General Conference President Clarifies Social Justice Remarks |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES
Elder Ted N. C. Wilson succeeded in getting a conversation among African Americans going with a couple of statements in his Annual Council sermon of Sabbath, October 13, 2018. In the sermon that was delivered in historic Battle Creek, Michigan, Wilson bemoaned current worship trends, claiming that they did not align with the worship practices of the early pioneers, and he frowned upon the tendency of some to overemphasize social justice issues while downplaying biblical truth.
I have heard from constituents and colleagues in ministry regarding the sermon, their emotions spanning the spectrum from confusion to anger. The General Conference president has been indicted for everything from ignorance to insensitivity.
On Tuesday, October 16, Elder Wilson sought to clarify what he said about social justice in his Sabbath sermon, telling the assembled delegates that he was all for social justice that was couched or pursued in the context of the gospel. A couple of African American pastors at the Annual Council went to the microphone to express appreciation for Wilson’s clarification, and the Office for Regional Conference Ministry issued a statement on the matter.
Social justice is a broad term that covers a spectrum of issues. Gender equity is a justice issue, as is caring for creation (environment justice) and being kind to the foreigner and stranger. Our urban communities are inhabited by millions caught in the clutches of poverty and exploitation. Relieving the pain and anxiety of people living on the margins or the underside of society is ministry that God finds acceptable (Isa. 1:17; 61:1-4).
The Holy Scriptures clearly show that God has always sided with the oppressed. Justice issues are core and central in Old Testament theology, with God often reminding Israel of their condition before their miraculous deliverance (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:34; Deut.10:19). Amos, Isaiah and Micah inform us that worship that is not grounded in justice is unacceptable to God (Micah 6:1-8; Isa. 58; Amos 5:21-24).
God’s unmistakable identification with and advocacy on behalf of the oppressed continues in the New Testament, where God’s Son, Jesus Christ, begins His public ministry by quoting Isaiah (Luke 4:16; Isa. 61:1-4). Christ’s ministry was one of standing in solidarity with the least and the lost, the have-nots and despised, and the neglected and rejected. He interacted with women and children, liberating both from a life in which they had little, if any, rights, and in touching the sick, Jesus upended religious traditions that were a burden to the suffering (Mark 10:13-16; John 4:1-30).
Jesus drove home His deep appreciation for have-nots by saying that in the Great Assize at the end of the ages, the basis of the separation of the sheep from the goats will be the benevolence shown to the rejects of society (Matt. 25: 31-40). Our Lord’s reminder shows that social ministry and the gospel stand together or fall apart. Those who champion social justice causes are demonstrating a healthy understanding of what the gospel is all about, and are truly serving and living in the tradition of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who will make all things new when He returns. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).R. Clifford Jones