Do you remember when Glenn Beck said, “I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice‘ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!…Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That’s what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner. . . . But on each banner, read the words, here in America: ‘social justice.’ They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy.”
I remember there was a big response from all sides on this controversial quote. Many Christian churches condemned Beck’s words. But not every Christian church stood opposed. And I believe many Christians in America today agree with what Beck had to say.
Recently I attended a church, and I won’t say which, where the pastor stated that social justice is in opposition to Christianity. Now, before I go further I should state what social justice is. Social justice is any effort to make all people of equal standing. So if one group is oppressed, social justice would work to end their oppression. Another definition I found is the fair distribution of advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of a society. I think that definition is important because it sends off red flags in the minds of certain people.
To some, social justice means socialism. And I believe that is the problem people have with the word and its implications. But, as usual, things aren’t this simple. Let me try to explain all of this the best that I can.
From the conservative standpoint, socialism is a false ideology that stifles individual growth and creativity. It promotes a welfare state in which the upper and middle working classes have to support the millions who either can’t work or refuse to. It also goes hand in hand with government control over our lives since individuals are less responsible for their own well-being and more dependent on the system. And with that comes a threat to independent thought and individual freedom. So when they smell even a hint of this ideology (as we saw with Obamacare), they freak out. I think a strong reaction against it makes a lot of sense when you hold to this viewpoint. If you think conservatives are mindless rage-aholics, maybe you should try to see things from their perspective.
Anyways, what I see happening in some churches and with some Christians is this negative association between social justice and socialism where the former is an indication of the latter. And where this comes into conflict with the Christian message I believe occurs on a number of levels. Some are obvious and some are subtle.
The conservative mind makes a connection between socialism and a liberal agenda. One of the most repeated and damning accusations of Obama is that he’s a socialist. There is certainly some credence to this connection between liberals and socialism. Liberals tend to be most outspoken on issues of social justice (gay marriage, women’s right, immigrant’s rights) and also more inclined to take from the wealthy to give to the poor (spreading the wealth) through taxation. Now, the connection I make to this conflicting with the Christian message comes directly from this liberal/socialist association. Liberals tend to fall on the wrong side of many issues of morality in the eyes of conservative Christians. Issues like abortion and gay marriage are perhaps the most publicized. This negative association of liberals with immorality, or beliefs that are wrong, helps to feed hatred and fear for all of the things they stand for, including social justice. Basically, there is guilt by association. To many conservative Christians liberals are ungodly. Now I’ll expand on that.
There are pretty much two ways of viewing the world, human-centric and God-centric. Those who do not believe, or simply do not care for God will tend to elevate the place of humans in the world. They will make mankind the center of everything. Those who believe God is the center of this life will base their value of human life according to what the bible teaches. The bible teaches that humans are evil, and only by the grace of God can they live according to the truth and accomplish truly good works for their fellow man. The God-centric people, if they actually follow the God of the bible will be able to love other people more freely. The human-centric people must believe in the goodness of people since people are what they have put their hope in. Humanists believe that people need to be educated and afforded good opportunities in order to reach their full potential. Many liberals (not all) are humanists who believe that the answer to the world’s evils are more education and greater wealth for the impoverished. Afforded the opportunity, people will choose good over evil. Education, or greater enlightenment is the answer. More knowledge and greater technology will save mankind. This is why the message of social justice is so crucial for these people. If we make a way for people to live well, they will thrive and choose goodness.
The problem that many conservative Christians have with this is that it is propelled from a false philosophy removed of God. And more than that, they believe it is false to believe in the inherent goodness of people. They believe that the answer to the world’s problems is personal salvation through Jesus Christ. Only when one individual after another is transformed by the life of God will real good change occur in the world.
So, to summarize, the problem many conservative Christians have with social justice is that it is often fueled by a human-centric worldview associated with socialism and an immoral liberal agenda.
But that’s not the end. Social justice should be embraced by the Christian church. Jesus taught us to minister to the poor and the oppressed. The bible commands us to “Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow“ (Isaiah 1:17). If anything, Christians should be at the front lines of social justice, and not making damning judgments of those who hold to opposing philosophies.
Ok, that’s the end.
(Afterthought: I should have been more clear in my conclusion about what I see as the role of the Christian church. I believe Christians should be at the front of social justice as it pertains to the welfare of other people. Historically, Christians were the ones founding hospitals and caring for the sick and needy. This type of humanitarian effort should be a major focus of the church. But, when it pertains to the advancement of social agendas that stand opposed to the Christian’s beliefs about mankind and God, Christians should not be compromising their beliefs in the name of social justice. This wouldn’t make any sense as the Christian would see it as inevitably harming their fellow man and supporting such an agenda would not be the loving thing to do, nor the right thing. I should have done a better job at differentiating between social justice in the political sphere and social justice in the humanitarian sphere.)