An academy student once asked "Why isn’t church more involved in social justice issues?"
The school administration didn’t seem to have a good answer, nor did they have time for one given the context of the event in which the question was asked. But this is a question that should be answered, which I will do in this article.
What is Social Justice?
a state or doctrine of egalitarianism –https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social%20justice
In case you are not sure what egalitarianism is, it is:
1: a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs
2: a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people –https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/egalitarianism
And how is this to be done?
The blueprint for achieving social justice is often structured by governmental implementation of laws/rights that provide equal distribution of resources and opportunities, which in effect protects human dignity (source).
So the idea is to use government agencies to re-distribute wealth by taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have nots”, kind of like Robin Hood. This is “legal” theft, a clear violation of the eighth commandment.
Although social justice seems to have primarily secular advocates, it has its origins in Catholicism:
Social Justice features as an apolitical philosophical concept (insofar as any philosophical analysis of politics can be free from bias) in much of John Rawls' writing. It is fundamental to Catholic social teaching, and is one of the Four Pillars of the Green Party upheld by the worldwide green parties.
While the concept of social justice can be traced through the theology of Augustine of Hippo and the philosophy of Thomas Paine, the term "social justice" became used explicitly from the 1840s. A Jesuit priest named Luigi Taparelli is typically credited with coining the term (source).
And if you listen to the Vatican very much, you will hear the same sentiments expressed as from other social justice advocates.
Now any Christian is interested in justice for all, fairness, and providing for the needy. However, the questions we need to ask ourselves are:
- What is God’s solution?
- What is man’s solution?
- And most importantly, who has the better and more effective ideas?
- Whose solutions will bring lasting resolution to the problem?
If we are going to be investing resources, especially the resources of God’s church, then we need to know the effort is going to work, and has God’s approval as well, because after all, it is His resources we are proposing to use here.
The Great Controversy
As we look at this issue of social justice, we need to remember that we are in the midst of a fierce cosmic conflict. The nature of this conflict can be described as a battle between the truth claims of God vs. truth claims of Satan---which are actually lies. The truth claims of God comprise a Biblical worldview, and the truth claims of Satan comprise a secular worldview.
Your worldview, be it secular or Biblical, is determined by how you view the nature of God, and the nature of man.
If you see God as the transcendent, omnipotent Creator of all, creating the world in six literal days about 6,000 years ago, and if you understand the nature of man to be corrupt, sinful, in desperate need to redemption and renewal, then you have a Biblical worldview.
A secular worldview is based upon there being no god, or one that used materialistic methods to create the cosmos, and the idea that man is basically good and perfectible on his own, thanks to evolutionary processes.
Truth is simply what is real. One is truth, in sync with reality, and one is a lie, a fantasy, with no basis in reality. Thus, any ideas about justice that are not in harmony with the Biblical worldview are also not real justice, but fallible man’s ideas about what he thinks justice is. Likewise, any solutions to injustice that are in harmony with the Biblical worldview are the only ones that will work, for only they are founded upon truth, or reality. If man is corrupt as the Bible says, then man’s ideas about achieving justice will always fall short.
This will lead to vastly differing views on what the real solutions to injustice are. In light of this, it is imperative that we remember Paul’s admonition to Corinthians:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? (2 Corinthians 6:14-16a).
If the church is going to work for social justice, why would we want to work with social justice warriors who do not understand the truth about God's justice? Why align ourselves with those to alleviate injustice, whose ideas can never work because they are built upon a foundation of lies?
As Christians we know that man’s sinful condition is the root of the problem of all injustice. But the secular humanist does not see man as the problem, but institutions (like the church) or government as the problem. So our approach to finding solutions will be on two distinctly different and irreconcilable paths. The Christian solution to injustice is always centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, while the secularist finds their solutions in government, one generally run by sinful men.
As an example, let's look at the problem of racism.
No real Christian is a racist. He sees all racism as wrong, not just white racism. Sinful man is inclined to hate anyone not like himself, and thus all races are prone to this problem. Even Al Sharpton is a racist in the truest definition of racism.
Racial tensions find their genesis at the Tower of Babel, for when God confused our languages, he also caused us to separate into different cultures and nations with their own unique ideas and habits, and these differences place us at odds with each other at times. God did this to prevent man from being able to unite against His purposes, and He knew that by dividing us, our ability to thwart His purposes would be largely mitigated.
The Gospel is the only solution to racial tension that works. The Gospel teaches us that:
Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16a).
That is, we no longer evaluate someone based upon their race or anything in our past. We no longer find our identity in these things of the world, having a new identity in Christ, as the following verse says:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
In Christ, we are all brothers of Christ, sharing the same spiritual Father, effectively dissolving all the hatred and division that started in the Tower of Babel. I know from experience that this really works. I work on one of the most diverse campuses I know of, and since the Gospel is paramount here, we all get along amazingly well.
The secular world's approach to racial injustice is simply more injustice, only in a reversed orientation. Today’s social justice warrior believes in what is called reparation, white people paying in some way for injustices of the past committed by whites enslaving blacks. But this is completely out of harmony with God’s truth claims, as explained by the prophet Ezekiel:
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself (Ezekiel 18:20).
This makes sense, for why should I who am not a racist pay in any way for the racist injustices of past white men just because I am white? How is that in any sense justice?
Israel in apostasy responded much like modern humanists do "Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair" (Ezekiel 18:25).
And God responds to them:
Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? (Ezekiel 18:25).
Who is right? Only the One who created reality, (and thus truth) is right on this issue, as in all others.
Is government intervention the answer to racism? Well, has civil rights legislation ended racism? No! And why? Because legislation cannot change the heart like the Gospel can, and what we have here is a heart problem, not a legal problem. The only real solution to racism is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only the Gospel puts a stop to hate, replacing it with love for all mankind.
The secular worldview’s approach to racial injustice always involves government retribution of some kind. They want to see revenge, or vengeance taken upon the wrongdoers. Is that what Jesus would have us do? Didn’t Jesus say:
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).
The apostle Paul also tells us:
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).
Who alone can legitimately carry out vengeance? God alone. Are you God? Would it not be blasphemy to presume to take that place?
Do you think you can do vengeance better than God? Should we not “give place” to His wrath instead of our own?
Are we willing to trust our case to God, the only ultimately fair judge?
God’s solution to social injustice?
According to the Biblical worldview, the only workable solutions to injustice are:
1. The power of transformation found only in the true Gospel
2. The righteous judgment of God at the return of King Jesus
The Gospel alone offers the solution to man’s sinful condition that lies at the root of all injustice. And when Jesus returns, He comes to carry out justice as only He can;
For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her (Revelation 19:2).
This was Jesus’ approach to the many injustices of His day:
The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,--extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart. –Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, pp. 509
So can a true Christian join forces with today’s social justice warriors? No, for the world’s ideas about justice (and how to alleviate injustice) and God’s true solutions are just as far apart as night and day. We cannot be unequally yoked with them and still be true to the eternal principles of the Gospel and its Biblical worldview in our approach to this problem. Only God’s solutions will bring about a true and lasting remedy to the problem, while the other only escalates the conflict at hand.
Shouldn’t we pursue the task at hand in proclaiming the true Gospel of transforming power, and await our true and just Judge, who will come in power to right all wrongs? That is where my hope is centered!
Dale is an Iowa farm boy who has become a dedicated Christian who seeks to reconcile men to God. Dale serves as men's college dean at Ouachita Hills College.