Several months ago, I was invited to speak at Lifest, a Christian festival in Wisconsin with more than 100 musicians and 50 speakers that draws tens of thousands of mostly young people. That invitation has recently become controversial, as a number of false accusations have been made against me and our Sojourners ministry. One long article actually put me in the company of Rick Warren, Bill & Lynne Hybels, and the National Association of Evangelical as heretical. Most recently, a local radio station in Wisconsin pulled their sponsorship of Lifest, saying "we believe the social justice message and agenda they promote is a seed of secular humanism, seeking an unholy alliance between the Church and Government." Nevertheless, Bob Lenz and the leadership of Lifest stood by their invitation for me to speak next week. I wrote this statement at Bob's request in response to the controversy.
It has come to my attention that there is some controversy around the invitation I received to speak at Lifest. It seems there have been false rumors and misperceptions spreading about me and about Sojourners, the organization I lead. I wanted to help clarify who we are in an effort for us all to put the main focus back on the mission of Lifest, which is to call people to faith in Jesus Christ.
The mission of Sojourners is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope, and building a movement that transforms individuals, communities, the church, and the world. Sojourners is a non-partisan organization committed to the authority of the Word of God and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is because of our love for Christ and for scripture that we are committed to the poor.
There has been a lot of confusion lately over the term social justice and whether Christians have a responsibility to work for social justice. Some people argue that the "social justice message and agenda is a seed of secular humanism." I wholeheartedly disagree. I fear that many in our generation are becoming so biblically illiterate that they are more influenced by the mainstream media and partisan ideology than they are by the Word of God. Social justice is a core part of the Christian calling. It was central to the Old Testament prophets, and it was central to the life and teachings of Jesus.
Jesus declared in his opening mission statement in Luke 4:18-19, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The biblical definition of social justice has to do with helping bring about God's kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, just as Jesus taught us to pray. And in a world where half the population lives in poverty, there is a great need for God's kingdom to be more fully present.
Another argument is that a commitment to social justice causes groups like Sojourners to "seek an unholy alliance between the church and Government." Let me be very clear that we believe in the separation of church and state. We believe the church and the government are able to best fulfill their roles when they function separately and apart from institutional intrusion. However, that does not mean we believe in the separation of values from public life. Can you imagine what our country would be like if Abraham Lincoln kept his faith to himself in the Second Inaugural address? Or what our world would be like today if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. kept his faith to himself, rather than speaking very clearly and publicly about how his faith called him to the work of civil rights?
Dr. King said, "