As many discuss the accuracy of Pastor John MacArthur’s oft told experience with John Perkins and Charles Evers the night Dr. King was murdered, I’d suggest we need to keep in focus the hypocrisy involved in the very telling of these stories. MacArthur often offers such tales to bolster his Civil Rights bona fides before going on to criticize the so-called “social justice” movement in the Church. He prefaced his very first post in a series attacking modern Racial Reconciliation (RR) advocates with the same. Immediately after claiming, “[w]e were also shown the place where James Earl Ray stood on a toilet to fire the fatal shot,” he declares the following with bolstered accreditation:
I deplore racism and all the cruelty and strife it breeds. I am convinced the only long-term solution to every brand of ethnic animus is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ alone are the barriers and dividing walls between people groups broken down, the enmity abolished, and differing cultures and ethnic groups bound together in one new people (Ephesians 2:14–15). The black leaders with whom I ministered during the civil rights movement shared that conviction. (“Social Injustice and the Gospel“)
From there he begins his five-part critique of modern RR advocates—supposedly in opposition to “the black leaders with whom” he “ministered”:
The evangelicals who are saying the most and talking the loudest these days about what’s referred to as “social justice” seem to have a very different perspective. Their rhetoric certainly points a different direction, demanding repentance and reparations from one ethnic group for the sins of its ancestors against another. It’s the language of law, not gospel—and worse, it mirrors the jargon of worldly politics, not the message of Christ. It is a startling irony that believers from different ethnic groups, now one in Christ, have chosen to divide over ethnicity. They have a true spiritual unity in Christ, which they seem to disdain in favor of fleshly factions.
We are then treated to the same old tired claims of Social Marxism, victim status, generational guilt, etc., for the next four posts; and not just as a matter of opinion or emphasis, but a matter of Gospel integrity:
[…] occasionally a new threat to the simplicity or clarity of the gospel seems to erupt with stunning force and suddenness. The current controversy over “social justice” and racism is an example of that. (“Is the Controversy over ‘Social Justice’ Really Necessary?”)
The message of social justice diverts attention from Christ and the cross. It turns our hearts and minds from things above to things on this earth. It obscures the promise of forgiveness for hopeless sinners by telling people they are hapless victims of other people’s misdeeds.(“The Injustice of Social Justice”)
And just as elsewhere, the entire edifice is again built on the credibility accrued by his supposed Civil Rights salad days and his continued friendship with John Perkins.
This, to me, is much more troubling than whether he lied or mis-remembered the events of Dr. King’s murder.
To begin with, simply pointing to a time when he was with Civil Rights activists in the South does little to bolster his credibility anyhow. It is not as though he was involved in any activism, civil disobedience, or struggle to combat Jim Crow legislation. He was there to “preach the Gospel.” Grace To You Executive Director Phil Johnson has made this abundantly clear:
Important correction here: JM wasn’t marching with the demonstrators. He was preaching the gospel and practicing real brotherhood in CONTRAST to the angry civil rights activism of those days. He’s still advocating the same approach. (August 14, 2018)
Evers and Perkins were not just preaching the Gospel in those days, but were among the “angry” activists.
Second, how can John MacArthur claim any credibility from his association with Civil Rights activists like John Perkins when they don’t even agree with him on RR? Perkins’ Foreward to Pastor Eric Mason’s 2018 book, Woke Church, could quite literally be addressed to MacArthur himself. Perkins writes,
Today I worry that we’ve forgotten our past and remain in denial about many of the challenges we face in the present. There’s a tendency to want to gloss over injustices for the sake of unity. However, any authentic attempt to pursue unity and reconciliation must start with truth. The journey toward healing begins with an awakening.
[…] No longer can we remain asleep to the injustice in our past and present. No longer can we afford to see justice issues as separate from the gospel. No longer can we wait for someone else to do the hard work of reconciliation. […]
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (5:14 ESV)
Paul was challenging the church to throw off their old ways and walk in the light. We still need this call.
And Perkins wrote the following just after the 2014 Ferguson demonstrations:
There is a biblical command and a national command that we hold all people equal. The whole idea of the redemption we have from the Bible is the redemption of the Israelites out of their enslavement in Egypt. Judgment fell upon Pharaoh because of this enslavement. Americans take the history of enslavement too lightly because we have benefited from it. And now, we still don’t meet the biblical requirement where God says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). We have not repented deeply enough of the sin of racism. (“John Perkins: The Sin of Racism Made Ferguson Escalate So Quickly”)
His message has been consistent since the very days MacArthur attempts to recount, as has the message of every other Civil Rights activist in his orbit.
It is simply absurd for MacArthur to try to accredit his own anti-“social justice,” Gospel-only position by citing associations with those who disagree with him. It is in fact more than absurd; it is just plain immoral to leverage men who’ve bled for the cause of Racial Reconciliation, making it their life’s work, in order to lend gravity to a contrary position.
So for me, I guess I only marginally care whether he is telling the truth, lying, or mis-remembering these important events. I care mostly that he would finally stop using them to oppose the message of the very men whose legacy he again and again summons for his own ends.