In a growing movement referred to as Woke Evangelism, there is a greater emphasis on the church playing a role in social justice issues. This movement was sizable enough for church leaders to address with the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. The problem, that the SSJG points out, is that the notion of social justice is inconsistent with actual justice or biblical justice. As one may expect, much of the outrage was brought on by modern day heretics.
While divinely inspired, we deny the Bible is inerrant or infallible. It was written by men over centuries and thus reflects both God's truth and human sin & prejudice. We affirm that biblical scholarship and critical theory help us discern which messages are God's.
— Union Seminary (@UnionSeminary) September 5, 2018
The first tweet expounds upon a larger argument worth addressing. The second tweet is heretical due to blatant denial of the inerrancy of scripture. The first tweet poses a question worth answering: do Christians really misunderstand social justice?
Understanding Social Justice
David Miller, Professor of political theory at Oxford University, wrote a college level textbook that argues that principles of justice must be understood contextually, with each principle finding its natural home in a different form of human association. Because modern societies are complex, the theory of justice must be complex, too. The three primary components in Miller’s scheme are the principles of desert, need, and equality.
A more detailed explanation of social justices can be found courtesy of Peter Corning, author of The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice (2011). His book explains the three pillars of social justice as equality, equity, and reciprocity. Corning explains.
Among other things, the book calls for a new “biosocial contract” that includes a “basic needs guarantee” as an equal right and a societal responsibility, along with full recognition for personal “merit” (equity) and a strong obligation for reciprocity to balance the scales and repay the benefits that we receive.
Corning’s notion of equality borrows from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx. Social justice so often receives the label “social Marxism.” The label proves very accurate with Cornings openly building his biosocial contract theory from the social, collectivist, visions of Marxism.
This is the fundamental promise of the “biosocial contract,” and it ultimately trumps individual property rights
Understanding Biblical Justice
There are many concepts in law and justice we apply today that are biblical derived. “Eye for an eye” or the law of retaliation is a brilliant notion that contradicts the ancient Mesopotamians and the ancient Greeks. Lex taliones means that the punishment is proportionate to the crime. It also means that everyone’s eyes are equal, regardless of class.
There’s also the Ten Commandments, a source of ethical monotheism. Morality, right and wrong, are determined by God. The Ten Commandments place a focus of human action in two particular directions: relationship with God and relationship with neighbors. Jesus uses the “Good Samaritan” to illustrate that our neighbor is our fellow man.
Outside of the doctrinal notion of justification, biblical justice consists of not sinning against our fellow man, and further implores the follower of Christ to engage in love for their congregation and the unsaved.
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:35 ESV
The Bible further encourages followers of Christ to care for widows, orphans, and elderly.
You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.
Exodus 22:22 NASB1 Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, 2 the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.3 Honor widows who are widows indeed; 4 but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.1 Timothy 5:1-4 NASB
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,And before you were born I consecrated you;I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”Jeremiah 1:4-5 NASB
Are the two compatible?
While the notion of biblical justice presented was simplistic, social justice bears little resemblance to it. One of the immediate differences is the recipient. To whom is man obliged to act justly towards? Under social justice, man is obliged to society. Under biblical justice, man has obligations to God and fellow man. The bible focuses little if at all of one’s relationship with society and government. The Bible does however address the topic of citizenship.
9 But you are A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.1 Peter 2:9-15 NASB
This instance in 1 Peter, focuses on on citizenship as an extension of the Great Commission. Christians are called to be sanctified. In essence, obeying God makes one stand out, and standing out for being virtuous leads people to Christ.
This passage also divides people into groups that are the only groups that matter: saved and lost. Racial identity is unimportant. The only identity that matters is our identity in Christ. So the Christian worldview and, by extension, biblical justice are incompatible with identity politics.
Are The Two Complimentary?
Christians are instructed to be upstanding citizens. The next question to explore is whether social justice pursuits are complimentary or contradictory.
Churches that preach the social justice gospel place a large, primary focus, on social justice issues. In contrast the Catholic Church has a social teaching are seemingly compatible with social justice. However, the Vatican, up until now, has consistently denounced communism.
The Catholic Church’s social teachings lacks the component of Marxism found in social justice, so lumping the two together is misleading. A church can focus on a lot of the social focuses of the Catholic Church without promoting social justice.
The teachings of the Catholic Church are focused on the actions of the church, not the state. The entire focus of social justice is aimed at the state. While there is a biblical basis of instruction for caring for the poor and treating people with respect, that same level of instruction is lacking in political matters. There was never an instance where Jesus advocated a public policy change. The teachings of Jesus (Sermon on the Mount) changes peoples’ mentalities rather than changes people to conform to politically correct norms. Jesus spoke of our relationship with God and our neighbors. When Jesus said render to Caesar what Caesar is due, he followed it up by saying render to God what God is due, trivializing the former.
What Do They Really Look Like In Action?
It’s difficult to describe biblical justice in action. It would sound utopic. The ten commandments is a basis for which to begin that thought and the Kingdom of Heaven is the final destination. The simplicity of a world without sin is unimaginable. Here the notion of justice according to the Bible is inseparable from the doctrine of justification in Jesus.
In contrast, history has seen social justice in action. But even in setting aside the various examples of Marxism in action, churches pursuing social justice inevitably conflict with the Scripture. My colleague, Paige Rogers detailed the Episcopal Church’s slide:
As I have previously written, the has been a concerted, decades-long effort among a growing segment within the Episcopal Church to strip the Word of its masculine references to God, beginning with the 1973 publication of “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation.”
These efforts to amend church materials in conformation to ideological post-modernist thought drew national attention this year after the Washington D.C. diocese adopted a resolution urging the national church’s General Convention to revise the prayer book and, when doing so, to remove the use of gendered pronouns for God in all future revisions. The Book of Common Prayer includes liturgies, prayers, the Bible’s Psalms, etc., was last revised in 1979.
A July 11, 2018, statement by the national Episcopal Church now informs us that this year’s General Convention has indeed concurred, passing a resolution that calls for the revision of the prayer book to include “inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity.”
Pursuing social justice inherently shifts the directional focus of the church in the wrong direction. In pursuing social justice, now-apostate churches have began the endless marathon of conforming to the ever changing whims of modern society. As I discovered when writing, Is American Christianity at an all time low, this is not a successful strategy for these churches. The issue is not that Christians fail to understand social justice. Social justice is not only incompatible with biblical justice, but an outright opposition. The issue is that Christians understand social justice better than its advocates.