Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Social Justice?

Glen Beck caught a lot of flack for suggesting that people should not attend churches that preach social justice (or something like that; I don't follow Beck).

In any case, I've been watching the rhetoric fly back and forth about this.

From what I have been able to assertain from researching Social Justice, this is what it amounts to:

  • Social Justice = Abortion
  • Social Justice = Wealth Distribution
  • Social Justice = Progressive Taxation
  • Social Justice = Property Redistribution
  • Social Justice = Divorce
  • Social Justice = Gay Rights
  • Social Justice = Gay Marriage

On the surface, Social Justice sounds like something we should all be supporting.  It gives the impression that it means "justice for all".  But, as I dig further into its meaning, that isn't what it is all about.

As I think more about it, this isn't something I want to be promoting from my pulpit; I am accountable to God for the things I preach.  I'm not going to add this to the "hay and stubble" pile.

So, for what it's worth, I'd like to sum up my thoughts on Social Justice:

  • Social Justice ≠ Gospel


Bill (cycleguy) said...

I reckon I sometimes wonder Rick: whatever happened to preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified? I realize that we have to "relate" to the culture but there is a time and a place for some things. Clear teaching about the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus transforms lives. all the other stuff are "side issues." Am I wrong?

Rick Boyne said...

No, brother, you are not wrong. When churches quit preaching Jesus and start preaching issues, in my estimation, they cease being churches.

Should we be concerned with social issues? Of course! Should we make them our focus? Heaven forbid!

If people truly give their hearts to Jesus, they will individually begin to make a difference in their communities.

Monk-in-Training said...

Interesting, Rick. Your gonna make me preach! ;) If this comment is too much, please delete it.

As a person who is intimately involved in both social justice ministries and a community who is committed to the concept I have never heard of it being concerned with gay marriage or abortion.

It is my viewpoint that even a cursory reading of the Scriptures, on the other hand, definitely speaks to your points on financial issues.

God invents progressive taxation in requiring more wealthy people to pay more for sacrifices and for passover than their poorer neighbors, God mandated inefficiencies in the gleaning system, and didn't He damage private property by the year of Jubilee? It also seems to me that the primary witness of the Scriptures is receiving interest, putting your money out for 'gain' is considered a sin.

I think that one of the issues comes from how we read the Scripture. The Bible doesn't seem to view us as individuals as much as we moderns may understand ourselves. When God speaks to us via the Apostles and in the Hebrew prophets, it is my understanding that the English 'you' He speaks to, is most often a Greek or Hebrew 'us' and not a single person necessarily.

He speaks to communities and cultures demanding justice for the poor. Over and over the Hebrew and Apostolic witness is justice for the poor.

In fact, the oldest Hebrew inscription, some 900 years before Jesus' Incarnation, recently discovered and translated by Professor Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa, speaks of what appears to be to be a call to social justice.

I would submit that the text in question is written to a community of believers, not just to specific individuals.

English translation of the deciphered text:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Psalm 72 echoes some of this text, saying that the King is to care for the poor.

"Justice" is a word that is part of the problem here, I think. It seems to me that we tend to think of it in terms of lawyers, courts, jails and juries, but God's justice is about coming and setting things to right.

It is my belief that God's way of justice is about caring for people . If that takes a whole community and our government, well why not? He seemed to want Kings (the government of the time) to care for the poor.

Monk-in-Training said...

Sorry for this second post, but I am too wordy to finish in one!! I also wanted to witness a little for us crazy social justice people. :)

It also is my belief that Jesus Himself modeled a life of service to the poor, and how He always was concerned for their welfare.

When He began His ministry one of the very first statements He made was in Luke four where He reads from Isaiah "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor", then when asked by John's disciples for His messianic credentials in Matthew 11, His response is ""Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them." The Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain, and constantly throughout the Gospels, Jesus identifies with the poor and downtrodden of His society.

I don't think that understanding Jesus as the fulfilment of the Hebrew prophets, He was only talking about the good news being salvation and going to heaven, but also a breaking out of the Kingdom, and the beginning of the redemption of this world. (Romans 8:20-23)

This is why I am interested in the subject, not some new social fad, God's concern for the poor shines through in the Hebrew Scriptures as it does in the Christian Scriptures.

Amos 2:6 God's Message: "Because of the three great sins of Israel - make that four - I'm not putting up with them any longer. They buy and sell upstanding people. People for them are only things - ways of making money. They'd sell a poor man for a pair of shoes. They'd sell their own grandmother! -The Message

That is a shocking verse to me, and it so closely parallels our "business minded" culture that it gives me great pause. The Hebrew scriptures are full of non efficient methods of running a culture/business. If you actually cleanly harvested your fields you were in violation of the Law. If you took someone's cloak (like he pawned it to you) as collateral for a loan, then you HAD to let him sleep in it. And for me, the biggie, if you took interest on a loan, then you were committing an ABOMINATION (same word as the male/male sex thing) before the Lord. Wow, hard words for us to hear when we are so concerned about the bottom line and not the lives of our fellow man.

How did we get so far from this thinking? I believe that the political theories of John Locke are so soaked into our culture that we don't even realize they are not from the Bible. Locke was the son of a well-to-do Puritan lawyer, and was intensely interested in protecting the financial and political rights of his class. God is interested in taking care of His people of ALL classes. Locke's argument was that it was wrong for the "government" to take his money and give it to the poor. The Bible says that ALL things are God's, we are only stewards. Very different viewpoint.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Gospel is about saving souls and inviting people to believe in, and journey with Jesus, but as the brother of the Lord says : James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

I just don't think you can separate the two. Now I will shut up!! Oh my what a long post...

Rick Boyne said...


I wouldn't delete YOUR comments, good gravy! I can always count on you to provide a different way of looking at things, which is always appreciated!

Just because we disagree or you comment with things that disagree with my post or even my worldview doesn't mean I'm going to delete it. I'm "bigger-minded" than that! ;-)

My point of contention is that too often, in my estimation, churches abandon the Gospel of Reconciliation for a Social Gospel.

For me, my call is to not preach social justice, but to preach a message of eternal hope. That comes first. Social issues are permissible to a point, but not as the focus of my ministry.

I understand there to be a balance between telling and doing, but all too often, (again in my estimation) to often the doing becomes the focus and the telling gets lost by the wayside.

When this happens, we end up trying to declare social justice to people as they fall to hell.

Throw me a life preserver not a loaf of bread. You can give that to me once I'm safely on the shore.

I saw your second comment while writing this one. AND I AGREE that we cannot separate the two. But, again, making poor people feel good about themselves as they journey to Hell just doesn't get the job done!

I'm proud of my church in that respect; we preach the Gospel as our primary ministry, but also have a Food Pantry. At least we are trying to balance....

Rick Boyne said...

Regarding including gay marriage and abortion in my list:

I included those because, as churches lose their fascination with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ and become interested only in a social gospel, they also lose their focus on traditional values.

MOST churches that purport Social Justice also purport these other things as well.

So, in my mind, it is easy to make the leap from Social Justice to Liberal Theology.