He even called them a “brood of vipers”!

Until recently, Jesus seemed more respectable than that. Though they were cousins, it wasn’t like they hung out together. They were each keenly devoted to their Hebrew lessens, Bible reading and participation in church from a young age, but John seemed to “go off the rails” as he got older.

John the Baptist was out there in the countryside baptizing people. Lots of people. He was attracting quite the crowd talking about one who was coming who was more powerful than he.

Not that he had any power, really. That was the crazy part: he lived like a homeless person, eating bugs and shunning even the modest comforts that most people had become used to.

And John was attracting a less than reputable crowd too, including tax collectors. Tax collectors were sell-outs to the Roman occupiers, collecting Roman taxes from their own people, often collecting more than they should to line their own pockets. They were an unsavory and despised lot. Tax collectors were worse than the Romans.

The fact that John was attracting tax collectors didn’t speak well for his efforts, but the common people loved John. They practically worshiped him. This was particularly galling to the faithful leaders in the churches who had given their lives in service to the Lord. Who did he think he was?!

Of course, many were the so-called modern prophets who came, claiming to be the Messiah spoken of old. They stirring up crowds of disgruntled, marginalized Jews for a short time before the Romans got tired of the charade and put an end to it.

John seemed just like the ones who came before him, though his message was different. He was bold like the others, but in a different way. He wasn’t stirring people up against the Romans, like the others did. In fact, John seemed more interested in criticizing the religious community than the Romans, which hardly endeared him to them.

When Jesus attended church that day, the word was all over Galilee that Jesus had gone out to meet John. It was apparently quite a meeting by the reports that were circulating. Jesus even let John baptize him. In fact, he insisted on it, and this is where things got a little sideways, if you could believe the reports.

People said they heard a loud voice. Some said it was the voice of God. Others said they saw a dove swoop down and land right on his head. People were saying Jesus was a prophet. Some seemed to think he was the Messiah that John had been talking about. It seems that Jesus had gotten caught up in John’s delusion, and he was starting to believe it.

When Jesus stood up to read that day, these things were going through their minds. They knew something was up, but they weren’t at all prepared for what he was going to do.

Continue reading “A Mic Drop Moment in First Century Galilee”