Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Social Justice and the Church

One of the realities of life is that life is unfair.  When I think about that inequality of life and the oppression many people around the world have to endure breaks my heart.  So many of us have it so good that the biggest thing we can complain about is that American Idol stunk last night.  We are so disconnected to the tremendous suffering millions of people actually experience each and every day.

It is extremely unfair and unjust that thousands of children go to bed every night hungry and thirsty because they lack a proper food and water source.  It is unjust for girls and women to be in forced prostitution so that men can go and abuse these precious ladies for their selfish pleasure.  It is unfair that families cannot afford basic health care and thus have to suffer through sickness and injuries that could be easily helped.  The list could go on and on, but you get the point, life is unfair.  We in the United States have done our best to ignore it, but that is the reality, and as Christians it should break our hearts.

I would like to suggest that we are not really following Christ if we are not doing something to end oppression and injustice in this world.  The reason I say that is because the Bible clearly teaches that God’s desire for His people is for them to fight against injustice.  Passages like Matthew 25:31-46, James 1:26-2:17, and 1 John 3:16-19 teach that our faith and love should be seen in how we help the basic needs of those who are in need of help.  This is not optional for the follower of Christ, it is what is expected.

So when it comes to the question of “social justice” the question isn’t whether or not the Church should be involved, but how we should be involved.  It is our duty as followers of Christ to bring help, healing, and love to a world that desperately needs it.

As a Libertarian and a Christian I find it very difficult to believe that the best way to fight the injustice we find in this world is through government.  It is my observation that many of the Christian Liberals who throw around the term “social justice” do so in order to convince us that the Church should partner with Government to bring about equality and fairness. Here is my basic problem with that notion: Government is often the cause of the injustice.

I am going to quote at length from Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism:
While the civil rights acts were obviously great successes, liberals hardly stopped at equality before the law.  The Great Society’s racial meddling—often under various other guises—yielded one setback  after another.  Crime soared because of the Great Society and the attitudes of which it partook.  In 1960 the total number of murders was lower than it had been in 1930, 1940, and 1950 despite a population explosion.  In the decade after the Great Society, the murder rate effectively doubled.  Black-on-black crime soared in particular.  Riots exploded on LBJ’s watch, often with the subtle encouragement of Great Society liberals who rewarded such behavior. Out-of-wedlock births among blacks skyrocketed.  Economically, as Thomas Sowell has cataloged, the biggest drop in black poverty took place during the two decades before the Great Society.  In the 1970s, when the impact of the Great Society programs was fully realized, the trend of black economic improvement stopped almost entirely (pp. 269-70).

Was the racial bigotry that held much of this country in its grip a great injustice?  It most certainly was, but the Government didn’t stop it from being a problem, rather they stopped the true progress that was being made.  Too many African-Americans are still in a cycle of economic oppression because of government intervention.

The United States is filled with examples of how Government has caused injustice and oppression.  Take for example the current economic crisis we are experiencing.  It was not only brought on by greedy bankers, but also by greedy politicians who made policies which allowed the bankers the opportunity to act on their greed.  There is also the evil of Government stealing from Social Security, something many older people expect to be there for their future, and thus putting a heavy tax burden on the younger generation to make sure those Social Security commitments are met.  Then there are the human rights violations that our Government commits as it seeks to question “terrorists,” all under the guise of national security. 

Government is unable to bring about true social justice because it brings about so much of the social injustice in this world.  Instead of asking, “How can Government fix this problem?”, we need to ask, “In what ways has Government contributed to this injustice?”  It is my contention that many of the injustices that we find in the United States are the result of too much government rather than not enough government.

When it comes to how the Church should respond to the injustice we find in the world I think the first place we need to look to is to history.  It is my belief that the early Church grew in a world filled with injustice, not because it partnered with an immoral government, but because she actually lived out what she believed.

In his wonderful book The Rise of Christianity Rodney Stark catalogs the reason for Christianity rise from an obscure movement in Palestine to the religious force in the Roman Empire.  He talks about how the Church made life better for women, how the Church cared for the sick and the dying, and how the Church met the needs of a growing urban world.  In his conclusion Stark writes:
Let me state my thesis: Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organizations.

I believe that it was the religion’s particular doctrines that permitted Christianity to be among the most sweeping and successful revitalization movements in history.  And it was the way these doctrines took on actual flesh, the way they directed organizational actions and individual behavior, that lead to the rise of Christianity.

Do you see the key of it all?  It wasn’t just that the Church had superior doctrines, which we certainly do, but because those doctrines “took on actual flesh.”   To fight the injustice of this world we have to live out what we say we believe.  As John wrote in 1 John 3:16-18:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (ESV).

Listen, it is to the Church’s shame that we have done so little to bring justice into this world.  You know what is crazy about that statement?  The reason that statement is crazy is because there hasn’t been anyone who has done more to bring justice into this world.  Yet, there is so much more that we can do.  What could we do with the money that we are forced to use to pay off our consumer debts?  What could we do with the hours spent watching movies, football games, television, and concerts? 

My point today is a very simple one: Social justice begins with my choice to love my neighbor.  Yet, there is only so much that I can do on my own, and so I need to come together with other people who have made that decision to love their neighbor so we can do even more good.  Social justice happens then as the Church of Jesus Christ moves into this world loving as we go.  It happens when Christian politicians, who are more committed to the way of Jesus than a political party, influence the policies of government.  It happens when Christian businesspeople, who are more concerned with following Jesus than making a profit, create businesses that benefit both their employees and their costumers.  It happens when American Christians give time and money so African Christians can have a source of clean water.  It happens when we decide that it is better to sacrifice our lifestyles than it is to hoard God’s blessings.  Church, we have been called to be lights in a very dark world, it is time that we start to burn brightly.

In this life we will always have the poor, the sick, the orphan, the widow, and the oppressed.  Their constant presence is not an excuse for apathy, but it is reminder to fight for what is right.  Will we join in the fight?  Will we dare to become the Church God wants us to be?


pbsteele said...

An added thought: Perhaps the greatest way to bring about true social justice in this country is by REDUCING the size of government. Why is it that the answer to all our problems is MORE law? I have no problem with government being an agent in bringing about justice, but it has to be held on a very short leash, which is the purpose of the Constitution, but when we let go of the leash we shouldn't be surprised to find government running out of control.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Paul!
--Hawkeye Gold

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