In recent years there has been an upsurge in discussion about race, racism, oppression, and justice. Words such as diversity, inclusion, and equity dominate every arena of society. We are told that racism is systemic. White people are chided for their privilege. The founding of America and the basic tenants of Western society are deemed inherently racist. Police brutality and the killing people of color constitute irrefutable evidence of the racist systems of justice at work in our society. White people are called to repent from the sin of slavery committed by white people of previous generations and for the inherited privilege which was gained through such injustice. It is said that a Gospel which does not include the social liberation of people from oppression is a deficient Gospel. Black Lives Matter has become the rallying cry of all who truly care about “injustice.” We are told that lived experience of oppression is the only real way for a person to understand and identify oppression. And the only way forward for us as a society and as a church is to reorganize ourselves around the basic tenants of Critical Race Theory and to pursue equal social outcomes for all people. The movement which supports and encompasses these sentiments is known as the “Woke” movement.
“Woke” is a popular-level word which describes the state of being awakened to the reality that racism is systemic. One who is woke has begun to identify racism as the fundamental cause of disparities among racial minorities; they have been awakened to the racism which underlies all of Western society, which perpetuates unequal distribution of social privileges between whites and people of color. One who is woke has also concluded that racial minorities have a better ability in identifying racism and interpreting the cause of social disparities than those who belong to the racial majority (white people). Finally, one who is woke seeks to educate others and to promote Social Justice.
The following statements have been written in an attempt to articulate our church’s position on the woke movement and why we reject it as a movement posing serious threats to the church and to the Gospel. Before making these statements, however, we want to strongly assert that we are in no way saying that racism (biblically defined) does not exist; it does. We are not saying that racism is not a sin; it is. We are not saying that believers should not be concerned with injustice; they should be. And we are not saying that believers should not do good to those around them and seek to promote a just society as that are able; they should. In fact, it is because we believe all these that we are opposed to the woke movement because it redefines racism, perverts biblical justice, and guts the church of the only thing which can transform individuals and promote true love and reconciliation—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In what follows, we want to give seven reasons why we reject the woke movement along with some resources we recommend for further reading.
1. We reject the woke movement because it operates on the basis of an unbiblical and faulty worldview.
This worldview has grown from the soil of postmodern thought and Marxist philosophy. It is also represented by Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT-I) and Social Justice activism.
It wrongly divides humanity up into either oppressors or oppressed, forcing all people into one of these two categories on the basis of skin color and group identity, whereas the Scriptures declare that mankind has been created in the image of God and, therefore, is fundamentally the same in nature, worth, and purpose.
It wrongly identifies the fundamental problem with humanity as unequal distribution of social privileges due to a racialized system, whereas the Scriptures identify the fundamental problem with humanity (irrespective of race) as depravity inherited from Adam, sin and rebellion against God, and the looming judgment of God on sinners.
It wrongly assumes that truth claims are used as tools for power dominance by a majority group and that understanding the nature and existence of oppression can only be identified by those with lived experience, whereas the Scriptures assert that mankind’s fundamental problems and solutions can be objectively known through the Scripture’s own testimony and that people are not so controlled by their lived experience so as to render them uniquely able to access truth or unable to objectively assess other truth claims.
It wrongly identifies forced redistribution of privileges and the tearing down of social structures as the only solution to systematized racism, whereas the Scriptures condemn social upheaval and such perversions of biblical justice; the Scriptures also declare that the Gospel alone is able to remedy the hate in the human heart and accomplish true racial reconciliation.
2. We reject the woke movement because it promotes an unbiblical definition of racism.
The woke movement defines racism as a socially constructed system which perpetuates the unequal distribution of social advantages (privilege) for the benefit of white people and the disparaging of people of color. As such, racism does not describe individual acts of prejudice or hate but a system of beliefs, values, and social institutions which have been constructed for the advantaging of whites over people of color. Therefore, racism is normative, inescapable, and unconsciously participated in by all from an oppressor group and those who share their values and beliefs. According to this definition, it is impossible for those from an oppressed group to be racist.
The woke movement, moreover, does not stop with race but also moves on to include sexual minorities (organized around things such as sexual identity or sexual preference) as belonging to the oppressed and Christian hetero-sexual beliefs as oppressive.
The Scriptures, however, declare that beliefs and values which accord with truth and reality are not oppressive but loving, despite how they may be hated and opposed. The Scriptures also define racism as an individual sin of partiality or hatred on the basis of skin color, of which sin all persons (irrespective of race or group identity) may be guilty.
3. We reject the woke movement because it advocates an unbiblical form of justice.
“Justice” according to Woke ideology (and Critical Social Justice ideology) involves the forced redistribution of privileges and social outcomes. Injustice exists so long as there remain unequal social outcomes among racial and sexual minorities.
“Justice” according to the Bible involves impartial retribution of punishment and reward for individual acts of merit or demerit. Justice is not only perverted when one shows partiality to the rich or powerful (those from “oppressor groups,” to use CRT’s definitions), but justice is also perverted when partiality is shown to the poor or weak (those from “oppressed group identities”). Biblical injustice involves individual actions like preying on the vulnerable in society, extortion, bribery, partiality, or bearing false witness.
4. We reject the woke movement because it assigns false guilt and demands repentance contrary to the Scriptures.
Since Wokeness is concerned with group identity over individual action, therefore, it assigns guilt along the lines of association with an oppressor group identity rather than genuine acts of biblically defined sin. White people must repent for their inherited white privilege which was inherited through the institution of slavery and the African Slave Trade. White people today are inextricably linked to the sins of white slave owners and slave traders and, therefore, share in their guilt. White people must, therefore, lament their privilege and repent from their whiteness and the sins of their ancestors.
The Scriptures, however, do not assign guilt for categories such as “inherited privilege,” nor do they define solidarity markers as arbitrary and superficial as skin color through which guilt may pass from one generation to another. The Scriptures, moreover, declare that each person is judged for their own sin, and that children are not to be held responsible for the sins of their fathers nor fathers for the sins of their children.
5. We reject the woke movement because it distorts the Gospel message.
The woke movement makes social inequities, disparities along racial and sexual lines, and the reconstruction of a society free from oppression the central issues about which the Gospel (and therefore Christians) ought to be concerned. It declares that the Gospel must include the liberation from earthly oppression for it to be the true Gospel. It declares that true Gospel living looks like assuming the agendas set forth by Critical Social Justice ideology. And it minimizes the sins of those in oppressed groups by identifying them as primarily victims of oppressors and, therefore, not culpable for their actions.
The true Gospel, however, is other-worldly in nature, in that it is primarily concerned with the redemption of all peoples from the slavery of sin, the wrath of God, and the New Creation work of God which has begun in Christ and is experienced in this life in the New Birth and in the Church. The true Gospel neither promises nor commands social transformation in this age. The true Gospel calls believers to lives of holiness and sacrificial love expressed primarily toward other believers and then to the outside world as they have opportunity. And the true Gospel declares that there are ultimately no victims but that all bear responsibility for their own actions and choices, from which God calls them to repent and believe in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
6. We reject the woke movement because it stirs up racism and division rather than removing it.
Even unbelievers are able to recognize that our world is not what it ought to be, and they are aware that mistreatment of other people is wrong. On their own, however, they cannot go beyond this, but in their own unaided and fallen wisdom, they fall short in identifying the underlying problems with humanity and the proper solutions for what is wrong with our world.
Wokeness, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and Social Justice are all the world’s attempts at identifying the fundamental problems with humanity and then solving these problems on its own. The dilemma is that God has been rejected in the world’s identification of the problem and in the proposed solutions. As such, these solutions will not only prove to be deficient and superficial, but they will also bring further harm on humanity and alienation from God.
The woke movement does not solve the problems endemic to mankind, nor can it create a society in which racism, hate, partiality, or mistreatment do not exist. Labeling some as oppressors or others as oppressed based on group identity cannot but stir up conflict and alienation between these groups. Declaring that the identification of racism is only possible through the lenses of lived experience will only create a society in which motives are constantly picked apart and falsely accused, a society in which there is rampant suspicion of one another, and a society in which charitable dialogue and plain reason are impossible.
The Scriptures declare that the world is twisted and corrupted by sin beyond human repair. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can repair what is fundamentally wrong with humanity. The church as the assembly of redeemed persons from all nations is the foretaste of God’s restored creation and is the primary way in which the new creation invades this present age. If Christians resort to the world’s definitions of reality and the world’s proposed solutions for sin and the fall, they will only end up bringing the world’s hatred and division into the church.
7. We reject the woke movement because it saps the church of its strength and effectiveness.
When the fundamental tenants of Wokeness are allowed into the church, it will not be long before the methods of Wokeness take hold in significant ways. When this happens, the church will become diverted from its mission and greatly damaged in its effectiveness. The church will become an institution for social and political change rather than the pillar and buttress of the Truth. Its methods will center around fixing inequalities through earthly means rather than proclaiming the pure Gospel of Christ, which alone creates a truly unified people. Its goal will become remedying social disparities rather than seeing lives transformed through the Gospel. And the result will be the glory of man, which ends in his damnation, rather than the glory and praise of God through Christ, which results in man’s greatest good.
For further study and clarification, we strongly recommend the following resources:
1. The Official Position of The Timberlake Baptist Church Elders on The Issues of Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, and Wokeness
2. The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel
3. Critical Thinking for Critical Times — Affirmations and Denials
Books and Articles
1. On “Social Justice” and the Gospel (by John MacArthur)
2. Fault Lines (by Voddie Baucham)
3. Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel - and the Way to Stop It (by Owen Strachan)
4. “Engaging Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement” (by Neil Shenvi)
5. “Thinking Theologically About Racial Tensions” (by Kevin DeYoung)
Sermon and Teaching Series
1. Critical Thinking in Critical Times — Jerry Wragg
2. Social Justice and the Gospel — John MacArthur (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)