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” (Isaiah 32:17-18; Romans 14:17). We reject the false doctrine that Peace should be separate from Justice. Christian justice must include economic equality and opportunity for all (Jeremiah 22:13). 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 (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). 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.” (John 18:36) 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.
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 (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11), 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.”
Every Christian ought to embrace any biblical call to end discrimination and partiality. Not only do Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11 call us to a healthy egalitarianism along ethnic, gender and class lines, but texts like James 2:1-13 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 Gal. 3:28 and Col. 3:11 flows not from education and morality but from union with Christ. The impartiality of James 2 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.
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.