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Are The Gospel Coalition and ERLC Sacrificing Integrity to be “Woke?”

Inner-church friendly-fire character assassinations shouldn't be considered triumphant works of righteousness & justice.

Author’s Note: Originally I had decided to withhold this piece and reach out to The Gospel Coalition privately. When my overture was met with silence, I reached out for a response publicly. When that too was ignored, I decided to press this issue after receiving a number of responses from other believers frustrated with the disingenuous nature of these misrepresentations, and the danger they represent to the unity of Christ’s church and its mission in our world. Those who commit them, and those who promote them should be held accountable.

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) recently put on an extremely successful event marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his contributions to the gospel of Christ in our world. Held for two days in Memphis, the event saw more than 70 speakers from various ethnicities, backgrounds, races, and genders address the brotherhood of all believers.

It is extremely encouraging to see the unity that Christians have over and above the worldly divisions that plague us when our hearts are influenced by man rather than Christ.

But as is certainly expected at an event of this size, there are bound to be those whose messages may not completely resonate with the stated goal of Jesus when he prayed for unity in His church (John 17:20-26). I realized this when two of the speakers of MLK50 wrote a supposed defense of social justice activism in the church that included several glaringly unsubstantiated, false claims about me personally. I was further discouraged when two men I have previously admired greatly, Collin Hansen (the Editorial Director of TGC) and Daniel Darling (the Vice President of Communications at ERLC) promoted these false statements.

To be sure, I’m used to criticism and certainly claim no corner on the truth. The best I can do is the best any of us can do – search the Scriptures and test everything I know and believe against the Word as the only reliable foundation for thought and reason. What is disappointing however is when supposed brothers in Christ sense an opportunity to exalt their own agendas and agree to misrepresent their fellow Christian in order to do so. That is precisely what Justin Giboney, a former delegate to the Democrat Party national convention (and a speaker at MLK50), and Dr. CJ Rhodes (also an MLK50 speaker) did in a piece that appeared here at the Resurgent just days ago.

Their article pretends to rebut one that I had written days earlier regarding the dangers of social justice Christianity leading black Christians away from the cross. In it, I promoted the Biblical analysis of Darrell B. Harrison far more than I offered any original thought myself.

Yet peculiarly, if you read the rebuttal of Rhodes and Giboney, you will find no reference to Harrison (a black man) at all. Not one. Rather, they attribute all of his opinions and perspectives to me (a white man) before casting personal aspersions. That is an insult of Mr. Harrison every bit as much as it is of me. Here’s what else you find in a piece, again, disappointingly promoted by TGC and ERLC executives:

  • Dr. Rhodes and Giboney accuse me of “criticizing black Christians for social justice activism," but they offer no citation or quotation to substantiate that claim. They irresponsibly extrapolate outward from my quoting of Harrison (a black Christian) to reach their conclusion. Further, I make no distinction that the social justice activists misleading people are black or white. Rhodes and Giboney introduce that racial element to build an unstated but apparent racial antagonism that is not necessary or productive.

What I actually criticized in my piece was the same thing Harrison criticizes: the substitution of a social justice gospel for the real gospel. Remarkably, Rhodes and Giboney go on in their “rebuttal” to express concern over the very same thing!

  • Rhodes and Giboney assume I am ignorant of the injustice done to black Americans, writing,

“it’d benefit Peter Heck to consider why we’ve had to be preoccupied with justice issues in the first place.”

As a teacher of American history for nearly two decades and a servant of Christ for three, this presumption is both false and offensive. What I expressed concern over was the truth of Harrison’s observation that, “the life-changing message “Jesus Saves” is being lost as increasing numbers of black Christians become convinced that their primary loyalty is to an ecclesiastical legacy rooted in a socio-ethno missiology that emphasizes societal reformation apart from spiritual transformation.”

Rhodes and Giboney are stunningly silent about that actual criticism, and instead invent one to suit their purposes. A church that preaches spiritual transformation while also preaching the importance to do justice is not guilty of this dangerous “social justice gospel” Harrison and I condemn. It is the church or minister that omits the former and becomes consumed only by the latter that are culpable. Rhodes and Giboney intentionally and wrongly conflate the two to provide pretext for their argument.

  • Rhodes and Giboney wrongly state my premise in order to dismiss it. They write,

“Heck’s premise is rooted in a false dichotomy that views personal piety and social justice in conflict rather than as complementary or interdependent.”

Once again, they offer no quotation of mine or citation to substantiate their false claim. They attribute a view to me so that they can tear it down, a classic straw man fallacy.

My actual premise was quite clear to anyone who read my article with an open mind, loving heart, and spirit of brotherhood that should be the hallmark of Christian thinkers: like any movement, social justice causes can become idols that substitute themselves for our primary call to building the Kingdom of God. To the degree that this trendy era of social justice Christianity has become that, it is misplaced.

I am curious if Dr. Rhodes and Mr. Giboney would affirm that true premise? I am curious if Mr. Darling and the ERLC would? I am curious if Mr. Hansen and TGC would? If not, why not? If so, it would seem an apology and/or clarification is in order.

These days bring great opportunity for the Church of Jesus. For instance, the majority of what Rhodes and Giboney wrote in their piece is something all Christians can all rally around. But unfortunately, the one thing that will derail our effectiveness is friendly-fire character assassinations pretending to be triumphant works of righteousness and justice.

God's ways are mysterious, why he ordains evil but yet is not himself evil by doing so, but he is happy and good, all the time, doing everything for his own glory and pleasure, even "learning" obedience through suffering and the cross, showing how shallow and thoughtless we really are in so grossly, sinfully failing to glorify and adore him as he more than deserves. Sadly most professing "christians," easily demonstrably illiterate and unthinking, are horrified at such a thought, but with no Biblical, rational basis for the horror, just ego and emotion, sadly without genuine First Command (Deuteronomy 6<Matthew 22) concern in a tragic, sinful, self-justifying, Luke 10 Martha-esque existence that accuses Jesus and attacks sister Mary for proper devotion to that Command Jesus commends. They get hyper about "God wouldn't make robots" as if that's a legitimate or even rational refutation (when compared to God we're far inferior to a robot!), just more ego-centered, idolatrous emotionalism making God in its own image, something that would have appalled earlier generations, who knew God's Word and so delightfully feared him (Revelation 1:17 FRIGHT, not the absurd notion of mere "reverential awe"), for its arrogant ungodliness. God save us. Soli Deo gloria!

"The best I can do is the best any of us can do – search the Scriptures and test everything I know and believe against the Word as the only reliable foundation for thought and reason." Ha! That almost made me spit up my morning coffee. You sound like a real big kid scientist. Do you wear a lab coat during these tests?

Thanks Peter for bringing up these issues. We need to constantly guard against our idols becoming the purpose of our religion, rather than the Gospel of Christ. This is growing in the social justice movement. It has exhibited itself for over a century in the liberalism movement (theological, not political). The SJW movement you discuss is just another outgrowth of that liberal theology. That's not to say that there isn't legitimate social justice concerns. The problem is when that becomes the focus and the real thing that is worshipped.

We also see this manifest itself among people who are more politically aligned with us. The Republican gospel has supplanted the real Gospel in far too many hearts and churches. That's not to say they don't believe the real Gospel, but that they preach and focus on a false one. Future generations then lose the real Gospel and think that the GOP is god. Again, I agree with a lot of that politically, but our faith should be based on the Gospel of Christ. We can see the difference when a person is confronted with a choice where they cannot choose both. A person will choose the one they worship, even against the One they claim to, and find a way to try and justify it. Look at Jerry Fallwell, Jr. for an equivalent to the SJW preacher.

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Social justice has no business in a church. It is an ideology that is incompatible with Christianity, since it "preaches" the group collective, rather than the individual. Groups are not what God will judge, but the individual in His eyes. Social Justice is an extension to Marxist ideology, and has no place in any church. I think I have always thought of my religious beliefs to be separate from my political beliefs, but it is my religious beliefs that guide me in much of my political choices. I don't like the pragmatism that many use, but I find myself having to make pragmatic decisions, also. I'm certainly not going to jump on a preacher for supporting Trump, but I will jump on the bandwagon that thinks social justice has no place in the church because there is no place that I know of that the Bible mentions anything remotely resembling social justice as anything beneficial, if it mentions it, at all.

Timely, thoughtful, and kind article, Peter, and the personal nature of their rebuttal of your previous article says a lot about their walk, and it is not good. I left the Southern Baptists because of the constant harangues on race at the church I attended. We were told repeatedly that we were all racists if we'd ever had an impure thought and xenophobes if we didn't want to import every Muslim in the Middle East to America so we could witness to them. One candidate for SBC President has held "White Privilege" seminars at his church, believes that Christians and Muslims worship the same god, and is firmly in the Russell Moore orbit. The Gospel does not seem to be enough for some of these folks. If they would just preach it, it is the medicine, the only medicine, that will heal every heart they believe to be infected with racism.

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