Social Justice: Maybe let’s try the Biblical way?
There are a lot of Christians out there who wonder about our role in the various cultural issues that impact our society. The term most often used to describe the paradigm that is in place to fight these societal battles is “social justice”. This is, in some ways, a very nebulous term that can address some (while ignoring other) battles in these culture wars. Social justice can include, but is not limited to, fair treatment issues relating to race, gender, socio-economic status, sexuality, religion (some religions anyway), politics, etc. In other words, if there is a way to divide a group of people into a societally maligned subset, there will be a group of people demanding social justice for them. And what’s not to like about that? Right?
We get to help those who (presumably) cannot help themselves. We get to (presumably) make a difference in a world that makes it difficult to do so. We get to (presumably) be a part of balancing the scales of inherent unfairness. Social justice is as much (if not more) about stoking the passions of the warrior as it is accomplishing justice for the victim. These battles are played out every single day at the altar of the 24-hour news cycle, as well. If the news folks are not telling us about the latest victory, they are giving us examples of the next group that needs our help. No wonder people are drawn to this. Who would want to pass up the opportunity to be a hero?
And, as it always seems to be with the world, Believers are oftentimes caught up in this struggle. They agree that there’s a myriad of people out there being mistreated, and they want to help. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did? Isn’t that what He would want us to do? He would want us to help the downtrodden, support the persecuted, rescue the endangered, and undergird the maligned… wouldn’t He? I mean, He really gave it to those horrific Romans who had been running roughshod over His people for 100 years by the time Jesus began His ministry. Jesus’ own people were being taxed unmercifully, executed for the most minuscule of reasons, stripped of almost all civil rights, and treated brutally by the Romans. Add in the fact that minority groups (such as Gentiles, women, the handicapped and infirmed) were looked down upon by the members of the Jewish culture and you have an atmosphere ripe for social justice.
With all of that in mind, maybe we, as Believers today, can finally find some common ground with the world and join them in their social crusades to right cultural wrongs. But is that the strategy God wants us to take? Has He, in fact, maybe given us a strategy to engage the injustices in our world? And does it maybe have nothing to do with the world’s strategy? Does God want us, in any way, shape, or form to be like the world when it comes to dealing with injustices? These are the questions it is important for us to answer, especially when it addresses something as important as societal injustices. So, let’s take a look at the strategy God has given us in His Word to address social ills and see if it is compatible with the world’s strategy (spoiler alert: it’s not compatible).
First, we have to remember something very important. As Believers, we are incompatible with the world. We are incompatible in every single way. Even a cursory look at the Scripture tells us this. We are told that the world hates us (John 15:9). We are told that the world will persecute us (John 15:20). We are told that the world thinks we smell bad (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). We are told to not love the world (1 John 2:15). We are told that the world will turn our mind from God (Romans 12:2). We are told that the world will give us nothing but trouble (John 16:33). With that, does it seem likely that God would want us to engage in any proposed philanthropic endeavor based on the philosophies rooted in secular thinking? Especially when God had also told us how dangerous the world’s philosophy is (Colossians 2:8)? I would have to say that the answer is an unambiguous no.
According to Scripture, there is nothing that the world and Believers have in common. And the difference is more than simply a religious choice. If that were the case, then we could overlook a great deal of differences and maybe acquiesce to some of their philosophies. But if we are truly people of the Word, then we have to see that there is almost nothing we share in common with the world. And this is especially true when it comes to defining what might be considered “good” or “bad”. The basic foundation of those words begins with two drastically different presuppositions as they relate to each other. The world maligns what we call good (or as good is defined from a Biblical standpoint), while we are told not to adhere to what the world believes is good. This is especially true as it relates to this idea of social justice. The reality is that the world does not view things as we do… and we do not view things as they do. And these differences are not skin deep. Even the term we are referring to (social justice) is rooted in the world’s way of thinking. Let me explain.
The term itself seems to suggest that its adherents believe in true justice for all of society. Hence the term: social justice. But alas, that is not the case. Do you really believe that the average, secular, social justice warrior would be interested in social justice for me? I am a white, Christian, middle-class male. And yes, contrary to popular belief, I can be the victim of social injustice. Don’t give me this stuff about certain races or statuses not being subject to injustice. Wherever there are human beings, injustice reigns. What about Christian business owners who experience social injustice? Think these warriors are going to go to battle for them? What about Jewish people? In fact, what about any group that social justice warriors don’t seem to like or care about? Of course these folks are not going to be “protected” from injustice. It would, in fact, be the opposite. The social justice warriors would rejoice in their injustice because they would believe these groups “had it coming”.
Now, if that is the way a person wants to be, that’s up to them. It matters not to me. My point is that, as Believers, we should believe in justice for ALL people. Secular social justice is neither social nor justice. It does not cover all members of society and openly advocates for injustice being done to groups they do not like. As Believers, is that really a paradigm we want to be a part of? That’s my point. I don’t care about how the world looks at justice or injustice, because I live by a simple adage: I expect non-believers to act and think like non-believers. All I am saying is that, for Believers, there has got to be a better way to tackle some aspects of cultural injustices than to glom on to what the world is doing. And there is.
Next time, we are going to look at that better way. We are going to see what God has to say about injustices on this planet and our (possible) role in addressing them. And we are going to do so by engaging the third shortest book in the Bible. Paul’s letter to Philemon is only 335 words long but contains the answer we are looking for as it relates to the Biblical strategy of impacting societal wrongs. Many Believers have never heard of the book. Many more have never read it. That’s a true shame. But we are going to rectify that next time. So, this week, read this remarkable letter and we will talk about it next time. Until then, keep reading God’s Word.
Dr. Purvis started Growth Project after spending 20 years on active duty as a Chaplain in the United States Navy. After many moves and multiple deployments, he settled in St. Cloud, Florida to do God’s will. A glutton for educational punishment Danny has a BA in English from Carson-Newman College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary; and a PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He has been married to his wife Kimberly (whom he met when they were 6 years old) for nearly 30 years and they have four wonderful children.