Running through the theological framework of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, perhaps even the Protestant tradition, is the discernible need to dichotomize everything. Of course, it’s a feature of modernity. Whether it’s works vs. grace, scripture vs. tradition, etc., it has to be either one or the other; see here for another example regarding the gospel and social justice. We see the same thing happening in this post. We see two mutual concepts being needlessly opposed or separated.
I would counter that biblical justice is social justice. Justice is both vertical (God and humanity) and horizontal (community-person-to- person). In the horizontal sense, it of course always touches the political because it is bound up in law and culture. Still, social justice is not a modern left- or right-wing formulation, but a biblical teaching and one inherent to the scriptural narrative and Christian tradition. With that view in mind, I would like to address the aforementioned post.
The writer asserts:
“However, life and Scriptures have taught me that social justice is different than biblical justice. Christ did not come just for “the triply oppressed” or the “most marginalized people”. He came for the sinner, which means Caesar, you, and me.”
Why are these (the oppressed and marginalized) and those who don’t fall into those categories opposed to each other, or separated? Yes, of course, Christ came for all—for sinners. So what? That is completely beside the point. No progressive Christian I am aware of believes Jesus only came for the oppressed. This separation is especially egregious in the light of the way Jesus describes the gospel and why he was sent:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-21)
The writer goes on to assert there is no identity politics in the Bible. Again, so what? Who said there was? This is a red herring. So too is the assertion that, “Jesus did not die for only certain groups in human society.” Again, who said that he did? No one—no credible person anyway. The writer is using the concept of biblical justice to argue against her false conception of a leftist politics, not social justice.
Moving on, we read:
“Our biggest priority as Christ followers is not to achieve “social justice” or “equality” on Earth as my brethren on the left would have us believe. That is a low bar for Christians to set for our goal.”
According to the passage I just cited, Jesus didn’t think it was a low bar. If a person has been denied social justice or equality, it’s certainly not a low bar to them either. Every Christian should be seeking (whether it is achieved on earth or not, which is, by the way, irrelevant) social justice and equality for those who don’t have it yet. Imagine during the Civil Rights Era, telling black communities in places like Mississippi that to help them was a “low bar” and we had other far more important goals to attain. It would be just as disgraceful and disobedient to do the same now.
She then writes:
“Fighting for the oppressed and giving voice to the voiceless is a wonderful thing to do if we are led by the Holy Spirit.”
We are led by the Spirit to do such. It’s not only “wonderful” to do, it is absolutely required. From Genesis to Revelation, it is required. It’s not an option. It would literally take another entire post to list all the scripture passages that tell us we are required to advocate for the oppressed and be a voice for the voiceless (or, how about just reading the entire Old Testament). I can’t think of a single respected or credible Christian teacher or theologian who would argue otherwise.
“Westerners (whether white or people of color, Christians or nonChristians) who aim for this kind of “justice” in society are actually spreading more division and destruction because it is done in a spirit of anger and self–righteousness.”
No, it is actual racism and sexism that spreads division and destruction. Does that even need to be said? The claim that those who point it out, even if done incorrectly, are the ones causing division is pretty rich. I’m sure many thought Martin Luther King Jr. was self-righteous and angry sometimes too. Was he then spreading division and destruction?
Are there those working for social/biblical justice who are sometimes angry and self-righteous? Sure. Again, so what? While there is no need for self-righteousness, sometimes there is a need for anger. Read some of the Old (First) Testament prophets. Jesus seemed fairly angry when he cleansed the Temple, which had a decidedly social justice component (the poor were being taken advantage of) to it.
I would rather have a person fighting for the oppressed and being a voice for the voiceless but doing it poorly, than a person who doesn’t do it at all or downplays it like this writer. Besides, there are angry and self-righteous people on both sides. It has nothing to do with whether or not their arguments are true or their goal just. It’s simply another red herring.
Look, if one’s true objections are a perceived anger and self-righteousness on the part of those advocating for social justice, and not social justice itself, then the entire post should have been about tone, emotion, and communication issues rather than trying to downplay or oppose social justice to biblical justice. It seems clear the writer’s true objection is more about social justice than these other issues.
The writer then mistakes her history with communism for what people are talking about now as far as social justice, as if they were the same thing. They are not the same. No credible progressive Christian I am aware of is advocating for a “social justice” that resembles the totalitarian left or right versions from decades ago.
They are speaking about racism and sexism. They are speaking about economic justice—the indecent gap between the rich and poor. They are talking about health care, poverty, the criminal justice system and education. Their methods are directed toward both hearts and the law but done peacefully and through democratic means. Those are good goals, just goals, even if pursued sometimes poorly. If one doesn’t like the way it is being done, then do it better.
Social justice is biblical justice. When we strive for social justice, when we act for the “least of these,” when we love our neighbor (which includes social justice) we are giving them Jesus. We are following scripture. If all one sees is “anger” on the part of those who are trying to help the oppressed and marginalized, one is missing both Jesus and the “least of these.”
Separating biblical justice from social justice may salve our conscience, but it certainly doesn’t help anyone else.
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