Not long after I graduated from college in 1977, one of my pastors started teaching Adult Sunday School classes on world hunger and social justice. Several of us fell under his influence, equating socialist politics with Christianity. We justified this equation by pointing to Acts 2:44-45 as a proof-text supporting our “radical discipleship.”
Like all good radicals, we protested nuclear power plants, boycotted subsidiaries of corporate conglomerates and mourned profusely when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter. We firmly believed our liberal politics reflected Biblical values.
And we faithfully read Sojourner’s Magazine. I grabbed each issue the moment it hit my mailbox, eagerly flipping to the editorials by Jim Wallis. His writing always assured me that Jesus championed the poor and disenfranchised.
And yet, I always felt a certain discomfort with my so-called Christian socialism. I told myself it was because I was tired of boycotting conglomerates, and that I wanted to drink a Coke without thinking about all the people being exploited in Third World countries by various subsidiaries of the Coca-Cola corporation. I scolded myself for my lack of self-denial, afraid that enjoying a Coke would be a sin against Christ.
Thankfully, the Lord used the pro-life movement to slowly change my political affiliation. I generally vote Republican, though I no longer believe political action (on either side of the aisle) will usher in God’s kingdom. Reading articles by people like Robert Jeffries leaves me with the same slimy feeling that I experienced reading Sojourner’s Magazine.
Having made that disclaimer, my distaste for mixing Christianity with right-wing politics isn’t as pronounced as the ick factor that dogged me during my Sojourner’s days. Occasionally over the years I’ve wondered why reading that magazine and participating in those boycotts troubled me so.
This weekend, as I began researching the current Social Justice Movement, I hit on the answer. Legalism.
Today’s Social Justice legalism differs from the legalism of my Sojourner’s days in form. Instead of abstaining from products that allegedly exploit people in Third World countries, I must now perpetually repent of ways my ancestors exploited black people and women. I must stand against systematic racism and misogyny, both in the culture at large and in the local church I attend. I’m told these are Gospel issues.
Scripture, however, condemns this sort of legalism.
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. ~~Colossians 2:16-19 (ESV)
Mixing politics (of any persuasion) too tightly with Christianity causes us to lose sight of Christ. It adds worldly pursuits to the Gospel, shaming Christians who don’t ride the preferred political bandwagon. Worse, it turns political action into a component of the Gospel.
Sisters, such legalism is definitely slimy!