Two weeks ago, John MacArthur and a dozen other conservative evangelical men released a statement likening the pursuit of social justice to heresy. In addition, the statement celebrated white supremacy and sought to uphold other forms of oppression that comprise a cultural status quo.
Why Not Us: How the Statement Came to Be
A few days later, 35 progressive Asian American Christians assembled in response to a question that we recognized as a call:
“Are there other progressive entities rebutting the MacArthur Statement?”
“Not as far as we know.”
“Why not us?”
Out of a community of 6,000, CC and EW stepped forward among 33 other volunteers. CC, EW, and I would orchestrate the other volunteers so that their brilliance could shine. What we wanted, in the end, was a statement that would stand between the toxic theology espoused by the now-7,000 signers of the MacArthur Statement and those most maligned by that theology. We hoped that whatever we produced would stand as a shield against those that the Church had surgically chosen to harm. We named it the Statement on God’s Justice (SOGJ).
From the beginning, we did not want to write a point-by-point rebuttal of MacArthur’s toxicity. Facts and dissections of biblical interpretation alone would change no minds, and some claims were too laughable to address. We wanted to retell better news: a truth worth remembering, worth signing, and worth working to make a reality.
But telling this story would not be easy. Whereas MacArthur and his team had the luxuries of time, influence, and money, we had none of these. If we wanted to publish a timely response, we had 48 hours. Between raising children, working, and the occasional hours of sleep, the task seemed daunting.
Three volunteers offered examples of topics that writers could address. Within hours, an assembly of 18 volunteers had voted on the articles to include in and exclude from the Statement. This was an inexhaustive list.
Next, CC, EW, and I reached out to Asian American writers, biblical scholars, and editors. We recruited 22 individuals appointed to articles according to interest and knowledge. Each team adhered to strict deadlines to create a draft, vet theology, and edit writing. Some teams consisted of up to eight people, with biblical scholars and editors going beyond their own section to assist with other sections. I served as the editor for two sections: Sexual Identity & Gender Identity and Economic Equality. Both teams consisted of an impassioned writer and committed biblical scholar.
After teams were formed, they adhered to a strict schedule. Writers had one overnight to create a first draft. Then, scholars had four hours in the afternoon to check the biblical foundations of the writers’ work and to fortify what existed. When these teams finished, editors had three hours in the evening to finesse the amalgamation of the writers’ and scholars’ work. Some sections proved more contentious than others. Not every section had a team that reached certitude on theology or word choice, but every team reached a consensus in time for the next team to begin. Some editors stayed on to ensure cohesion throughout the document.
Then, CC, EW, and I had between 11pm ET – 12am ET to comb through the final product. In the meantime, JDF and AAS stood in the wings, having created a website at breakneck speed ready to receive the final wording when it was ready. The website was populated by 2am ET and went live that night within the progressive Asian American Christian community then.
Our young, fearless PR team – EW, SC, and JY – had written a press release earlier that day and begun outreach. They would field inquiries, commandeer social media, and respond to the occasional angry phone call in the days to come.
Altogether, the SOGJ was created by 35 volunteers.
As the number of signatures began to rise, the number of questions did, too. What did the writer mean by this wording? Why did the scholars choose this scripture? We asked our cadre of volunteers if they would be willing to respond to the inquiries from within our community.
Within a couple of days, we had reassembled the force and scheduled a three-week series of AMAs – “ask me anything” question-and-answer panels whereby each team would be available in a judgment-free arena to field inquiries from the community from which the SOGJ arose. SWP joined the administrative effort that included the PR team, the web team, EW, CC, and me. In the few instances where a contributor was unable to participate, we selected substitutes to round out the team’s remaining skill-set.
It’s been a week now since the release of the Statement on God’s Justice. Over 1,000 signatures later, I ask myself what the Statement has meant and what it will mean. From the world of mainline Protestants and other Christians, the loud tussle of evangelicals may seem archaic and primitive. Some Christians had not even heard the loud thud that the initial MacArthur statement had made in its circles.
We had set out to bear witness to a God who is perfect justice. We had also set out to wrest the name and meaning of Jesus from those who sought to equate him with white supremacy, religious fundamentalism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, and other forms of blatant oppression. Lastly, we had set out to be a balm for those wounded again by the proliferation of dehumanizing theology. The poet Sean Thomas Dougherty said it best:
“Right now, there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words.”
JM and JY were my teammates for the SOGJ’s article on Sexual Identity & Gender Identity. I was particularly moved by their collaborative process: that JM wrote with such conviction and depth of emotion, and that JY came alongside the writing process to affirm JM’s biblical foundation and fortify JM’s arguments with additional scriptural evidence. JY displayed ally-ship in theology. His comments seemed to say, “I hear and affirm you, and I come bearing holy evidence.”
Some critics of the SOGJ accuse it of being an emotional document. This is an understandable criticism from the co-signers of a document written by fourteen men – almost all white – who were socialized to equate emotion with weakness. Indeed, it is a document that is part exegesis, part proclamation, and part poetry. It was written by individuals who drew from personal experiences of oppression and prejudice and yearned deeply for equity. Some contributors pushed through illness to bring this Statement to life.
The substance and hope of our lives is in the Gospel, and specifically, in a good news that extends beyond un-engaging, uncourageous platitudes of salvation the size of a personal pizza, the depth of a teaspoon. We channel and recall a Savior who was emotional: who openly wept, who let his mind be changed, who kissed his friends, who flipped the money-changers’ tables… Of course, the SOGJ is an emotional document.
This was a team compelled by the Gospel, and I am beyond proud to belong to it. We proclaim a faith that speaks the substance of Jesus’ ministry through words and through acts. Through the process of releasing the SOGJ, we’ve received deeply personal feedback like the following:
The SOGJ is faith-renewing because of its commitment to a difficult and courageous faith. It takes more courage to affirm an inclusive and intentional faith – especially for those who belong to exclusionary faith communities and have not “come out” as progressive Christians – than it takes to sign MacArthur’s declaration of war. We acknowledge that signing the SOGJ may not be safe for all, and while we lament it, we respect it. Some signers have already been censured by their community. It also takes more courage to live out a faith that stems from the SOGJ than it takes to live out a faith modeled after MacArthur’s vision of white supremacist religious fiefdom.
No one’s faith is renewed by MacArthur’s statement and the 7,000+ who have signed it so far. Theirs is not a prophetic theology. it is a willful denial of the Gospel call and a defense of shrinking cultural influence.
In the end, the SOGJ is not a revolution. It is not an act of God’s kin-dom realized. But it has the prophetic power to potentiate God’s kin-dom builders. Yes, it was written in response to abusive theology trotted out by evangelical leaders who have masterfully manipulated American culture for decades. We have hope that we are nearing the last days of that era. But it is far more than a rebuttal. See, our old have had visions, and our young have dreamed dreams…