War of Words: Christians Are Becoming Secularized Because of Shifting Definitions
“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going” – Rita Mae Brown
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” – George Orwell
“Language is power, in ways more literal than most people think. When we speak, we exercise the power of language to transform reality. Why don’t more of us realize the connection between language and power?” – Julia Penelope
I don’t like to waste words, so let me get straight to the point: Christianity is becoming more and more unstable every day, and it is because the foundation that it sits on is rapidly eroding. That foundation is truth. Truth is under assault in our culture, and even within the walls of the Church. Truth, as should be made obvious, is expressed in ideas, which are then expressed in words. All good writers in history understood and appreciated that there is great power in words to define and shape reality. Consequently, words can be used to re-define and distort reality. Christianity has long been quite resistant to this kind of assault, because our faith rests upon the unchanging Word of God. God has spoken to us in words, which have been faithfully recorded and preserved for millennia. This is not insignificant. Indeed, it is one of the reasons Christianity has been able to endure all that is has throughout the centuries.
But times are changing. Our culture is currently undergoing one of the greatest re-shapings in history, and the battle has become a battle of words. I very briefly touched in my previous post that the Church as been absorbing secular philosophy through shared words with different meanings. More pointedly, I said “social justice as the world defines it is very different than helping the oppressed from a Scriptural perspective.” Here I want to outline some of what I’m talking about.
As an illustration, consider that Mirriam-Webster literally changed the definition of “sexual preference” the very day after Senator Mazie Hirono challenged then-supreme-court-candidate Amy Coney Barrett that her use of the phrase was inappropriate. (See one write up about it here.) Overnight, the term was deemed “offensive” by Mirriam-Webster despite no one really seeming to care. Anyone familiar with how tyranny quietly imposes power knows that changing the meaning of words is one way to control how people think. This kind of thing is truly alarming.
The very same thing has happened under the noses of Christians. Those who advocate for social justice movements use phrases and terms that are well-known to believers but infuse them with very different meanings. Consider a few examples.
The very term “social justice” is riddled with baggage. When many Christians hear the term, they immediately think of Scriptures like Micah 6:8, which says “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Most believers then simply think to themselves, “God requires us to pursue justice, therefore I am going to support social justice movements. It is what God would want me to do”. This sounds rational but is mistaken because Scripture and culture define justice differently. A simple google search for “define social justice” will draw the following:
Notice that the qualifier “social” in “social justice” changes the meaning of the phrase. Social justice speaks to systems in culture that result in disparities between people groups. These disparities are then corrected through “social justice”, or the redistribution of resources from those who have to those who have not. This, however, is not at all what the Bible speaks of when it refers to justice. Consider Leviticus 19:15, where the law of God says “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour.” This definition of justice is actually the opposite of the secular one. In God’s economy, true justice is about equal treatment under the law: neither the rich nor the poor get preferential treatment. But in modern social justice terms, justice is intentional preferential treatment in order to create equal outcomes among people groups. Though both the secular culture and Scriptures speak of “justice”, they mean completely different things.
Consider also the definition of racism. In the secular world, racism has changed meanings over the last several decades. Racism used to mean being prejudiced against someone because of their ethnicity or skin colour. This is the simple, straightforward definition that has existed, as far as I can tell, from the first notion of the concept. Modern culture, however, is consistently moving towards using the term “systemic racism” as virtually synonymous with “racism”. While old-fashioned racism is on the individual level, systemic racism is societal. Yet in the minds of modern social justice proponents, the two are the same. Consider a few quotations to illustrate:
“…many critical race theorists and social scientists hold that racism is pervasive, systemic, and deeply ingrained. If we take this perspective, then no white member of society seems quite so innocent.” – Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic
“Racism presupposes the ability to control a significant section of the population economically, politically, and socially by imposing law, covenant, and restriction on their lives. Black people ain’t have no capacity to do that. Can we be bigoted? Yes. Can we be prejudiced? Yes. Racist? No.” – Eric Dyson (video)
“White’s see their friendship with blacks as proof that they are on the non-racist side of the good-bad binary. Yet cross-racial friendships do not block out the dynamics of racism in the society at large, and these dynamics continue unabated. Racism invariably manifests itself within cross-racial friendships as well. Racism cannot be absent from your friendship. No cross-racial relationship is free from the dynamics of racism in the society.” – White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
“Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race when those views are reinforced by systems of power.” – So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
“And if you are white in a white supremacist society, you are racist.” – So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
The point is clear. While racism used to mean prejudice, it now means prejudice plus power. In North America, since white people are seen as those with social advantage, and since white people are socially conditioned to affirm white culture as the norm, all white people are racist AND it is impossible for people of colour to be racist. I would simply want to ask, is this the definition of racism you hold to as a believer? Is it supported by Scripture? Or even common sense?
Consider also the word “equality”. The word seems straightforward enough, yet it can have many different uses. When people speak about equality, what do they really mean? Are they saying we are equal in value because we are made in the image of God? Do they mean that everyone should have equal opportunities? Or do they mean that everyone should have equal outcomes? All three of these uses have vastly different meanings and implications. Again, I see many Christians using the term without realizing that what it means to the secular world is very different from what they mean by it Scripturally.
This kind of word shape-shifting is happening all over the place. In fact, it is happening at such an alarming rate that it is impossible to keep up with for the average person not deeply entrenched in this ideology. The result is that many well-meaning Christians start to adopt and promote these ideas without fully knowing what they are getting in to. Still other self-proclaiming Christians knowingly adopt these views and try to integrate them into biblical theology with more nefarious intentions. Either way, the purity of Christian truth becomes corrupted by these worldly philosophies.
Let’s just call it what it is. This is Marxist-Communist thinking. Read again the definition of “social justice” and see that it parallels Neo-Marxist ideas perfectly. Neo-Marxism is defined by identifying social disparities as the result of systemic oppression that must be corrected by force if necessary. The vast majority of what flies under the banner of “social justice” fits this very description. Christians may or may not know it, but they are blending an anti-Christian worldview with their faith that will sooner or later devour them too.
Words matter. Definitions matter. Ideas matter. I wonder if Christians are being swept up into the social justice movements of our day under the faulty notion that it is somehow loving to do so. Are we not to love our neighbour? Of course we are. But we are not called to abandon truth in the pursuit of love. In fact, doing so is quite unloving. The Bible would not put such emphasis on the truth and the need to be discerning if it were going to be so simple. Having a robust Christian worldview that is shaped by the Scriptures is absolutely paramount to obeying the command to love your neighbour. Thus, I am not advocating for some kind of overly sophisticated and Pharisaical approach to living out our faith in the world. Rather, I am warning against the pull to be “taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
The Christian Church needs to better recognize what is happening before our very eyes. Though in some ways I think is kind of corruption is inevitable, those who protect the flock have a duty before God to lead with righteousness and truth, even though this will cause them to become targets for hate not only from the culture at large, but sometimes even those claiming the name of Christ. My desire is to see the Church honour God and love others as God would have us do, not according to worldly definitions. People need to care about this. People need to become sticklers when it comes to definitions and clarity of communication. Doing so will help the sheep steer clear of wolves who intend only to deceive and devour them.