Social justice is the new prescription in academia for all societal ills. If we could just force everyone to acknowledge the institutionalized privilege and oppression that exists and then build an impenetrable wall of safe spaces and echo chambers around it, then we could begin a new path to racial harmony. If this were true, then Obama would have been more successful in promoting racial harmony and peace. To the contrary, and despite regressive ideological fascism suppressing opposing viewpoints, trigger warnings and “anti-racist” virtue signaling, the country is a toxic sludge that has never been more of a dystopic mess.
This aside, I truly made an effort to glean (any) redeeming value from this week’s assigned reading in my academic course of choice. However, my critique of Mark Lau Branson’s & Juan F. Martinez’s book, “Churches, Cultures & Leadership,” must necessarily be “critical,” for I disagreed with most of its pages, replete with the blood tinge of revolutions lost and tears of fitful liberation dreams. Supposedly a handbook for navigating the practical theology of interethnic and multicultural church missions, the authors use their platform for a commentary on societal history and culture in America.
Aside from the somewhat useful (prologue) chapters on the applied theories of practical theology, I only found the occasional Biblical reference or missiology anecdote helpful. In short, I fundamentally disagreed with the two authors’ seemingly aligned, but mutually obstructed worldviews with mischaracterizations. This reader bristled throughout at the authors’ overly simplistic and even offensive depictions of “dominant” and “minority” cultures in order to frame cheap arguments for social justice. Presumably, I am of the terribly objectified former “dominant” class, and I grew weary of reading lines like:
“For many in the dominant culture, in which one element of the lifeworld is entitlement, this (ability to listen and “walk” under the worldview of others) can be a stressful experience.”
On page, 108, Branson’s segment dedicated to “Time and Progress” is so ridiculous, that I could devote the entire paper to dismantling his premise that Hebrew “linear time,” became the basis of a “social time” that is asynchronous “with nature and human beings.” This is absurd on so many levels. It’s about daylight; humans work in the light of day, and it does not conflict with our “human rhythms” not serve as the basis of “predictability” or for seizing “control.” He conflates the nature of temporal linearity with the West’s adaption of it under the so-called “Enlightenment’s framework of scientific rationalism.” Seriously? If the reader is able to parse that, the incoherence of Branson’s argument is on full display. After absorbing such facile and indulgent twaddle from that single page (p. 108), I continued reading ONLY for the satisfaction of the class assignment.
The clashes of civilizations throughout history are not simply racial nor ethnic as much as they are cultural and ideological . Cultures who adopted Christianity early are typically societies that have experienced greater degrees of societal achievement. This, in my opinion, is ostensible and empirical, hence, requiring no further citation. I got the sense throughout the book by Branson & Martinez, “Churches, Cultures & Leadership,” that European dominant culture was the object of derision and causation for many ethno-cultural dilemmas faced by the church body in Christ today.
Nations committed to a Christian ethic have been more likely to educate the masses, function economically, implement successful infrastructure for sustainable governmental constructs, educational systems and offer individual freedoms, religious liberties and ethical oversight. I am not a sociologist, but just on the surface, it would appear to be reasonable to assert that Judeo-Christian societies during the last two-thousand years have been more successful than non-Judeo-Christian societies. Okay, is that evidence that something is working, or on the contrary, evidence or greed, global conquest and colonialism? I suppose it depends on whom you ask?
To hear Branson and Martinez tell it—yet, never coming right out and admitting it—one would have to conclude the latter. There is an unmistakable suggestion throughout their book, “Churches, Cultures & Leadership,” that the multicultural divide in our communities and places of worship could be bridged if clergy was just able to accede to and adopt their premise of social justice and what I would define as “liberation theology.” The book also attempts to portray Western capitalism as the bane of the Christian ethic as selfish fulfillment and greed, at the expense of the poor and needy. For example, we see the passive aggression Martinez applies to American consumerism:
“Purchases are not driven by need or larger social goods…Politically, this means a constant push toward individual rights over the value of family, minority groups or other social structures.”
While I found their Biblical references to be contextual and their handbook-like instruction on practical theology valid, I could not escape their incessant, if not nagging, assertions about Euro-American privilege. If I had more room in this literary critique, I would make a full case for how liberation theology is the root of perpetual strife in the body of Christ—not some noble reconciliation of our collective differences. Liberation theology is born out of Marxism, resistance, revolution and, frankly, everything else unchristian about South American Communist political movements. Thanks to the popular apostasy of Pope Francis, liberation theology is making quite the comeback. Francis rails against “triumphalism” and “fundamentalism,” in favor of modeling ourselves after Christ—which is laudable. However, the pope also encourages the church’s bishops to embrace a sort of religious populism by way of “a mystagogical catechesis that treasures the popular religiosity of the people.” This is fancy speak for accepting—if not adopting—the syncretic pagan cultural practices of indigenous peoples, along with sundry Marxist symbols that Francis himself has used.
Giving credence to institutional victimization and justified aggression against authority, as we see in social justice contexts, is actually antithetical to the example Christ set while his people were under strict Roman occupation and oppression. Liberation theology rhetoric does not help promote the message of Christ, which is crystal clear in its exhortation of us to “suffer for Christ’s sake.” While this is going to take up space in the paper, I am going to insert some verses to make this point: Acts 5:41
“So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”
“for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
“and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
“Just as it is written, “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
2 Corinthians 1:7
“and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.”
2 Corinthians 11:23
“Are they servants of Christ?–I speak as if insane–I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.”
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;”
2 Timothy 2:12
“If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;”
“choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,”
“As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
1 Peter 2:20
“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”
1 Peter 3:14
“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED,”
1 Peter 4:16
“but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”
1 Peter 5:10
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”
“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”
“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”
1 Corinthians 4:10
“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor.”
2 Corinthians 4:5
For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.”
2 Corinthians 4:11
“For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
2 Corinthians 12:10
“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”
Further, rebuking individuals today for the past wrongs of “groups,” to which they may or may not have any discernible tie or link, is not a place where healing can begin. Nor is it even sensible to begin conversations of “reconciliation” from a presupposition that arbitrary aspersions need be cast or where racial or ethnic boundaries need be drawn. It is far preferable to get past tribal divisions and on with our shared freedom in Christ. In Christ, we already have everything in common, so we should be focused on Christ alone and not splitting hairs about past imperialism or colonialism. Human migration out of Africa thousands of years ago is complex, and rife with stories of conquest with unfair treatment of the vanquished and the subsequent commandeering of their lands and treasure. It is no more helpful to refight the Indian-American wars than it is to contemplate the justification or criminality of the Roman sacking and pillaging of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Christ prophesied about it; he didn’t try to prevent it. Nor did he try and construe justification or reparations for the peoples trampled and/ or displaced by the Jewish territorial conquest of Palestine. Neither did Christ ever rail against the unfair treatment of Israel by its Roman oppressors. To the contrary, he taught people to accept their lot with humility and thanksgiving. Egalitarianism is not taught anywhere in the Bible. Consider the Parable of the Talents or even the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. The former is a complete repudiation of the notion that we are all given the same lot in life—or should feel entitled to same.
The book chooses to oversimplify Western culture as one where we naively presuppose egalitarianism to be a “given” and a forgone conclusion. Branson and Martinez both fail to distinguish between “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome.” The former is, indeed, the aspiration of the United States of America, however, realistically, it is impossible to ensure for every individual, across 50 States and 16 territories spanning the globe. If we are “egalitarian”, then the authors characterize the rest of the world as “hierarchal.” And, while I get their gist, I believe it can be better characterized as East ( honor-shame cultures) versus West ( innocence-guilt cultures). Democracy and individualism in the form of individual liberty is no longer the exclusive domain of America. Much of the world has been inspired to embrace democratic liberty. However, few Americans are deluded into thinking that our democratic way of life translates into “equality of outcome” in all aspects of society—whether in level of education, socioeconomic status, etc.—is ever going to be achieved. Moreover, it will not be enabled by social justice warriors sowing resentment either. The goal must be love and charity, to help our less fortunate neighbors, in the name of Christ!
Few would argue that people have not been endowed by their Creator with highly unequal gifts–whether innate talents, material wealth, genetic predispositions, academic, physical or spiritual in nature. Nothing is equitable, and nothing is fair. Further, it is fallacious and divisive to keep trying to ascribe racial explanations for everything. For starters, few of us have any “pure” racial or ethnic composition about which anyone should presume to stereotype or generalize. I am some mix of mostly unknown Northern European ethnicities, and I resent being labeled “white” or categorized into a bucket so that some PhD somewhere can draw obtuse and overly simplistic inferences about my “privilege,” when they have no idea what struggles or injustice I have endured
The very foundation of liberation theology is anathema to the ethic of “judge not, that ye not be judged!” (Matthew 7:1-3). The generalizations about societies of oppressors and the oppressed make no provision for the charitable actions of the church and its people within those broad groups.
Branson and Martinez do correctly identify the West’s tendency to value individualism. This is no accident nor coincidence, because valuing individualism is Christian, I would argue. We are each going to be judged—not on our association with a group—but on our own fruits. Christ tried to teach valuing each person–regardless of tribe or creed.
Branson & Martinez pay lip service to multicultural love and respect, while simultaneously perpetuating feelings of hurt and resentment for past cultural wrongs, calling continuous attention to perceived injustices committed by people none of us knew, nor to whom most of us bear any relation. For example, only 4.8% of Southerners ever owned slaves, and most of the country are predominately descendants of immigrants who came to America post-slavery. In fact, most whites by a large margin are descendants of people who immigrated here since Westward migration and since slavery was abolished.
I tried to empathize and appreciate the authors’ perspectives, but as soon as I was nodding in the affirmative, there came my visceral aversion to the undercurrent of racial and ethnic injustice and the false notion that justice must be achieved in order to bridge divides in our churches. Christ never taught that worldly justice was a prerequisite to loving one another, nor worshipping together. If people choose to worship GOD in ways that celebrate their own culture and traditions, then let them. Similarly, if I choose to do that, it doesn’t make me racist. Martinez feels the need to reference the South’s racism and incapacity to treat everyone as equals.
I was always taught that we should appreciate and learn about other cultures, but not necessarily feel obligated to assimilate to them, nor to graft them into our own culture. Society is now almost unanimous in popular culture that “Americanism” is wrong. Colonialism was wrong. Missiology and evangelism to indigenous people was wrong. Columbus coming to America was wrong. And, most importantly, patriotism today is wrong, if not racist. It is now in vogue to promote guilt and shame for people of lighter complexions with allegations of “white privilege.” It is nauseating and it sounds awesome to some minority groups, like Black Lives Matter, who clang the noisy liberation gong together in solidarity. The underclasses seem to unite in their opposition to what they perceive as “white culture.” For one, it is American culture, not “white” culture. Of course, Martinez was careful to avoid being that overt in his characterization, instead, defaulting to a more euphemistic code word, “Euro-American.”
Mr. Martinez admits his own indignation and refusal to fully assimilate into mainstream America, yet, he then also reserves the contradictory right to complain that non-assimilating groups do not share in the equal fruits available to those who do assimilate. The same generally could be said for many of the (usually) second-generation immigrants to the West, who sometimes seem to lose their parent’s passion and appreciation for being in America.
Like I used to tell my grandmother who loved to complain about her aches and pains, while refusing to take her medicine: “Grandma, you forfeit your right to complain when you refuse to do what your doctor has prescribed of you.” Earlier, I made reference to the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Had I been alive and wanted to participate in the Roman economy under Titus, I would have assimilated as best as possible–not whined about their pillaging and plundering and expected good things to come of it?
If the point is that if missiologists from other ethnicities feel compelled to reach the disenfranchised or the ethnically dissimilar, then a realistic expectation is required to explain the misfortune disparities with mainstream culture.
It is fantastic to imagine a multicultural world, where anyone can choose to remain within his/her cultural community and succeed on par with the mainstream. However, it is not that way here–or anywhere. If I were to move to China with no effort to learn the language nor assimilate into Chinese society, would it not be slightly disingenuous to then cry about the plight of expat Americans who didn’t speak Chinese and lived beneath the median standard of living?
Martinez echoes the all-too-common refrain of Latinos who like to take issue with the United States “moving its border over the Latino people,” thereby, shutting them out of lands that were rightly theirs. The narrative is shared by the social justice set who would like to reserve the right to complain about Euro-American imperialism until time immemorial. The only reason our National border seemingly divides the “haves from the have-nots” is not due to the intrinsic value of the real estate on our side, nor the ethnic composition thereof. The disparity is a result of what used to be our Christian-European culture on our side of the fence–the same culture , I again remind you, that is constantly assaulted for being unjust. Ironically, these charges are leveled by the same people whose parents risked possibly everything they had to get here.
I would not say that there have been no inequity, nor that certain atrocities were not committed by European settlers. However, the same refrain of sad dirges are sung around the world, amid the dual fallacy of the non-Euro ethnicities: 1) Europeans brought wealth and trade that other groups wanted to participate in (and still do); and 2) Europeans brought Christianity to the far reaches of the world–to peoples who might never have, otherwise, received the good news of the gospel. I was raised in a public school system that taught us to be grateful and proud to be American. Now, that exact same school system teaches my children to be ashamed of it.
So, where does Christianity and mission-mindedness come into play? Well, for starters, there is no egalitarianism taught in the gospel; there is no expectation of “justice” in the fallen world. To the contrary, the author of our faith was treated savagely and punished mercilessly for crimes he didn’t commit. Eleven of the 12 apostles were also executed for their faith—at the end of tireless, thankless perseverance in the evangelism and ministry of Jesus Christ. And, Christians today want to whine about injustice? If anything, the New Testament is an unequivocal rejection of social justice. Our job as Christians and ministers is to teach one another to focus on the Kingdom of GOD and to cast aside our worldly lot. We should make sure that our neighbors are helped up if they stumble, but nowhere is it taught that people who tend to the fields should fight for a seat at their master’s table or collect welfare and expect to have a large home in a gated community.
All of the trappings of modern society are irrelevant to what Christians are called to do for the good of GOD’s kingdom. Martinez and Branson would have been well-advised to focus on this spirit of perseverance in the face of great trial and tribulation, and their book would have spoken with greater credibility to at least this reader and engendered more reconciliation and harmony for our common cause in Christ.