I worry a bit when we start labeling ever divisive matter a “gospel issue.” Surely not everything rises to this threshold. Surely if you play the “gospel” card too many times—if you argue that “the gospel is at stake” in practically every debate—pretty soon the word loses all meaning. It becomes little more than a rhetorical club for stifling debate, for insinuating that anyone who disagrees with you hates the baby Jesus.
Yet sometimes the gospel IS at stake. The other day, Russell Moore when he called racial injustice a “gospel issue.” And I think he was right.
That was the day we learned that Eric Garner’s killer would not face charges. One of the first responses I saw in my Twitter feed came from Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was a transcript of a radio show he recorded moments after the news broke.
His comments are well worth reading:
A government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice.
What we need to do is to have churches that come together and know one another and are knitted together across these racial lines. I have gotten responses [to this]… that are right out of the White Citizen’s Council material from 1964 in my home state of Mississippi… people saying there is no gospel issue involved in racial reconciliation. Are you kidding me? There is nothing that is clearer in the New Testament [than] that the gospel breaks down the dividing walls that we have between one another.
If [this] is not a gospel issue, then I don’t know what is.
Russell Moore spoke not just for his tribe, but for the whole church. He spoke with prophetic urgency as he rightly declared that racial injustice is indeed a gospel issue.
It’s a gospel issue because the gospel Christ proclaimed is about more than just our personal relationship with God. It’s about our relationship with each other—and with all of creation, for that matter.
It’s the renewal of all things, the reconciliation of all things. The gospel destroys the dividing wall of hostility between people. It creates a new humanity; it knits together a new family where divisions based on ethnicity, caste, or gender are rendered not just obsolete but sinful.
This is what it means to be “in Christ.” You cannot embrace Christ without embracing his mission to remake the world, to destroy all the old barriers of sin and oppression and division.
Some theologians use the term “human flourishing” to describe this mission. Which to me is just another way of saying a world where everyone can breathe.
That’s what Christ’s mission is about. That’s why racial injustice is indeed a gospel issue. To swear allegiance to Christ is to commit yourself to this mission, period. To tolerate injustice, oppression, or exclusion—to turn a deaf ear on the cries emanating from marginalized communities—is to embrace an anti-gospel.
You cannot hate your neighbor and love God, as Dr. Moore eloquently reminded listeners in the wake of the Eric Garner non-indictment. And in case you’re thinking, I don’t hate my neighbor, remember this: the Bible equates apathy with hatred.
Yet if this is true when Eric Garner has the life choked from his body by a prejudiced and unaccountable police force, it is also be true when a gay teenager is bullied into suicide, whatever our understanding of sexual ethics might be. It is also true when women are relegated to second-class status in our homes and churches. What was it Martin Luther King, Jr. said?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
In other words, we don’t get to choose which marginalized communities we embrace and which we leave out in the cold. We don’t get to choose which “dividing walls of hostility” to tear down and which ones to leave standing.
Either it’s the reconciliation of all things or not.
Russell Moore is right Racial injustice is a gospel issue. But it’s not the only one we should be concerned about.
Photo by Geraint Rowland on Flickr (text added to original) / CC BY-NC 2.0
2 thoughts on “Why Russell Moore is right: racial injustice IS a gospel issue”
First, let me say that I share your thoughts about racial injustice being a gospel issue and have been appalled at some of the responses I have heard about what has been going on in the both the Brown and Garner cases. I keep feeling like so many Christians are missing the point because they keep saying things like “we don’t know what happened” “he was resisting arrest” “police are trained to …blah blah blah” etc. etc.
But I also wanted to let you know your words really hit home with me from a different direction because of an idea that has recently been developing in my mind.
As the mom of a son who is gay I am passionate about making the world a kinder, more loving, safer place for lgbt people to live. My passion is driven and informed by my Christian faith but unfortunately I had to leave the church to pursue the justice that I long for.
I hear a lot of non-affirming Christians saying that affirming same sex relationships harms the gospel but I’ve had trouble understanding what they were talking about. How could affirming same sex relationships harm the gospel?
In trying to understand what they mean I have given a lot of thought to what I do believe about the gospel and I have come to realize I believe the gospel is intricately intertwined with and related to love, justice, inclusion and reconciliation … so I have been recently thinking that instead of the affirmation of same sex relationships harming the gospel it is actually the refusal to affirm same sex relationships that is harmful to the gospel (because there is NO clear, black and white evidence in scripture to condemn same sex relationships and there is NO evidence that same sex relationships harm anyone).
Soooo, when I started reading your piece this morning about racial injustice being a gospel issue I started to get very excited because your words were articulating the idea that had been developing in my own mind about the injustice lgbt people have been enduring and how the refusal to affirm same sex relationships IS harming the gospel.
As I went on reading your piece my excitement grew even greater when I got to the part where you expand your idea to include lgbt people…
And I love how you describe the mission of Christ to be the mission to remake the world into a place where “everyone can breathe” … because I have often said that leaving the church was like a breath of fresh air for me because the oppression and marginalization of lgbt people made me, a mother of a son who is gay and a friend to many lgbt people, feel like I was suffocating.
Injustice of any kind is a type of smothering, isn’t it? Injustice of any kind harms the gospel because justice is very much a gospel issue!
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Liz, thank you so much for sharing this. It made my day yesterday.