Tactics of the Social Gospel: And the Legalism it Promotes

by | Nov 18, 2018 | Adult Christian Learning, Social Justice | 0 comments

The standard for ‘needs’in American society is radically different from that in the rest of the world. What Americans consider ‘needs’ is well into the realm of privilege for most of the rest of the world. This is even true when one reaches back into the history of America as well. With few exceptions, modern notions of suffering, need, oppression, and opportunity within American society are distorted by an extreme state of privilege unknown and unexperienced in the rest of the world. It is this standard that I will refer to when I offer up my own critical examination of some of the outrageous behavior and dangerous assertions that are currently taking place in the evangelical churches and to a large degree, in many of the SBC churches in particular. This is because it is this societal standard that many social gospel proponents uncritically accept. Moreover, they expect you to do the same as they seek to place this standard squarely on our shoulders. In this post I am going to focus my criticism on the subject of adoption as just one example among many that has these men seeking to place heavy burdens on people that the Scripture itself never does. Specifically, I am going to challenge views from men like Russell Moore concerning social issues such as the Christian and adoption. Or, you could substitute adoption with race, feminism, same-sex attraction, immigration, etc.

I have heard it said on more than one occasion that Christians have a responsibility to foster and adopt children if they are truly going to die to self. That is the assertion that is made time and again from the social gospel quarters. James 1:27 is quoted, as are other passages, in an attempt to make Christians feel like they have a moral obligation to adopt if in fact they love Christ and are dying to self.In a recent post, Russell Moore pretty much says the same thing:

If you wish to avoid the risk or possibility of being hurt, do not adopt a child. Do not

foster a child. Do not engage in ministry with orphans or with widows or with the sojourners or with the poor. Do not have children, in any way. Do not get married. Do not have any friendships. Hide under the bed, and hope for the best. Any human relationship brings with it the possibility of deep hurt. You can protect yourself from that possibility, but only by walling yourself off from love.

I can honestly say that I have never witnessed such a shameless attempt to control and intimidate the behavior of others. Moore can’t make a better argument for adoption, so he has to resort to emotivism. You see, Moore knows that his audience is notstrong where biblical acumen is concerned. He knows that they lead their lives with emotion. And so, it is an emotional argument top to bottom that he employs. It is the standard approach these days. If you want to shut someone up or intimidate them into doing things your way, you use guilt or some other emotion. It has come to work like a charm because these men have figured out that if you don’t teach people how to think for themselves, they are easier to manage, or in other words, manipulate. And a bonus is that they won’t hold you or your local pastor-fans accountable. According to Moore and many other social gospel proponents, if you don’t want to adopt because of the challenges it may introduce into your life, challenges that you feel unprepared or inadequate to handle, then don’t bother even trying to live at all. All of life is a risk. All of life is challenging. Can you see the tactics this employs? It is extremely disturbing that Christians leaders would behave in this fashion. If this logic is correct, why not just run down to the homeless shelter and start setting up your spare bedroom(s) for the homeless? Is that how we must love our neighbors? Or, why not run down to the senior care facilities and start emptying them of the widows in the same fashion? Is this not entering into the widow’s plight as Moore calls it? This is not just irresponsible. It is reckless. It borders on outright spiritual and religious abuse. And worse, it could be downright dangerous for the child that is being adopted or fostered. This thinking is worse than unhelpful. If you want to promote adoption, there is a right way to do it and many, many wrong ways. Moore and most others from the social gospel camp have chosen one of the worse possible ways to prompt Christians in get involved in the area of adoption and foster care.

It is indeed an eye-opening experience to see how Moore uses Scripture to compare the blessings pronounced on Mary and Elizabeth with the blessings that would accompany adoption or even fostering children. The Scriptures should never be used to prop up our own personal agenda. But this doesn’t seem to bother Moore and many others from the social gospel camp. Others, in an attempt to guilt Christians into adopting children will use the doctrine of adoption within Christianity to do so. Adoption is the sort of thing God does and it should be the sort of thing God’s kids do, I recently heard. That’s the idea. So, if you do not adopt, you’re not acting much like God? Your heavenly Father adopted you, so you ought to adopt someone too. The argument is sheer emotional rhetoric without any true grounding in Scripture whatsoever. Not to mention, it is a non-sequitur. The reason these men can get away with this kind of thinking goes back to what I wrote in my last post about the concept of mob tactics. This seems like a good place to come back to that phenomenon.

I have never witnessed the kind of pressure we see today in American society. The demand to conform to societal norms is not just relentless, to not do so can bring economic consequences the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime. It is not the case that there have never been societal norms. What I am talking about is the price that people pay when they either refuse to conform to such norms or at times, when they slip up and make an honest mistake. American society has evolved into a brutally unforgiving increasingly hypocritical society. Just ask Megan Kelly (not a fan) or a number of others who have had the unfortunate experience of violating the new moral norms. The new society doesn’t just think you should be held accountable for your missteps. They want your life destroyed for those missteps. The hypocrisy is a most fascinating phenomenon to observe. It is incredible to watch millions of fornicating, lying, sexually deviant American adulterers stand in judgment of others over the smallest, simplest, and in many cases harmless mistakes and then to respond to those mistakes by ruining careers without any hesitation whatsoever. The furor I see in this respect is what I mean when I say this kind of pressure is new. These tactics have been smuggled into, and now, influence the churches.

That this same hypocrisy is now witnessed even among what were historically, conservative evangelical churches is obvious for anyone who cares to look. I have observed men like Kyle Howard engage in some of the obscenest racist rhetoric on twitter openly, brazenly, and without regret or remorse only to continue to have his platform supported and extended by men like Russell Moore and even Al Mohler. It seems right to me that Southern Seminary would hold their students to a higher, indeed, a biblical standard, but apparently, I am mistaken about that. When you consider that Mohler, on the one hand will permit students like Howard to engage in such unethical and immoral behavior without consequences while at the same time threatening professors with their jobs if they sign the Statement on Social Justice, it is not difficult to see the double-standard at work. Someone told me recently that the Statement on Social Justice comes across as racist. I read the document and I signed the document. It only comes across as racist if that is how you choose to read it. And there is no rational justification that I can see for reading it through that lens. But hey, some people see racism around every corner, in every word, in every adjective, especially if those words and adjectives are generated by men who have just the right amount of melanin in their DNA or in this case, the lack thereof. Many of the most popular evangelical leaders can see that, and they know it’s true, but they do absolutely nothing to throw their support behind the efforts of others to steer the ship in a better, more biblical direction. Doing that would mean that a whole lot of people would jump from that ship and kingdoms would shrink and their credibility would suffer. And we can’t have that!

Fostering children and adoption are wonderful things. So, if you reject the idea that Christians ought to adopt based on the fact that they are adopted or based on the notion that not to adopt is disobeying God, then you must not be a true Christian, or you must not care about the plight of these children. This tactic is exactly the tactic employed by the mob. It is emotional intimidation and manipulation at its finest. It is exactly how AHA marginalized itself. While doing a very good thing, standing up for the unborn, they employed tactics that were legalistic and of a mob mentality. They used Scripture, twisted it to suit their mission, and as a result, alienated most of us.

If you are a Christian and you are thinking about adoption, that could be a very good thing. I say it could be a very good thing because not everyone is suited for parenthood. And even fewer people are suited for adoption regardless of the picture Russell Moore and others paint. Adoption is a very complex and difficult matter. It should not be considered lightly. Not only that, fostering children should not be taken lightly contrary to the social justice rhetoric you read from these men. Again, adoption and foster care are great ways to love these kids. But these approaches require specific skills and gifts that not everyone possesses. And it is NOT the case that these two practices are normative, basic practices for the everyday Christian, like say, loving your spouse, walking in purity, helping your neighbor when the need arises. Adoption and foster care are not that.

There are a number of ways the church helps orphans and widows in their distress. Those among us who are gifted may feel called to adoption or foster care or to bring a true widow into their homes. The church should stand at the ready to help those who are willing, able, and gifted to do so. Others may visit widows and orphans, volunteering in a variety of ways. Still others may contribute items and money to help fund needs of widows and orphans. All these things fall into the category of visiting the widows and orphans in their distress. The question is not should you visit widows and orphans in their distress. The question is how you may go about caring for such people.

To insist that James 1:27 and other texts in Scripture related to the care of widows and orphans can only be obeyed in one particular way, adoption or foster care, is to read into the text something that is absolutely not there. It is akin to telling people that the only way to oppose abortion is to go down and preach at an abortion clinic. Anything less than that is not loving your neighbor. And that is what this comes down to, doesn’t it? If you claim that adoption or fostering is required in order to visit the orphans in their distress, then what you are saying is that absence of adoption and fostering indicates the absence of pure religion. In other words, people who do not adopt and foster when they could do so do not love orphans and are not in possession of pure religion. I find such an argument outrageous and the eisegesis behind it to be completely deficient in biblical grounding.

It isn’t just adoption that is the problem with these social justice types. The same is true where racism is concerned, complementarianism, homosexuality, etc. Unless you acknowledge white privilege and systemic racism, you are a racist. Unless you are open to female leadership in the churches, then you are misogynist. Additionally, unless you agree with the idea of same-sex attraction, you are an unloving homophobic bigot. Unless you demand that America open its borders to every immigrant who wants to enter, then you must not love the alien! Now, who wants to be viewed as insensitive to the plight of orphans, widows and immigrants? Who wants to be classified as a racist, misogynist, or a bigot? No one wants to wear such adjectives around their neck. According to society’s tactics, which are in fact, mob tactics, this is exactly what happens to those who disagree with the new social ethic that is out there today. An all-white pastoral staff gets you the trophy of being a racist church! But for some reason, an all-black staff does not. And Christians of various melanin levels seem to agree. The Christian ethic is rapidly being replaced by the new societal ethic. And what is worse is that evangelical leaders, you know, the celebrity-pastor types and the subsequent wanna-be types have bought into the strategy and are busy either knowingly or ignorantly, but foolishly for sure, employing these same tactics in the churches.

These kingdom-builder, celebrity-pastors with their massive egos have turned the churches into their own little kingdoms. They play fast and loose with the Scriptures in an attempt to shape the minds of those (whom they should be equipping) under their care to follow them uncritically and without question anywhere they choose to go. After all, any question or the slightest hint of a challenge is rewarded with one of the unpleasant adjectives mentioned above. And a weak-minded person simply cannot bear the thought of being disliked…by anyone. This is the “everyone gets a trophy” generation. This is the chickens are coming home to roost “self-esteem” movement. This is the fruit of the foolish mother who wants to protect her children from anything remotely resembling pain. These are the kids who have been taught all their lives that they really are special. This message has been reinforced over and over again. They are NOT equipped to hear criticism because they have been sheltered from it over their entire human existence.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3)

[Disclosure: Have I ever adopted a child? Yes. I am pro adoption.]

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