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For Christians engaged in the struggle for racial equality, the term “cultural Marxist” may be familiar. Our detractors have applied this term to many of us. It’s used pejoratively not only by those on the political right but also by Christians who criticize others (even fellow Christians) for their fight for equal justice.

The term is derived from the social and economic philosophy of Karl Marx. William Lind, a conservative writer and one of the biggest promulgators of the term, said that cultural Marxism is “Marxism translated from economic terms into cultural terms.” Cultural Marxism divides society into the oppressed and the oppressors and it seeks to destroy Western traditions and values—individualism, the nuclear family, law and order, Christianity—in order to eliminate oppression.

But rarely is the term used to actually discuss and analyze Marxist theory. Instead, some use it to dismiss anyone who points out systemic oppression. According to their understanding, anyone who acknowledges institutional racism, privilege, or misogyny is complicit in perpetuating a culturally liberal zeitgeist to destroy Western values. They can only be cultural Marxists.

Apparently failing to see that people can agree on the existence of a problem without agreeing on the appropriate solution, these critics paint Christians concerned about oppression as embracing an atheistic, “cultural Marxist” program.

Which is not true.

Bearing False Witness

By using the term “cultural Marxist,” some conservatives falsely conflate Christians who fight for justice with others whom these Christians don’t agree with—and indeed openly reject. I can’t tell you how many sound, Bible-believing leaders (especially in the Reformed tradition) have received critiques—even from members of their own churches—accusing them of being politically liberal or Marxist simply because they speak about racial justice and equality from the pulpit.

The truth is that political liberals and Christians concerned with racial justice don’t agree with each other across the board—especially on the gender binary, the new sexual revolution, abortion, homosexuality, and many Biblical principals. We Christians reject their stances on these issues, and the political left vehemently rejects ours. But many cultural conservatives who bear the name of Christ continue to put us in the same category, not realizing that their refusing to acknowledge the differences—along with our rejection of such a conflation—bears false witness against their spiritual family, which has massive spiritual implications (Ex. 23:120:16Prov. 14:525:18).

It’s important to note that this tendency to lump people into broad, dismissive categories goes both ways in our polarized, nuance-averse culture. It’s not just something some conservatives do by applying “cultural Marxist” to anyone who talks about racism. Liberals are often guilty of doing similar things. For example, calling anyone who talks about religious liberty a homophobic bigot, or calling anyone who supports Trump a xenophobic racist. The problem of using labels to avoid engaging actual people and positions is a widespread problem across the political spectrum today.

If Christians claim to be intellectually honest and vanguards of truth, we must start by accurately representing the positions of others.

We Are Not the Same

Characterizing us as Marxist is problematic because it doesn’t come from an honest representation of our beliefs. It simply perpetuates politically charged buzzwords. To me, it’s eerily reminiscent of how often anyone who fought for Civil Rights was labeled a Communist. Such labels are weapons to smear people, not thoughtful and nuanced critiques of their actual positions.

Many believe Christians who are passionate about racial justice desire not only equal opportunities but also equal outcomes. This is simply not true. Equal outcomes for everyone is impossible since everyone is different—people have different ambitions, work ethics, talents, abilities, and passions. What we want is equal opportunity—and for people to recognize how systemic and institutional structures built along racial, ethnic, sex, and class lines often prevent equality.

This is about partiality, which God hates (Lev. 19:15Rom. 2:11James 2:9).

If partiality is rampant in our world, then not only does God have a problem with it, but we should as well. We can debate how systemic injustices rooted in partiality manifest, but our position has to be represented accurately. Our desire for equal opportunity—while understanding there will be different outcomes—is just one example of how our position doesn’t groove with Marxism.

Cultural Marxism or Biblical Justice?

I believe many Christians don’t fight against injustice because they simply don’t care. Their hearts are not as moved as it should be which has its own set of fearful implications (Matt. 25:31-46). But I think some also fear they’ll align themselves with the specter of liberalism or cultural Marxism. It’s what political commentators have told them, and they’ve come to believe it. This sadly prevents them from honest self-examination and humble listening

If that’s you, friend, ask yourself this: Is active concern for my neighbor—and the unique challenges they may face due to skin color, gender, and so on—Marxist or biblical? Is fighting for justice for immigrants and people of color Marxist, or is it loving my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31) and treating others the way I’d want to be treated (Matt. 7:12)?

Whatever our background, we can take for granted the way our political tribes shape our ideologies, shape how we classify what constitutes an injustice, even shape whom we have compassion for. All of us must examine our biases when we encounter people suffering from partiality, racism, and inequality.

Are we downplaying and belittling our own brothers and sisters’ cries for justice by dismissing them as Marxists or are we showing compassion? God cares about injustice in his world. It’s a fundamental part of his character (Ex. 22:22–27Deut. 10:18Isa. 1:16–1756:1Hab. 2:12James 2:1–9Matt. 23:2331–46). As servants of a God who is full of compassion, we can’t let the specter of cultural Marxism scare us from fighting for biblical justice out of love for our neighbor.

Our kingdom citizenship trumps our national citizenship, and as kingdom citizens, we have a responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves and to demand justice for the weak. If you push back against the biblical imperatives of love and justice for the vulnerable, then cultural Marxism isn’t the problem. You are.

 

Ameen Hudson is a writer and speaker especially interested in the intersection of theology, art, and culture. He co-hosts the Native Speaks podcast. He and his wife are members of Living Faith Bible Fellowship in Tampa, FL

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