The authentic Church is not Woke
6 August 2022
Woke: A collectivist mindset that requires absolute, unquestioning obedience to the current thing, to display that you are a good person.
The Australian Church is having a massive identity crisis.
How should it identify? Should it be a wing of the Greens and put all its resources behind the environmentalist movement? Should it be a wing of the medical industry and act as a wholesaler regurgitator of medical advice? Should it be a wing of the Back Lives Matter movement and lecture its followers and others about a whole host of sins that are imagined by this radical identity group? Should it be the religious and political arm of Critical Race Theory and evaluate itself according to an increasingly depressing checklist of made-up misdemeanours, like some twisted quest to unravel the hidden sins that David might have been referring to (Psalm 19:12)? What should it be?
Much of the modern Church has gotten itself caught between the rambling and shifting priorities of the various causes of the modern progressive movement and in the process, it has forgotten what it was always meant to be: different to the world.
Some fellow pastors and I found ourselves caught in the middle of just this sort of issue last year when we penned an open letter to the Prime Minister called the Ezekiel Declaration.
The intention of this Declaration was to ask the Prime Minister to do more to publicly protect the Church and society from vaccine passports. At the time it was written, they had not yet been enacted in Australia. They had been discussed, the infrastructure was in place to manage them (QR codes), and they had already been put into use in other countries. The writing was on the wall. However, some of our fellow churchmen, from various denominations, took issue with our letter. Their main concerns were that we were criticising a policy that did not yet exist (it came into place about two weeks later), our tone was too aggressive, which is laughable, and thirdly we did not do enough to encourage people to follow the dominant advice at the time and go and get vaccinated.
Many of the leaders or men who criticised us would not have viewed themselves as Woke. However, let’s review what Woke means: It is ‘a collectivist mindset that requires absolute, unquestioning obedience to the current thing, to display that you are a good person’. In other words it is a mindset prone to virtue signalling.
When you take this definition into account, then I think you could say that what they did was Woke. Because those of us who wrote the Declaration did not show absolute, unquestioning obedience to the current thing, we were therefore not good people, or at the very least, we were troublesome people. Therefore, we needed to be rebuked and people needed to be warned not to associate with us. Those churchmen who criticised our efforts made sure that they did signal their virtue on the current thing, which at the time was getting the vaccine and telling everyone to do the same thing. This is, by the above definition, a very clear example of Woke. Even if some of those who participated in that public rebuke were not aware of that.
Those of us who wrote the Declaration and all who signed it (over 26,000 people) took a different approach. We simply wanted to advocate for liberty of conscience. For people to be free to choose, and by free we meant free from all coercion and pressure.
Liberty of conscience is a vital Christian ideal and has had an incredible impact on Western society. From very early on in the Church strong believers have advocated for the right for people to be free to make up their mind on disputable issues. As one church leader said, ‘Conscience is therefore the shield of the human person, the root of all civil liberties, the source of a nation’s happiness.’ Another Christian leader, Vishal Mangalwadi, put it more bluntly, ‘A man without a conscience is a beast.’ To force a person to override their conscience is to break that man in immeasurable ways.
Over the last year or more this kind of coercion, this spirit-breaking coercion, has been reigning supreme in our society and forcing people to choose between sovereignty over their body and their incomes. It has been restricting their ability to move around or leave the country, even going so far as to determine whether they had control over their own health. This was all foreseeable and hence myself, Tim Grant, and Warren McKenzie published an open letter beseeching the Prime Minister to make sure people were not put in this position by government policy.
Of course, for whatever reason, many leaders in the Church felt the need to criticise our approach and to publicly make sure Christians were encouraged to signal their support on the ‘current thing’. They may have seen what they did differently. But what we saw is a Church that had forgotten the vital importance of liberty of conscience. A Church that had forgotten that its role in the world is sometimes to call out tyrants for going too far in what they decree for people. ‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17).’
Many of the responses we got from ordinary people and average Christians told us they saw things as we did. They were just amazed someone was saying it is okay not to get behind the current thing.
This is not just an internal Christian dispute either. The concept of liberty, or freedom, of conscience flowered in the Church and spread to the whole of society and gave birth to many of the grand liberties that we enjoy in the world today.
The freedoms that you and I enjoy are not accidents, they did not appear in a vacuum. Many of them came from the heart of the gospel itself, which says for example: your body was bought for a price, the price Jesus paid, therefore, God is Lord of the body, not the government, not the state. What a liberating idea! This idea changed our culture from one where slave owners could do whatever they wanted with the bodies of their slaves, into a culture where slavery itself is now anathema. You all, believers or not, have benefited from this Christian principle.
Tim and I were so shocked at the Church’s lack of advocacy on this issue that we decided to write an entire book about it, titled: DEFENDING CONSCIENCE: How Baptists Reminded the World to Defy Tyranny. As Baptist ministers we are well aware of how this concept of freedom of conscience became a part of the Western legal system. Namely, because it originally came out of the Baptist emphasis on how the Church should relate to both the government and to their fellow churchmen and women.
In our view, so much of the Church has gotten caught up in modern agendas and causes, that it has forgotten its wonderful legacy of bringing positive change into society. Maybe some of our critics might see what they did differently. They are welcome to expand on why they did what they did. But in our view, the most important thing in the last couple of years has not been signalling agreement with the current thing. It has been to make sure we did not forget who we are supposed to be just because we are in a time of crisis.
This is a common problem today, and there are many ways in which the culture would like to dictate to Christians about how we should apply our principles. This pressure comes from inside and outside the church, because there is a general, and in some cases wilful, ignorance of what Christians believe and why. (I discussed this on a panel with Bernie Finn, Alexandra Marshall, and Dave Pellowe on this week’s episode of Pellowe Talk, which you can view here).
Principles are not just meant for the easy times, but for the times when they are hard to apply, because it is costly. We believed last year that our society forgot itself in a time of great anxiety, and maybe some elements of the Church did too. You might see it differently. But if you want to hear our detailed view you can pick up a copy of Defending Conscience. It has been published by Locke Press and is available now.
Many people today have a distaste for the modern church because it feels like just another wing of the progressive party. The Good News is not very much at all of the larger Church is focused on signalling their virtue on the current thing. Many of us are pushing back, some of us even loudly.
The authentic Church is not woke.