Rev. Mark H. Creech
Beware the leaven of progressive clergy
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By Rev. Mark H. Creech
April 28, 2024

A recent article in the Christian Post highlighted a gathering of Christian clergy, theologians, and scholars at the Yale Divinity School’s Center for Public Theology & Policy. “‘Religious Leaders’ Sign Declaration Denouncing ‘Religious Nationalism,’ Promoting Progressive Causes,” read the headline, capturing the essence of the event. At the heart of their assembly was the signing of the “New Haven Declaration of Moral and Spiritual Issues in the 2024 Presidential Election,” a document condemning “religious nationalism” while affirming support for progressive initiatives. [1]

Bishop William J. Barber II, a well-known progressive activist, spearheaded this effort. Hailing from North Carolina, Bishop Barber previously led the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro and held the presidency of the state’s NAACP chapter. His advocacy during that time, notably through the ‘Moral Mondays’ movement, garnered national attention, albeit not without criticism.

Despite purportedly transcending political divisions, Barber’s tactics did more to exacerbate societal rifts rather than bridge them. While some lauded his causes, especially the press, his legislative impact remained less than minimal and overshadowed by disruptive protests that not only delayed legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly from doing the people’s business but led to hundreds of unnecessary arrests that congested the state’s court system.

As a registered lobbyist for the Christian Action League of North Carolina, I had a front-row seat to Barber’s conduct in the Tar Heel state. I contend it fell far short of the standards expected of a clergyman or a statesman. Instead, he operated as a political agitator with a religious veneer. His agenda was, and never has been, aligned with advancing the kingdom of God; instead, Barber has sought to supplant the soul-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ with spiritually ruinous progressive Christianity.

The current president and senior lecturer at Repairers of the Breach and co-chair for the Poor People’s Campaign, Barber denigrates Christians who espouse the belief nations that forsake God and his commandments will be turned into hell. He smears them with derogatory terms such as “white evangelicalism” and “religious nationalism” (sometimes referenced in America as Christian nationalism). He contends that their concerns are not only a perversion of Christianity but also a distraction from the real issues such as a living wage, healthcare, ecological justice, criminal justice reform, and voting rights – all focal points of the New Haven Declaration. [2]

What do these issues have in common? What thread ties them together? It’s not the Scriptures, regardless of the claims. Many progressives don’t take the Bible as fully reliable and reject its inspiration and inerrancy. These issues reflect a commitment to “social justice.”

While Barber and his co-signatories on the New Haven Declaration interpret ‘social justice’ differently from the biblical concept of justice, it’s important to recognize that both perspectives emphasize the importance of righteous living in community. In biblical terms, justice is foundational to God’s requirements. However, progressive Christians prioritize ‘social justice’ with a theological emphasis on addressing immediate societal needs to the detriment of considerations about the afterlife. Specifically, this shift alters Christianity’s message from a proclamation of Christ’s completed work of salvation and the promise of eternal life for believers to an emphasis purely on ethical imperatives for societal improvement.

Michael J. Kruger, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Charlotte, provides light here, arguing:

    “In other words, human problems are defined by progressives in purely horizontal terms (the way humans relate to the world or fellow humans), and not in vertical terms (the way man relates to God). As a result, the highest ideal of progressive Christianity can be nothing other than fixing present, temporal problems. Speaking of eternity is seen as a distraction at best and a waste of time at worst.

    “Tragically, the progressive position clouds the real message of Christianity – the real message of Jesus. Jesus cared about the suffering of humans, and he called Christians to do the same. We do not address human suffering as an act of moralism but as a response to the grace shown to us at the cross.

    “Moreover, we don’t address temporal human suffering exclusively. For even if we could somehow alleviate all human suffering, it would do exactly nothing to meet humanity’s greatest need. As Jesus reminds us, ‘What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?’” (Matthew 16:26). [3]

In his epistle to young Timothy, the apostle Paul, gave in one short sentence the core message of genuine Christianity:

    “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and I am the worst of them all’” (I Timothy 1:15).

This profound truth articulated by the apostle strongly resonates with every person born of the Spirit of God: that we are profoundly sinful and none can attain eternal life through their own merits. Redemption required the innocent sacrificial blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, spilled on Calvary’s cross, to atone for our sins, reconcile us to God, and empower us to extend the same kindness and mercy to others that God has lavished upon us.

This is historic Christianity, which is a religion of grace, God’s unmerited favor, and not a religion of merit. As Kruger correctly contends “the ethos of progressive Christianity” is “actively turning away from matters eternal to a focus on matters earthly.” We shouldn’t “worry ourselves about what happens after death.…because no one really knows anyway. All that matters is helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and relieving human suffering.” [4]

Christian apologist, Alex McFarland, similarly addresses this serious doctrinal error, stressing humanity’s bearing of the divine image and underscoring the inherent value and dignity of every individual.

It’s incumbent upon Christians to extend assistance to those in need. Nonetheless, this doesn’t necessitate compromising foundational Christian doctrines about soteriology, the afterlife, heaven, and hell, says McFarland. The Gospel message shouldn’t be diluted, prioritizing physical needs over the desperate need for spiritual salvation, or endorsing political ideologies contrary to the Christian worldview. [5]

This is exactly what progressive Christianity does, demonstrating it is the actual perversion of the Christian faith, grossly feigning its authentic form. It is mostly definitely not the real McCoy, as Barber insists.

Eric Rush, in an editorial for World Net Daily, aptly labeled progressive Christianity as ‘apostasy,’ highlighting its perilous political ramifications.

    “‘Social justice Christians’ are those who profess Christianity, but who adhere to politically entrenched concepts of equality and redistribution of wealth. These ideas are ostensibly rooted in their faith, but in truth, they have been incrementally and insidiously insinuated into many American churches by Marxists, progressive politicians, and pastors whose religion has been tainted by the aforementioned parties.

    “How can this be? Well, through the misrepresentation of Gospel messages in the areas of charity and egalitarianism, such Christians have been led to believe that:

    • government has a right to enforce religious doctrines (such as those of charity and egalitarianism), and

    • Jesus Christ, as a threat to the existing paradigm, was the ‘first radical’ and essentially commanded this in his teachings.

    “A preposterous extrapolation, to be sure, but that’s what they espouse. And of course, government only has the right to enforce the religious doctrines of which these folks and their leaders happen to approve.

    “I declare that ‘social justice Christianity’ is apostasy; its adherents have abandoned their faith for a cause, and their religion has become perfunctory and pretextual. While some are misguided Christians, others…. are out-and-out Marxist posers.” [6]

If anyone doubts the gravity of the situation, consider Rev. Barber’s remarks at the August 2019 Democratic National Committee meeting, advocating for government involvement in healthcare:

    “If someone calls it socialism, then we must compel them to acknowledge that the Bible must then promote socialism, because Jesus offered free health care to everyone, and he never charged a leper a co-pay.” [7]

Allow me to be abundantly direct! Socialism, by every biblical standard, is anti-Christian!

While I typically refrain from critiquing fellow clergy, it’s worth recalling Jesus’ caution to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Watch out! Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:6). This warning, though symbolic, serves as a timeless reminder to remain vigilant against the teachings and influence of spiritually corrupt leaders, just as Jesus advised his followers in his own time. Its relevance endures today as much as it did when Jesus first uttered these words.

The true threats to America do not stem from those who are concerned about sin-related issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, and the rejection of traditional family structures. Nor do they arise from those who seek to safeguard God-given rights such as religious freedom and gun rights for self-defense, family protection, and defense against tyranny. The peril to democracy does not come from individuals troubled by the influence of secularism and liberal ideologies in education, particularly in public schools, or those advocating for the inclusion of religious perspectives in curricula. It is not those who prioritize border control who endanger our nation’s heritage, nor is it the professing Christians who support policies promoting free market principles, limited government intervention, lower taxes, and individual responsibility. Similarly, it is not proponents of tough-on-crime policies, including mandatory sentences and prioritizing law and order, who jeopardize our nation’s flourishing.

The individuals to be genuinely concerned about are those who profess Christianity, hold religious leadership roles, or serve as civic leaders but reject the foundational principles of historic Christianity. Make no mistake, those who peddle a false promise of cultural salvation can offer nothing more than a bleak existence devoid of vibrancy and hope. Those who espouse socialist political ideologies threaten to diminish our role as stewards of God’s blessings and ultimately relegate us to becoming mere slaves of the state.

This characterization aptly fits Bishop William J. Barber II and his associates who recently endorsed the New Haven Declaration of Moral and Spiritual Issues. It’s imperative to be vigilant of their influence. Beware their leaven, for it will drag this nation straight into hell.

Resources:

[1] Jon Brown, “Religious Leaders Sign Declaration Denouncing ‘Religious Nationalism,’ Promoting Progressive Causes,” Christian Post, (2024), accessed April 25, 2024, https://www.christianpost.com/news/religious-leaders-sign-declaration-against-religious-nationalism.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael J. Kruger, The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity (CruciformPress, 2019), 52-54.

[4] Ibid., pg. 51

[5] Alex McFarland, 10 Issues That Divide Christians (Regal, 2014), 69-70.

[6] Eric Rush, “The Apostasy of ‘Social Justice Christians,” World Net Daily, accessed April 25, 2024, https://www.wnd.com/2010/05/155917/

[7] Paul Kengor, “The Christian Left Just Doesn’t Get It: Socialism is Anti-Christian,” Crisis Magazine, accessed April 25, 2024, https://crisismagazine.com/opinion/the-christian-left-doesnt-get-it-socialism-is-anti-christian

Contemplative Interbeing

© Rev. Mark H. Creech

 

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Rev. Mark H. Creech

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

Rev. Creech is a prolific speaker and writer, and has served as a radio commentator for Christians In Action, a daily program featuring Rev. Creech's commentary on social issues from a Christian worldview.

In addition to RenewAmerica.com, his weekly editorials are featured on the Christian Action League website and Agape Press, a national Christian newswire.

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