Along the Way: A Telling False Allegation

Since the first of the month I have come across a book, a blog, and an article that reveal fundamentalist Christianity has identified yet another “enemy of the Gospel”—social justice. It’s a telling and false allegation.

I have seen periodic references to fundamentalists caricaturing “wokeness” (which includes a resistance to injustice) as a liberal attack on America and the Church, but its only in the past few weeks that I have come to connect the dots and recognize that “social justice” is a code phrase for a concerted opposition to progressive Christianity. The book, the blog, and the article have combined to reveal the bigger picture.

The book…..Owen Strachan has written ‘Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel — and the Way to Stop It’ (2021). Until recently, I did not know about him or his book. And to be fair, he is too extreme even for some fundamentalists. But he commands endorsement from numerous fundamentalists, including John MacArthur. Without question, Strachan is a leading voice in the movement that has flagged the social justice movement as heretical. And his views have forged an ideological path many others are following. For example, Jon Harris’ book, ‘Christianity and Social Justice: Religions in Conflict’ (2021) is of the same ilk. Strachan’s equation of the social justice movement with heresy and Harris’ allegation (even in the title of the book) that it is a false religion in conflict with Christianity are telling indicators. The views of these fundamentalists that social-justice advocates are in league with Satan is all you need to know, but it is a tip-of-the-iceberg indicator of a much more fully-developed way of thinking.

The blog…..Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, writes perjoratively with respect to social justice, citing it as evidence to allege the demise of the United Methodist Church, referring to its current state as a “tragedy.” In his blog posted on February 1st and entitled “The Next Methodism” (i.e. The Global Methodist Church) he alleges that “the rise of social sctivism” has resulted in the loss of the Wesleyan heritage in the UMC. [1] And when added to several other evidences of demise, he concluded that the UMC has lost its “very identity as a distinctive Christian movement.” While stopping just short of using heresy language, he essentially says the same thing in saying the UMC is no longer distinctively Christian.

The article….just two days ago, Bob Smietana, wrote an excellent exposé, “Woke war: How social justice and CRT became heresy for evangelicals” (Religion News Service, February 7, 2022). It is this article that alerted me to the concerted effort by fundamentalists to undermine mainline Christianity and using a firebrand critique of social justice to do so. If this post sets you on a discovery to check this out for yourself, begin with Smienta’s article. It sets the book and the blog in a larger, long-standing context.

Taken together, the book, the blog, and the article are a red herring and one that is an amazing denial of the social justice tradition which runs through Scripture and tradition. [2] It is beyond belief and beyond credibility that any Christian or group would make social justice a sign of heresy. There has always been a debate regarding the relationship between the “personal Gospel” and the “social Gospel,” but the resurgence of vitriol against social justice is another indication of how far into deception fundamentalists are willing to go to preserve their power.

The sadness of their false allegation against social justice is that the fundamentalists reveal a truth in the midst of their opposition to it. Social justice is a threat to fundamentalist Christianity because in Scripture and tradition it exposes the places where injustice exists and how imperialism (political/religious collusion) perpetuates it.

In our day, social justice movements are exposing the evils of Christian Nationalism. [3] So it comes as no surprise that the fundamentalists don’t like it. Potentates have never liked prophets. Money changers in the temple do not like to have their tables overturned.

[1] Tennent’s allegation is amazing against the backdrop of the Wesleyan tradition’s emphasis on social holiness, and even more so coming from the president of Asbury Theological Seminary, that has stood within the holiness tradition since its founding in 1923, birthed out of Asbury College, itself a holiness school since 1890. Of course, Tennet alleges that the contemporary social justice movement does not reflect the holiness tradition or biblical Christianity. But that is a topic outside the intention of this post.

[2] Richard Foster’s book, ‘Streams of Living Water’ has an excellent chapter on the holiness tradition, and by way of application, his chapter shows how the UMC, in fact, is a Christian manifestation of it.

[3] Just a reminder that I have written multiple posts about this on Oboedire, particularly in these archived categories: Nonviolence and The Prophetic Task. You can also search Oboedire for references to Christian Nationalism in other posts.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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