A Conversation about Social Justice
Recently I threw this conversation starter out on Facebook to see what my friends would say:
All Christians believe in social justice, they just disagree on the best means of implementation.
Fortunately, some of my brightest friends (actual, real friends, not mere Facebook “friends”) replied and I thought the conversation would be beneficial. Those who replied are part of the Kingdomview team. I’ll color code the replied so as to distinguish them from each other.
Ike: Do you consider the “God’s gonna cut you down” opinion of some Christians to be social justice?
Joe: Well, for clarification, let’s agree that Fred Phelps’ “God hates fags” group, snake handlers, etc. are cults and do not represent historic Christianity. That being said, even fundamentalist, Christian-Right type folks believe that through gov’t policies righteousness and justice will flourish in the land.
Brent: I don’t think all Christians believe in social justice. I think all Christians should believe and work for social justice. It depends on how the term “Social justice” is used. If by social justice you me redistributing wealth, raising taxes, and creating a disincentive to work, then no,Christians do not and should not support social justice. BUT if by “social justice” you mean equality of opportunity, showing mercy to the poor, caring for the widows and orphans in their distress, and radically (and voluntarily) disadvantaging ourselves to extend kingdom values to our neighbor, then yes, we should believe in, work for, and petition for social justice. So, how do/should we “do justice” (Micah 6:8; Isaiah 1:17; Matthew 22:37-39)?
Joe: Yes, Brent, you’re right. It’s largely a definitional matter. I also think the way you’ve defined justice hits the nail on the head.
Ike: Getting back to what Joe said, I agree that the “God Hates Fags” group is a cult. It seems that, in ‘Christendom,’ a line has been drawn between those who go out with the gospel as the only means of social justice and those who go out with ‘relief’ only as the means of social justice, and you must pick one side or the other. I’ve never quite understood why you must pick sides; why not both? All lost people need to hear the gospel.
TheARP has had a missions presence in Sahiwal, Pakistan for over 100 years. We’ve done it by providing a hospital where people would rather pay for care than get free care from the state hospital because we provide better quality care. And the Muslim not only gets quality care, he/she also gets bombarded by the gospel for their entire stay, whether 1 hour or several days. And they don’t mind hearing the gospel ’cause the Christian doctors and nurses truly care about them and treat them well. Does the hospital do this perfectly? No, but they do contextualize the gospel message within that community through medical care.
Now, are there contexts where we have to lead with the Gospel? Absolutely. We, as the church, must be aware enough of the situation where we are ministering that we have to know what is the best method of communicating the Gospel to those around us. Sometimes it means leading with the Gospel, and other times it means leading with alleviation of physical conditions. We must exegete our community enough to know how to best present the love of Jesus to that community, whether it be Sahiwal, Pakistan, Lewisburg, WV, NYC, Philadelphia, PA, Orlando, FL, or wherever.
Joe: Ike, thanks. You’re right about the both/and approach here. I think the problem that caused this rift (shown so clearly during the fundamentalist/modernist controversy) was a lack of a biblical theology of the Kingdom of God. Just as in the ministry of Jesus the Kingdom was inaugurated by both word (kingdom proclaimation) and deed (the sacraments, miracles, and ultimately his atoning death and glorious resurrection) so during the period of kingdom expansion the church should herald the coming consumation of the kingdon in both word and deed.
Nick: It’s been stated already but I’ll second that if any Christian is confronted with a “proper definition” of social justice, he or she can’t but believe in it. It would be strikingly unChristian not to.
And Ike touched on something that I read in Screwtape the other night (you know, the Lewis book that was published 68 years ago?) Listen to this, and bear in mind that this is a senior demon writing to his nephew demon instructing him in how to tempt a Christian. The perspectives will therefore be completely switched. Things referred to in the negative should be regarded as “bad for hell,” and therefore good for the kingdom. And the “Enemy” is, of course, God:
About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilizations”. You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game.
This is not entirely in the vein of the previous comments, but I still think it fitting in a discussion about social justice.