In Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe, Pastor and Cultural Apologist Voddie Baucham takes up what he believes to be the most important discussion for the contemporary church: social justice.1 In late June 2021, shortly after the book was published, I wrote a review of the text for the Journal of Christian Teaching (in Communication Studies) in preparation for its use in an upcoming political communication course that I taught in the Fall. Teaching the course with Baucham’s text, if anything, illustrated the importance of this specific conversation within Christian communities.
Baucham, the Dean of Theology at African Christian University, is no stranger to racial discussions. For example, following the death of Michael Brown in 2014, he wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition called “Thoughts on Ferguson,” rejecting the path of many within the church who raised cries of systemic injustice. In his argument, he shared his own willingness when younger to believe all racial injustices could be boiled down to the system; however, this changed only after realizing the underlying ideological roots of that thought, namely Marxism. His article received an immediate response from Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile who thought that Baucham’s emphasis was missing the major point of the social justice response. This early debate was a microcosm of where evangelicals find themselves today.
This challenge to the rising cry of systemic injustice placed Baucham outside of a boundary in the evangelical public that more recently has rigidified following other high-profile cases involving police officers and minority victims. As in the broader discussion, many Christians are dealing with the tensions regarding arguments related to systemic injustice, oppression, and white privilege. Of course, injustice occurs and, historically, the church has missed her chance to be a light in many—not all—circumstances. Read Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of the Modern Fundamentalist from 1947 and one will see that the church’s apathy towards the kingdom coming here and now has been overlooked for the world to come.
A controversial point of Voddie Baucham’s rhetoric is his willingness to reject this lens because of the immorality that he believes it begets. Most significant is his unwillingness to judge others based on melanin content. To him, the effects of doing so are apparent in cases highlighted by the media and those unreported. Of course, everyone knows of George Floyd and Tamir Rice. But, have you heard of Tony Timpa and Dylan Noble? If not, why?
In both Fault Lines as well as a previous sermon in 2019 at Southeastern Founders’ Conference, Baucham clarifies a label he coined—Ethnic Gnosticism—to aid in exposing the radical extremes of this perspective and its slowly creeping effects on the church.
Gnosis, or knowledge, is the notion of spiritual insight only held by an intimate few. In this case, the spiritual insight is gained based on ethnicity, meaning that if one is a member of a historically oppressed group, one possesses special insight. On the other hand, if one is a member of a historically oppressive group, one is blind to one’s own racist behaviors and only furthers the oppression.
The result is nothing less than division: one ethnicity must stop speaking and listening to those that have the insight.
Baucham’s argument has more in common with other liberal scholars like Coleman Hughes, Glenn Loury, and John McWhorter than some evangelicals.2 For example, in McWhorter’s recent work, Woke Racism: How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America, McWhorter argues the language of social justice bears resemblance to a religious ideology undergirded by neoracism. Similarly, Coleman Hughes writes in “Stories and Data” that society now cares more about the unjust murders of minorities while overlooking similar instances of whites:
But I would submit that if this new “anti-racist” bias is justified—if we now have a moral obligation to care more about certain lives than others based on skin color, or based on racial-historical bloodguilt—then everything that I thought I knew about basic morality, and everything that the world’s philosophical and religious traditions have been saying about common humanity, revenge, and forgiveness since antiquity, should be thrown out the window.3
McWhorter and Hughes are describing Ethnic Gnosticism from a different angle. What is to be made of this common ground among politically and religiously diverse African American scholars challenging America’s Social Justice Movement?
My primary interest in utilizing Fault Lines for my course was to gain insight into how students are dealing with these topics. The responses to the text were insightful to say the least. Some students would outright decry Baucham’s framing of the social justice discussion as traitorous, not just to Christianity but to society in general. These responses were, in many ways, expected.
The unexpected responses provided the most insight to the current discussion. In fact, some students literally shared in their reviews how his arguments opened up a whole new perspective that “rings true” in the data AND their experiences. Some, in fact, shared that they felt guilty reading his arguments even though they thought what he was saying was true.
How did we find ourselves in this current predicament? How is it possible for students to feel guilty when reading a text debating social discussions? It isn’t heresy to disagree with intersectionality, critical race theory, or the social justice movement, broadly speaking. By not allowing a much-needed conversation, are we formulating a new heresy?
As a rhetorical scholar and lover of debate, it is my job to ask these questions. As a Christian educator, it is my duty to challenge students from varying perspectives. More importantly, as a Christian, I am exhorted to take captive every thought in relation to Christ (2 Cor. 10: 5).
Many claims have been laid against Voddie Baucham and his recent rhetorical work for taking on this discussion. For my part, I can easily see how others take issue with Baucham’s discourse and the possible dangers of its misuse. However, that does not necessarily mean that he is wrong when analyzing the extremes of the social justice movement.
What if he is shining a light, rhetorically speaking, on ideas that may prove quite detrimental to the church? He would not be the first Christian leader to raise questions about possible internal threats. Take, for example, Irenaeus who disassociated the Gnostics and their secret teachings in Against Heresies. Dale Sullivan, a rhetorical scholar, argues that it is a leader’s role to define boundaries and expose the mystical teachings secretly polluting the community when the time comes.4
On the other hand, Baucham may be going too far. Many students from the course sensed a lack of empathy in his writing that seems to miss chances of mercy and love for those truly hurting from injustice.
Is Baucham a modern-day Irenaeus? Or, is he missing the point entirely?
God, give us wisdom and grace to see the way forward.
- Voddie Baucham, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe (Salem Books, 2021)
- Matt Chandler, “A House Divided Cannot Stand (sermon).” The Gospel Coalition, Apr. 6, 2018, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/conference_media/house-divided-cannot-stand-understanding-overcoming-inconsistencies-white-evangelicals-racial-issues/
- Coleman Hughes, “Stories and Data: Reflections on race, riots, and police.” City Journal. Jun. 14, 2020, https://www.city-journal.org/reflections-on-race-riots-and-police
- Dale Sullivan, “Identification and Disassociation in Rhetorical Exposé: An Analysis of St. Irenaeus’ ‘Against Heresies’”. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 29, no. 1 (1999): 49-76.