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Is Your Church Going Woke?


[And does it matter?]

The woke phenomenon is nearly ubiquitous thse days. Universities, businesses, and government agencies annually spend millions of dollars to promote wokeness, which, in those settings goes under the well-known DEI acronym: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

Like the social justice movement from which it derives, the woke ideology is predicated on the idea that all inequality is the result of oppression, and that it can only be redressed by imposing an equality of outcomes via the use of state and institutional power.

What differentiates woke from social justice (and its 20th Century Marxian forerunner) does not so much reside in its central thesis. In a recent interview with Frontier Centre for Public Policy, David Leis, Professor Frances Widdowson points out that it is the totalitarian character of this ideology that distinguishes it from these earlier versions.

As pervasive as this metastasized variant of identity politics has now become, we can at least take comfort in the fact that the Church, with its two thousand years of religious and intellectual tradition is and will continue to be a bastion of reason and judicious thought against an ideology that will surely cause irreparable damage if it is not rigorously critiqued and contained. 

But are churches embracing their prophetic vocation in these troubled times? That remains to be seen. The tragic reality is that too many churches have, for want of a better word, been colonized by the culture, and have found it infinitely more convenient and virtuous to jettison their prophetic voice altogether. 

The mainline protestant churches became glorified social clubs decades ago. The current leader of the Catholic Church seems to be much more concerned with the dual “evils” of man-made climate change and capitalism than with reinserting Christian orthodoxy into the culture. As for the rest of the ecclesiastical rainbow, it is undeniably a mixed bag—with some churches aspiring to greater wokeness and others valiantly resisting this utopian ideology. 

Since churches do not advertise their ideological leanings with colour-coded neon signs on their windows, here is a ten-point check list that should help readers determine the woke concentration of their congregation.  

  1. Does your pastor regularly pepper his or her sermons and prayers with such expressions as social justice, systemic racism, diversity, inclusion, and equity? 
  2. Does your church promote a culture of victimhood over a culture of responsibility?
  3. Are the congregants encouraged to seek forgiveness for alleged sins committed by deceased people against other deceased people a century or two ago? 
  4. Does your church regularly exhort the congregation to acknowledge its collective guilt for sins committed against mother earth?
  5. Does your church call for a ban on natural gas and other fossil fuels with no regard whatsoever for the tragic consequences of such policies for the poor and the working class here and in developing countries?
  6. Does your church “gently” censor any attempt at raising the profile of the one hundred thousand babies terminated before birth every year in Canada? 
  7. Does your church subtly devalue individual rights, liberty, and the free-market economy?  
  8. Does your church rationalize a decline in attendance and donations as the price to pay for being “faithful”? 
  9. Does your church measure its theological fitness in terms of how well it aligns with society’s dominant worldview? 
  10. Does your church frequently appeal to the discernment of the community (otherwise known as “community hermeneutics”) rather than Scripture to justify its stand on morality?

If you answer yes to more than half of these questions, it is highly probable that your church is well on its way to woke country or may in fact have already taken residence there. 

So, what if this is the case? Does it matter? 

It matters a great deal, for the simple reason that with its fixation on identity politics and the subjective self, the woke ideology is fundamentally at odds with the biblical view of human nature and humanity’s relationship to God and the world. 

A church that is woke is a church that is in full retreat from Christian orthodoxy, has abdicated its prophetic mandate, and has tragically ceased to be a voice for life, reason, and hope. 

This article was first published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy


Larry Guengerich October 30, 2023 - 10:52

Wow, really struck by number seven. “Does your church subtly devalue individual rights, liberty, and the free-market economy?” Where are these embedded in Scripture? I am quite sure members of the early church, early Anabaptists and many current Anabaptists would be surprised to know these are signs of being “woke.”

David Navarro October 30, 2023 - 17:55

Article 12 of the MB Confession of Faith states, “Because their citizenship is in heaven, Christians are called to resist the idolatrous temptation to give to the state the devotion that is owed to God. As ambassadors for Christ, Christians act as agents of reconciliation and seek the well-being of all peoples.”

This article is aggressively devoted to one brand of political talking points; should we expect “citizens of heaven” to be so partisan?

This article deliberately packages up ten complex points that deserve nuanced discernment, and summarily dismisses the points and any person or church who sees value in discussing them as “woke.” Is this the manner in which an “ambassador for Christ,” or an “agent of reconciliation” treats even those whom they are correcting?

Point 4 and 5 here seem to ignore the fact that Article 3 states that humans are given the mandate to ” care for creation as a sacred trust.” The Pastoral Application goes on to say, “Scripture teaches that environmental responsibility is a Christian mandate. Of all people, Christians should be the most responsible when it comes to the environment.”

Point 10 here places a false dichotomy between “community hermeneutics” and “Scripture.” The explanatory notes of COF Article 2 affirm that understanding and applying the Bible IS a hermeneutical task, and that MBs undertake this task in community. The same section affirms both “community hermeneutic” and “community discernment.”

I became an MB in part because I appreciated that it was a tradition whose spiritual ancestors had the (hard-won!) wisdom to be a peace-waging people who avoided engaging with power, politics, and partisanship – so much so, that it was codified in the Confession of Faith, as in my quotations above, and throughout. Are those values still held?

I am not asking the MB Conference merely to align itself with the culture. I am asking the MB Conference to align itself with its own Confession of Faith. Churches are being removed from membership over Article 11. Does, and will, the MB Conference stand by Articles 2, 3, 12, etc. with the same vigor?

Raymond Bystrom November 5, 2023 - 17:22

Pierre, thanks for this important article. Have you read Left Is Not Woke by Susan Neiman? She says many things comparable to your critique of Woke (Polity Press, 2023).

Raymond Bystrom November 6, 2023 - 09:58

The first recorded use of the phrase “stay woke” was in the great blues man Lead Belly’s 1938 song “Scottsboro Boys,” dedicated to nine black teenagers whose execution for rapes they never committed was only prevented by years of international protests.

Staying woke to injustice, being on the watch for signs of discrimination – what could be wrong about that? Yet in a few short years, woke was transformed from a term of praise to a term of abuse.

What happened?

– writes Susan Neiman, The Left Is Not Woke (2023), p. 4.


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