Saturday, March 20, 2010

Do You Believe In Social Justice?

If your answer is "yes," then we're in agreement about at least one thing.  I go so far as to hold the belief that without justice, there can be no peace.  In other words, I view justice and peace as so closely linked as to be inextricable. 
I take some of the following passages deeply to heart:
  • "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"  Amos 5:24
  • "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."  Micah 6:8
  • "Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other."  Psalm 85:10
An integral part of my own spiritual journey is to examine what is essential for these ideals to happen.  It's almost as if my Bible is a treasure map, and I must seek out the clues to find out, just what is justice, and how is it achieved?  Because as I've learned from talking with many people, justice means different things to different people.  As I've stated before in this blog, it's important to know where we're aiming before we can begin to take steps to get there. 
WHAT IS JUSTICE?  WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?   HOW CAN WE LEARN MORE ABOUT IT?   --- these are the types of questions I ask as I read my Bible, searching for the truth it contains. 
How do we discern ideas about justice from the Bible? 
Just a few nights ago, I taught a high school class at my church which was designed to teach young people how to discern the truth in the Bible.  This is not always easy.  The Bible has certain rules, and then there are also overlying principles.  Sometimes the rules may seem to clash with the principles.  The particular passage we read, Mark Chapter 7 verses 1-8, was intended to illustrate this:
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)  So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
In other words, the Pharisees were focused on the rules, but were ignoring the heart of the principles.  Our high school lesson then went on to spend an hour in ways to help the youth learn how to discern principles and follow rules.  Well, where justice is concerned, what are the principles and what are the rules?! 
Some key principles in the Bible are forgiveness and reconciliation, as well as mercy upon and kindness to those who are less fortunate, the weak and the powerless.  Though widely denounced in the USA as contrary to Capitalism (which I suppose is the actual national religion of the USA), Liberation Theology clearly ties justice to economic responsibility and restoring equality in the balance of power among peoples.  While some may bristle at this thought, the fact is that Capitalism, to the extent it is a value system, is not a value system that has any basis in morality.  Efficiency:  yes.  Morality: no.  If there is a starving widow who cannot pay for food, and a rich glutton who can pay a higher price, capitalism says we should give the food to the glutton.  As Jesus points out in Luke 16:13, "You cannot serve both God and Money." 
I guess Glenn Beck doesn't understand this fundamental principle in the Bible. 
He has urged listeners of his TV show to leave churches that preach social justice and report those churches to the "church authorities".  (For link to article and audio, click HERE.)  At one point in the show, Beck held up cards with a hammer and sickle on one and a swastika on the other. He said communism and Nazis both have the same philosophy.  In America, he proclaimed, “social justice” is the code word for both.  Wow.  Did he just throw down the gauntlet to people who are concerned with justice, in the Biblical sense?  (Is McCarthy smiling from his grave somewhere?) 
beck swastika
The organization Sojourners, whose mission includes, "to articulate the biblical call to social justice," has called on Christians to stand up for social justice.  Sojourners is mobilizing a campaign entitled "Tell Glenn Beck I'm a Social Justice Christian".  I think if you've read my previous blog posts about Restorative Justice, or if you've read any of the three posts I've written so far about principles of Christian reconciliation, you will know where I stand.  I've already signed my letter to Mr. Beck.  If you'd like to participate in this campaign with me, click HERE for the link.


To learn more about social justice, check out the following book:

The Little Book of Biblical Justice: A Fresh Approach to the Bible's Teaching on Justice (The Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding Series)

Additionally, Wallis has written:  Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street


  1. Just curious -- while teaching how to read the Bible, do you point out to your students that Jesus is the only way to salvation. It is mentioned directly and indirectly 100 times, not to mention the passages about his deity and the fact that we are to worship only one God. I ask that because I find very few "social gospel" people who preach the real Gospel. I am all for giving generously to the poor, btw.

  2. Of course! In the Gospel of John it states, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." It is also recorded in John that Jesus himself taught: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." (John 3:16, John 14:6). Now, what does this mean? I take it to mean that we put all our faith in Jesus and that we adhere to his teachings by doing what he says. As the Bible also says, "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." (James 2:26). The question the Social Justice Christians ask, IMO, is "what must I DO to be saved"? I don't try to judge who is a Christian or not, but I can sure be a fruit inspector! (Luke 6:44)

  3. The reason I view social justices as so closely tied with "works" is that I think an awareness of and commitment to fighting overall injustice, in the big picture sense, is key. In his article, Wallis uses the analogy of fishing bodies out of a river. When you find fish ten people out of a river, you don't just content yourself to get them out, you go upstream and find the person who is doing the misdeed and try to stop that. It's a big picture mentality. Just for one example: corn and wheat subsidies in the US Economy to corporate megafarms have made it cheaper to produce a corn-fed beef on a white bun than it is to feed a meal of healthy vegetables to a family. This puts small family farmers out of business as well as contributes to obesity. But just looking at it from an individual level, the individual is just a small fish and really has no control. Only a bigger picture view can see and influence the bigger players in a way to produce an outcome that affects millions of people. Similarly, one in seven families is behind on their mortgages. My bet, that is due to some larger influence in the economy that was largely out of the control of those individual bit players. What can we do to influence the big picture?

  4. Yes, and also, see the link between obesity and poor diet to public health, strokes and heart attacks and a gazillion dollar public health problem? It's gargantuan, and big corporations are raping and pillaging and taking huge profits on this. Nobody lobbies for powerless little children, other than the "social justice" people!

  5. "Nobody lobbies for powerless little children, other than the "social justice" people!"

    Do you lobby for the powerless little unborn children?

  6. "The question the Social Justice Christians ask, IMO, is "what must I DO to be saved"?"

    That was asked and answered in the book of Acts and the answer was not "good works" -- "Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”" (Acts 16:30–31, ESV)

    Good works are a response. They can't save you, and claiming they can is serious heresy.

  7. Yes, Neil, we have no disagreement about the importance of belief. That's why I replied at the outset, that we must "put all our faith in Jesus".

    But secondarily, what does that faith mean for the way we live our lives? How do we respond?

    Are we like the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he must do, but who was not willing to do it. Perhaps that man believed, too, but he was not willing to act upon his belief. I never want to be among those whom Jesus talks about in Matthew 25:

    "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

    Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

    The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

    Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

    They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

    He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

    Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

    As for your other question, whether I would lobby for powerless, unborn children, I would hope to care for all of God's children, both born and unborn. Using the analogy of fishing people out of the river, I think it's important not just to condemn the single act, but even more important to address the conditions that led to that woman's decision to have an abortion. Don't you share my concern as well, for the woman and for addressing the larger, more general causes of the abortion?

    One of the tragedies of our time is that so much focus is being made on the fringe extremes without acknowledging the tremendous amount of agreement among almost all people of faith. Not only do I not "believe" in abortion, I don't know anyone who does. Why would you seek to caricature me that way?

  8. "Yes, Neil, we have no disagreement about the importance of belief."

    Hi Xan -- I think we differ in a significant way. I view good works as a response and agree with the Acts 16 (and other) biblical definitions of salvation. You specifically said it was by what you "do." I view that as a significant difference. We do nothing to earn salvation, and saying otherwise diminishes what Jesus did for us.

    I'm a big fan of Matthew 25, and I also think "the least of these" includes the unborn.

    "I would hope to care for all of God's children, both born and unborn."

    I don't see how "hope" fits in . . . what happened to "do?" Making abortion illegal would save countless lives.

    "Don't you share my concern as well, for the woman and for addressing the larger, more general causes of the abortion?"

    I donate and volunteer at a Crisis Pregnancy Center, so yes, I care for the women. I know the root causes as well, which include groups like Planned Parenthood encouraging sexual experimentation in youth.

    Do you share my concern for the unborn, and how over 3,000 were crushed and dismembered today? Why don't you lobby for that to be illegal? Why not address the condition of our laws that permit such slaughter?

    "Not only do I not "believe" in abortion, I don't know anyone who does. Why would you seek to caricature me that way?"

    How did I caricature you? I asked a question to determine your views ("Do you lobby for the powerless little unborn children?"). I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Your answers give away your views.

    Social justice without protection for the unborn isn't justice at all. We're talking about over 1,000,000 per year in the U.S. alone.

  9. Re. the fishing metaphor -- I see your point, but not how you apply it here. The bodies we are "fishing out" are the unborn. We know what got them "in the river." Making it illegal to dump them in the river would be a great start. I'd still support Crisis Pregnancy Centers with my time and money.


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