Should The Church Really Be Promoting Social Justice?

Erik Cooper —  March 17, 2010 — 8 Comments

I don’t think I was the only Christian to bristle at conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s strong statements this past week against churches that support, or even use the term, social justice.

“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words [for Communism and Nazism]. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
Glenn Beck

I’m a white, middle-class, suburban-raised, Evangelical christian, so you can quickly deduce toward which side of the political aisle I naturally lean.  And while I do understand what’s at the core of Mr. Beck’s concerns, I think he’s wrong.  Or at best misinformed. Although I’m sure I could never out-argue a pundit of his wit and verbal capacity, I at least want to share my own personal awakening as it pertains to the issue of social justice.

People are broken.  And spiritual leaders, unfortunately far too often, fall victim to using their influence to manipulate God-fearing people towards their own human, political perspectives. There’s no doubt that some pastors push social justice, and the ultimate “God-said” trump card, to promote liberal personal agendas.

But so do conservatives pastors.

And rather than digging for God’s truth, we use Him as as circumstantial support for our selfish motivations.  We form sides aimed at protecting our way of life, rather than submitting to The Way that is greater.

Here’s the (probably) overly-simplified way I see it:  Conservatives desire to preserve personal freedom.  Liberals wants to mandate universal fairness. And depending on which side of the equation benefits us most, we go to battle.  But what if there’s another way? A third option?

The Bible unfolds God’s perspective, His ideals, His Kingdom. The way I read it, God is all about freedom and all about fairness. The catch?  What happens when free people willfully choose to use their freedom to serve one another?

“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?” (Gal. 5:13-15 MSG)

Mandated justice never works. It spirals towards corruption. Even God Himself doesn’t mandate we follow Him (without choice there is no love).  That’s why I love America, because this freedom gives us unbridled opportunity to live out God’s Kingdom calling.  But only if we choose it.  When we willfully submit to serve, we truly become free. We willfully begin to make right the injustices that permeate the world.

Let’s be clear, the Kingdom of God is certainly not only about social justice (if it were, every secular Hollywood mogul and rock star would have achieved sainthood).  But to ignore the justice thread and call to serve the poor woven throughout Scripture is plain ignorance. Dangerous.  Incomplete.  A puzzle with missing pieces.  A stool with missing legs.

So here’s the ultimate question:  Are we building God’s Kingdom or just fighting to preserve a way of life? What are you willfully submitting to?

I don’t always like answering that one either, but it’s worth asking.

8 responses to Should The Church Really Be Promoting Social Justice?

  1. This is good thought-tweaking stuff. 🙂 Thank you.

  2. It is so easy to get sucked into, either frame of mind, we need people who want both. I definitely want to preserve the constitution but also want people to have the things they need. Thank you for the balanced thinking and the perspective of God’s word. 🙂

  3. You may be not be able to outwit or out-talk Mr. Beck him on this one, but you have certainly out-thought him! Thanks for the balanced, biblical approach.

  4. I must admit that I’m a Glenn Beck fan and when I heard that he said that, I was ready to write him off. However, I waited for his response to the fallout and he corrected himself (at least for my benefit). He stated on his 3/22 radio show that he believes that we as the church and individuals have a responsibility to fight for social justice issues. However, it isn’t the government’s responsibility. He clarified that if a particular church was espousing a government mandated or government run social justice program, that it was bad news. I think I agree with that.

    • I’m with you Sam. It’s not the government’s responsibility and mandated “fairness” never works. That’s why I think it’s essential for the church to re-embrace this Kingdom mentality. Glad to hear Beck clarified himself. I struggle with the “sensationalism” that we all can fall victim to try and make our point (or in all honesty, just get some attention). Somehow the truth gets lost in all the emotion (I’m guilty, too). Thanks for the response.

  5. Pastor Cooper,

    I think you give a fair and balanced account of the issue. I don’t agree with Glenn Beck, and suspect that a majority of god-fearing Christians are the same.

    Having acknowledged that, however, I think the social justice movement misses the mark in their attempt to improve material conditions while not keeping focused on the message of sin and repentance. If you think about it deeply, when Jesus was on the earth He could have spoken out on a number of social issues: colonialism (Jews under the rule of Romans), poverty, racism, etc. Ultimately, however, He chose not to.

    Why? Because He (as well as the John the Baptist) were focused like a laser on the issues of sin and repentance. Sin and repentance were the essential preconditions to address before other issues because without them the kingdom of God would not advance no matter how much people focused on social issues.

    Ultimately, I don’t think there is necessary a dichotomy between those who advance and do not advance a social justice agenda. Some in the Christian social justice movement, however, have clearly removed sin and repentance from the agenda (or put it on the back burner) only choosing to address it after social issues with a tangential focus of the gospel. This is a crucial tactical mistake. Christians must ultimately address both issues, and not be ashamed about a gospel that gives grace to sinners rather than a new socioeconomic system.

    • You make a great point Erik (great name, by the way). I do think some have hijacked the church as just another method for promoting personal social agendas, eliminating sin and repentance from the equation. But to say the Bible doesn’t address these issues or that the Gospel doesn’t call us to address the justice arena is an incomplete reading of Scripture. I would strongly suggest Richard Stearns book The Hole in Our Gospel that brilliantly uses Scripture to shed light on this subject. He says it (and lives it) way better than I ever could.

      Thanks for the comment.

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