A Texas pastor is asking the Southern Baptist Convention to reject various forms of “social justice” philosophy, which he says are leading the denomination’s churches, schools and institutions away from the Bible on issues like abortion, homosexuality and the distribution of wealth.
Grady Arnold, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cuero, Texas, has submitted a draft resolution for consideration at next month’s SBC annual meeting in Dallas claiming leaders including Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission are repeating mistakes of Social Gospel liberalism in the 20th century.
Linking social justice activism to Marxist ideology and postmodernism philosophy, Arnold instead advocates “Christian worldview” thinking to address issues of racial reconciliation, poverty, the environment, immigration, sex and gender.
Introducing the proposed statement on the blog SBC Today, Arnold said social justice pits people against each other by viewing them as either victims or oppressors. “I want us as a convention to unite around shared doctrine and values, not to divide it,” he explained.
Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas — who last year succeeded in getting a resolution passed condemning alt-right white supremacy — called Arnold’s proposal the most divisive he has seen in 40 years of Southern Baptist life. McKissic said its passage would set race relations in the convention back 100 years.
SBC Today publisher Rick Patrick countered there are better ways to address cultural issues than social justice philosophy.
“We believe in compassion, caring for the needy, the oppressed, and so forth,” said Patrick, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Sylacauga, Ala. “We just believe in doing it the biblical way, the Jesus way, and not the Privileged Class versus the Victim Class way taught by the Marxist philosophy.”
Arnold’s resolution cites conservative radio host Glenn Beck, who in 2010 advised people finding the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on their church’s website to “run as fast as you can” to a different church.
Social justice refers to efforts to order society in ways that share opportunities and privileges to all people regardless of their social class. In Baptist life it became identified with Walter Rauschenbusch, a 20th-century theologian who differentiated between an “old” evangelism of personal transformation and a “new evangelism” of salvation from social ills and injustice as partial realization of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Longtime Southern Baptist Theological Seminary ethics professor Henlee Barnette counted Rauschenbusch as one of the “three great prophets” of American history, along with Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.
Rauschenbusch also influenced Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary ethics pioneer T.B. Maston, but he advised preachers to avoid using the term “social gospel” in church, because it “arouses some opposition on the part of some people to what you’re trying to do.”
A.C. Miller, first executive secretary of what is today called the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, lamented in 1954 that irrational fears of the social gospel “have led us to evade whole areas at our responsibilities by referring to them as social matters that are not a part of the gospel.”
Applying Christianity in the social sphere to matters such as race, war, poverty and women’s rights was the centerpiece of the ministry of Foy Valentine, who led the entity called the Christian Life Commission from 1960 until 1987.
Things changed abruptly under Valentine’s successor, Richard Land.
“The idea of a social gospel was hatched in hell,” Land told students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1991. “There is only one gospel,” he said, “a whole gospel for whole people that brings society under the sway of Jesus’ principles and righteousness.”
Since taking over for Land in 2013, Russell Moore has led Southern Baptists toward a middle position affirming both personal evangelism and public justice as part of the church’s mission. Arnold says Moore has promoted social justice through multiple writings and events, creating a “crisis point in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“Social justice and Christian ethics are clearly antithetical to each other in the areas of tolerance, sexuality, gender, human life beginning at conception, and in general the role of a believer and the purpose for good works being to glorify God,” Arnold’s resolution says in part.
It is up to the SBC Resolutions Committee whether to bring Arnold’s resolution to the floor for debate and a vote by messengers to the June 12-13 annual meeting at the Kay Bailey Dallas Convention Center.
While rare, it is possible for messengers to override a Resolutions Committee decision not to move forward with a resolution. Last year’s committee tried to veto McKissic’s alt-right resolution, calling it poorly written and inflammatory, but came back later in the meeting with a statement decrying “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”