By Dr. Mark Creech
Two weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon, approximately 10,000 people attended the “We Stand With God” rally on the Halifax Mall behind North Carolina’s legislative building.
Former governor of Arkansas and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee headlined the event. Other speakers included North Carolina lieutenant governor, Dan Forrest, apologist and author, Alex McFarland, traveling evangelist, Otis Duhart, senior pastor of Beacon Baptist Church in Raleigh, Dr. Tim Rabon, head of the North Carolina Values Coalition, Tami Fitzgerald, and senior pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, Ron Baity.
Each speaker in some way called our state and nation to repentance. McFarland succinctly summed up the rally in quoting Proverbs 14:34, which reads, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
Within days of the rally, the Raleigh News and Observer published an opinion piece by Rev. William J. Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP and Timothy B. Tyson, visiting professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke Divinity School.
The editorial by Barber and Tyson excoriates rally participants in various words, referring to them as mockers and abusers of the real Christian faith, Bible-thumpers, tea partiers, political ancestors of the hypocritical and heretical, and facilitators of the politics of injustice and hatred.
The crux of their argument decries the denunciations of abortion and same-sex marriage by Christians on the right, saying Jesus never spoke about such “allegedly moral issues.” Instead, they contend Jesus made the plight of the poor the centerpiece of the Christian faith.
“In his final sermon,” the authors write, “Jesus once again placed himself at the feet of the poor, the sick, the hungry and the prisoners, urging his followers to focus on the needs of those who are hurting. ‘Inasumuch as you have done it unto the least of these who are members of my family,’ Jesus declared, ‘you have done it unto me.’ This is the heart of the Christian faith, but such concerns find no place at these ‘Stand With God Pro-Family’ rallies, which instead appear to find that biblical values apply only to Republican hot-button issues.”
They continue: “How can the crowd at the Capitol rally for the religion of Jesus when they come to a state with half a million human beings denied Medicaid and say nothing about it? How can they utter not a word about North Carolina’s 1.7 million desperately poor, 700,000 of them children? Do ‘the least of these’ merit no mention by the followers of Jesus, who speaks of the poor and disinherited nearly every time he opens his mouth?”
Both Barber and Tyson mischaracterize the Gospel message, as well as wrongly indict the position of Christian conservatives, many of which are Republican and Democrat.
Surely the authors would agree that Jesus’ admonishment regarding “the least of these” refers to the vulnerable, the oppressed, and innocent blood unjustifiably deprived of their God-given rights. Who among the world’s masses better fits this description than the unborn that have no voice to plead their case and are denied their right to life? Conservative evangelicals believe Jesus spoke of these little ones when he used the very phrase “the least of these.”
Moreover, there are numerous passages of Scripture that attest to life beginning in the womb. Jeremiah 1:5, for example, reads, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” The Psalmist declares, “For you [God] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps. 139:13-14). Luke 1:15 declares that John the Baptist would be a great man of God, “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Only a living human being can be filled with God’s Spirit. These are only to name a few passages of the Bible supporting the conviction life begins with conception.
In the wanton practice of abortion our nation is short-circuiting, destroying the very blessings of our future, politically, economically, medically, etc. personified in the lives destroyed. The issue of abortion strikes at the core of what Jesus said he came to bring – life and life to the full (Jn. 10:10).
And what of the claim Jesus never spoke about homosexuality? This assertion too is grossly wrong. In Mark 7:21, Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery…” The word translated “sexual immorality” is the Greek word “porneia,” the same word from which we get the English word “pornography.” It refers to every form of sex outside of the bounds of natural marriage, homosexuality included.
Furthermore, Jesus said in Matthew 19:4-6, “Have you not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they two shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Here our Lord clearly refers to the creation account in Genesis as authoritative on the subject of marriage. And while Jesus didn’t specifically teach on homosexuality, his establishment of the Genesis passages as the fundamental teaching on marriage leaves us no doubt as to his position on the gay lifestyle or gay nuptials.
This doesn’t even take into account the authority Jesus gave to his apostles to speak for him. Paul condemned homosexual behavior in places like Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10. Jude also uses the word “porneia” in his reference to the sexual deviance that precipitated God’s wrath in destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.
The redefinition of marriage legitimizing homosexuality and making it a genderless institution attacks the nucleus of the family, without which the nation cannot survive. The mounds of social science demonstrate over and again that intact families that include both a mother and a father at home are strongly associated with economic growth, less child poverty, and higher median family incomes.
The authors may talk about poverty all they wish, but strong families are still the nation’s greatest weapon to improving the plight of the poor. To graciously call on people to return to God’s order for marriage and family is neither injustice nor hatred, but an act of love.
So Jesus really wasn’t silent about abortion or homosexuality, but interestingly in every mention Jesus made of the poor, not once did he advocate civil government should coerce money from the rich or anyone else to give to the poor. In fact, there is not one passage in Scripture that authorizes government to redistribute wealth to ease the plight of poverty – not one! Talk about silence! Yet this is the presupposition Barber and Tyson impose upon Jesus’ words regarding the poor.
Certainly Jesus would have his followers show compassion to the poor, and conservative Christians are doing this every day all over the country, as well as the world in various missions endeavors, but they are not convinced the best way to help the impoverished is to pour money down the government’s bureaucratic rat hole.
Government handouts have not solved the problem of poverty, but only made it worse. Christians who understand the Bible’s teaching on helping the less fortunate know it involves neighbor helping neighbor – a long term strategy that emphasizes character building and the skills and discipline required to assist people in finding and keeping work. Government is not the solution.
Lastly, it should also be noted that it is a serious infraction of proper biblical interpretation to argue the heart of the Gospel is about the poor, at least not in the way Barber and Tyson contend. Barber and Tyson also reference Jesus’ words in the Synagogue to bolster their erroneous position: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Lk. 4:18).
The heart of the Gospel is not about the physical, but the spiritual. The good news that Christ brings is that the impoverished of spirit, those blinded by sin, those imprisoned by the bonds and chains of iniquity, those oppressed by sin’s afflictions can be made free.
Barber and Tyson need to be careful. To maintain helping the poor is the center of the Christian faith is a works oriented approach to salvation. Salvation is not the result of helping people or the performance of various good deeds, but a gift from God purchased by Christ’s life, death and resurrection – Christ’s work and not our own. Redemption is a free gift the Savior gives to everyone who acknowledges his utter impoverishment of soul before God, is forgiven, and receives eternal life by faith alone.
The Bible says, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift…” (Eph. 2:8).
Of course, this doesn’t mean we may simply dismiss good works or the helping of others. But as Alex McFarland has beautifully stated about the issue of social justice in his most recent book, “10 Issues that Divide Christians”:
“Christians are indeed supposed to be compassionate, but their compassion should naturally flow from their salvation and love for God, not out of a feeling of obligation or in thinking that ‘good works’ will save them. Being compassionate as a Christian, though, does not mean believing in worldviews or even aspects of worldviews that would compromise the faith.”
It is most unfortunate that Barber and Tyson’s editorial forcefully employs unjust accusation, irresponsible use of Scripture, and the demonization of Christians to the right of them. To their tactics and arguments I simply conclude, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).