Evangelicals Denounce Evil When We Stand for Good

By Tom Gilson Published on August 23, 2017

Come on, you evangelicals! What’s wrong with you? Denounce violence and racism!

That’s the demand historian Randall Balmer made at the L.A. Times today, naming five leaders he accuses of saying nothing at all. Evangelicals are guilty of a “deafening silence,”  he says. He aims his criticism at people like James Dobson and Tony Perkins. Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Franklin Graham did speak out, he says, but they said the wrong things.

Balmer concludes that “this once proud and noble tradition is morally bankrupt.”

He’s wrong.

Trivial Pursuits

I haven’t done my own who-said-what census to rebut him on the numbers. Frankly, I’m not sure it even matters. We evangelicals know that we say matters a lot. It’s about taking leadership: influencing people toward right thinking, right belief and right action. It’s one way we’re called to serve God.

We won’t necessarily say what Balmer and his friends want us to say. That doesn’t make evangelicalism morally bankrupt. It makes us careful.

Take racism: It’s one thing to denounce it; it’s another to be clear what you mean when you denounce it, and to be sure everyone who’s listening is clear on what you mean by it, too. There’s racism in the form of real prejudice against persons of other ethnic groups, there’s Jason Jones’ and John Zmirak’s Racism™. There’s the “racism” that too many academics claim is unavoidable for whites and impossible for blacks, and there are many other “racisms” besides. The word has too many meanings to treat it carelessly.

Take another example: injustice. Evangelicals agree that it’s unjust to oppress the vulnerable. But what does that mean in practice? Certainly it includes standing in the way, when someone is actively trying to take advantage of them. But some people think the only way to achieve racial justice is to “abolish the white race.” Obviously “justice” can come in many flavors, too.

We could take time to map out the racism and oppression we denounce, defining them with analytic precision. That wouldn’t make Balmer happy. He says he wants evangelicals to speak out. But what he means is that he wants us to say exactly what he says.

There’s a better way to speak out: Explain what we’re for — what we support. That will tell the world what we denounce.

 What We’re For

We’re for recognizing every person’s common humanity. That includes unborn humans. All of us are created in God’s image. He loves us all equally, and regards us all with equal worth. Therefore we should treat all our fellow humans as having equal worth, and equal dignity as fellow bearers of the image of God.

We’re for treating all “nations, tribes, peoples and tongues” with equal worth and dignity.

We’re for loving both neighbor and self, the pursuit of peace, and blessing and doing good to those who would hurt us.

We’re for standing on the side of the oppressed and the hurting; but since this cannot be reduced to any simplistic formula, we’re for taking responsibility to seek and find the right answer for each situation.

We’re for doing all we can justly do to help the oppressed rise to safety, health, dignity, strength and well-built character.

We’re for the state’s role as the rightful enforcer of justice when persons commit crimes violating these principles.

When People Fail

We’re for all these as much as anyone else. In fact, we’re even more for them than others, because we’re Christians. We believe Jesus Christ died for all. We’re  dedicating to doing what Jesus and the rest of God’s word say: to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

That’s not all. We know we can’t do these things on our work. We can only do them by following Jesus Christ with the whole heart, living in His unique power, and letting his love flow through us. We know we can far short of that standard, and we regret it.

So we are for the kind of peace that Christ himself modeled and taught, and we are for repentance when we fail.

Since He Asked …

With these principles, this should be clear: We denounce racism in its classic understanding as prejudice based on skin color, ethnic or national origin. There were plenty of examples at Charlottesville. We denounce evil in all its forms there and everywhere.

That should satisfy even Randall Balmer.

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