WHEN JESUS CHANGES EVERYTHING–ONE SISTER’S REFLECTION ON TODAY’S “WOKE MOVEMENT”

Well it’s been a month now since my wedding and I hope to get back to writing soon. You’ll notice some small changes on the blog site, primarily involving the name change. In the meantime, I present this guest post by Latanya Yarbrough and her thoughts on the Woke Movement that has gripped Christ’s church. 

I used to be so pro-black that I was anti-white. Idealizing and idolizing black culture eventually caused me to despise white people and white culture. Although I would have never admitted this to an “outsider,” in my heart I worshipped blackness and loathed white people.

These were my attitudes when I was unconverted. Before Christ I was steeped in the ideologies of black consciousness, black pride, black superiority, etc. I was tuned in to the social injustices and racial disparities around me–those that had taken place before my birth as well as those that prevailed during the 80’s and 90’s. Like most African Americans I knew there was a battle taking place within me as I struggled with being both black and American.

Yet, at the same time, the views I had of myself were also influenced by the perceptions white Americans held about black Americans. As these two opposing views struggled for dominance I struggled to define who I was as a black American while also trying to resist the temptation to yield to the views of white Americans, views which I perceived to be both hurtful and racist.

W.E.B. Dubois in his book, The Souls of Black Folks, described this war of opposing ideals as a “double consciousness.” Because of my social consciousness and my internal struggles you could say that I was “woke.” My consciousness was shaped not only by what was happening at the time (reduced expenditures for public institutions of all kinds as well as a strong white backlash to the civil rights movement, which was being expressed by opposing both school desegregation and affirmative action programs) but also by the books I read and the lectures I listened to.

I devoured books by Naim Akbar, Dubois, Frances Cress Welsing, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Elaine Brown, and so many others. Their writings and lectures were my daily manna. I consumed this material, both in my personal life and later during academic pursuits. Because of the influence of these readings I, like many blacks, genuinely believed Christianity to be “the white man’s religion.” No one could have been more surprised than I was that the faith I once mocked would become my own faith. The God I once scorned would become my Saviour and my Lord. No one could have been more surprised than I was that my union with Christ and identity in Him would eclipse and redefine every single aspect of my life, including my cultural identity. And perhaps no one is more disturbed than I to see the apparent similarities between the ideologies expressed by the above-mentioned individuals and those espoused by some of the supporters of the Social Justice or, Woke Church Movement.

Since I was so distressed by what I was hearing and wanted to understand the mindset behind the movement I thought it would be helpful to read Dr. Eric Mason’s book, Woke Church. Although the book was not all bad, it was a disturbing read overall. It was disconcerting to read on page after page, in one way or another, that the Church has a mission that differs from the one given by her head, who is Christ.

But this is not surprising. After all, competing notions of the purpose of the church has a long history in America. Although time and space will not allow me to devote as much attention to this topic as I would like, I do think it is important to note that for Dr. Mason, it appears that the primary task of the church is to meet physical needs to have access to the hearts of men and women. He asked, “What would it look like for the church to mirror Christ’s pattern of meeting physical needs in order to have access to the hearts of men and women?”

Furthermore, Dr. Mason, in his discussion on intervening justice described it as “the effort to tend to pressing needs without which persons will not be receptive to the gospel message.” This is in stark contrast to the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty both in salvation and in the building of the church.

However, a competing view,  one that I believe to be biblical, is that the purpose of the church is to exalt Christ, who is its head, to teach only the doctrines He has revealed in His word, to worship Him according to His word, and to order its life by what He has commanded. The mission of the church is not to increase its influence so that it can change society by meeting physical needs, although the church may contribute to societal change by helping marginalized, poor, and oppressed persons.

Dr. Mason’s book stirred up memories of ideologies that I’d embraced before I was a Christian, so I decided to take a quick detour to review a few pieces of relevant materials. In addition to revisiting The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Souls of Black Folks by Dubois, I re-read a couple of books about The Black Panther Party and read The Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels. While re-acquainting myself with the ideologies of the Panther Party I also listened to interviews with former Party members. One such interview was with former Panther leader Elaine Brown. I noted how Brown, like many Party members, joined after “being brought to consciousness” about the realities of racial injustice and social disparities. Since Brown was aware of various social issues she would be considered “woke.” However, she wasn’t “fully woke” because her social awareness wasn’t rooted in “Christ Consciousness.”

According to Dr. Mason, to be “fully woke” you must be both conscious in Christ and aware of the internal and external struggles of black Americans. In his discussion of the “glaring issues” confronting blacks I couldn’t help but notice that Dr. Mason identified those issues primarily along social, economic, and material lines rather than spiritual lines. Man’s biggest problem does not seem to be sin. It is not man’s alienation from God that is a huge need or pressing issue. For Mason the “huge needs” in the black community are “the restoration of black dignity and respect.” In his chapter on Prophetic Preaching Dr. Mason asserts,“There are many glaring issues that need a prophetic voice: classism, sexism, elitism, poverty, ignorance, wealth, greed, etc.” Although there was a recognition that the reality of sin must be addressed both on an individual level as well as on a systemic level, the acknowledgement was so brief in comparison to the level of attention given to Mason’s discussion on the temporal needs of man that it seemed to be little more than a passing observance.

Which brings me to this quote from The Communist Manifesto: “Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man’s ideas, views and conceptions, in one word, man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?” So your beliefs fluctuate when there’s a change in the material and social status of one’s temporal life? At best this sounds like someone who is unstable and double minded, and someone who desires to have their best life now. At worse, and this is particularly grievous. The issues that were given the most attention by Dr. Mason really do sound very similar to the types of concerns which dominate the minds of the unregenerate such as I experienced. The drift from sound biblical theology to cultural captivity is real. May God give us the grace to obey Prov. 4:23 and 2 Cor. 13:5

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23)

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5).

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Latanya Yarbrough lives in the Chicago area and works in the social service field.

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