Debate continues over the role of social justice in the evangelical Christian church, with ethicist Russell Moore refuting recent claims by pastor John MacArthur. Last month, MacArthur raised alarms about the social justice movement, calling it “the most subtle and dangerous threat so far.” Since then, more than 7,700 people have signed “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel,” which expresses concern that “values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”
Russell Moore on Social Justice
On September 13, Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, was asked about the statement while appearing on the Holy Post Podcast. Host Skye Jethani inquired whether rhetoric that seems to “differentiate and bifurcate” the ideas of social justice and the Gospel is helpful.
“No, because the Bible doesn’t put those two things in separate categories, and neither do [people making that argument],” Moore responded. “The Bible doesn’t make these artificial distinctions between what we are doing privately and personally and then what we are gathering together and doing.”
Debunking Arguments Against Social Justice
When asked about the claim that social justice is a slippery slope that will lead churches away from the Gospel, Moore said those people are “almost always talking about race.” He added that it’s “disheartening” to see the church repeat the same problems and use the same talking points. For example, in 1845 some churches said addressing slavery would become a distraction from sharing the Gospel. Moore says:
“Well, if you stand up and call people to repentance for drunkenness and adultery but you don’t call them to repentance for participating in or applauding the kidnapping, rape, forced servitude of image-bearing human beings, then you have spoken to it. You’ve said, ‘This is an issue to which you will give no account at judgment.’ That is not what the Bible teaches.”
The host also asked Moore about the argument that laws are pointless because they don’t change hearts. Moore said although laws may not prevent hatred, they provide protection for oppressed groups such as widows (Proverbs 15:25) and workers (James 5:4).
Another argument is that “if we just preach the gospel and hearts are transformed, then we don’t have to worry” about social justice issues. Moore said, “That would’ve saved a lot of space in the New Testament!” He pointed out that Scripture preaches the gospel and then offers implications of what it means “to have a conscience that is under the direct Lordship of Christ.” Some areas are quite clear, he said, while in other areas we must struggle and check our motives.
Gospel and Social Justice: Not an Either-or Proposition
Spreading the Gospel and seeking social justice aren’t mutually exclusive, Moore says. “The mission of the church is not simply to preach the Gospel but to disciple—to shape and form consciences of people to live as followers of Jesus in every area of their lives.” The church must “make consciences alive to what Jesus cares about,” he says, “and one of the primary things Jesus cares about is the universal temptation to make certain people invisible because of their lack of power.”
Part of the church’s mission, Moore says, is to teach what it means now to live as followers of Christ. “Jesus doesn’t work for you; you work for him,” Moore says. “And Jesus has given to you a revelation in Scripture that addresses both how we act individually and…how we act in our various vocations.”