Thoughts on Social Justice
Social justice is something which is really on the mind of many evangelical churches in Australia. The one I’m a minister at not withstanding! The interest in social justice has been growing over the past 5 years – in Sydney, we’re probably 5-8 years behind the rest of the evangelical world. And honestly, social justice is a hot topic and is bound to stay that way for a few more years to come.
Any way, tonight we have a meeting of St Paul’s young adults at the first ever Hands and Feet gathering! This is tremendously exciting, so I thought I had better gather some of my thoughts before I front up to 50-100 (who knows how many will actually turn up on this rainy Thursday night).
Well here goes …
What is social justice?
For some, social justice is an umbrella category that captures every kind of good deed imaginable. I’m not exactly sure that is particularly helpful. Instead, I’m going to opt for a loose definition which is “when we care and have concern for the needs of those around us, especially to those who are less able to to help themselves.”
My understanding is that the term, social justice, is not necessarily derived from a Biblical idea, phrase or verse. However, since it is now in circulation and used, I think we best roll with it and get on with it!
Biblical motivations for Social Justice?
In broad Biblical categories, we do social justice because we are:
- “Doing Justice” – Micah 6:8, Jeremiah 22 and Isaiah 58 are the main passages that help us here. From these passages, caring for the poor, the hungry and the oppressed is a biblical thing to do. In fact, God’s people ought to hate oppression, corruption, unfairness, and ought to love helping the weak, giving to the needy and address situations of obvious injustice. However, Christians need to be very careful that we don’t make the Bible say more about “doing justice” than it does. When reading even the main social justice passages, “doing justice” is really not the main storyline of the bible. Rather the entire Biblical narrative is chiefly concerned with how a holy and perfect God can dwell with an holy people. One aspect of holy living is compassion and doing justice, but this doesn’t make it the central theme of the Bible. In fact, if your understanding of the Biblical narrative does not centre around Jesus and what he has done, then the chances are you’ve probably got it all wrong.
- “Loving our neighbours” – Leviticus 19 and Luke:25-37 are the main passages here. When we read the Bible, we are called to love our neighbours – all of them. As Kevin DeYong and Greg Gilbert say, when we speak only in terms of “justice” to motivate people to social justice, then we are sometimes unnecessarily motivating people to action by stirring up guilt where it may not belong. For example, to pick up a hot social justice issue at the moment – Making Joseph Kony famous. Yes he’s been indicted for terrible crimes against humanity. Yes he is probably still perpetrating terrible crimes against innocent children. However, besides the fact that the campaign seems to actually be targeting US citizens to petition the US government, I’ve found the video to be guilt-inducing to action rather than love-for-my-neighbour-motivating. Maybe, I’m wrong but guilt is never a good long-term motivator for action. (Don’t get me wrong, I think they are trying to do a good thing!) Instead. maybe we should be encouraging our church to “love wildly, sacrificially and creatively here, there and every where”? (What is the Mission of the Church, 192).
- “Gracious generosity” – 2 Corinthians 8-9 is most helpful here. If we truly believe the gospel of God’s grace, we’ll be transformed to show grace to others. Rather than guilt motivating us to social justice, it’s probably more healthy if it came as a grace-based response to grace.
There are no doubt more passages and themes we could look at, but this is a good start. Anyway, see you tonight at Hands and Feet – 8pm in the church foyer.