Social Justice –it’s about helping the poor,right? For a term that pops up quite a lot,it’s one that is not well understood –what does it mean? Well,one good way of understanding a word is to look at its opposite,so let’s spend a moment looking at social injustice. The most common example given is the exploitation of the poor,or poverty itself,but there are examples:
- racial or religious discrimination
- neglect of our elderly
- child abuse
- neglect of the disabled
- the sex trade
These are just a few examples of the types of social injustices that have pervaded throughout history and throughout the world. Christians have made heartfelt attempts to combat these injustices and attempted to use biblical principles to do so. Some of their efforts were well-meaning,but not necessarily biblically-literate,so let’s take a look at some of the Biblical principles Christian movements have used to combat social injustices.
The Social Gospel was formed as a reaction against the deplorable conditions that were prevalent during the early 1990s throughout Canada and the US. The movement rose to prominence during the Third Great Awakening.
During this time,Christian principles were applied as a remedy to an infected culture that bred apathy and indifference. The Social Gospel movement was noteworthy in helping to establish family support facilities,public health measures,and humane labor conditions. Ultimately,a major motivator that drove the Social Gospel movement was a belief,grounded in a type of man-induced postmillennialism,that Jesus’return hinged upon human efforts to eradicate worldly evils.
Social Gospel Advocate and Author Shirley Jackson wrote:
“Postmillennialists do not look for early relief through the sudden coming of Christ. On the contrary,they expect a gradual and increasing success of Christianity in the present world until ideal conditions are finally realized. Then will follow the millennium”–The Millennial Hope (1918)
Faithful acts of kindness and mercy as declared by our Lord and Savior (Matthew 25:31–41) propels the Christian’s quest for social justice. Many Christian activists are overcome,almost obsessed,with the idea of social justice. But what exactly are we fighting for,and what are we willing to do to achieve it?
*The Quest For Justice*
Often in the quest to make the world a better place,our efforts become more about us. It may start out well;but ultimately,we wind up leaving God (the Ultimate Provider) behind and go it alone. When done right,’social justice’becomes a natural consequence of our influence in society and how we engage with our fellow man.
Reformed writer John A. Battles makes it clear when he speaks of the social benefits of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon society:
The Christian is to grow in grace,and by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit seek to obey the commandments of God. These commandments have personal and social applications. Where people are Christians,there will be less crime,more humanity and compassion,more public honesty,better human relations,and more reliable public trust. As well,unjust or wicked social customs and traditions will decrease and even disappear. These social benefits result from the preaching and living out of gospel truth,but they are not the gospel itself. Attempts to improve society apart from the gospel often fall apart or are led astray by a false view of humanity or of what is right and wrong in social relations. Communism and Nazism provide examples of the terrible consequences that such attempts may cause.
When we join the world,and our efforts merge with secular agendas and ideologies grounded in a Biblically unfounded quest for earthly utopia,we have ventured into unsteady territory.
God demands we help the poor,but no poor person can come to me and demand my money;he can only ask for it. On the other hand,if I have stolen from him,he can demand justice from me (or if I won’t give it,from the government).
By calling the fight against poverty a matter of social justice,we are,in the use of this terminology,framing this in a manner in which those who are hurting or in trouble can demand help rather than ask for it. I would offer that this is one of the pressing problems with social justice. That desire to help the poor is admirable,but many seem to want to do it in a way that makes it not even recognized as help. And if it is not help,but merely fulfilling an obligation,then there is less reason for gratitude. This is where it turns to socialism –you have,I want;therefore,you must give it to me. What type of message are we sending to those in need? A false security is being conveyed to those who are made to feel they are owed something.
When we throw our lot with those who continue to promote the forced distribution of the fruits of one’s labor,we have aligned ourselves with an unGodly,man-centered approach toward charity. Are we truly honoring God when we do this? Are we showing proper charity to the downtrodden? Or are we forcing the hand of our government to do our bidding?
*A Godly Response*
The church should once again assume its rightful place providing for those in need. Rather than using the government to obtain a desired outcome,the church must once again increase in the battle against poverty.
According to Theologian Ron Gleason,
The biblical answer to poverty involves more than throwing money at the problem….rather than having the government get more involved in the war on poverty they need to get out of the way.
Gleason applies a scriptural perspective that shines a heavenly light at the root of the problem:
Regeneration is the foundation of social stability…poverty is not merely a monetary problem,but has much deeper roots into the spiritual condition of man. The Church knows better from Scripture and must attempt to minister to the whole man or woman. That will include speaking clearly about the gospel,teaching the virtues and values inherent in a disciplined work ethic.
We must trust in the necessity to remain diligent and steadfast in our vocations. The Church,called to perform acts of mercy,should be ready to act in the hour of need,when all our own efforts are exhausted. Offering up humble supplications and praise to God,we allow grace to replace entitlement.
Let us guard against embracing the entitlement culture that is so prevalent today,even in Christian circles,where government-sanctioned wealth equality efforts are championed in the name of ‘Social Justice.’
This quest for ‘justice’can never be fully realized in this life. When we look to government to facilitate and legislate acts of mercy,we are straying from the Biblical mandate laid upon the individual and the church as a whole to do for the least of these,in God’s Name,Amen.