It’s the favorite formula being used by Evangelical youth conference organizers: invite a bunch of speakers from the mostly progressive end of the theological spectrum and maybe a couple conservatives and let the students decide who they like best. No caveats, no clarifications, nor justifications. Only a few brief comments encouraging students to not allow themselves to feel uncomfortable and “sit in it.”
Not only is this unhelpful, it’s a major leadership failure on the part of conference hosts. It’s a format that misses more than 2,000 years of church history, biblically-based teaching, a spirit of unity, and historical clarity and context. As an attendee you just leave feeling more confused about what the Bible teaches than when you arrived.
Two weeks ago I watched the trend unravel at the Justice Conference. One day young attendees listened as activist Mark Charles denounced the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Supreme Court as “systematically racist” and declared “everything you own is stolen.” On day two we heard Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, challenge attendees to not be embarrassed as they champion social justice issues outside liberal or conservative political expectations and, above all, spread the Good News.
Hosts of the Justice Conference would have served their young attendees well by acknowledging afterwards that as we seek justice on earth, we acknowledge the basic Christian truth that humanity is fallen. Hence, why we need Jesus and the world needs the Gospel.
Mark Tooley, President of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, debunked Charles’ declarations by point to the opinions of remarkable human rights advocates like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglas. “The writers of the Declaration of Independence were, like all of us, sinners and hypocrites,” Tooley noted. “They didn’t fully live up to their own ideals, and neither does anyone.”
How can we reconcile injustice without identifying sin?