A statement on “social justice”

***This was written for an online message board assignment for my Ministry class at school. This is one of the issues that I decided to tackle for the discussion. I thought I’d share it here for further discussion.***

The question: To what degree are we to be concerned with social justice?

“Conservative expressions of Christianity tend to stress evangelism and edification, while liberal expressions of Christianity tend to stress social justice” (Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2001. 239). I find it interesting that one is called a “liberal” Christian, which in our current cultural context is considered a bad thing to be, for seeking to live strictly by what Jesus commanded us to do, of which the bulk seems to involve social action. You’re a fundamentalist if you punch gays in the face and mock other evangelical leaders, but you’re considered a liberal if you embrace the homosexual and seek to show him the love of the Messiah. I could say “her”, but there seems to be a greater love and acceptance of homosexual women than there does homosexual men. Anyway…

Boa makes this statement, which I liked a whole lot:

We should avoid the error of a privatized and individualistic approach to the spiritual life and the opposite error of reducing theology to a servant of the social system. We need a creative tension between unworldly and worldly components that promotes private passion and social relevance. (Boa, 241 Emphasis mine)

I think “creative tension” describes the proper Christian concern with social justice. Our understanding of and approach to social justice needs to be balanced with a right understanding of God. But at the same time, our right understanding of God alone is not enough. Faith and works are intricately connected. Without faith, our works are meaningless from an eternal perspective. And without works, our faith is, as James tells us, dead. On this issue, it is all or nothing.

Something that must be considered too is that the Scriptures are filled with commands that fall under the category of what would be called “social justice.” I think too many times we try to spiritualize those commands, though, so that we can be free from the implications and justify actions that, from a truly Christian perspective, would be wrong.

A case in point could be war. Scripture states,

Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalms 34:14 ESV)

I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war! (Psalms 120:7 ESV)

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. (1 Peter 3:9-11 ESV)

Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy. (Proverbs 12:20 ESV)

The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. (Proverbs 17:14 ESV)

Scripture calls us time and again to be peacemakers and tells us that planning peace and making peace is a sign of wisdom. These are things that Scripture commends or commands and yet we tend to do the opposite, and try to justify our actions.

I like something Thomas Merton said:

…Surely it is curious that in the twentieth century the one great political figure who has made a conscious and systematic use of the Gospel principles for nonviolent political action was not a Christian but a Hindu. Even more curious is the fact that so many Christians thought Ghandi was some kind of eccentric and that his nonviolence was an impractical and sentimental fad.

Christians have got to speak by their actions. [Their political action] must be clear and manifest to everybody. It must speak loudly and plainly the Christian truth, and it must be prepared to defend the truth with sacrifices, accepting misunderstanding, injustice, calumny, and even imprisonment or death. It is critically important for Christians today to adopt a genuinely Christian position and support it with everything they have got. This means an unremitting fight for justice in every sphere – in labor, in race relations, in the “third world” and above all in international affairs… (Thomas Merton. Peace in the Post-Christian Era. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 2004. 132-133)

It is worthwhile to note that the verse immediately following the last Proverbs verse I quoted states:

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 17:15 ESV)

This is just one example, though. And, of course, is just my opinion on the subject. What it all boils down to is this: we need a balance between the spiritual and the physical in the matter of social justice. We can’t go out uneducatedly and try to act like Christians. We must have the knowledge of what God through the Messiah commands us to do. We must study and act simultaneously. We must be contemplative and inward-focused and at the same time be incarnational and outward focused. How this plays out in real life may look a little different for each person depending on their context, but the basic idea is far from subjective.

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