I’ve always been perplexed by my fellow conservative Christians’ overall rejection of “wokeness.” After all, the gospel is all about repentance from our harmful behaviors and a renewing of the mind. Who amongst us that has walked with the Lord for any length of time has not had the experience of God telling us to change longtime behaviors we had not previously recognized as sinful? That’s what sanctification is all about.
Yes, we all received forgiveness for our past upon turning to Christ, but we all still have a long way to go in terms of being “perfected.” I have been a Christian for more than 34 years, and I’m still discovering (sometimes daily) new things about myself that fall far short from the likeness of Christ’s character.
Thus, when we are called not only to examine our past but also to continually look at the ways our behaviors and systems in the present might be causing harm to others, shouldn’t we not only welcome but encourage it?
In calling the church of Ephesus to live a life of repentance, Paul specifically advised, “This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (Ephesian 5:14). Is that not a call to be “woke?”
In addition, with verses like, “Do justice and righteousness, and save one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor” (Jeremiah 22:3) and, “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows his love for the stranger by giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18), is not the Bible full of verses calling for justice and concern for the poor, the marginalized and oppressed?
And is not God’s command for us to subdue the earth a charge to properly steward our environment?
Of course, this does not mean all forms of implementing “justice” or care are necessarily good or helpful. Most of us recognize, for example, that simply handing cash to a person experiencing homelessness is not always the best solution. In fact, it often can be more hurtful, therefore making it the more unloving thing to do.
“The call for Christians to be ‘woke’ does not mean all proposals for implementing social justice are impervious to criticism.”
Likewise, the call for Christians to be “woke” does not mean all proposals for implementing social justice are impervious to criticism. Certainly, many man-made solutions, especially ones based on immediate emotional satisfaction over wisdom, or that rely on impersonal government programs versus loving care, have proved to be less effective and, in many cases, done more harm than good.
Furthermore, while accountability is an important part of creating a just society, we have seen many examples, whether on college campuses or through social media, of so-called “cancel culture” that have gone too far by stifling free speech and disproportionately destroying people’s lives and careers. In many ways, those fighting on behalf of the oppressed have become oppressors themselves.
But none of that excuses us from needing to care for the poor and the needy. None of that excuses us from administering justice on behalf of those who have been marginalized. And none of that excuses us from properly stewarding the earth.
In fact, it is the very wholesale rejection of “social justice” and anything they deem “woke” that gives the appearance that Christians lack compassion for those who are struggling, have little desire to self-reflect and change (thus, dismissing the process of sanctification), and are hypocritical to their own sacred text.
“It is the very wholesale rejection of ‘social justice’ and anything they deem ‘woke’ that gives the appearance that Christians lack compassion.”
And just as the church once abandoned Hollywood to its own devices, now the church has abandoned its role of justice and care for the world to an increasingly secularized society, consequently, losing its influence. The result is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy as it leaves the role of social justice into the hands of those who lack important Christian principles essential to its ultimate success.
So rather than rejecting “wokeness” and social justice efforts outright, shouldn’t Christians be joining others in it and bringing their own solutions to the table?
And by “solutions,” I don’t mean ones devised by a particular political party but rather ones that reflect the actual character and teachings of Christ — something much needed to make a difference in our divided world and in individual people’s lives.
In my opinion, Christians could and should be setting the narrative and leading on the front lines of social justice by carrying with it the following important principles:
Self-repentance. All too often, when we hear national calls for “repentance” or for “hope and change,” if you listen carefully, you will notice what people are really calling for is for those on the “other side” to repent. If the Left would just turn to God, repent of its idolatry and stop destroying America or the Right would stop its hate, and turn from its religious bigotry we would have a better country. But such calls for repentance ignore a critical teaching of Christ:
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye!” (Matthew 7:3-5)
“If we wish for justice in our society, we must start by looking at ourselves.”
If we wish for justice in our society, we must start by looking at ourselves. If we aren’t finding significant things to change in ourselves first — our actions, words and attitudes — we are not prepared to even begin asking others to make changes in their lives.
A Call to Holiness. In Scripture, God commands us, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Levitucus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16), but most calls for change in today’s society look instead toward an idealized time and place, whether that be some future man made “utopian” society, a glamorized comparison to some other country, or a fondness to return to the way things once were. Due to the depravity of humankind, however, no particular people group, time period or country is ever free from problems or injustice.
Calls to “Make America Great Again,” for example, while certainly placating the fond memories of a better time for major segments of the population, forget that for other segments such as minorities, those were times of extreme injustice. Claims we should do things like such and such country often ignore that nation’s other problems hiding beneath the surface. And government programs designed to make things more equitable often become corrupted by those put in charge who are only looking out for their own self-interest.
Thus holiness, as reflected in the character of Christ and the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) should always be the end game for any social justice effort.
Grace. Instead of “cancel culture,” social media shaming, violent college protests and the likes, pointing out justice issues and offenses always should be done with a measure of grace. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you,” according to Jesus (Matthew 7:2).
This does not mean there should be no measure of accountability, but rather such judgments should be issued without condemnation and with a sober level of self-awareness. Jesus illustrated this perfectly in his interaction with the woman caught in adultery. After making those who wanted to stone her self-aware of their own sinfulness and reassuring the woman that she was not condemned, he still proceeded to tell her to “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)
We also must remember that grace (meaning unconditional favor) must be administered to all parties involved, including and especially victims of injustice. As exemplified by recent sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church, leaders in an attempt to administer “grace” to perpetrators of the crimes often offered little to no favor to their victims and did not consider their needs. The result is that the abusers were not held accountable, and survivors of their crimes left without a voice.
“Too many lives have been condemned and nearly destroyed because of a lack of grace.”
Too many lives have been condemned and nearly destroyed because of a lack of grace. True justice must include a combination of God’s unconditional favor and accountability.
Wisdom. That we may need to administer justice and concern for others may be obvious, but the best means to do so are not always clear. As in the example earlier of giving cash to a person experiencing homelessness, the emotional satisfaction of meeting that person’s immediate ask may not be the best solution. At the same time, there may be times where God specifically calls you to do so. Life is complicated, and we do not have all the answers on our own.
Jesus sometimes turned over tables and sometimes offered compassionate words. He sometimes spit, sometimes just touched, and sometimes he just spoke to bring about healing. This is because he relied upon God for wisdom in each individual situation. Unfortunately, humankind since the beginning has tried to do things on its own, choosing to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil rather than listen to God’s voice.
Fortunately, as Christians we still have access to that voice. We are told that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10) and that God gives wisdom “generously and without reproach” to those who ask (James 1:5). Too often the complicated world of social justice gets caught up in man-made solutions as well as party politics (from both sides) — solutions that may appear “right” on the surface but ultimately fail to bring life to the individuals in need.
By engaging in social justice and turning to God daily for guidance, Christians have the opportunity to bring wisdom to the table and truly change lives.
Humility. If there is any way I could best describe the constant division in our society over social justice issues, it is an extreme lack of humility from both sides of our political divide — Christians, unfortunately, have been no exception. But this is contrary to the very character of Christ, who having the very nature of God humbled himself for our sake (Philippians 2:6-8), encouraged us to serve “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) and took on a servant’s role of washing his disciple’s feet (John 13).
“If there is any way I could best describe the constant division in our society over social justice issues, it is an extreme lack of humility from both sides of our political divide.”
Practicing all four above principles above should result in humility as we measure our own weaknesses before a holy God and dole out the same level of grace God has offered us. This also means less time “slamming” others on social media and in other spaces in order to have the upper hand, more time humbly listening and dialoguing with differing views, and continually going before God for help and wisdom.
This, of course, should be followed by a willingness to change as you learn from others and God brings your inadequate attitudes and behaviors to the forefront.
Moving forward, this gives each of us in the church a good set of questions to ask ourselves when facing a justice or care issue — before either outright criticizing an approach or jumping on its bandwagon:
- In what ways do I need to repent on the issue first? If you have not found something in yourself that needs to change first, then you likely have not done enough self-reflection.
- Is there holiness in the approach as well as in my response? “Holiness” can be a fairly broad term, but I have found simply asking this question gives me deep pause and holds me to accountability.
- Am I offering grace to all individuals involved? If I am quick to condemn a side or to ignore the pleas of victims, then I am not showing the unconditional favor to others that God has already bestowed on myself.
- Am I seeking God’s wisdom daily on this? Have I prayed on it first? A good indicator you are not doing this is if your approach never changes. Life is too complex to be doing it all according to your own plans.
- Am I showing humility by actively listening to differing perspectives? If your goal is always to come out on top, then you may be advancing your own kingdom rather than God’s. A good indicator that you are not properly answering this question, or any of the above, is if you never find yourself changing along the way.
By practicing the above, the church can lead the way. It can help start a revival of “wokeness” as it awakens from its own slumber and begins to demonstrate what it truly looks like for Christ to “shine on you.”
Steve L. Baldwin is a media producer and author who has served in ministry for more than 30 years. He is the author of Rethinking God: Because God is Bigger, Closer, and More Real Than You Think, often shares his thoughts at HonestlyThinking.org, and can also be found on Facebook or Twitter.
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