Social Justice is More Than Good Intentions
Recently, a friend told me about his liberal son. This capable young man is a graduate of a prestigious university who has, at least for the time being, abandoned his Christian faith and the conservatism of his mom and dad.
My friend told me that this young man, who lives in an urban community, hates “gentrification.” That’s a term used for coming into a crumbling neighborhood, fixing it up, and turning it into a place people actually want to live.
Why? Because gentrification means some people who have limited means can no longer afford to live in their once-beaten up but now like-new homes. My friend’s son resents this.
In one sense, that’s understandable. Families forced to move have real needs, and churches and community charities need to step in and help. But as I remarked to my friend, the people who gentrify provide jobs for those people who might need to find new homes. And through those jobs, over time, the people on the downside of advantage might themselves get to live in pleasant neighborhoods.
What is Social Justice?
This brings us to the notion of “social justice.” All Christians want a just society. One where all people, from conception to natural death, are seen as image-bearers of God. Where the equal value they have before Him is the basis of our laws. Where the rights He has bestowed are ensured by a government composed of the people themselves. These rights include life, liberty, and property ownership.
These things are the foundation of a socially just country. They infuse the text of the Constitution because they were the beliefs of the Founders. When we speak of social justice, these are the principles that define it.
Social Justice is Not Coercion.
It is not the seizure of property from one person or group and giving it to another. So, socialist dreams of redistributing income or destroying corporations or curbing one’s income are inherently unjust.
If something is obtained through dishonesty or oppression, our justice system needs to weigh in and make the offended party whole. But the left argues that prosperity and growth are oppressive and dishonest by definition. To get rich means you must have trampled on someone else.
This is nonsense. It’s also a growing perception, especially among young people whose good will has been prey. Prey of liberal academics who have persuaded them that capital formation is evil. That for one person to gain is for another to lose. That one person’s wealth is another’s poverty.
These ideas are lousy economics. They’re also dangerous, because they could easily destroy the abundance we enjoy. And, ironically, on which many academics and professional agitators live like financial parasites.
Social Justice is Not Repression.
Social justice is not preventing some from pursuing the opportunities and interests their human dignity encourage. It is not telling someone that because of her race, ethnicity, or gender, she deserves being pushed into one of life’s corners, never allowed to attain what her talent could reach.
Being opposed to racism is not a liberal idea, by the way. It’s as old Genesis 1. As the apostle Paul told a group of Greek philosophers, “From one man (God) made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26). Being anti-racist is also a matter of common sense that’s been verified by every kind of scientific study. Human beings are just that — human beings. Their hair texture and skin tone are the most superficial of characteristics. This is a Gospel truth, not a liberal one.
Repressing others through unjust public policies is equally wrong. Federal policy has, in the name of “compassion,” warehoused millions of people in beehive-like public house buildings. Sent children to sub-standard schools. Enabled sexual promiscuity through the promise of welfare stamps, Medicaid, free contraceptives, and so forth. Promiscuity which largely has destroyed the inner-city family.
Social Justice is Not (Exclusively) About Government Intervention.
There’s a place for government in ensuring domestic tranquility and ensuring justice. Theft is wrong, says the Lord. Racial discrimination is wrong. Inciting violence is wrong. All of these things violate the laws of God and (should) violate the laws of man.
But coveting is another of those of the Ten Commandments we’d rather ignore. And were those who stimulate social unrest by stirring-up resentment and jealousy have their way, we would see the collapse of a culture where honest hard work, thrift, and providing for one’s family mean something.
Commands to Live by
To attain greater justice in society, Christians need to obey and model what the New Testament commands. Among those commands:
Give generously: Knowing that God is able to provide for all our needs (II Corinthians 9:8) should inspire us to give abundantly. Not foolishly: Family needs, according to Scripture, always come first. But in that context don’t be stingy about helping provide for God’s work.
Give sacrificially: Maybe in order to help a given church or ministry, you’ll have to cut back a bit. How pleased the Lord is by hearts that follow this principle. The widow who gave all she had is today recognized around the world as a role model. Because, of course, she was honored by Jesus Himself (Mark 12:43-44).
Give practically: Putting a check in the plate is a good thing. So is helping a jobless man find employment. Being part of a church-wide effort to help those in the community who need short-term help with grocery, medical or housing bills. Caring for widows and children missing a parent, adopting and fostering kids who need a loving home, hosting young people abandoned by their families, and so forth.
Vote wisely: Support people of high character and biblical values. People who will advocate for the unborn and their mothers. For the religious liberty upon which all our other liberties are based. For marriage as the union of one man and one woman. For tax policies that strengthen families instead of bleeding the companies those families work for.
The Reality of Evil
Social justice isn’t a matter of high-sounding words or righteous indignation. Placing confidence in government to solve all economic or cultural problems. Depending on federal spending as a cure-all for whatever might be wrong.
Sin, you might recall, is pretty vast — it infiltrates everything, social, corporate, governmental, and personal. So, social justice is about recognizing the reality of evil and then seeing problems clearly. And thinking out how to really solve them. It’s about understanding the true causes of the things facing us, and not seeing them all as matters of “the system” … or whatever.
That’s compassion. That’s real help. That’s justice.