Another week, another headline, another hashtag, and louder cries for an immediate and public response from all about the latest tragedy, disaster, or injustice. Failure to immediately and publicly respond has been viewed as a form of cowardice or callousness at best (after all “silence is violence”). But not just any response will do.
What if someone doesn’t agree with the majority of opinions expressed online? What if someone suggests nuance and context? Such responses are verboten. Unless someone retweets that particular tweet, or says those exact words, or agrees with this particular assessment of the situation, then they are deemed part of the problem.
But is that actually the case? Must every pastor or every person give a public statement about every single alleged injustice? Is that a wise and biblical principle to uphold?
We don’t think so. Instead, it seems like such a demand is theologically immature, and thus pastorally unhelpful in cultivating a culture that upholds actual (i.e. biblical) truth, justice, compassion, and love (instead of cultural caricatures of such virtues). For various reasons a pastor, Christian, or church might actually be wise to refrain from immediately and publicly speaking out about a particular act of alleged injustice at times. In fact, our church often refrains from tweeting or blogging about the latest current event–and it isn’t because we don’t care.
- In order to keep the main thing the main thing.
- In order to systematically make disciples.
- In order to respond through the best possible media.
- In order to respond at the right time.
- In order to avoid affirming unbiblical assumptions.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
1. TO KEEP THE MAIN THING, THE MAIN THING
God has given his churches a central focus, a primary aim, a main thing to devote their attention to: the gospel. And this gospel must remain the main thing.
By saying that the gospel is the main thing, we mean that politics, social justice, and current events are not. Now, this does not mean that churches cannot address certain political and social topics, or that they are completely irrelevant as implications of the gospel. This also doesn’t mean that current events are irrelevant. In fact, churches should sometimes address all of these things. But addressing them as secondary is different than shifting your sermon every week so that you can preach on whatever is trending on Twitter. This neglects the church’s primary calling. Yes we are to be involved in politics and the pursuit of (actual, i.e. biblical) social justice, but that is not our main mission. The Kingdom of God is our mission, and the gospel is primary, and so the Bible commands us to not get distracted from our main calling.
For example, notice in Acts 6:1-6 that the apostles cannot give up preaching and praying to help pursue “social justice” (feeding people who don’t have food as a result of ethnocentrism); so, they assign it to others who can make it a (secondary) ministry of the church. Is feeding the needy important? Absolutely. Is it the main thing? Absolutely not.
Again, this doesn’t mean that current events are unimportant, but it does mean that they are not ultimate. When what is of secondary importance becomes primary, the gospel has shifted and the church has forsaken her chief end.
No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. (2 Timothy 2:4)
2. TO SYSTEMATICALLY MAKE DISCIPLES
Ours is a fallen world. Each and every day there are literally billions of injustices perpetrated by billions of people. Three years ago the world was in a panic with talk of #COVID19. A few years ago, from Weinstein to the Southern Baptist Convention, sexual abuse and #MeToo dominated the conversation. Later, our country erupted over racial disharmony, discussions of police brutality, #BlackLivesMatter, riots, and looting. Today, it is transgender rights. Tomorrow we will be in an uproar about #somethingelse…or maybe even the same things. This isn’t even taking into account current events in Hong Kong, North Korea, Ukraine, and the Middle East.
There is no shortage of injustice, disaster, and abuse to argue about and lament. Which means that churches must either be perpetually putting out the fires that culture lights, or pick and choose which battles to fight, and when.
For those churches that choose the former option, good luck. Though none of us have omniscient access to each and every act of alleged injustice, we are each aware of myriad examples every single day. In fact, Americans are cognizant of 2400 acts of injustice each day against the unborn. Does that mean that we should send out 100 tweets per hour, one for each and every child that is murdered? Is the prescribed standard that all churches must comment on every single act of injustice and, if so, why does the knife not cut both ways? Why do those who yell the loudest about this (racism, poverty, greed, etc.) and demand that you do so as well, get to refrain from speaking about that (abortion, riots, murder, covetousness, sexual immorality)?
Yes, racism is horrific. But so is abortion, and oppressive international regimes, and murder, and covetousness, and distortions of human sexuality, and on and on we could go. Some are obviously worse than others, but each and every one is wicked and evil and unjust. So who gets to choose which are or are not worthy of mention? Should we just allow whatever’s trending on Twitter the right to choose which injustices to emphasize and which to neglect?
What if, instead of constantly drifting along the currents of current events, some churches choose to take a more systematic approach to discipleship? What if rather than addressing something tangentially, churches determined to teach diligently through the whole counsel of God such that their people were proactively equipped to think biblically about injustice, oppression, racism, abortion, tornados, etc.? People who already know what Scripture says about life don’t need to be reminded that murder is bad every time there is another homicide. Otherwise, we become like Pawnee City Council candidate Bobby Newport courageously proclaiming, “I’m against crime, and I’m not afraid to admit it.”
So, instead of grinding to a halt with each new current event, maybe a more faithful approach is to simply keep on equipping your people to understand how to view the world through the lens of Scripture. Maybe instead of constantly fighting fires, we spend our time building that which doesn’t burn. That way whenever some atrocity occurs, our people already know how to process it rather than being force-fed a particular sound bite. Speaking of sound bites…
3. TO RESPOND THROUGH THE BEST POSSIBLE MEDIA
The maxim of outrage culture is not only that someone must say this particular thing using these particular words, but that they must do so in this particular way and at this particular time. What way is that? The way of social media. Unless a church or person tweets the latest hashtag or changes their Facebook profile pic, they are viewed as cold and heartless at best, or “abusive” and “complicit” at worst. After all, silence is violence.
But that’s absurd! Why would we expect Twitter and Facebook to be the means by which we untangle some of the most complicated historical and theological issues requiring nuance, context, and definition? Are issues of systemic racism, and the distinctions between biblical and cultural definitions of justice, and the discussion of policing tactics really tailor made for 280 characters? Can you adequately communicate how the sovereignty of God overlaps with the death of hundreds in a hurricane in an Instagram story? Is a comprehensive view of human sexuality something that can be accomplished with a short sound bite? Is that really what is most helpful, edifying, and wise? Is there really no better forum for discussing such things?
Unfortunately, within the world of social media, there is a tendency to think that unless one responds on social media, they are not responding at all. But that’s not fair or true. Perhaps the person who hasn’t tweeted about it has had multiple conversations with friends and family. Perhaps the pastor who doesn’t write a blog on the topic doesn’t need to, because he has proactively covered it in a sermon, or a teaching, or in personal conversations with members. For example, many churches have devoted a considerable amount of time to the topics of suffering, racism, justice, abuse, allegations, and so forth. And those libraries are constantly growing. Anyone who desires to know what those churches think about a current injustice needs only search a website (or just send an email to discuss in person). In other words, a lack of a public response via Twitter does not necessitate lack of response. In fact, we would argue that just about any medium for discussion is better than social media.
4. TO RESPOND AT THE RIGHT TIME
Another reason to avoid making an immediate and public statement is because the Bible continually and loudly warns against judging prematurely. This is crucial, so stick with us.
Is COVID19 the next global plague, or just a worse version of the flu, or something in between? We are now in a better position to begin to answer that question, but 3 years ago, not even the world’s best scientists agreed. Was the latest police shooting justified or not? How can we know if the gun is still smoking and the witnesses haven’t even been interviewed? For instance, within hours of the Atlanta Olympic bombing of 1996, Richard Jewell was hailed as a hero. Within days, he was a suspect. Later, he was completely exonerated, but the rush to judgment nearly ruined his life.
Our culture hates nuance. We hate patience. We hate waiting for the facts. We want to speak and to do so immediately, and without perspective. In a world with video and photos circulating around the globe within seconds of an act occurring, there is a tendency to rush to judgment and form an opinion.
Unfortunately that formed opinion is often uninformed by things like context and facts. And Scripture warns us about this threat to truth and justice:
- A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2)
- If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
- The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)
- Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. (Proverbs 19:2)
- Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does? (John 7:51)
- On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6)
- Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:19)
It feels good to post an opinion. Sometimes it provides an opportunity to blog your virtue before men; or maybe it’s simply the authentic cry of a pained heart. Regardless, if it is done without a patient consideration of the facts, it is folly. But unfortunately, most don’t tend to think of it like that.
But what’s the big deal? Why does it matter if we delay expressing an opinion?
Well, to be honest, there’s no good reason to delay if your goal is to simply tweet your righteousness before others; but if ascertaining truth and enacting true justice is your goal, the value of delaying the expression of your opinion cannot be overstated. Because apart from the actual facts and the actual truth, we have no idea whether or not an injustice has even occurred, or who was the perpetrator of such. Therefore, without knowing what or whether an injustice occurred, our calls for justice could actually be perpetuating injustice.
For example, imagine a crowd calling for Joseph’s arrest for assaulting Potiphar’s wife, or the crowd calling for Christ’s crucifixion because He was so obviously guilty of blasphemy. That crowd is convinced that they are on the side of justice, and yet they are actually culpable of the very thing they claim to hate. In other words, the Bible absolutely affirms that we are to be on the side of the victim, but apart from truth and facts, we don’t actually know who the victim actually is!
Again, the Bible is very clear that we not allow justice to be perverted by assumptions, presuppositions, or any other factors other than facts. This is why Lady Justice is typically portrayed as wearing a blindfold. She is blind to gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc. She is not swayed by appearance. She is predisposed to judge on the basis of the facts she hears rather than the faces she sees.
About this too, the Bible is very clear.
- You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. (Exodus 23:1–3)
- You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:15)
- You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow… (Deuteronomy 16:19–20)
- He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17:15)
- These also are sayings of the wise. Partiality in judging is not good. Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them. Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips. (Proverbs 24:23–26)
- It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice. (Proverbs 18:5)
- For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:11)
- In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Timothy 5:21)
- But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:9)
As a result of the philosophical Kool-Aid which our culture has imbibed, we spontaneously assume that the rich man has automatically oppressed the poor man, but Scripture says to assume or defer to neither. Our culture fails to recognize that condemning the righteous is just as abominable as justifying the wicked. Our culture says that partiality on the basis of sex, gender, race, or socioeconomic status is good, but God says that all such prejudice is evil. In our eager and passionate quest for immediate justice, we forsake the inherent necessity of truth in the pursuit of equity, and thus actually end up perverting justice and perpetrating injustice.
5. TO AVOID AFFIRMING UNBIBLICAL ASSUMPTIONS
When it comes to social media, culture makes the rules and asks the questions. Unfortunately, those questions are loaded questions. Imagine someone asking you “have you stopped murdering people?” That’s a hard question to answer if you are limited to a one-word response. “Yes” implies you used to murder people. “No” implies you still do. What are you to do? Kill the person who asked the question? Maybe the best thing to do is to refuse to answer a loaded question.
Such is the case with much of the social media culture of today. Do black lives matter? Of course! But what about #blacklivesmatter? Well, by tweeting that are you just supporting your black brothers, and sisters, and neighbors made in the image of God? Or are you supporting the Black Lives Matter organization that explicitly supports abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, etc.? Or what about #alllivesmatter? Is that merely a statement of equality for all? Or is it a hidden means of ignoring the voices of minorities? Who decides such things after all?
Or what about #believeallwomen? Really? Should we believe Potiphar’s wife when she claims that Joseph assaulted her? Or Sarah when she says that she’s Abraham’s sister? Believe Rachel Dolezal when she claims to be black? Believe a woman who says she is a man? Believe moms who are suspected of killing their children? Of course not.
Rather, the biblical principle isn’t “believe all women,” but rather “believe the truth.” Never allow gender to pervert truth and justice. Remember, justice is blind. God hates partiality, even partiality to those who belong to a group whose members may have been historically oppressed.
Or what about whether or not we support immigration? Well, it depends. Are we talking about legal or illegal immigration? Or do we mean “we” as the Church should support immigrants, or that our country should do so? Are those the same or different? But again culture doesn’t allow such nuance or precision.
What we see in each of these examples is that words and phrases often have meanings which extend well beyond their literal meaning. In a sense we might think of them as Trojan horses. They look like pretty ponies, but inside there is philosophical destruction. Who would dare to disagree that black lives matter, or who would dare to say that we shouldn’t believe women? No one who upholds a biblical view of humanity. And so we type a hashtag and open the gates to bring inside our shiny new stallion, never knowing that we have just given quarter to a host of deadly philosophical presuppositions and assumptions.
So, sometimes rather than answering a question, the wise thing to do is to recognize that the question itself is loaded, and the game is rigged, and that the lovely little filly is filled with a really big fallacy.
This part’s important, so please listen closely.
Make no mistake; Christians are to speak out against injustice.
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8–9)
Christians are to speak about racism, riots, abortion, natural disasters, police brutality, pandemics, and so forth. This blog isn’t suggesting that speaking out against injustice or talking about the latest current event is irrelevant or unnecessary. Rather, it is simply responding to and rejecting the cultural maxim that one must do so immediately, and publicly, and uncritically lest they be accused of unfaithfulness. In fact, there are often much better times and ways to speak as we seek to submit to the wisdom of Scripture.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19–20)