The Church's Role in Social Justice

I made a slight blunder that has been brought home to me by two Grove City College professors, Dr. Gary Scott Smith and Dr. J.D. Wyneken, in their article “The Church and the Social Gospel.” I failed to articulate the Church's role in promoting social justice in my recent article “The Social Gospel and Eternity.” Their question is, “Should churches and individual Christians seek to help people with material problems and social needs, remedy social ills, and improve social institutions?”

Quoting my article and those of two others, the professors maintained that the three of us, and other conservative Christians, advocate that people flee from churches that mention social justice.

At the outset, let me say this: we, you and I, are the Church, that is, the body of Christ, and we worship within a community of believers. God has given us both a Great Commission and a Cultural Commission. We’re to winsomely bring light into dark places, we’re commanded us to help those in need, as I mentioned in my piece, and we’re to work within our sphere of influence, like William Wilberforce, who was a member of Parliament (Drs. Smith and Wyneken mentioned him in their piece). You might be interested in reading my article “In the Age of Wilberforce,” about how Wilberforce and the Clapham group were instrumental in changing a number of continents during a time in England when the Church was failing to do its duty. While we’re not all William Wilberforces or for that matter Chuck Colsons, God has given each of us talents to use in His service.

Having worked at Breakpoint, a division of Prison Fellowship, for close to 20 years, I, too, have been at the forefront, by word and deed, of its efforts in seeking justice. I’ve been with groups working on Capitol Hill to promote justice for the persecuted church (North Korea, China, etc.) and promote human dignity (fighting bad laws like embryonic stem cell experimentation and euthanasia) and visiting those incarcerated for crime. I call myself a mere Christian, though I’m a member of one of the CANA (Anglican) churches in the D.C. Metro area. Amongst a plethora of outreaches here at home, the church to which I belong has sent people to wartorn areas like Rwanda to bring aid and comfort, to name just one effort. We work with International Justice Mission, which, among other things, is working to stop the human slave trade. There are other missions we support with people and money, too. Other parishioners work on the Hill or in other governmental agencies doing good work, in hospitals and art studios. I also occasionally visit other churches like the Catholic Church on the east side of town, the Presbyterian Church closer to home, or the Methodist Church a town away. Like the church to which I belong, the priests and ministers at those churches promote social justice.

Back to my point: How you think about people and their problems, how you think about the here and now and eternity do have lasting consequences. Ultimately, Christians (the Church) are called to bring Shalom to the earth, which includes social justice; the important thing is how you go about promoting it.

Lastly, there is a new book and video about this very topic, Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives in Need, that I recommend for those interested in learning more.


Comments:

Most definitely, Henderson.
social justice
Whatever the apt term ( social justice, injustice, whatever)is,... what do we DO? As Christ followers, we should care about the poor and needy. He certainly did.
I believe the term 'social justice' can not only be taken into the context of the issues we deal with today, but if you get down to the core of it, why do people do these things? Why do people find it excusable to be involved in the human slave trade or abortion? Because they haven't been convicted. God is the only one who can do that, we are merely tools that he uses on this earth. So, if He tells you to go and do something that would improve the justice of the society, well by gosh, do it! His ways are perfect, and we can't merely think that we can take our puny efforts and make them good works for the improvement of society, it has to be God's work for one, and for two don't give up, but let God move through you for his glory.
Wonderful Counselor
Mike, I always appreciate your comments very highly, and this latest one is of typical excellent quality. But having myself been very recently sharpened as iron-on-iron by none other than Rolley, I'll pass this along: the old Soviet Union had many laws, but little justice.

The evidence that the phrase "social justice" has been corrupted is that those who use it refer to guilt, not God, as the motivator. (Gayle Erwin's "Dealing with Manipulators" is on point here; see http://goodnewsdispatch.org/erwin.html in the second panel, third entry.) We're supposed to sacrifice ourselves for others for no apparent reason other than that if we don't, society will try to shame us.

So in spite of Kim's critics, I think she had it right all along (as usual). Any church that elevates the opinions of men above the truth of God is a group one should flee. If you don't, then you should expect to be set on a neverending treadmill of good works, and expect regular disheartenings at the discovery that those for whom you're sacrificing are (gasp!) sinners. And your only consolation will be to abuse those other Christians who exalt the Creator above his creation.
Social Justice...a bad phrase
Words matter, point taken. Subsitute words of social justice with justice and injustice.
Social Justice
I must confess I have a deep revulsion to the phrase "Social Justice." Usually they are just code words for a left-wing view of reality. But regardless of what the intended meaning is, I just don't see how putting social with justice means anything, unless you compeletely pervert the meaning of Justice.

Justice has nothing to do with the one's living conditions, but rather the law and the right ordering of our relationship to that law. The word has been kidnapped by lefty theorists and churches. Those who believe in liberty and personal responsibility, who do not embrace the destructive assumptions of egalitarianism should eschew its usage, and obfuscation too! (Always wanted to use two words in a sentence of my favorite bumper sticker ever: Eschew Obfuscation!)
An ideology can be evil because it can be a lie. And a person can be evil. And a person can cause another person to be evil. But can a society be evil spoken of undifferentiated from it's members or what it believes? Well the Old Testament implies this. On the other hand, not only is the Old Testament over, ajudicating such a thing is God's perogative; man can barely do a passible job about individual guilt. Man is told that the father shall not be executed for the sins of the son and vice-versa.

Social Justice as a concept can be an excuse to dodge individual guilt by inventing sins of others and then repenting them. Whether or not it is this it is dehumanizing, reducing people to cells in the collective. It also is a symptom of Utopianism. Other forms of oppression have someone to blame it on, but poverty tends to be caused by circumstances. Many will perhaps admit that they wish that their brother-in-law was poor, but few wish that the poor in general remain poor, and fewer still go out of their way to keep them so.
The point was to flee from churches that mention Social Justice like they would flee from governments that call themselves People's Republics. It is not clear that these Churches do the best job at providing any kind of justice.

Furthermore the phrase "justice" implies entitlement. It implies that the poor have a right not to be poor, that someone is doing them wrong if they continue to be so. Yet some poor are poor by accident, and a few deserve to be poor. More important, the phrase Social Justice implies the possibility of Social Injustice. The idea that there can be injustice that no one in particular is guilty of is the idea of collective guilt by people who have no connection to the unfortunate. Furthermore the term "Social Justice" is hubristic; we can only be guilty of injustice if we have some control(even collectively) over the problem. And after a certain point such control does not exist. No one even has control over himself.

Matters like slavery are not matters of Social Justice. They are matters of Injustice. The kidnaper who collects captives and sells them, the slaver who stuffs them into a cargo hold or chains them together to drag them on a long caravan. And the owner who separates families on a sale. All of these have individually commited injustice. To say that their can be "Social" justice, is to imput guilt to the undeserving. Which is injustice. Arguably there is Social Shame which is slightly different. But there is no Social Injustice and therefore no Social Justice.

As for the caring for the poor, that is compassion not justice. It certainly is not a Social Injustice that there are poor. Unless you are claiming that a sizable percentage want the poor to be poor.




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