In over 25 years of ministry, I have been called a lot of things, but liberal, socialist, and Marxist have not been among them. Well, there has only been one exception to that assertion. When I have spoken out about racial injustice, I have been called all three and more.
As an Alabama raised biblical inerrantist and expository preacher who believes in the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I make a strange liberal, socialist, Marxist. I have never been called any of those names when I have preached on the horror of abortion and advocated for abortion being outlawed by a constitutional amendment. Also, none of those names came up when I have preached on the sin of homosexuality and opposed the tragedy of legalizing same-sex marriage.
While working as a youth pastor in the first church I ever served, we had to remove a man from the congregation for advocating racist views. He was promoting the heretical curse of Ham theology, which teaches that God ordained the descendants of Ham to be marked with dark skin and relegated them to a subordinated status based on race.
In my first year serving as a pastor, I had a church member declare to his Sunday School class that he would no longer give to the IMB Lottie Moon Christmas offering. Why? The Alabama Baptist state paper that week had a picture of an IMB commissioning service, and one of the couples being commissioned was an interracial couple. When I met with him, he said, “People need to stay with their own kind.” Interestingly, he was married to a German lady. I responded to him with the Bible, and after calls to repentance, we took the final step of church discipline and removed him for his refusal to repent.
In my second pastorate, during a Wednesday night service, I was teaching from James 2:1-7 on the sin of partiality. During these teaching sessions, I encouraged those who attended to interact with thoughts and questions. One older man spoke up and said, “It sounds like you are saying it’s okay for blacks and whites to marry.” I said, “Excellent observation! I am saying that.” His response was, “Even redbirds and bluebirds know enough to stay with their own kind.” I responded, “I was not teaching bluebirds or redbirds but rather the fallen seed of Adam.” I then directed him to Acts 17:26 which says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” Then I announced that we’d step away from our study through James for a few weeks and walk through what the Bible teaches on partiality. Over time, by God’s grace, that man came around.
The church I serve now is my third pastorate. We have been very intentional in attempting to reach everyone in our community, and I have been vocal in speaking to cultural issues of racial injustice in the same way that I speak about the cultural injustice of legalized abortion. My willingness to speak on racial issues has led to some interesting mail. The worst of which was a picture of my children’s faces pasted on monkeys’ bodies and a noose in the picture. I reported that one to the police.
Our church also emphasizes reflecting the gospel through adoption, fostering, and orphan care. Because of that fact, many of our families possess a variety of skin colors. In those families, not one with both black and white children have said that their black children are treated in the same way as their white children. Not one. Jim Crow may be dead, but his ghost still haunts our culture, and sadly, our churches.
There is a Christian publication I have written for over the years, and they published every single article I ever sent them and would often appeal for content. I wrote a short piece for them that argued that churches should not be colorblind and that racial and ethnic toleration was an inadequate position as well. I contended that we should reflect the view of heaven that celebrates, not tolerates, people from every tongue, tribe, and nation gathering to worship Jesus Christ. I also argued that churches should pray, labor, and be intentional in attempting to be as least as diverse as their community. There was a request that I tone the article down, and when I refused, it was rejected.
I speak out about issues of racial injustice for the same reason I speak out on abortion and same-sex marriage. Namely, because I am a theological conservative committed to the authority and sufficiency of God’s inerrant word. Article 15 of The Baptist Faith and Message, “The Christian and Social Order” helpfully explains,
All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.
Exodus 20:3-17; Leviticus 6:2-5; Deuteronomy 10:12; 27:17; Psalm 101:5; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 8:16; Matthew 5:13-16,43-48; 22:36-40; 25:35; Mark 1:29-34; 2:3ff.; 10:21; Luke 4:18-21; 10:27-37; 20:25; John 15:12; 17:15; Romans 12–14; 1Corinthians 5:9-10; 6:1-7; 7:20-24; 10:23-11:1; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Philemon; James 1:27; 2:8.
When I began my ministry, I committed to a simple principle that I believe reflects the biblical witness. The principle is that I will speak loudest on behalf of those who are vulnerable, marginalized, and least like me. Likewise, I will speak the loudest in challenge and critique to my congregation and to those evangelicals who are most like me. I think this principle has served me well. Those who give me labels like liberal, socialist, and Marxist are saying more about themselves than me when they do so.
I have always critiqued theological liberals for being captured by the spirit of the age rather than by the word of God. They start with what is culturally permissible to say in their ecclesiastical circles, and then find things in the Bible that they can use to prop up the cultural narrative. I fear some theological conservatives today have become liberals on the issue of racial injustice. They speak vociferously and without hesitation on all kinds of moral issues, except one. On that one issue, the mantra is, “Do not talk about it; just preach the gospel.” I am too conservative for that approach. No matter what labels I am given, I will name the sin and preach the gospel. After all, the Bible tells me so.