“One More Word about the Gospel, Cultural Marxism, and Social Justice”
Recently, many influential Christian (Evangelical) thinkers and theologians have claimed that social justice is associated with Marxism and in fact, it is a form of cultural Marxism. Therefore, as they have argued unpersuasively, social justice is incomparable with the Gospel and biblical notion of justice. They have called upon other Christian thinkers not to integrate social justice in their theological vocabulary and hermeneutical reasoning. Other Christian (Evangelical) thinkers like myself, on the other side of the debate, maintain that social justice is a natural outcome of the Gospel, whose basic interconnected premise and logical reasoning entail a dual Christian commitment in public: (1) the proclamation of Jesus as cosmic Lord and Jesus as the salvific hope for all people, and (2) the deeds of the Gospel resulting in rigorous Christian social activism and Christian participation in society to eradicate its injustices, evils, and all forms of social ills and oppressive systems and structures that lead to more human suffering in society and defer human flourishing in the global community.
Nonetheless, this matter continues to divide the Evangelical community. I believe that faithful Christians should not be quick to separate the intricate and necessary relationship between divine justice and social justice. While God’s method of effecting justice in society may differ than the human action in obtaining justice, the God of the Bible is for justice and justice in its redemptive and transformative sense. The Gospel makes sense and relevant to people only if Christians believe in the intimate rapport between spiritual salvation and social salvation, and strive to accomplish both aims, equally and equitably.
There are five major problems leading to this “exclusive hermeneutics,” from the pen of those who reject the rapport between the Gospel and God’s clarion call to his people to practice and promote justice in society.
1. These thinkers are reading Scriptures from the perspective of the dominant class while ignoring the God of the Bible who sides himself always with the weak, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed. (These are not cultural Marxist terms. Karl Marx did not invent those cultural concepts and linguistic terms; those terms and concepts are found in the original Hebrew and Greek Texts of the Bible. Moreover, when one considers the predicament of America’s enormous poor populations and the world’s (miserably) poor populations, one should inquire about the nature of established (human) systems, structures, organizations, and powers that hinder human flourishing in the world and generate the inhumane practices and living conditions of the global poor. It is important for genuine Christian thinkers to be good cultural exegetes and name the sin. Sin has a name!)
2. Christian thinkers, on the other side of the debate, are bad cultural exegetes and terrible interpreters of the God who despises injustice, abuse, and oppression of any manifestation or form. This is due to their negligence of being good students of American history and global history and the wide economic and educational gap that separates the rich and the poor, the privileged and the disenfranchised, the oppressed and the oppressor.
3. Christian thinkers, on the other side of the spectrum, have either not studied Marxism or if they have read him, they have interpreted him very poorly. (It is important to read Marx’s own works, not a few articles and commentaries about his own ideas. In the same way, read the Bible for yourself, not commentaries about it. Perhaps, enroll in a class in Critical Theory and Hermeneutics.)
4. Christians, on the other camp of the debate, have not studied American History from below, that is from the lens of the Native Americans, whose European-inflicted suffering or pain is immeasurable and land was stolen from them; the enslaved Africans, who were brought to the United States and the Americas involuntarily and whose (agricultural and domestic) labor was freely exploited and gained; and from the viewpoint of America’s contemporary economically-disadvantaged populations, whose collective story and shared experiences are often disenfranchised and silenced in America’s (theological) metanarrative and Sunday morning sermons. (To read U.S. History from above, that is, from the lens of those in the seat of power and influence, is detrimental to Christian witness in the public sphere, and it is certainly not compatible with the God of the Exodus and Liberator of the Hebrew/Israelite Slaves. This conscious act is reinforcing the problem of telling a single and monolithic American story/history (and Christian story/history in America and in the world) that defines the whole of the American experience, while intentionally erasing the complex experiences and lives of those in the margins and silencing the voice of America’s minority populations.)
5. Christian thinkers, on the opposition side, spend a lot of time reading theology books, written from the worldview and vantage point of White American and European Male thinkers/Biblical scholars and Theologians. (They’re not the Guardian of truth and the divine revelation! No one has the monopoly on Biblical interpretation or theological hermeneutics. The White Male American-European theological experience does not define the global and intricate experiences of other Christians in the world; nor is it the telos of Biblical hermeneutics in the singular. The White Male American-European theological world does not name the end of all things exegetically biblical, theological, ethical, moral, and philosophical. The practice of such a form of “theological-hermeneutical exclusion” has made these Christian thinkers insensitive (to the plot of the world’s poor, among them lives a large population of Christian poor and oppressed group) face their fear by moving from their terrain of theological comfort and luxury to explore the writings and ideas of brown and black theologians and biblical scholars who might disturb their theological linearity, and whose experience they do not share and whose voice they refuse to hear.
Finally, I must also say that this current debate among Evangelical thinkers of the two opposite camps on the subject of the meaning of the Gospel and Social justice has deep roots in theological education and ethical instructions at the seminary level. The curriculum of America’s theological seminaries and divinity schools, especially those of the Evangelical Tradition, is very “white,” “European,” “male,” and “intellectually exclusive.” Unfortunately, these phenomena are also representative in the faculty-student body and the individuals these theological institutions attract or welcome in their midst. The issue of theological and human representation in theological education has tremendous implications on race relations in Christian churches, the effectiveness of the Gospel in culture, and social justice conversations among Christian thinkers and leaders. This intervention is a very conscious and calculated structure and system. In other words, theological segregation is by design as intellectual exclusion in contemporary American Evangelicalism is also willed by those in the seat of power and influence.