12.06.16

A Theology for the Black Lives Matter Generation: Economic Justice and the Kingdom of God

We’ve come now to the last two paragraphs of “The Ferguson Declaration,” a creed offered to Black Churches for informing their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The final two paragraphs offer thoughts on economic justice and the kingdom of God:

2.4 “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” and “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (; ). We reject the false doctrine that Peace should be separate from Justice. Christian justice must include economic equality and opportunity for all (). Just as swords will be turned into plowshares, so must jailhouses be transformed into schoolhouses. Just as no one should be profiled or harassed because of the color of their skin, no one should be discriminated by employers on the basis of race, gender, religion or, creed (, ). Human dignity is intrinsic to all human persons and therefore all work is valuable in God’s sight.  Education and moral formation are the keys to delivering communities from racial oppression.

2.5  “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world.” () We reject the false doctrine, as though the work of the Nation-State should be confused with the Peaceable Kingdom of God. No government official or arm of the State sits on Heaven’s throne, for only Christ reigns supreme. The Black Church calls on all religious bodies, governments and corporations here and abroad to practice the utmost humility in the quest for a Beloved Community.

Summary

Paragraph 2.4 draws two logical conclusions. First, the authors argue that since peace flows from righteousness, we should reject any notion that there can be true peace without justice. They apply this to economic equality and again to fair sentencing and education. They root this further in the imago Dei creation of human persons. Since in Christ ethnic, gender and class discrimination is leveled (; ), all persons and all work hold value in God’s sight, and by inference should hold value for all persons. The authors contend that economic justice, an end to discrimination, and deliverance from racial oppression depend on education and moral formation.

The concluding paragraph (2.5) moves the reader’s attention to the kingdom of God. The authors rightly distinguish God’s kingdom from nation states. The two are not to be confused. The Declaration rightly affirms that “Christ reigns supreme” and no human authority rivals, usurps or supplants His rule. Because of Christ’s sovereign rule, The Declaration ends with a call for “all religious bodies, governments and corporations” to “practice humility in the quest for a Beloved Community.”

Reaction

Every Christian ought to embrace any biblical call to end discrimination and partiality. Not only do and call us to a healthy egalitarianism along ethnic, gender and class lines, but texts like clearly identify partiality as a sin to be rejected by the church. If such discrimination and partiality are unworthy of God’s people, it stands to reason that God’s people would represent this ideal in the surrounding world as well. Again, godly persons may differ on the best prescription or strategy for ending discrimination. But the goal should be universally shared and ought therefore make us friendly in our cooperation even if we disagree at some points.

The most significant weakness of paragraph 2.4, however, occurs in the final line. The authors hold too much hope in “education and moral formation” as key strategies in ending discrimination and racial oppression. It’s a popular notion, and it has some merit. But the kind of change the Creed envisions will not be achieved by education and moral reform. Because the problems are deeper than the intellectual and resistant to behavioral modification, they require more fundamentally a spiritual solution. The heart must be made new. For that, humanity needs the gospel of Jesus Christ applied by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of the unregenerate and regenerate alike. The egalitarianism of and flows not from education and morality but from union with Christ. The impartiality of stems from divine love shared in the congregation of God’s people, not from the inevitable progress of human societies. The Beloved Community, properly understood, is a divinely composed and ordered community. Consequently, we must temper any expectation of its arrival in the world at large through means like education and moral reform (however good those are in their place). If this document serves as a call to the church and then as a call from the church to the world, then it must at this point double down on the gospel of our Lord in dependence on the Spirit of the Lord to do what only the Lord can do.

The last sentence in 2.4 illustrates how mission drift occurs with well-intentioned efforts. The drift does not occur because Christians begin to talk about justice, for example. Well-meaning people often give you that impression. The Bible requires the Christian to care about, discuss and actually do justice. The Bible forges the link between justification and justice and mercy. No, the drift occurs because well-meaning Christians begin to rely on things in the place of the gospel. In other words, Christian leaders stop preaching and relying on the gospel because we stop preaching and relying on the gospel. No one can make a person do that. The drift is either the conscious or unconscious act of the Christian. We must diligently guard against this. Whether intentionally or not, The Ferguson Declaration slips at this point.

Conclusion

The Ferguson Declaration is not a perfect document. What document is? But it does attempt to do something vital for the Christian Church—call us back to a marriage of Christian faith or doctrine with Christian ethics or duty.

I could not sign The Ferguson Declaration due to some of its weaknesses. But I affirm the spirit and intent.

I pray fervently that all God’s people would stand for justice, impartiality and love on all the issues dear to God in His word. I also recognize that in an age where criticism flows more swiftly than the largest rivers, we sometimes fail to offer solutions of our own. With that in mind, I hope in the days ahead to offer a draft declaration of my own that might attend some of the weaknesses of The Ferguson Declaration. It’s through theological discussion that the church grows stronger.

17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. (ESV)

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (ESV)

13 “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
and does not give him his wages, (ESV)

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (ESV)

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)

2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (ESV)

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)

2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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  • Michael

    I look forward to your next writings on dealing with the issue of racial disparity in the USA. I thirst for correctly applied Biblical truth on this grave matter.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Thanks for joining us on the Porch!