I’ve lost track of the number of Christian declarations, confessions, and other statements that have come out this year. But I encourage you to read one more, just released today: The Boston Declaration. Subtitled “A Prophetic Appeal to Christians of the USA,” it begins:
As followers of Jesus, the Jewish prophet for justice whose life reminds us to, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) we hear the cries of women and men speaking out about sexual abuse at the hands of leaders in power and we are outraged. We are outraged by the current trends in Evangelicalism and other expressions of Christianity driven by white supremacy, often enacted through white privilege and the normalizing of oppression. Confessing racism as the United States’ original and ongoing sin, we commit ourselves to following Jesus on the road of costly discipleship to seek shalom justice for the least, the lost, and the left out. We declare that following Jesus today means fighting poverty, economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression from the deepest wells of our faith.
…In a moment when too many who confess Christ advocate evil, we believe followers of the Jesus Way are called to renounce, denounce, and resist these death-dealing powers which organize and oppress our world, not to embrace or promulgate them.
I wasn’t asked to join a signatory list dominated by theologians, biblical scholars, and ethicists. (In any case, I’ve already said that I’ve signed as many of these as I’m going to sign this year.) But I’m glad to see that some scholars and activists from historically evangelical institutions added their names, including Shane Claiborne, Noel Castellanos, five of my Bethel colleagues, and faculty from Wheaton, Messiah, Seattle Pacific, George Fox, Azusa Pacific, Fuller, and Gordon-Conwell. If “evangelical” is to be redeemed, people with a foot in the world of evangelicalism are going to have to join their sisters and brothers from mainline, Catholic, and ecumenical seminaries and universities, whatever their theological differences, in the “Spirit-led struggle to fight the death-dealing powers of sin wherever they erupt.” (A struggle that, one way or another, needs to be waged within evangelical churches and organizations, not only at a critical distance from them.)
The only time it names “Evangelicalism” is to condemn it alongside “other expressions of Christianity driven by white supremacy, often enacted through white privilege and the normalizing of oppression.” But to my ears, the Boston Statement evokes the evangelicalism defined by signer William Barber II:
True evangelicalism spoken from the lips and words of Jesus places concern for the poor and the broken and the battered and the imprisoned and the blind and the bruised and those made to feel unacceptable at the center of faith. This evangelicalism seeks to invite all to care for the least of these, to have a deep concern for justice and love and mercy as it relates not just the individual piety and charity but to public morality social justice and governmental policies.
The term evangelical should have nothing to do with any political party but should reference a particular perspective and critique regarding grace, justice, love and mercy as noted in many Scriptures. For instance Luke 4:18-19 says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.”
(I’ll be curious to learn more about the origins of this document. The press release likens it to the 1934 Barmen Declaration, but its title, content, and timing also bring to mind the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern, also released just before Thanksgiving and also deploring Christian complicity in racial, economic, and other injustices.)