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.
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.