Towards an Evangelical Social Ethic

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, July 25, 2018 0 comments

by David Odegard

Recently a friend of mine who is influential in Christian higher education told me that he did not want to talk anymore about homosexuality because it only distracted from the conversation about racism. He said it as a way to stifle further inquiry into his opinions, but I was left wondering why we couldn’t consider more than one social stance at the same time. Is there a hierarchy of ethical concerns?

Christians have been thinking about social ethics for a long time, and many of the conclusions are compelling. Evangelicals have been sleeping a dispensational slumber, and consequently we are weak in social ethics. Leftist “Christians” have been dominating the conversation while we slept and are now reluctant to allow Evangelicals a voice.

For the better half of the 20th century, with notable exceptions, Evangelicals were not very involved in politics and seemed to be largely uninvolved in worldly affairs. They expected Jesus to return any moment but certainly by 1988, one generation after the nation of Israel was reinstituted.

Dispensationalism was holding its drunken sway over Evangelical theology and it would take time and tears to disimbibe. When Evangelicals finally did wake up to the fact that we have to be involved in the affairs of the world because Jesus commanded us to “let our shine before humankind” (Matthew 5:15-16), they didn’t know where to start. Truly, Evangelicals are still a bit groggy and the leftists are not happy that so many conservatives have entered politics.

It is naive to believe that we can pick one social project at a time. Social thought bounces everywhere all the time and Christians must have a comprehensive answer to all these questions. We simply don’t have the luxury of asking cultural problems to form a tidy, single-file line. Current cultural thought is a mob situation and we have to shout louder than everyone else to be heard.

With that in mind, constant reader, I have compiled a hierarchical list of Christian social ethics drawn from several sources which I submit for your consideration. Over the next several weeks I will write on each with more detail.

1. Imago Dei, the Image of God. “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness… So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). Also consider Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” The image of God is the essential identity of human beings. We are persons with souls, embodied souls. The Imago Dei has profound implications for social issues. Slavery is wrong, for instance, because all humans are made in the image of God equally and therefore have inalienable value and rights. Abortion is wrong because a human being, no matter in what stage of development, is a person and therefore no one, including the mother, father, or government, has the right to kill that person.

2. Family. The next main institution is the family and it must be protected above all the other institutions. It is not the only institution needing protection, but it is one of the most vulnerable. The social implications are that the Bible teaches us how to live our lives; fatherhood, motherhood, gender, marriage, child-raising, sexuality, etc. all spring from Biblical teaching and a commitment to family.

3. Virtue in the Public Square. Public life must be informed by Christianity. By removing religion from the public square, there is no longer anything transcendent to prevent politics from becoming a god unto itself. Not only does it destroy religious expression, but it also destroys politics because nothing higher than political power is allowed to exist. All that remains is an oligarchy of nihilists.

4. Theology of Work. The Bible gives us the essential elements of economics. Also, God gives Himself as our example of productive work. He is working productively, therefore, so must human beings.

5. Care for the Poor. Care for the poor comes after the theology of work because our ability and responsibility comes from sharing the results our productive labor. Everyone has a responsibility to work, but where that is impossible the Bible gives instructions on how to care for the poor.

6. Solidarity. In Christ there are no racial distinctions and God has called us to racial solidarity. We must identify with our brothers and sisters in Christ no matter their genetic traits. We stand with Christians everywhere. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Christian love is to be an example to the entire world on how race relations should work.

7. Creation Care. Christians do not worship the earth, but we don’t own it either. Part of our essential obligation to God is to tend the earth and use it responsibly. The earth is not more important than human beings, but it is our essential environment. At the base of God’s commands to all humans is to act responsibly toward creation. Our bodies are from the earth and rely on the earth.

Here then is a short introduction toward a comprehensive Christian social ethic. Most of us won’t have a problem with the list, perhaps the order, but it is how we approach each item that causes much of the fighting. Let us attempt a rational and loving discussion of each item.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.