Church Leaders and Woke

Why we need to open our eyes?

The Catholic writer Noelle Mering gives a helpful and succinct definition of ‘Woke’. She writes: ‘The term woke refers to the state of being alert and attuned to layers of oppression in society’. It is about being on the side of those who are or who see themselves as marginalised and discriminated against. Does that ring any bells for us? Surely, it reminds us of Jesus.

But then it gets subverted. While it began specifically and rightly with racism in mind, it has since broadened its scope to take in other areas where there is now commonly considered to be oppression – including questions of gender, transgender and sexual orientation. This becomes not just a mixed bag, but a can of worms for Christians. As just one indicator of how ‘Woke’ has been mis-focused, it is worth noting that although it is meant to be fighting for justice in society, as far as I know, it has little or nothing to say directly about poverty. The kinds of oppression with which it is concerned are quite selective in a 21st century, libertarian kind of way.

Why do pastors need to be teaching God’s people from Scripture on this subject? And why is it a very urgent matter? Let me give you three reasons.

Woke power
The Woke agenda is now calling the shots in vast areas of our nation’s political, cultural, educational and working life.

That means that many of those in our congregations are having to confront ‘Woke’ issues in their daily working lives. Many Christians are expected, for example, to join in ‘gay pride’ week at the supermarket where they work. Is that okay? The pervasive influence of ‘Woke’ means that many parents are finding their children coming home from school having met up with a biological girl who is presenting as a boy – and vice versa. How is a parent to handle this?

Society has changed radically, even in the last five years. If Christians do not understand where all this is coming from and have not been taught to assess this movement biblically how will they know what to say? I suspect their reaction will be to just keep quiet and keep their faith for Sundays only.

Woke thinking
The Woke agenda does not see oppression simply in terms of physical privation but of upsetting people’s feelings. If you make someone feel bad, you are oppressing them.

And this is taken as true, even if the facts say differently. Back in December, the former Guardian journalist, Suzanne Moore, published a piece with a headline declaring that her former newspaper ‘is hiding the truth over trans issues.’ She explained that there were certain matters about which she and fellow journalists were not allowed to write because they did not fit in with the Woke agenda adopted by the newspaper. She writes, ‘What I feel most upset about is the dereliction of basic journalism by the Left-wing media’. Woke wields the power of censorship.

And, of course, the faithful church is very much in the firing line here. The call for people to recognise their sin and so see their need of Christ makes people feel bad and so, it is said, should be banned. This, at root, is why the church has got caught up in the controversy over ‘conversion therapy.’

Have you thought this through for yourself pastor? Have your elders and youth leaders ever discussed this? Do your people get teaching on these things and the political pressure that is being generated for the church to water down the gospel?

Woke anger

Woke is a movement which believes it is on a crusade for the oppressed. Therefore, it tends to be very self-righteous and confrontational. One slogan states, ‘Stay Woke, Stay Angry!’ 

Because it is sensitive to injustice, Woke sees all relationships in terms of power. It is taken as axiomatic that those who have the power will misuse it. This attitude can even be imbibed by Christians. The church and its fellowship are seen through new and not necessarily very helpful spectacles. Relationships are no longer assessed in terms of love and service. Every interaction between people is a power play.

Once we accept that jaundiced way of thinking, relationships, even in the church, tend to get skewed – especially the relationship between church leaders and people. But we must ask a question. Even where there is mistreatment in the churches – and there are pastors and elders who are bullies – is the best reaction to get angry? Yes, injustices must be put right. But the New Testament tells us to be very careful about anger (Jas 1:19-20). Anger gives the devil a foothold in churches (Eph 4:26-27). Where anger gets a hold, churches frequently split and Christ’s cause is deeply damaged.

Is your church fellowship aware of these dangers?

Study Day

Because this is such a live issue, we are running a Study Day on the subject at London Seminary on Thursday 23rd February and would encourage you to come. Use this link to book. 

John Benton

Director for Pastoral Support

Pastors’ Academy