A quick response to the Sojourners Statement

The Sojourners statement published by well meaning Christians leaves much to be desired

Recently a statement called “Reclaiming Jesus” that has come out against the appalling abuses of Christianity by some of the political right has been shared by a friend on my facebook. The people that have signed the sojourners statement number a good few ministers from several different denominations. Most of these denominations could be described loosely as theologically liberal, with some solid bible teaching (depending from Church to Church). What I seek to argue is that there is truth in some of the statements, but there are certain theological issues that I take with certain pieces.

“Statement 1: WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That image and likeness confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all of us as children of the one God who is the Creator of all things. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God (the imago dei) in some of the children of God. Our participation in the global community of Christ absolutely prevents any toleration of racial bigotry. Racial justice and healing are biblical and theological issues for us, and are central to the mission of the body of Christ in the world. We give thanks for the prophetic role of the historic black churches in America when they have called for a more faithful gospel. THEREFORE, WE REJECT the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership. We, as followers of Jesus, must clearly reject the use of racial bigotry for political gain that we have seen. In the face of such bigotry, silence is complicity. In particular, we reject white supremacy and commit ourselves to help dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate white preference and advantage. Further, any doctrines or political strategies that use racist resentments, fears, or language must be named as public sin—one that goes back to the foundation of our nation and lingers on. Racial bigotry must be antithetical for those belonging to the body of Christ, because it denies the truth of the gospel we profess. ”

I find little issue with this statement in respect to the theology, and happily say with them that racism and white nationalism are sins. They are a disgraceful idolatry of race and nation, that is not to be advocated by any Christian anywhere. White nationalists should be directly rebuked by Christian communities and dealt with under Christian discipline should they belong to any Church. However, it is more in what it doesn’t say that concerns me; would they condemn with the same veracity the way in which white individuals are described as having their own form of original sin by the social justice movement because of the colour of their skin? Is a white man who lives in the US to blame for the historic crimes committed by certain members of the white race? It is important to note that racial bigotry and even racially-motivated crime work both ways, and that the use of racial idenity politics to cause division is on both the left and right of the political spectrum. We must condemn those democrats who treat black people as owned voters with the same strength as those who pander to racism and bigotry in the Republican Party. I have no interest in defending Trump, I consider him as ungodly as the Democratic Party, but the gospel means a complete abandonment of racial identitarianism. In the same way, to describe those churches which bravely fought against racism in politics historically as “black churches” is not only somewhat incorrect historically, (there were churches that fought for civil rights outside of black communities) but also contradicts the very message they seek to put out. Christianity means taking every idol to the alter before God and breaking it, and not mixing it up with racialism. There is no black church or white church, Jew or Gentile, there is just the Christian Church (Gal 3:28).

II. WE BELIEVE we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28). The body of Christ, where those great human divisions are to be overcome, is meant to be an example for the rest of society. When we fail to overcome these oppressive obstacles, and even perpetuate them, we have failed in our vocation to the world—to proclaim and live the reconciling gospel of Christ.THEREFORE, WE REJECT misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God. We lament when such practices seem publicly ignored, and thus privately condoned, by those in high positions of leadership. We stand for the respect, protection, and affirmation of women in our families, communities, workplaces, politics, and churches. We support the courageous truth-telling voices of women, who have helped the nation recognize these abuses. We confess sexism as a sin, requiring our repentance and resistance.”

 

My main issue with this statement is not that it condemns sexism, for sexism is definitely wrong and a sin. Violence against women is a great wrong, and many churches have wrongfully covered it up. When men are called to “love your wives as Christ loved the Church” Eph 5:25, which means being literally willing to lay down ones life, and never ever abusing her in any way. Where I take issue with this is what they are likely to call “oppression” . After saying we are made in the Image of God, it is worth noting that God created us “male and female” (Gen 1:27) , both with specific, God-ordained roles. This is also shown in Ephesians 5 where the commands from husbands and wives from God are different: wives are called to obey and submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22-24), husbands are called to love their wives. Thus, complementarianism is not to be regarded as oppression. Whether this goes as far as allowing ministers to be female for example, I believe the plain reading of 1 Timothy 2:12 gives the mandate to preach to men alone, though I’m happy to agree to disagree on this front. Either way, this is not to be seen as an oppression, unless God’s definition of us suddenly becomes oppression. It also leaves no room for defining ones own identity , God defines us as the one who created us (Romans 9:21) . It also leaves no room for the endorsement of sin through the creation of false identities (1 Corinthians 6: 9-11, Isiah 5:20, 1 John 1:6). Thus, calling sin a sin is not oppression either, particularly as Jesus commanded that the fundamental need to follow Him is to “deny” ourselves “and follow him” (Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23, Mark 8:34). Given that several of the churches listed have for example, supported same-sex marriage, that consistently rejects the gospel of Christ by fashioning a false identity and calling people to continue to live in sin.

Statement 3: WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. (Matthew 25: 31-46) “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable, and our treatment of people who are “oppressed,” “strangers,” “outsiders,” or otherwise considered “marginal” is a test of our relationship to God, who made us all equal in divine dignity and love. Our proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ is at stake in our solidarity with the most vulnerable. If our gospel is not “good news to the poor,” it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18). THEREFORE, WE REJECT the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God. We strongly deplore the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees, who are being made into cultural and political targets, and we need to remind our churches that God makes the treatment of the “strangers” among us a test of faith (Leviticus 19:33-34). We won’t accept the neglect of the well-being of low-income families and children, and we will resist repeated attempts to deny health care to those who most need it. We confess our growing national sin of putting the rich over the poor. We reject the immoral logic of cutting services and programs for the poor while cutting taxes for the rich. Budgets are moral documents. We commit ourselves to opposing and reversing those policies and finding solutions that reflect the wisdom of people from different political parties and philosophies to seek the common good. Protecting the poor is a central commitment of Christian discipleship, to which 2,000 verses in the Bible attest.”

Indeed charity as a people is highly important, and the passages this statement has cited are important to remember when dealing with those who claim to help the poor. However, this is not to come at the expense of preaching the good news of Jesus (John 12:4-7), for to focus on the material poverty whilst ignoring a gospel poverty is not the gospel of Jesus, but Judas. Further still, taking care of the poor must not come at the expense of failing to care for our families (1 Timothy 5:8). Jesus came to preach good news to the poor in spirit and “to proclaim liberty to the captives, to make the blind see, and to free those who are oppressed” by sin (Luke 4:18-19, Matthew 5:3). Much like Jesus then, we should focus on the spiritual well-being of the poor, as well assuaging the pain of poverty. Both are necessary, and they are not mutually exclusive, but focusing on the material alone, and calling it the gospel, is simply wrong. Further still, if they mean that socialist policy-making is the way in which Jesus intends for Christians to serve God, then that is simple idolatry of the state. Romans 13 states that all governments have a God-given mandate to rule, and a duty to care for the poor, but also to punish wrongdoing. Christ says to give government taxes, but to render to God ourselves, being in His image (Matt 22:21). Just because a government engages in conservative policy-making does not mean it is neglecting the poor, and to say otherwise is to bear false witness. Most conservatives want the poor to be better off, and to pretend otherwise as this statement does is frankly disgraceful. As to the need to resist the denial of healthcare to those who need it, I would have to ask what they mean by this? Do they mean the reform of Medicaid, which is nowhere near what the Democrats say it is, or do they mean the righteous successes of the pro-Life movement. For if they call abortion healthcare, they endorse murder (Psalm 139: 13-14, Lev 18:21, Ezekiel 16:21 Exod 20:13), and do not preach the word of God. I agree that a budget is a moral document, but to say that socialism is the only moral way is to make socialism Christianity. With that said, a government should take measures to look after the poor, and it is right to condemn policies which really do as described in the statement, but this seems like simple rhetoric rather than actual evidence based Christian critique of policy making.

 

IV. WE BELIEVEthat truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition, whose vocation includes speaking the Word of God into their societies and speaking the truth to power. A commitment to speaking truth, the ninth commandment of the Decalogue, “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16), is foundational to shared trust in society. Falsehood can enslave us, but Jesus promises, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). The search and respect for truth is crucial to anyone who follows Christ. THEREFORE, WE REJECTthe practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life. Politicians, like the rest of us, are human, fallible, sinful, and mortal. But when public lying becomes so persistent that it deliberately tries to change facts for ideological, political, or personal gain, the public accountability to truth is undermined. The regular purveying of falsehoods and consistent lying by the nation’s highest leaders can change the moral expectations within a culture, the accountability for a civil society, and even the behavior of families and children. The normalization of lying presents a profound moral danger to the fabric of society. In the face of lies that bring darkness, Jesus is our truth and our light.”

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This is very true, and it is sad that they do not recognise this happens on both sides of the political spectrum, and this very document lies about conservative policy making. It is also worth noting that there are many lies, such as the lie that we create our own identity, or lies that sin isn’t sin. The deception of humanity by Satan is based upon the claims that God didn’t really say something, and that sin will not kill us and that we shall be our own God. (Gen 3:1-5) Bearing false witness has wrecked the whole of society, and we should preach the gospel, rather than lying about what the gospel is to please those who want sin endorsed or do not want God to be God. The profound moral danger has seeped into the Church, out of fear of the world, rather than of God. (Matthew 10:33). I would hope these individuals practice what they preach and do not indulge in Pharisaical hypocrisy, neglecting the inerrant and perfect Word of God in the name of Liberation “theology” and neo-pelagianism. To end this statement analysis on a high note I do appreciate the emphasis within it on the fact that politicians are sinful as the rest of us, and it is important to remember not to idolise politicians. Yes they have been given authority by God, but they have also been given a duty by God.

 

 

V. WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles (the world) lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26). We believe our elected officials are called to public service, not public tyranny, so we must protect the limits, checks, and balances of democracy and encourage humility and civility on the part of elected officials. We support democracy, not because we believe in human perfection, but because we do not. The authority of government is instituted by God to order an unredeemed society for the sake of justice and peace, but ultimate authority belongs only to God.THEREFORE, WE REJECT any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule. We believe authoritarian political leadership is a theological danger that threatens democracy and the common good—and we will resist it. Disrespect for the rule of law, not recognizing the equal importance of our three branches of government, and replacing civility with dehumanizing hostility toward opponents are of great concern to us. Neglecting the ethic of public service and accountability, in favor of personal recognition and gain often characterized by offensive arrogance, are not just political issues for us. They raise deeper concerns about political idolatry, accompanied by false and unconstitutional notions of authority.”

This statement is very much solid in my view in terms of beliefs, I agree with democracy in human government for much the same reason. However, the rejections do not follow. Donald Trump’s abusive statements to world leaders and countries were not becoming of a world leader ordained by God. However, Trump is in office and has authority, and we must recognise that fact. Thus, we must call him to repent when he does not act in a manner becoming of his position, rather than suggest he shouldn’t be in office. Further still, I cannot agree with the resisting of any autocratic political leadership, there are sometimes good reasons for such things. Romans 13 was written about the Emperor Nero, and most of the European world was not truly democratic for much of history. Democracy is an innovation. Thus, if a more autocratic ruler comes to power but rules in a Godly fashion, we should praise God for that. In the same way, in a democracy we should pray for those in office to not persecute the Church, for wisdom to the electorate, and that those elected will rule in a Godly fashion, not necessarily a democratic fashion.

WE BELIEVE Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples (Matthew 28:18). Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. The most well-known verse in the New Testament starts with “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). We, in turn, should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants, rather than seek first narrow, nationalistic prerogatives. THEREFORE, WE REJECT “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal. We reject domination rather than stewardship of the earth’s resources, toward genuine global development that brings human flourishing for all of God’s children. Serving our own communities is essential, but the global connections between us are undeniable. Global poverty, environmental damage, violent conflict, weapons of mass destruction, and deadly diseases in some places ultimately affect all places, and we need wise political leadership to deal with each of these.”

Americanism is a heresy, much as any nationalism of that sort is a heresy, and it is definitely crucial that we do not neglect our global connections. However, to repeat what I said about 1 Timothy 5:8 , we must take care of our own communities, otherwise we are worse than the unbeliever. Further still, it needs to be emphasised that the USA government is the USA government and not the world government. Pray for wisdom for Trump to handle the issues described in this statement in cooperation with other governments. Not to override the God-ordained authority of other governments. The first duty of the US government is to its own people, not to solve world poverty elsewhere. This is not to say that it cannot help other countries, but there are many in the US that are in poverty, and to not support those in favour of supporting other countries is wrong. Pray for wisdom in any intervention a government makes in other countries is the simple solution to this, not to undermine the authority of said government.

 

WE ARE DEEPLY CONCERNED for the soul of our nation, but also for our churches and the integrity of our faith. The present crisis calls us to go deeper—deeper into our relationship to God; deeper into our relationships with each other, especially across racial, ethnic, and national lines; deeper into our relationships with the most vulnerable, who are at greatest risk. The church is always subject to temptations to power, to cultural conformity, and to racial, class, and gender divides, as Galatians 3:28 teaches us. But our answer is to be “in Christ,” and to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable, and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2) The best response to our political, material, cultural, racial, or national idolatries is the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Jesus summarizes the Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind. This is the first commandment. And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:38). As to loving our neighbors, we would add “no exceptions.”

Irony of ironies! They highlight the problem with idolatry without recognising they are guilty of this themselves. We are not to be culturally conformed, but that means calling sin a sin! Not endorsing it as many of these signatories by association with the churches that support abortion or same-sex marriage do. It means no idolising of liberation, and recognising that sin is the first thing we must be liberated from. It means putting the Word of God first, and nothing else besides. It means rejecting the identitarianism that underpins much of this statement.

To conclude,this statement had some biblical truth to it. I know I have used strong language, but I feel the call to repentance is necessary in this case. The signatories of this statement are well meaning. They have diagnosed the right solution to an incomplete depiction of the right problem, in loving our God and loving our neighbour by showing them the sin around us. Racism and racial bigotry (towards everyone), sexism, xenophobia, these things are wrong and sinful and as appalling as sins such as abortion or the false identitarianism of LGBTQ+ identities. Lying is appalling, and it is just as sinful to lie about conservative policies as it is to lie about anything else. It is also as idolatrous to support leftism as the only Christian solution as to suggest Christians that support socialism are not Christians. The statement “Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23) has never rung so true. Pray for these signatories, that they may present their congregations with a full gospel, and not one that is polluted with liberation theology.

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