Israel Narvaez, the President of the New York street gang the Mau Maus, and best friend of Nicky Cruz tells this story. While serving a 4.5-year prison term for accomplice to murder, he was approached by a man in prison who had been reading the works of Marx. The man tried hard to convince Israel that communism/socialism was the solution to life’s troubles. Israel believed it for a while, until he was released from prison and had to start supporting himself. He soon realized–through his first job, that God had gifted him to become what his ambition and talents could combine to make him. He would later look back on that brief period of communist influence with a chuckle “I had a lot to learn.”
Today we are hearing calls for social justice, not only in the progressive wings of the church, but in the hallowed halls of the White House itself. It is even being taught in some circles that modern-day social justice is a Biblical imperative. Translation: God is a Democrat. Or at least He thinks like one.
But what does the Bible say about contemporary social justice? To be fair, let’s understand what the modern term means before we go looking for Biblical principles. First, what is Social Justice? It can be lot of things to a lot of people, but here are some of the guiding tenets of it.
Social justice is the idea that everyone deserves equal economic and political rights. That kind of sounds good–at first. But there’s more. Social justice also believes in the parity of resources, and economic egalitarianism. This requires wealth re-distribution. I don’t like that sort of thing. Not because I have a lot of wealth and I’m afraid that lazy bums are going to get their greedy non-calloused hands on it. I don’t like it because of the way that it kills off a national commodity. Ambition!
Social justice is also one of the four pillars of the Green Party movement. Nowadays almost everybody is trying to outgreen each other and one of their biggest buckets of paint is, you guessed it... Social Justice. In the days of Jesus they had white-washers (Matthew 23). Today we have green-washers (Romans 1:25). More about that later.
Where did it come from? The short answer is Catholicism. The long answer is Jesuit scholar Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio (ca 1827 AD). Because of this religio-political origin, Social Justice often finds itself in unusual blends of religion and politics. Jeremiah Wright himself enthusiastically damned America for our lack of Social Justice in his yet-another-Liberation-Theology-sermon-that-our-current-President-didn’t-hear. But we heard him. And we didn’t appreciate it.
Yet far from the excesses of cloistered socialism, the Bible has a lot to say about justice, especially in our dealings with others. I like it when God boils truth down so I can understand it, and one such paragraph is found in Micah 6:8. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” I like that.
To act justly is to be fair with your time, your business associates and customers. Do what is right, even to your own hurt at times. Be consistent with your spouse, and your children. Same goes for parents and other family members. Let Bible truths become part of your actions. This is good, according to God.
To love mercy is to hate violence. Be quick to forgive, “considering thyself lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Remember that God has forgiven your (and mine) million sins and be at peace with the results.
To walk humbly with God is to keep moving in obedience to Him. Don’t stay static in your life–keep going. With each step remember that the previous step was by God’s grace alone. Don’t let pride destroy your relationships or your heart. This is good.
I come from a family where the father devoted a majority of his life to helping people. I like that sort of thing. I also like the fact that Dad was thoroughly opposed to the Social Gospel (precursor to Social Justice). He saw it as an imbalance that elevated physical needs over spiritual needs. That is a problem when that happens. First, it can give the impression that the goal of ministry is to get people to stop smoking so they can live seven more years in sin. Secondly, it can give the impression that humanitarian outreach is a convenient escape from the embarrassment we might feel for doctrine or preaching the gospel. Or could it be that lukewarm is a convenient escape from hot? Like Israel Narvaez we have a lot to learn.
So how do we keep balanced in our desire to help others? We could start by admitting that the Bible predicts no Utopian society outside of the splendor of the New Earth (Revelation 21:1-8). Indeed, Jesus’ own comment that the poor would be around until the end of time, reveals that no Utopian era lay between His First Coming and the Second Coming (Matthew 26:11). Do what you can, yes. But be real.
So let’s not try to rebuild Babylon 2.0, lest we gloat over it from the balcony of our misguided pride. Rather let us be busy about the Father’s business, ministering to the people that God brings into our path. May we help to inspire others to be all they can be, and to turn from their barren patterns. Let us never place physical needs over spiritual needs but let us give ourselves to the task of blessing both the poor, and the poor in spirit. Such a perspective will keep us both inspired and humble.