By Dr. Mark Creech
On Saturday afternoon, Oct. 17, 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 active presidential candidate Mike Huckabee headlined the event. Other speakers included North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest; author Alex McFarland; traveling evangelist Otis Duhart; Dr. Tim Rabon senior pastor of Beacon Baptist Church in Raleigh; Tami Fitzgerald, head of the North Carolina Values Coalition; and Ron Baity, senior pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
Unfortunately, soon after the rally the (Raleigh) News & Observer published a badly flawed opinion piece by the Rev. William J. Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, and Timothy B. Tyson, a professor at Duke Divinity School, who derided rally attendees and distorted Christian teaching in the process.
The oped by Barber and Tyson excoriates rally participants 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.”
Both Barber and Tyson mischaracterize the Gospel message, as well as wrongly indict the position of Christian conservatives, who include people with a wide range of political views.
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. But who among the world’s masses better fits this description than the unborn, who 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.”
And what of the claim Jesus never spoke about homosexuality? This assertion too is grossly wrong. To cite just one passage, 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.
The redefinition of marriage legitimizing homosexuality and making it a genderless institution attacks the nucleus of the family, without which the nation cannot survive. There are mounds of social science research that 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 for 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.
Moreover, 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 mission 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.
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.
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 who happen to be to the political right of them. To their tactics and arguments I simply conclude, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).
Dr. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. This piece is adapted from an article that can be found here.