The Gospel of Jesus Christ is very much a Social Gospel. To some of you, that may be the most controversial thing you’ve ever heard someone say about the Gospel. I suppose if the phrase “Social Gospel” just doesn’t sit quite well with you, we can say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is very much saturated in social issues. Rarely do we see Jesus not entangled in the social issues of His day. I don’t think there could have possibly been anything more socially scandalous during this time—when the Roman Empire reigned and the Jewish people were prosperous—than someone coming along and being heralded as the King of the Jews and the prophesied Messiah. It only took one scandalous incarnation to completely upset and upheave two massively powerful social orders of political and religious persuasions.
Often times, Jesus puts Himself purposefully and directly in the middle of social issues. He chose to hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He chose to associate with the Samaritan woman at the well. He chose to heal on the Sabbath. He chose to drop the stones and pardon the woman caught in adultery. Things seemed to be going just fine in the Temple before Jesus walked in, flipped the tables over, and called it a “den of thieves.” And, dare we not forget, He chose to go to the cross—a social issue of Roman execution through the pressure of the Jewish leaders. Jesus died on a Roman cross with a sign detailing His crime as “King of the Jews.”
It’s interesting because the Jews had been awaiting the arrival of a Messiah who held political power and would rise up as King of the Jews to save them from Rome. Maybe the sign above Jesus’ cross could have just as easily read “Jesus of Nazareth: Social Justice Warrior.” Wasn’t that His true crime—shaking up the social issues of His time? Jesus preached a Gospel that set the captives free of social injustice: the poor and oppressed captive, the marginalized captive, the female captive, the gentile captive. The Gospel of Jesus is ultimately about freedom from sin, but when we realize that the root of all social injustice is sin, we see why Jesus and His Gospel can’t be separated from social issues. Jesus certainly wasn’t interested in keeping the peace when doing so would have been at the expense of inequality and those being oppressed and mistreated.
It’s amazing to me how much flack social justice advocates are forced to take these days just for advocating in churches that have clear social justice problems. My foremost area of advocating is for egalitarianism: the theological and biblical belief that men and women are equal in essence as well as in authority and leadership. There is no such thing as “gender roles.” This is sometimes known as Biblical Feminism.
When people like myself speak out in churches that embrace the false beliefs of male-headship, wifely submission, and all other things complementarian; we are accused of causing disunity. Jory Micah, in her blog post entitled “I Will Not Conform to Make False Peace,” hit the nail on the head for me when she wrote, “The thing is, I am not interested in unity that is at the expense of the oppressed. I am not interested in staying silent on behalf of the girls and women who are being treated unjustly so that I can make privileged [Christians] feel more comfortable.”
I have found myself in a similar situation. Before finally leaving, I was constantly being accused of causing disunity in my church due to my strong advocating of women’s rights and egalitarianism in a church that strongly embraces male-headship and complementarianism. The ultimatum given to me was that I needed to silence my advocating or leave. I was told that my advocating was causing disunity and that being silent about such things would be the way in which I would live peaceably with those in that church. I wasn’t interested in catering to their whims of false peace or disillusioned unity. Unity is a noble goal, but so is separating truth from error. Some things shouldn’t be “agree to disagree”—like gender equality & equal rights between men and women.
True unity isn’t the sound of silencing half of the church and leaving them voiceless. True unity isn’t leaving half of the church out of the decision making process. True unity isn’t dismissing half of the church from positions of authority and leadership. True unity doesn’t diminish the gifts of half of the church. True unity cannot coexist with the oppression of half the church. When I began thinking about ways to accomplish cultivating unity in the church, I realized that true unity will only come when we embrace women as equal leaders in our churches. Only when we remove the idea of patriarchy and instead see men and women standing side-by-side as complete equals, will we be able to fully achieve true unity.
Jesus abandoned His place of privilege in order to become a servant of the oppressed.
May we do the same.
Kaylyn Whitley is a twenty-something who is still trying to figure out and find her place in this crazy journey called “life.” She is a graduate of Liberty University, where she earned her B.S. in Religious Studies: Theology and Apologetics with a minor in Biblical Studies. Her love of God and theology was the catalyst that sparked her passion for egalitarianism, gender equality, and women’s rights. She hopes to author a book about God’s grace over the course of this next year while she continues working. Her goal is to get back to Liberty by the Fall 2019 semester and resume her Master of Divinity. Connect with Kaylyn on her blog “Follow Your Arrow,” on Facebook, and on Twitter.