You might say a Baptist dropped a bomb on the Justice Conference in Chicago on June 4. The annual gathering of young evangelicals is described as “one of the largest international gatherings on social and biblical justice” and is a project of World Relief. The Justice Conference customarily invites members of the Christian Left to Champion issues related to social justice. For example, last year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Cornel West, liberal political activist and Union Theological Seminary professor. So it’s a bit surprising that this year, wedged on the schedule between Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, was Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
During his twenty-eight minute discussion, Moore boldly laid out what it looks like to be a Gospel-centered social justice warrior. He tackled issues ranging from racial injustice, human trafficking, and refugees. But it was his mention of the sanctity of unborn life, sexual ethics, and the reality of Hell that had some in the room squirming uncomfortably in their seats.
Too often, Moore said, Christians are tempted to solely focus on the social issues that their peers or “tribe” approve. “When I’m speaking to people in my tribe of conservative confessional evangelicalism,” explained Moore, “I often have to say you are pro-life, and rightly so, but because you recognize the image of God and the humanity of God in the unborn child and in his or her mother, you must also recognize the humanity and dignity of God in people who might not be politically popular with you right now: with prisoners, with refugees, with immigrants. And that works the other way too.”
The bulk of Moore’s discussion urged his audience to recognize the dehumanizing of the unborn as equally unjust as the dehumanizing of other vulnerable groups more popular among younger Christians. “There are other justice-oriented Evangelicals who sometimes are very willing to speak out, rightly so on these issues of trafficking and racial injustice, but who are afraid to speak up on the issue of abortion…”
“If we are unwilling to speak to what is happening not only in our country but around the world with the dehumanizing of children because they are hidden with the wounding that takes place with women and men and societies by an industry that promises people an easy fix,” said Moore. “Then we will empower injustice and we will also signal to the rest of the world if you can just get the oppressed small enough and hidden enough and politically powerless enough, we will have nothing to say.
Moore’s comments were indeed a change in tone for the Justice Conference. Last year, evil was discussed largely in terms of white supremacy. But Moore pointed out that evil also looks like America’s abortion giant, Planned Parenthood. He encouraged his young listeners “to be the people to stand up to Planned Parenthood and say there are no unloved women and there are no unwanted children” and to recognize women in crisis are being sold “a violent so-called solution to their problem and they’re being told that all of this will happen in anonymity and with no consequences as an industry works to create both a supply and demand for this violent act.”
Apart from the sanctity of life, Moore briefly touched on Christian sexual ethics. He noted some Evangelicals are “afraid to speak up on a biblical view of issues of human sexuality because they’re afraid that somehow that means they will be associated with people in polyester somewhere that they don’t want to be like. How cowardly.”
After this particular comment came an audible “wow” from somewhere on the other side of the sanctuary. Among the chatty youth group I had been sitting among all morning, there was a moment of shocked silence. Then came snarky murmurs soon afterwards.
Undeterred by my youth group friends’ murmurs, Moore continued, “If we are silent about what the Scriptures and 2,000 years of Church history has taught us about human sexuality and what it means to be right with God and what it means for children to grow up with both a mother and a father, if we are silent at any of those points then we’re really not the justice people, we’re really not Gospel people. We’re just people who are protecting our platforms and we’re just choosing on which one to stand.”
Next, Moore stressed that faithful Christians cannot neglect the reality of Hell. “There is a great valley that separates the just from the unjust and the basis for that separation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We cannot be people who are concerned about Justice if we are embarrassed about the doctrine of Hell. If you are embarrassed about the doctrine of Hell because it reminds you of some uneducated backwoods preacher in your town, what you’re embarrassed of is not him. What you’re embarrassed about is Jesus Himself…”
In conclusion, Moore urged the young Christians to see the humanity “in those powerless faces are on the other side of prison bars, or on the other side of a refugee camp, or on the other side of the sonogram” and not be embarrassed by the totality of the Gospel, because after all, he said, “What we have to give is the Good News.”