A year ago while checking my emails for work, I came across an email from Goodwill Rights Management Corp. whose subject read, “Reminder: join us for the webinar “Is Social Justice the same as Biblical Justice?” This was intriguing for someone like me, to say the least. Upon opening the email, my spirit was deeply disturbed when I discovered that the title of the webinar came from a book entitled Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis by Scott David Allen.
I was so confused and went to delete the email, but my curiosity and righteous indignation took over. My initial thought was, “The audacity!” But, I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this was some deep analysis that detailed how what we call social justice failed to live up to the life-giving justice described in the Biblical scriptures. Wrong! What I came across was anything but that.
I have not nor will I ever read the book, however, in doing research on this particular author, I stumbled upon an article on the book and an interview with the author. From the interview, he is quoted as saying social justice is an “ideology” that has come into the “Bible-believing or evangelical church.” This means that he identifies with what is commonly referred to as an “evangelical.” I say what is commonly referred to as “evangelical” because what we commonly refer to as “evangelical” is a particular group of people all over the United States, but particularly in the Bible Belt states (combination of southeastern, southwestern, and some midwest states), that have a particular theology of the Bible and share a very conservative (and republican) political ideology. This is a perversion of what it means to be “evangelical,” which is not about a certain theological and political viewpoint upheld by the interests of an overwhelmingly white and conservative republican movement.
There was one line, however, that really prompted me to write a response to this uninspired, morally reprehensible, gaslighting of a book. It was when Allen says, “What I wanted to do in the book is not just critique social justice. I wanted people to understand it clearly as I could convey. This is not an academic book, it’s for lay Christians who are trying to get their heads around this. It’s so prominent in the culture. I tried to lay out what this worldview of social justice is but wanted to do it by comparing to biblical understandings of justice. I believe what you are dealing with here is a counterfeit justice.”
Y’all, I can’t make this stuff up!
Let’s dive into it…’
One of the things that is so backwards about the author’s logic begins with his definition of “justice” itself. The author, who is honestly representing the sentiments of the “white evangelical” world (generally speaking), expresses an ignorance about the Bible and justice. He takes the term social justice and uses it to create a false divide. First things first, all justice is social.
There is no such thing as justice outside of community. There would be no need for it. It wouldn’t exist. The sin that is injustice can’t be done in isolation. We don’t sin in abstract ways. We sin by going against the will of God but the effects are experienced by others as well as ourselves.
In the interview the author says, “Social justice comes out of a school of thought that is largely theistic, it comes out of idealism. It’s a school of thought that arose in the 1700s. People are probably familiar with Hegel and Nietzsche and some of these folks. So, it has starting points from that. But biblical justice I define this way, its “conformity to God’s moral standard as revealed in the 10 commandments, in the royal law in the New Testament which says love your neighbor as yourself.” Social justice has to do with deconstructing traditional systems and structures that are deemed to be oppressive and redistributing power and resources from oppressors to their victims in the pursuit of an equality of outcome. You can see from those two simple definitions how different these two concepts are even though they use the same word: justice.” He is basically arguing that what we know as social justice comes from a decidedly non-God or even anti-God perspective. This author and “evangelical” perspectives like his never address what the prophets of the Old Testament were called by God to preach to the people. Some examples of this are below:
Micah 6:8, “He has told you human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” (CEB)
Isaiah 1:17, “… learn to do good. Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.” (CEB)
Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (CEB)
Jeremiah 22:3, “The Lord proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t spill the blood of the innocent in this place.” (CEB)
I’m not trying to cherrypick scripture either. The truth is that these are just a few examples, but the scripture passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many of the other prophets are too much to just write in one blog post. And, I encourage you, as is a practice of mine, to read what comes before and what comes after to fully understand what is being said in these singular verses. Nevertheless, each of these verses comes after the prophets share God’s disgust with the centers of power and the people’s performance of religion and faithfulness to “Him.” The festivals and offerings do not please God when the oppression of the most vulnerable people in society (i.e. widows, orphans, refugees, etc.) or the outright disregard for them as human beings is the norm.
This is an excerpt from a blog post that originally appeared in “In My Ancestors’ Dreams”.