why social justice?

I must confess, I have debated whether or not to blog and write on social justice. This is an issue many Christians disagree over; I disagree with some of my closest friends. I do not wish to cause division. Yet time and time again I return to the issue of justice and I cannot help but see it as an important part of Christianity. I’m creating a section on my website to explore social justice in more depth and share good resources on the subject. Many of you who read this may disagree with my conclusions, and that is fine. I hope that you will consider what I say and pray over it yourself. I have chosen to focus on writing about social justice from a Christian perspective because, simply put, that is the only foundation and understanding I have for it. To those who are surprised, offended, or otherwise put off by that, my sincere apologies; I hope you’ll consider the issue nonetheless.

The term

As I’ve noted, the term social justice is rather provocative. I have chosen to use it because it is a term that many understand already. I do not believe the term itself is all that important. What is more important is our actions. Are we concerned with the vulnerable in our society? Do we affirm the dignity and worth of every human being? Do we seek to eradicate injustice in our society? I believe the term social justice is the best term to explore these issues. I know many who would full agree with everything I say, except for the term social justice. And that is okay.

What social justice is not

Social justice is not salvation. Let’s be clear. Unequivocally Christianity is first an foremost about God and the saving work of his son, Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a grand story of redemption, free grace, and the glory of Christ Jesus. Social justice is by no means a replacement for evangelism and should not overshadow the importance of the eternal life. Concern for the physical must not ignore concern for the spiritual.[1. I do hope to show, however, that concern over the physical deeply compliments this concern for the spiritual]

Social justice is not a political agenda. While sometimes there may be political implications, and advocates will take political positions, social justice itself is not about politics. Yes, you do hear certain political persuasions using social justice as a means of promoting a political platform. That does not mean that is what social justice is about.

Social justice is not socialism. Thank you, Glenn Beck, for that one.[2. Though Glenn Beck is hardly the originator of the idea, to be sure…] And yes, this is basically a repeat of the above point. But Beck has quite a following, and I want to be clear. Social justice is not about socialism. While some social justice advocates may promote a pro-government/liberal/social (choose your favorite buzz-word) agenda, to reduce the entirety of social justice to such a belief is overly simplistic.

Social justice is not simply “economic” justice. Social justice advocates are concerned about more than economic inequality. Economic justice is, at most, a subcategory of social justice, and not one that all social justice advocates would agree with.

Social justice is not about utopia. It is not about seeking some unrealistic, unachievable society in which there is no wrong. As long as sin persists, injustice also will. This does not excuse us from being concerned, however! I will strive to eliminate injustice as long as I live as a way of glorifying God.

What social justice is

Social justice is about addressing injustice. Perhaps this is obvious. Social justice is simply observing a wrong in society and seeking to rectify that wrong. Simple as that. Human trafficking, for example, is clearly an injustice. Promoting an agenda of social justice seeks to end human trafficking around the globe.

Social justice is about loving your neighbor.We know as Christians that we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Second to loving God, this is the most important command Christ gave and we ought to take it seriously. I do not believe, as I have seen argued before, that loving our neighbor means worrying about ourselves (some sort of “God helps those who help themselves” ideology). Rather, concern over social conditions–concern for the person and the community–is an important aspect of loving our neighbor.

Social justice is about humanizing people. Perhaps a bit of a subpoint to the one above, social justice recognizes the inherent worth of every human being, created in the image of God. Issues like slavery, racism, and poverty dehumanize people by diminishing from their God-given worth.

Social justice is about defending rights. Proverbs 31:8-9 calls us to defend the rights of the poor and needy and to speak out on behalf of those who are oppressed. In fact, there are many verses throughout scripture calling us to do these things.

Social justice is about freedom. Freedom for every individual. It is a reflection of the freedom Christ has offered us from our sin. Social justice wants every individual to experience a life free from oppression and injustice and poverty.

Why social justice is important

This really should perhaps be first. Social justice is important because it is important to God. Time after time throughout scripture, God calls his people to defend the oppressed and the poor. I won’t go into all the verses I’ve found here, you can read some on my blog for that, but a clear theme of scripture is God’s concern for the vulnerable in society. We know too that God is a God of justice; one of my favorite verses is Psalm 89:14 which says that righteousness and justice are the very foundation of God’s throne. God is a just God.

Some might find this troublesome because, as we know, God’s justice isn’t simply a positive thing. Without Christ, we are objects of God’s wrath. His justice demands our punishment. How then can we appeal to God’s justice as a basis for treating others?

Because God calls us to. Isaiah 1:17 calls us to do good and seek justice and correct oppression. Micah 6:8 says that God requires of us that we do justice and love mercy. The New Testament is equally filled with verses that speak of how we should treat others. I won’t belabor the point and there are better books and articles out there anyway. If you are interested in a theological reasoning for this care for people and society, check out the resources page.

What social justice entails

Perhaps what I’ve written so far sounds all well and good but what does it look like? Some critics of social justice argue that it is an essentially meaningless term. While it is true that if you were to query those advocating social justice what it meant, you’d probably get thousands of different definitions, this does not invalidate the term. I won’t try to cover what everyone understands the term to be, only what I mean by social justice.

I don’t believe social justice is necessarily political. There will be politics involved: issues like poverty and immigration, for example, will necessarily bring in political conversations and people will ultimately differ on how to address those issues. But social justice does not dictates a certain political ideology to address societal problems. It only seeks to raise awareness and  correct them.

Ultimately, I suppose this is a rather hard question to answer. Becoming a social justice advocate could entail a number of different response, as we can see from the diverse responses in society to social justice. I believe one of the most under-discussed areas of social justice is actually prayer, and I hope to write more on that. I know I do not pray for against injustice as frequently as I ought to. Financial support of organizations is great. Many social justice campaigns needs volunteers.

But perhaps the best way to act on this call to social justice is simply to look around you. How can you love your neighbor? Who in your circle of the world is voiceless? How can you assist in efforts to eradicate trafficking and poverty in your community?

Learn more

I’ll be trying to write on what I see as social justice issues in today’s society as well as ways to be involved here. Until then, I have compiled some resources and links you may be interested in, here.

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