Social Justice: a Christian Response
by Steven Harrelson
Introduction: In the 1970s John Rawls published, A Theory of Justice. It was then that the term became widely associated with liberal, secular, political philosophy. Rawls wrote, “Our concern is solely with the basic structure of society and its major institutions and therefore with the standard cases of social justice.”
(Consider Matthew 25: 34-40). Look at the headlines today and you’ll see that LGBTQ, Immigration, Women’s rights, Universal Healthcare, Equal Opportunity Education, Racial Inequality, Same-Sex Marriage, Poverty, Environment, etc. . . are at the forefront of discussion. I am not here today to tackle these individually but to give an overview of the subject.
Once again, it is important for us to see two parallel paths: God’s path vs. the path of Secular Humanism and see where these two paths lead. The subject of social justice is important because it reflects a philosophy, a moral standard, popular life, and our laws as a nation. The roles of both the Church and government are in question.
As the Church we must understand these things in order to know where we’re going, to avoid Socialism, to know who to vote for and why, to learn to see through the fog that the Evil one creates as he prepares for a global society. The Christian must be wise and understand the times, the dangers, and to speak truth in love.
I. The Biblical Concept of Social Justice.
From God’s point of view, justice can be defined, as philosopher Gideon Strauss says, “When all God’s creatures receive what is due them and contribute out of their uniqueness to our common existence.” He identifies 2 types of justice—public justice and social justice.
“Public justice is the political aspect—the work of citizens and political office bearers shaping a public life for the common good.” “Social justice is the civil society counterpart—nonpolitical organizations that promote justice.”
The basic meaning of justice is to treat people with equality. It means identifying a person’s innocence or punishing a guilty person based not on prejudice or bribery, but on the merits of the case. Anyone who does the same wrong should be given the same penalty.
“‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:15, NKJV)
It also means identifying the individual rights of people and ensuring them. There are several biblical words that mean justice. One word means to give people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.
Justice is when a person lives daily and conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness and equality. The discipline of justice means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims who have been treated unjustly.“Lord, who is like You, Delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, Yes, the poor and the needy from him who plunders him?”” (Psalm 35:10, NKJV)
Justice basically means the type of lifestyle that ensures that a person is living right before God and treats everyone in a godly, Christ-honoring way. The justice of the “golden rule” that would make punishment unnecessary.
The way a Christian applies a God-given sense of Social Justice will radically differ from the world today. 100 years ago, there was a general consensus about the notion of justice. This was because America was less removed in those days from its biblical moorings.
Those days are virtually gone and as a result, the ideas of Social Justice are based upon a new morality—one not founded upon the Scriptures. It is founded upon the philosophy of the age (Secular Humanism).
II. The Secular Concept of Social Justice.
Remember that the American Revolution was born out of the First Great Awakening and the Great Awakening was tied directly to the Protestant Reformation. Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Value placed on the individual made in the image of God). Government exists to ensure God-given rights to the individual.
Contrast that with a statement made around the time of the French Revolution which was born out of the Renaissance in secular Europe: Declaration of the Rights of Man (France, 1789): “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body or individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.” “Law is the expression of the general will.” (Value placed on the collective).
Individual Liberty under God is the only way to guarantee true freedom. In the 21st Century, America has become secularized just like Europe. This movement is headed by Secular Humanism and Progressivism.
Prager points out that progressivism can take a good word and then add a modifier to it and make that word bad. For example, consider the word correct. The word means true or accurate. But add the word political to it and the word is hijacked and becomes bad. In the realm of political correctness, if you say the wrong thing, even by mistake, you could get shot.
The word justice is good. It is when someone gets what they deserve. Add social to it and you end up with an agenda, a political cause, an idea that is the product of the masses and the morality of the world system that is forced upon the individual through governmental programming. Liberalism has hijacked the phrase.
“The mission of the AFL-CIO is to improve the lives of working families—to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our nation.” In order to satisfy the collective, individual freedom must be sacrificed. The secular idea of social justice (in their mind) is something that doesn’t need to be debated; it is absolute. A recent UN report on Social Justice said:
“Social Justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.” “Present day believers in absolute truth identified with virtue and justice are neither willing nor desirable companions for the defenders of Social Justice.” In other words, people like you and I are in the way and we must go!
Only the state can bring this about. The state must always increase its power in order to “do good things.” The state, that in the name of freedom and rights, stripped away the rights of pre-born babies. My goodness, we can’t even say that anymore, it’s no longer just the pre-born, it is the born.
This is murder in the name of rights. Rights defined by who? The state determines rights now. The government legalized murder, the government redefined marriage! This is the state imposing its will upon the individual. They ignore the Declaration of Independence and natural law as given by God Himself!
They turn right around in their hypocrisy and accuse us of what they themselves are doing. They say that we are the ones who want to impose our values on everyone else. The group or collective always rules the individual. What is important is the collective. Group Justice, Social Justice. Group Justice is evil.
Don’t misunderstand, government is important; it is ordained by God. “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4, NKJV)
The role of government is supposed to be limited. There is today a blurring of the lines between the role of government and the role of the church. Unfortunately, those lines are blurred not only in the minds of the secular world, but the church is easily confused. That is dangerous.
Inevitably, when the roles are confused, the world’s philosophy will win out. During the Protestant Reformation, although there was much truth discovered, in this area, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli got it wrong.
They blended the roles of the Church and government. Luther relied on the nobles of Germany, Calvin and Zwingli relied on the city councils of Geneva and Zurich as they sought the protection and implementation of reformation teachings.
The government is not to mandate its ideals onto individuals. Take taxes for example. The idea of Social Security, welfare, government programs, are supported by taxes. The government develops standards of who qualifies for what.
As Big Brother implements his morality, the government gets bigger and bigger. As a result, it implements more and more taxes to fund its sense of morality. You have no choice in this. You are a forced participant in secular morality!
In essence, the government is robbing from you and giving to others that they deem worthy. If the government takes your money, it will be harder for you to give to the poor. David Barton points out that in the last 50 years, the people of the United States government have given over 9 Trillion dollars to the poor through governmental programs. In the average government program, only 30% of tax money goes to the intended party.
In the private sector, a charity with a staff, advertising, and overhead costs is considered good if 60% of the money goes to the intended party. Not only has the government overstepped its bounds by taking my money and redistributing it, but they do a lousy job. When we think of big government, we must remember the global perspective.
American government must become larger and more interconnected with other governments all over the world. Individual freedom must be sacrificed for the sake of the collective global community. Secular Humanism is the path.
God does not reign, man does. The secular humanist believes man made God. The humanist says: man can create this paradise without God. You see it in man’s very nature– a nature to rebel. It began at the Tower of Babel when man tried to reach the heavens- a blatant rebellion against God.
History shows that this type of utopian paradise has been promised but never works. A dictator rises, who says: “give me absolute power and I will create paradise on earth and then I’ll give the power back to the people.” Hitler promised it, Stalin promised it; they became all-powerful dictators. A Socialist/Communist society always becomes an absolute dictatorship.
Yet, men are still trying to achieve this and this world is quickly heading for a one world gov’t which will promise peace and a utopian society and once again the dictator will rise- one which all dictators have pointed to, Anti-Christ.
Understand this- all worldviews whether they be Secular, Islamic, Buddhist, New Age, or whatever, are all from Satan because he is the god of this world and all unregenerate men are his children. The whole system belongs to him and he has a lie for everybody. He is the puppeteer and all of those “secular philosophers,” who think their ideas are so original, are all puppets on his string.
The worldview of Satan is in total contrast with the worldview of God, but like everything Satan does, he doesn’t create, he mimics and corrupts what God does.
You see, there will be a utopian society but it will not be brought about by men. There will be a world dictator, but He will rule and reign in righteousness. There will be peace but it will come from the Prince of Peace.
It is important to see that in essence the secular humanist and the Christian want the same thing- a utopian paradise. Man wants to achieve it without God. The Christian says, “Even so come Lord Jesus.”
III. The Christian Living Out Social Justice.
“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother,” (Deuteronomy 15:7, NKJV) “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11, NKJV)
The reality is that the government has taken responsibility for those it deems to be victims of social injustice and has instituted government programs/laws.
Mark my words, soon the government will punish believers that take a stand against immorality by taking away tax exemption from churches, pensions from government workers, the freedom for believers to hire and fire based on a biblical world-view. It’s already happening.
Anyone and everyone that a secular government with a secular morality sees as being discriminated against will be protected. In their minds, you with your narrow biblical worldview are the enemy. The government has enacted legislation to ensure that everyone is the same.
This is just a page taken out of ancient human history. At the Tower of Babel, a society that rejected God wanted all men to be equal, a global society, speaking the same language, being one. History is repeating itself.
This is our own fault because we have failed in reaching out effectively to a lost world and even those who are spiritually dead can see the need to take care of people—because even those spiritually dead are made in the image of God and have a sense of justice even though it is flawed.
In the early 20th century, mainline, liberal Christian denominations began to confuse the gospel with social justice. Over time, a works mentality overtook the true gospel and social outreach replaced evangelism.
The gospel changes hearts, minds, and cultures. “Christians interested in alleviating only eternal suffering implicitly deny the place of love here and now; Christians who by their failure to proclaim the Christ of the gospel of the kingdom while they treat AIDS victims in their suffering here and now show themselves not really to believe all that the Bible says about fleeing the wrath to come. In the end, it is a practical atheism and a failure in love.” –Don Carson
Consider the poor for example. God wants believers to care for the poor. “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9–10, NKJV). Notice though that they had to work and glean the food for themselves.
“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.” –Benjamin Franklin
However, we should be careful about our heart attitudes when we see people that are stuck in victim mode and don’t want to get out of it. Don’t we do the same things at times, spiritually speaking? I’m glad God is patient with us.
In the modern day church, there is confusion not only about governmental roles but also about priority for the church. We have bought into the Social Justice mantra. Somehow, we think that being Christ-like is simply digging wells or feeding the hungry.
We have lost sight of eternity. Is it possible that we want to help those in need, make them comfortable here, ignore their greatest need, and stand by and watch as they slip away into Hell? It is not enough to give away a cup of water, we must do it in Jesus’ name!
As for justice, what about the Judge of all the world? What about what He says? We need to fight poverty, but how can we talk about that seriously when we have been bought by worldly wealth? How can we fight sex-trafficking when so many believers are given over to pornography?
If we believe in individual freedom before God, individual responsibility before God, and individual ministry before God, then we must live it out. It is fine for us to come together as a church and sponsor evangelistic outreaches but that doesn’t take the place of personal evangelism.
As a church, we can sponsor soup kitchens, but that doesn’t take away the responsibility to go and volunteer in them. We can say all we want to that we are not racist, but that doesn’t give us the right to ignore racism when we encounter it in the workplace.
If we as believers had done our job and been Jesus to those around us, then the government would have no excuse for usurping us. The sad thing is that we so often seem to be comfortable in letting the government take care of these areas instead of the individual Christian. An imperfect illustration of this is Ebenezer Scrooge.
Remember when the charity came by on Christmas Eve to collect money to provide food and warmth to the needy? When asked what they could put him down for, Scrooge said, “Nothing.” “Are there no prisons? Are there no poor houses? I support those institutions with my taxes, the poor must go there.”
We must take individual responsibility as children of God and live out our Christianity where we are –in evangelism, social issues, etc. We need to make a difference in Jesus’ name! We also need to remember these things when we vote.
Should believers engage in social justice?
Whether we use the term or not, Christians are engaged in social justice when we choose to be concerned about issues such as racial reconciliation, the abortion issue, immigration, and advocating for religious liberty. Christians have been seeking the best for society for years, and everywhere we have taken the gospel, the quality of life for that place has increased. It is in the heart of God for all people to be treated fairly and with respect because they are made in His image.
“For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2–6, NKJV)
When our founding fathers set out to design this country, they understood this. Thomas Jefferson for example wrestled with the wording of the Declaration because he knew that slavery was wrong.
The reason I have a problem with Americans bashing our country is because all they see are our short-comings. They fail to see that the idea of America is a beautiful thing. We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union—not a perfect union but a more perfect one. America, like its people is a work in progress. The best thing that the Church can do is to continuously preach the gospel. Saved people will care more about ensuring justice than the lost.
Mark Tooley: “A valid Christian political witness for social justice starts with the premise that all persons are created in God’s image. It also understands that the state is not the church but has a very different vocation, having been divinely ordained primarily to uphold order and restrain the wicked. Social justice should not equate all societal improvement with legislation, regulation and other coercive state action.”
Conclusion: Believers should engage in true social justice—from God’s perspective. Christians understand its not the government’s role. On the contrary, The church needs to roll up its sleeves and become the hands and feet of Jesus. As Christians, we have a responsibility to protect individual rights given by our Creator.
While we should never allow violence against the homosexual or try to force the population to worship, neither should I be forced to hire a homosexual or atheist in my business or church. Take a stand in love on issues like these.
Jonathan Holmes– “Living out God’s call for justice will make many of us uncomfortable and will require us to move away from our comfort zones into spaces of vulnerability and risk, yet when we live justly as God has called us to, we will be living our lives toward the eternal home God is preparing for His children that is free of injustice or pain.”