Honk if You Hate Social Justice

March 14, 2011

Does helping Japan after the earthquake count as “social justice.”

Social justice.  What a stangely controversial phrase.  Glenn Beck hates the phrase.  He says Christians should run away from churches that talk about social justice, because it’s code for socialism.  Probably not a surprise that a bunch of people are taking a fast from Glenn Beck for Lent.

American Christians have always tied their politics to their faith.  But it’s getting harder and harder for Christians to associate with other Christians from across the aisle.  And it’s not just Glenn Beck.  Some Christians are being labeled as “pushing the boundaries” of Christianity, and social justice is more and more the line in the sand.  In other words, good Christians soldiers, stay away from the people on the wrong side, because they probably aren’t even really Christians.

I’ve never tried to persuade you of my politics.  In fact, I’ve never explicitly stated what my politics are, because I find it more entertaining to make fun of both sides.  Today, I’ve got something to say to both left-leaning “social justice” Christians, and the conservatives who love them.  By the end of this post, maybe I’ll finally achieve my dream of making everyone disagree with me.

Honk if You Hate Social Justice

Conservative Christians: The way some of you talk about social justice makes you all look like a bunch of cynical, selfish jerks.

I know, liberals advocate “wealth redistrubtion” and a bunch of other stuff that you find abhorrent.  I’m with you.  But how can you sound so condescending when you accuse social justice advocates of “wanting to bring heaven to earth?”  It sounds like you find the idea of social justice more abhorrant than poverty itself.  You can disagree with how others try to bring “heaven to earth,” but please stop calling social justice Christians “radicals” that “push the boundaries of Christianity.”  It makes you sound like the idea of helping the poor is so foreign to you, your evangelical mind just can’t comprehend it.

No One Cares But Me

Liberal Christians: Please don’t act like you’re the first to care about “social justice.”  It’s a new name for an old concept.

A lot of “social justice” seems to be born today out of some perception that our parents and grandparents were somehow indifferent to injustice, blind and deaf to human suffering.  First, helping poor people to spite your parents is pretty lame.  Second, our parents and grandparents did a lot of selfless things, and had the class to not announce every good deed they did to justify themselves in your eyes.  So don’t delude yourself into thinking that the clean shaven businessman or octogenarian who goes to church in a suit and votes Republican doesn’t care about orphans, just because he doesn’t have a condescending bumper sticker or a bracelet announcing how much he cares.

Jesus said that we will always have the poor.  Besides that, Jesus didn’t make helping poor people his top priority.  When you are old, there will still be poor people, and you will probably deal with some scraggly teenage know-it-all grandkid who criticizes your generation for not caring enough about poor people.

Be Liberal, or Be Made Liberal

Conservative Christians: Either you can be liberal…or someone else will make you be liberal.

I don’t mean you need to be liberal politically.  I mean liberal with your resources, generous toward others.  Does the left advocate “redistribution of wealth?”  You bet.  So we can either redistribute some of our own wealth toward helping others, or we can hoard our money, and call social justice “communism,” and someone will redistribute our wealth for us, wasting our money on a utopian pipe dream.  You can be liberal, or someone else will be liberal for you.

For example, I hate giving the government money.  I think the government fails at life.  The less we let the government do, the better.  But if we don’t take the initiative, try to solve problems, the government is going to try to solve problems it can’t, and waste a bunch of our money while failing. 

Why let liberals own “social justice?”  They don’t have a copyright.  Get in there and do it your way.  If people are generous and justice minded on their own, we can cut out the big fat stupid middle man, everyone is happier, and we’re probably doing more of what Jesus called us to do.  Jesus’ top priority wasn’t poor people, but no one’s going to care about how much we love Jesus if we don’t love others.

So that’s my rant.  Tell us what you think.  Is “social justice” our responsibility as Christians, or a dirty political code word?  What is your favorite organization right now that’s making a positive difference in the world?

75 responses to Honk if You Hate Social Justice

  1. Hi Matt,

    “In Hell, he lifted up his eyes and beheld Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom”…

    Did I get that quote right? I’m not real good at quotes and I’m too lazy to look it up at this hour of the morning. But didn’t Jesus have a lot to say about the poor?

    For instance, “The poor ye shall always have with you, and they will always be a pain in the ass”… or something like that.

    Am I cynical? You bet. I have been poor and on the receiving end of Christian generosity, and of government benevolence. Believe me, government is more effective. Humiliating and degrading but effective. There is a reason for the expression “Cold as Charity”.

    Of course, giving to the poor is one of the things Jesus told us to do in secret. Don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing, He said.

    I go the Lord one better: my right hand does not know what my right hand is doing.

    He also said to pray in secret. No one but God needs to know anything about my prayers. That make me seem cruel. Last night a neighbor called telling me she’s going in the hospital for a heart cath at 5:30 this morning. She feels afraid. I felt like a heel, but I just could not say the words, “I’ll pray for you”. Like the prayers of Big Daddy John weigh more than her own prayers. We have direct access.

    Jesus also said to fast in secret. Well, too many people know about my giving and my praying, but I’ve got the fasting secret covered. I weigh 253 pounds. Nobody will ever guess just how much I fast!

    I’m off track here Matt. You’ve touched a nerve. Good for you.

    No one ever went broke giving to God’s poor. And the quest for “the deserving poor” is a farce; no one deserves to be poor.

    I’d rather be scammed a thousand times, than to let one genuinely hungry person pass my door unfed. I can afford to give a bundle, after all, it’s God’s money I’m spending.

    And, as my teenagers used to say after hearing my fatherly advice on a subject, “For a tape of today’s message, send $19.95 and a box top to…”

    Scamps!

    Matt, you need to write about respect for one’s elders–especially me!

    John

  2. Hi again Matt,

    Yes, it’s John again.

    Forgive me for double-dipping but you did touch a nerve for me and I left out something important in my previous comment:

    It’s wrong to give away something that ain’t yours.

    “Shall I offer to the Lord that which has cost me nothing”?

    I should not give to the poor someone else’s money. There’s a reason so much of the Old Testament is devoted to protecting property rights.

    Last year a friend fussed at me: “John Cowart, you’re trying to make the world as nice a place as possible for people to go to Hell from,” he said.

    I’m complimented.

    I think that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do.

    If we Christians… let me re-word that… If I take care of the poor who cross my own path, the poor in my own circle, there would be no need for any government “social justice” programs or “redistribution of wealth”.

    But we don’t… But I don’t.

    Maybe if we don’t feed them, they’ll go away.

    John

    • ” If I take care of the poor who cross my own path, the poor in my own circle, there would be no need for any government “social justice” programs or “redistribution of wealth”.”

      BOOM! Baby!!

      I get erked every time I hear a christian complain about ‘socialism’ knowing they don’t do crap for the needy in their own lives. If they got off their religious entitled butt and helped those in need there would be no such thing as ‘socialism’!

    • Amen, John! If we take care of the poor, there is no need for the government to do so. I’m sure you’re right – the government is more effective than the church. That’s why the government is doing it to begin with.

      • “Amen, John! If we take care of the poor, there is no need for the government to do so. ”

        Exactly. The church body as a whole has really dropped the ball and opened the door for the secular government to usurp our role.
        Jason recently posted..Day 72- What I’ve done

  3. Matt, you really need to write a book. I’m very serious about this, you have something to say that is worth saying and that this entire world needs to hear. What did you say today? You took a stand on the Christian side: my friend, you said what Jesus said.

    There is a verse in Isaiah that says, “I reject your sacrifices because you do not care for the orphan and the widow.”

    Jesus is proud of you today,and I am proud to call you a friend. By the way, the Catholic Church has something called a “preferential option for the poor.” Jesus had that preference as well.

    God bless you Matt.

  4. I don’t think of giving to and helping those in need as “social justice.” It’s something I’m expected to do, something I want to do out of the blessing I’ve been given, no matter how large or small.

    The way the concept pf social justice has been used in the past 20 years or so is rectifying what is believed (by at least some, usually not of a conservative persuasion) to rectify what is perceived as a past or present wrong. But it is generally a secular and political concept — it doesn’t have to be that, but it usually is, at least as practiced and articulated.

    Good post, Matt.
    Glynn recently posted..In a Land of Stones

  5. Social justice is far more than just giving money to the poor, although that is a part of it. Helping people in Japan in the aftermath, I wouldn’t call social justice, but helping girls around the world be freed from sex trafficking, that’s social justice. I feel like you’re shoving social justice into the same corner of communism that Beck does, and that’s a shame.

    I think, we get too caught up in the idea of money. It’s about giving your money away. The Sermon on the Mount was pretty particular about social justice too.

    But, as my friend pointed to me, it should be more about the Good News of Jesus Christ that we share with these people. If your idea of social justice is devoid of the gospel and the glory of Jesus, than it’s not worth it without.
    bman recently posted..Of Chess And Spaceship Anus

    • Brian, thanks for the clarification. You know me, I try to take a balanced approach, but sometimes need another perspective. Maybe Beck’s perspective is distorting the general public’s definition of social justice.

      • Matt, please take a better look into beck’s views on social justice. Essentialy the work of social justiced should be done thru a willing heart, not through the government! Anyone who feels charitable on tax day is quite welcome to contribute more to the irs, but I’ve not heard of anyone doing so. Glenn does more research than any “news agency” I’ve ever seen. The tremendous freedoms we enjoy in this country need to be vigilantly protected as they provide for the ideal that every person has the same opportunities, but not all persons will be given the same results! Great post, definitely a nerve tweaker.

        • Beck’s views of social justice are far from the Gospel. The fact of the matter is that the guy isn’t a Christian, and should not be looked to for Christian advice. I’m not a fan of him, and I’m not a fan of his words being synonymous with Christian theology. And, really, neither should anyone else.

          You can say that the government shouldn’t be doing social justice all you want, but at least something is happening. I would argue that social justice is saving the Jewish population from racism and genocide, in which case, it was only the government who could help.

          When I first heard that people were upset about this, I was/am amazed. I can’t fathom being upset at the idea of helping people. I don’t care if it’s through taxes. Sorry. I’m all about the freedoms that we have, and I don’t see this as a threat to be “vigilantly protected” from.
          bman recently posted..Of Chess And Spaceship Anus

          • You make a good point, and I don’t want you to think in any way that I’m against helping people. There are some problems that only the government can do (like protecting Israel.) But there are plenty of others that the government is far less efficient and capable at. I actually want less government involvement and more involvement from private citizens and groups, because I think they’d be more effective.

      • It’s distorting his fans perspectives on the issue. That’s what bothers me. It bothers me that so many people look to this man who “researches” things and holds him on this pedestal of awesome-ness that he doesn’t deserve.

        Politics is one thing, but people look up to him as a Christian leader for some reason. We should be VERY scared of that fact! Because he’s NOT.
        bman recently posted..Of Chess And Spaceship Anus

        • I totally agree. To me, the man is a complete fear-mongerer, as if he actually has no faith in God’s sovereignty. The end of the world is always at hand (though it’s always in the near-future tense, never present tense.) Yeah, things are going to be bad in the future. They always have been. I’m actually relieved that my local talk radio station just moved him from the morning (when I’m in my car) to the 9 pm slot.

  6. For some, the term “social justice” is a red flag for theological liberalism. Perhaps some churches have emphasized the concept of helping people on earth and without talking about the gospel, but that does not mean that “social justice” is a bad thing. Like the internet and music, just because some use it for not so great ways, does not mean that it has to be thrown out.
    Jeremy @ confessionsofalegalist recently posted..Faith like a child

  7. Call it social justice or socialism or whatever. It doesn’t matter. Jesus told us to do what’s required and then go another mile.

    P.S – Can someone tell me a really good ministry that is going to Japan to help them rebuild?

    nicodemusatnite.com
    Charlie Chang recently posted..270 Wanting to go to Best Buy instead of church

    • I’d like to know of one too. I don’t know of any yet. My feeling (and I could be wrong) is that at this early point in time, ministries are actually not going to be as effective as usual. They have some 100,000 soldiers on the ground evacuating people, searching debris, and combing the sea for people swept away. I don’t know of any ministry that is trained for nuclear evac. In the coming weeks, after things calm down, we’ll see a rush of humanitarian ministries.

      • This is from the Southern Baptist Global Response team: “The government, however, has said it does not intend to request large numbers of international volunteers, so the BGR strategy will be designed around partnership initiatives with Japan Baptist churches, Palmer said. Working through those congregations, who have deep ties in their local communities, will ensure the effectiveness of BGR relief efforts. It also guarantees donations will be used efficiently, since a portion of gifts will not have to be diverted to cover overhead expenses.” (www.bcmd.org/japan)

        The SB response is typically slow, but they do a pretty good job about sending supplies in a manner that is effective both in helping the recipients and in encouraging generosity in the donors (you can probably Google “buckets of hope” for their Haiti relief effort – they did something similar in Iraq).

        I’ve seen that World Vision is looking at options, and I’m sure that Samaritan’s Purse is as well. Both are organizations which are trustworthy (imo), experienced, and well-suited for such work.

        As you said though, Matt, right now, most people are just assessing needs and/or letting the government do its job in evacuating those still in danger. There’s always a fine line between striking while the iron is hot (i.e., it’s still a major news story in the US) and striking when you actually know what’s going on and can be effective. If you’re itching to send funds right this second, I’d say Red Cross/Red Crescent. If you’re willing/able to wait a few days/weeks, I’d wait for your denomination’s response or WV/SP (although I’m sure both already have a designated fund set up for Japan disaster relief that you could donate to today).
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      • http://www.samaritanspurse.org
        They are the most effective international relief organization out there.
        They arrived in Haiti in two days.
        “A Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief team is in the hard-hit city of Sendai delivering relief supplies to survivors of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s northeastern coast on March 11.”

      • Just an FYI… The Salvation Army has been in Japan since 1895… and isn’t going to be leaving anytime soon! Also, 100% of your donation to The Salvation Army that is earmarked for Japan Disaster Relief will go directly towards disaster relief in Japan… How many “Non-profit” charities can claim that?

  8. I dislike all terms that get tossed around and are called Bible. For example: tolerance, social justice, balance, and “good”. None are in the Bible, and in order to make them Bible, it’s very long stretch. Conversely, I dislike the use of Biblical terms in some watered down namby pamby worldly theology: salvation, love, and Christian to name a few. Any way, those rants are for another day.

    Someone on MLP’s blog defined the new Christian as atheists who feed the poor. Hmm… You are correct, the government will certainly step into do what the church fails to do. We haven’t had such a good track record with feeding the poor, so we have welfare. We haven’t done well with the widows either. Amazingly our inmates have more creature comforts than lots of retired folks on fixed incomes. We haven’t done too well with healing the sick, so we have nationalized health care. We have mostly failed at discipling, fellowship and pastoral care that we have more psychotherapists than people in the US.

    When it comes to being poor, I’d like to suggest a trip to the slums of Brazil, or the garbage dumps of the Philippines for perspective.

    The great commission is the Gospel – though it is easier to preach to folks that have had a meal. Two times Jesus was asked about food and water, and both times he responded, “I have bread/water that you do know about it.” Then he preached the Gospel. After He fed the 5,000 men and their families, few came to believe. And finally, for the family of faith, there is Matthew 6:25-34, which explains that he can take care of our needs – the only caveat is that it requires real faith.

    Good discussion, Matt.
    David recently posted..Spiritual Warfare- Staying Up When the Chips are Down

  9. Heya Matt! Great post! This is a discussion we should have here in the church.

    As someone from the very conservative side of the pasture, the trouble I have with many who are most outspoken about social justice is that they tend to advocate compulsory giving. Many who fall in this category are looking to governmental solutions to social problems, which must be paid for by compulsory taxes. Even those who don’t push government solutions tend to lay on the guilt trip pretty heavily to “persuade” people to give.

    My issue is not with the giving. I’m all for it and I strive to be generous myself. It’s a problem of motivation.

    Paul said that the manipulative and controlling approach is not the way we are to give in 1 Corinthians 9:7

    You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

    We should give generously and cheerfully but we aren’t supposed to let others guilt us into giving. Unfortunately though, guilt giving happens far too often throughout the Christian community, and not just in social justice circles either!
    Chris Cree recently posted..Missionary in Japan Shares Post Tsunami Message

  10. Maybe what we need to do is get out of the “Left” Right” game and start reading our Bible.

  11. This has been a long-standing problem for me. I want to help people, but if I never get to share the Gospel with them, is it wasted effort? If I share the Gospel, but they are still hungry, did I waste my time? Yet I think the answer is neither of those. It comes down to the fact that God actually cares about humans…individual ones, and we reflect that even if we never get a chance to share the Gospel.

  12. I am going to out myself as a social justice Christian here (gasp!). The often-quoted statement by Jesus that we “will always have the poor” is frequently given as an excuse to do nothing for the less fortunate all around us. Yes Jesus said that, but the context was that He was only going to be on Earth for a short time, and therefore it was right to lavish him with perfume in worship of him, rather than give the money to the poor. I think it should still give us pause today, that we should seek Jesus first and not idolize our good acts. BUT I really don’t think it means that we shrug our shoulders, say, “Sorry, poor people, Jesus said there’s no helping you that can get rid of you.” Because he also said, “Give to everyone who asks you.”
    Megan recently posted..We Who are Ordinary

  13. It seems there are two camps of social justice, where one gets much more weight than the other.

    The first is the ‘social justice’ we find throughout Scripture: giving money to the poor, being hospitable to strangers, taking care of widows, etc. This ‘social justice’ puts Jesus at the center with his love driving us to give his love to the world through generosity and material means. This is what Tim Keller likes to emphasize (especially with the poor) as a key for reaching others in a lot ofhis preaching.

    **Actually, he recently came out with a book called “Generous Justice,” which directly relates the Gospel to social justice. You’d prob like it a lot, Matt.

    The second ‘social justice’ is the one that does tie in with communism (or at least seems to). A lot of churches have a twisted sense of social justice and tie their faith to liberation theology (and poverty theology as well), where Jesus is not the center. Rather, the injustice imposed on a group of people and the justice they deserve for being wronged become the center. And because these groups usually feel like everyone owes them something, it’s easy for socialism/communism to slip in. This sort of theology, of course, is not found in Scripture.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly though, Matt. If we don’t want the government to do everything for us, we need to get off our butts and start ‘doing’ ourselves.
    Brooklyn Cravens recently posted..Dirty Girl with a Dirty Heart

  14. BOQ: “I think the government fails at life. The less we let the government do, the better.”
    EOQ

    Disclaimer: I am a government employee.
    When I was 21 I had a decision to make–law school or library school. I was in my final year at a Christian college and decided that the service profession of librarianship was the more Christian decision to take.
    So I’ve spent the last 20+ years guiding people to info that will help them in school, that will help them learn to read, that will help them start a business, that will help them manage personal finances, or that will just give them a refreshing break from the stresses of the world through the pages of a good book.
    As a municipal employee, I am part of the face of government. Nice to know that my career decision, based in part on my Christian faith, means I’m a failure at life in your opinion.

    • Disclaimer: Law student

      Nice to know that my career decision, based in part on my Christian faith, means that I took the less-Christian route ;)
      Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Lessons from the Centurion

      • I have a friend who is an attorney and a devout believer who says that when she announced her plan to study law to her grandmother, the woman looked confused. She said “Honey, I don’t think you can be a lawyer and a Christian at the same time.” Very thankful she didn’t take this to heart! BTW, I know several who have used their faith in their law practice to bring peace to people in very difficult places. Go forth and adjudicate!

      • Not necessarily–for me it would have been the wrong decision, but not for others.
        Unfortunately, at the time I was working in the library of a law firm which specialized in labor law on behalf of management. What I saw modeled was attorneys laughing in glee over parents being arrested in front of their kids at the county fair because the parents had applied for benefits while out on strike.
        It wasn’t a path I felt called to follow.

    • Come on, I didn’t call you a failure personally. I’m trying to get a job as a public school teacher, so there you go. I mean that the government is always more inefficient, more wasteful, and less productive than the private sector at solving problems. If the government is so good at solving problems like poverty, why are more people per capita than ever on welfare?

      • On the local level, typically 60-80% of the government budget are spent on personnel. So the blanket statement “the government fails at life” gives all indication as being about government employees.
        Perhaps you meant policies developed by elected officials fail at life. Maybe. But elected officials tend to respond to public opinion, so by extension, maybe it’s what we ourselves want are what really fails at life.
        Private sector? I have yet to see them provide effective police and fire protection, effective and safe processes for getting drugs to market or pulling them off of their own accord when dangers are posed to the public, self-policing of the securities industry, providing health care to veterans, keeping the nation’s waters clean, etc. etc.

        If you’re talking only about the poverty issue, fine. But perhaps a bit more nuance is in order when considering all government functions.

        • You have yet to see the private sector do any of those things because the private sector hasn’t done any of those things in our lifetime. True, there are certain services I am happy to pay for – police, fire, water, parks, libraries, defense, etc. That’s what people set up government to do. But you can’t say the government does a better job at those things than private corporations, when we’ve never seen it happen.

          More to the point, when I talk about government failure, I’m talking about broad and far-reaching social programs aimed at alleviating societal ills. It is my opinion that the government has a poor track record when it comes to this type of action. Issues such as education or poverty have not improved over the last several decades, in many cases, have gotten worse, while government involvement has constantly increased. Anyone who works a private sector job is evaluated based on job performance. If the government were evaluated in the same way, it would have been “fired” from those jobs. It’s not the fault of any one government employee. You’re certainly not to blame. It’s just a case of trying to do a job with the wrong tool. For some problems, the government is not the best answer. But we’ve gotten in the habit of expecting and relying on the government to solve problems in society, rather than citizens taking ownership of the problem.

          • “But you can’t say the government does a better job at those things than private corporations, when we’ve never seen it happen.”

            Actually, in some limited areas outsourcing of these government functions has happened. Certainly in libraries, with very mixed results (a corporation by the name of LSSI, google it). And for defense, I would posit Blackwater–again, with very mixed results.

  15. I love you Matt! When you take on a subject matter, there’s no testing the water with a toe…no it’s cannonball in all the way for you!

    Glenn Beck disturbs me, and I’ve learned to take what he says cautiously because it changes with the tide. I won’t cannonball into the Mormon/Christian aspect of my opinion on your blog either. That would just be rude behavior.

    Jesus doesn’t belong to any political party in this country, and you can find issues contrary to Biblical principles in both major party’s platforms. I’ve stepped out on limb before over on Tony C Today and advocated for a political party whose platform is based on Christian principles…and the response was lukewarm at best. Somewhere people have confused the ideology of the separation of church and state with the practice of keeping religion out of politics. I don’t remember a disclaimer by Jesus in Matthew 10:32-33 about political matters being excluded when acknowledging Him before others…
    Tony C recently posted..Making fun of people always involves that rubber and glue thing

    • Right on Tony! The two party system in this country bites, and neither side represents Christian values. I would love to see a third party set up based on Scriptural principals. There are two minor problems with this though, any 3rd party that has try to establish itself in the last 100 years, has failed, and Christians have a hard time interpreting and agreeing on what “Scriptural values” are. However, I do not think any political system will save this country, or me for that matter. I put my faith wholly in Jesus Christ and not man made government.

      I do believe the separation of Church and State came about as a slimy way to try to get around Freedom of Speech for religious folks. If it’s constitutionality was ever tested and brought to the Supreme Court, it wouldn’t hold up, this is why you haven’t seen the IRS revoke any church’s tax exempt status for telling people how to vote.

    • I recommended a long time ago that Christians should support their biblical stance on the issues, whatever they may be. IE: Why are we pro-life. Why are we pro-marriage etc.

      The problem is that it is easy for people to jump on ideological bandwagons – and that is what politicians are hoping for – vote for what I say, not what I do.

      I really would like to see a Christian “voting issues” site that was not more of the same “we are socially conservative, so we are Republicans, or “we are for social justice, so we are Democrats.”
      David recently posted..What If We Dont!

  16. An anecdote: My experience trying to change human trafficking law in CA taught me that some people are so adverse to the government that they remove themselves from governmental or political involvement altogether.

    While, arguably, the government is not always the most efficient, there is no other avenue when statutory changes and criminal charges are necessary.
    Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Lessons from the Centurion

    • I agree completely. I think when we read our Bibles we sometimes forget that God was telling the Jews what they should do for their religious and their political lives. In Israel, it was the same thing. Here we have separated it, but the government is by the people, which includes Christians. When my tax dollars are feeding, clothing, housing, and medically treating the poor, they are doing those things on my behalf. We also need to come along side the poor in our paths and reduce the suffering because this is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. I am not relieved of my responsibility to feed the poor just because there’s a program any more than I would be just because a congregation somewhere started a soup kitchen.

  17. I’m kinda surprised this hasn’t been brought up already, and I’d like to go on record as saying that I’m a pastor’s kid myself and therefore have a VERY soft spot in my heart for church staff members of any ilk, but especially for those in my own church who are like family to me….

    But the cynic in me says that “social justice” isn’t preached about in churches more because churches are afraid that people will stop putting money into offering plates and start giving it to the poor or to organizations that serve the poor.

    It’s sad, but I know it’s been true in my own church. There’s slowly been a change in our congregation (now that we’re coming _out_ of a time of tight budgets) thankfully, but that sentiment has definitely been at the root of a lot of decisions “we” as a church have made.
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  18. Problem is we treat social justice like it’s the end instead of the means. I like this quite by Luther….

    Peace is more important than all justice; and peace was not made for the sake of justice, but justice for the sake of peace.

  19. Matt, if you tried to get everyone to disagree with you on this, I think you have failed.

    I caused my ultra conservative mom to have a mini heart attack one day when I told her that I believe in personal liberality rather than forced liberality. Then I explained that we need to be liberal in helping people with our money and time in our neighborhood, family, etc., trust God to provide others to help the rest and push the government out of the problem. Queen Victoria had a heart for the poor and downtrodden and tried to help them through government programs. Charles Dickens had a lot to say about those programs in _Oliver_, _A Christmas Carol_. Looking at LBJs goal in his Great Society programs, I think we can honestly say that they have failed to eliminate poverty. I am not going to say that they are a total failure, because I am sure that they have prevented people from starving.

    My great-grandfather opposed LBJ’s “Great Society” program because he felt it was the church’s job to help the poor. I think by letting the government take over the job of providing for the poor and needy in our neighborhood, the rest of us get hard hearted about the needy and stop working to know our neighbors to know when they truly need help.

    So I guess that I am a conservative that believes in social justice on a more personal level.
    tandemingtroll recently posted..In my own little world

  20. Social justice in the name of truly helping others is one thing but using the spectrum of social justice to merely advance your own agenda is another. For instance, I don’t consider Jesse Jackson a leader in social justice because a) he jumps on any bandwagon that will get him media attention and b) he jumps on any bandwagon that will get him media attention whether he knows what he’s talking about or not. Okay, mostly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
    Annie K recently posted..Nothing Says Sacrifice Like A Union

  21. Matt,
    I’ve been thinking about this post and my response all day. Luckily for you, all that thinking led to lots of editing in my mind because an actual blog post of my own was forming in my mind and I try to reserve comment box hijacking for only those bloggers I know really well. :)

    I think the division over social justice is actually just systematic of a larger illness in the Church in the US – we’ve gotten the message of The Way all mixed up with the government of the United States.

    There is actually nothing to debate here. Justice is what every follower of Christ is compelled to work toward; compelled because of the love of Christ to be the Body of Christ. The government has ZERO to do with the work of The Way – whether that government be the tyrants of Rome or the men and women working in Washington D.C.

    I’d encourage anyone who is seeking clarity on the issue to check out Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s Jesus for President. Empowering and enlightening stuff.

    Great post, brother. Still working out a post of my own inspired by this discussion.
    Megan at SortaCrunchy recently posted..A Thousand Fibers

  22. The danger I see on both sides of the political spectrum is viewing government as the savior of the human race. In essence people like Beck romanticize a government that never has, nor never will exist. Beck salivates over the days of old like Edwin Arlington Robinson’s character/poem “Miniver Cheevy.” Beck would love to sport a colonial white wig and rattle his saber for the masses in the name of God, country, and the New York Times best seller list. But unfortunately, in his eyes, he was born too late.

    “Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
    Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
    Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
    And kept on drinking.”

    Anytime the government becomes the golden calf of anyone’s existence…there is cause for concern. I blame a lot of big government on the selfishness, and utter lack of faith within church…but this is a story for another time.

    Great post!

    Blessings to you and yours!
    Mark recently posted..Please Don’t Say You’ll Pray!

  23. We’ve just had four weeks of sermons on generosity in Feb/March. Not to increase the tithes of the church (tithing was mentioned in passing, but not pushed) – but saying we need to be generous with what God has given us (all we have is His anyway), money, time, talents and skills, etc.

    I think the sermon that was most talked about was the one when Ann (our speaker for the day) had loaves of bread and was stuffing herself with it (literally – the sermon video is prob on Youtube somewhere now). Saying that it is ok to have something, but if all we are doing is filling ourselves on it, then it does nothing for the Lord. It needs to be shared around, and it will multiply. Her message was from the feeding of the 5,000 (closer to 10,000) and related to the Good News we have been given, as much as to material stuff.

    Well spoken, Matt.

  24. Not sure if someone else posted this or something close, but I personally find it despicable when a person, especially a believer, gives grandiose amounts of money and hours of time supporting humanitarian efforts overseas, yet does NOT participate in their own town, city, what have you.

    The easiest thing to do is to trumpet a message from a pulpit and raise $$$ for those poor people suffering in another country. THAT IS EASY!

    The hard thing is asking people to volunteer their Saturday mornings or Friday nights to feed the hungry or go to the ‘hood to take a starving family a meal.

    That is so backwards to me. I am NOT saying don’t give to missions organizations. I do.

    But if you give $ to appease your conscience so you can say you gave, but never put FAITH INTO ACTION, then that makes me sad. And a little sick.
    Lazarus recently posted..Who will be 100

  25. My family works with folks in a local food ministry. The needs are real, the people are real and we have come to understand in a mighty and real way that it is not ‘us’ and ‘them’. Frankly, we have learned a lot about the love of Jesus and the reality of practical needs from these folks who are on the ‘receiving’ end of our giving.

    I hope that some time soon more folks would put their hands and feet into action as much as it is all discussed – and we are grateful that it is being discussed here. Spread the word.

    ~Joe and Danette

  26. The government owes us something? The Christians owe us something? God owes us something?

    When are we going to get it? God owes us nothing. No one owes us anything. I’ve been poor, too, and somehow hard work and not entitlements got me to where I am–not rich by any means–plugging away at the bills from paycheck to paycheck. I’ve shed many tears over my plight when I was one step away from losing my car, a place to live, etc. But I got myself in that mess and it was God who got me out and He didn’t have to do it.

    Pride and spiritual pride reeks from some of these comments. We were meant to work. We were meant to share our gleanings with the poor and the poor was meant to come and pick up those gleanings. We weren’t meant to abandon the poor, but we weren’t meant to enable them either. I would reccomend you read Star Parker’s book called, Uncle Sam’s Plantation. She’s been in worst places.

    Social Justice…NO! Old fashioned hard work and genuine love..YES!
    Nikole Hahn recently posted..Taking Notes Sunday- No Inroads

  27. Last night on Cross Examine with Dr. Del Tacket (prerecorded), a missionary organization helped this poor country by giving them housing and microloans and livestock. It went downhill because the people were given everything without having to lift a finger for it.

    The group rethought it and gave microloans to help out these people instead with businesses and homes. With something invested, the people worked harder to pay off the loans and make their business and family successful. It grew them as a person and grew their faith.

    There are so many great stories out there seeping out from the woodwork of people who came from homelessness and managed to get into a house and now have food on the table. They are hard workers. They were helped by charities and other organizations, but nothing was free. It was blood sweat and tears.

    We need to change the entitlement attitude in this country. It’s making people bitter and spoiled. Why work if every day you get something for free? Why work if you’re not accountable to anyone? Why work if you don’t have to? That’s the attitude at least in some people in our area. There ARE real needs. And those are the ones who won’t stay in the pit that they’ve fallen into, but there are many who like their lifestyle.

    To judge other Christians is hypocritical and pointless. How is that furthering the Gospel? Usually when someone has a problem with another Christian because they say that person was cold says to me there’s more to that story. I know many people in the reach out ministry who are far from heartless and cold. It’s their life mission to bring the gospel to the downtrodden, and while some of them do enable, most of them do not.

    God doesn’t always give us what we want, does He? He doesn’t always rescue us from a situation we got ourselves into or a situation that we are persecuted for, does He? The Gospel promises we will have trials. It’s part of being a Christian. Some of those trials may be financial. The economy makes it tough to hold on to our former lifestyle. Compared to third world countries where families and kids are digging through poisonous rubble just to put food on the table we have it pretty easy still in spite of our various predicaments.

    Charity will only help a person for so long, but unless Christ is introduced via a relationship with that person over time, their life will always be there on the streets, because it’s a real relationship with Christ that brings transformation and change; and though change is painful sometimes, I thank God everyday for those painful years.
    Nikole Hahn recently posted..Taking Notes Sunday- No Inroads

    • While I understand where you are coming from by mentioning the entitlement system in this country I also think there is a risk in what you are saying. Sure I’ve seen people who use the system without any real motivation to change their current circumstance, but I really think these people, especially given the current climate, are in the minority. The problem with pointing out the entitled poor is many people then think that categorizes all of them. I’ve heard many Christians speak of the poor as if they are all lazy and despicable. The church has adopted your “pull yourself up by your bootstraps attitude.” This has fed no one and it certainly has not spread the Good News of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t tell us to give to only those who deserve it, those that aren’t lazy and entitled. He told us to give freely, to love unconditionally. And I’ll tell you what, I’ve invited the homeless into my home so they don’t freeze to death on the streets, these people aren’t entitled and they aren’t lazy. It’s hard to fight your way out of poverty when your clothes are layered with filth, you smell like a barnyard and you don’t have a home much less a printer to print off your resume with. Also, I too have struggled, and when my phone got shut off and I was facing losing the internet for lack of payment and couldn’t afford to put gas in my car, I wondered how the heck I would find a job (I had been laid off)with out these things, and I still had a home! Christians don’t go out to help the suffering because they don’t want to enable the entitled, they don’t want to help because they don’t want to be reminded of how close we all really are to despair. I have faith that God will always care for me as He does the little sparrows, but I can’t lead someone else to faith like that if I don’t meet them where they are.
      Carla recently posted..Please Don’t Say You’ll Pray!

  28. When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
    Subtitled: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourselves.

    It is thoughtful and insightful from a biblical perspective.

  29. Hey Matty and People,
    Find a christian organization to support with your money and man power. Here in Calgary, The Mustard Seed, an organization founded by christians, run by christians and supported by numerous christian volunteers and other concerned citizens is making a difference, so much so, that the Alberta Government has put there money behind it, though the bulk of funds comes from the churches and the people of the city of Calgary. We are called to be cheerful givers! God never said, “Be a cheerful giver only when you feel like it. If the government is handling it, take it easy.”

    Lazy Silly Girl
    http://www.lazysillygirl.com

  30. Social justice is something we should all work for. By all, I mean all peoples, not just Christians.

    The trouble is that many churches that are great advocates of social justice, do so at the expense of the gospel.

    Proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ (many left -leaning churches just hate that because it is so exclusive)is job #1 of the church. Then comes the ‘doing’ part of being the church.
    Steve Martin recently posted..Differing views of the Christian Life

  31. This topic certainly strikes a chord for me. I grew up in a deeply evangelical church- one that emphasized dispensationalism over any theological teaching on Christ’s call to the poor. I think social justice is a lot bigger than ‘the poor’ though. For me, more accurately, social justice is principally about the role of power in the world’s social, political, economic and relational structures. It asks the question: Who has power. Who doesn’t. How do people use power. How do people abuse power. When I read the gospels I see Christ asking these questions, and challenging the structures, all the time.

    As most young kids are, I was very aware of people who were on the margins- I worried about the kid with short pants getting kicked in the playground, or the chubby girl who didn’t know how to wash her hair, or the new boy who couldn’t look people in the eye but regularly garnered attention by drumming on his desk. My faith (no matter what the political lines are drawn) says that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” etc. etc. Without knowing the words ‘social justice’ I felt conscious of the Christian’s call to bring comfort to my neighbour and advocate for the needs of the marginalized.

    What drew me to much of the current social justice movement (one that is different from the ‘social gospel’ of old since many of its recent drivers: Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Robert Lupton, John McKnight, Ron Sider are evangelicals—a group historically antagonistic to the old social gospel) was that FINALLY I felt there was a theological framework for responding the social inequalities that led to so much despair and hopelessness. Man, did I feel wonder, and honour, and relief.

    In the end, for me social justice is way bigger than Charity. In my life, its been a nudge to move beyond the paradigms of charity (hierarchical) to solidarity (equitable relationships)– It is about creative empowerment of the marginalized not just in our political systems but also our social and economic systems. In these systems both the left and the right have some really effective ways of doing ‘solidarity’ (and archaic, damaging ways of doing charity). Lupton has constructed new paradigms for Christian urban missionaries (he’d probably vote more right), McKnight ground breaking theories in Social Work (he’d probably vote more right as well), Claiborne is an example of challenging economic and social expectations of middle class life (he’d probably lean more left).

    Social Justice is way bigger than the political spectrum. And Christ is way bigger than the constructs of ‘social justice’. However, in my life, God’s used the theological writings of Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier, Dorothy Day to stretch my box and helped me keep the faith.

    I love, Matt, how you scold my zealotness. But to be fair, I think most new ideas that drive our passions end up being a little sanctimonious in the height of discovery. Stripped of the embarrassing ego of youth, what the Social Justice movement has done for me is articulate a personal calling that never had been presented with a theological framework. Sure my parents and grandparents worked in their own ways to subvert and challenge abusive power structures and oppression of the weak. But they never could explain how this was modelling and serving Christ.

    This verse has become a definitive ‘social justice’ verse for my sense of calling (Phil 2:5-8):

    “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

    6Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
    7but made himself nothing,
    taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
    8And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to death—
    even death on a cross!

    PS. I showed no restraint in keeping this comment short! Sorry about that- kinda worse than a ‘prayer turned sermon’

    PPS. Disclaimer: I am Canadian, so perhaps my entire political and economic culture has impeded my ability to truly accept the will of God as it relates to this topic?
    Carissa recently posted..Alternative Energy Source- Is there an ethical source

  32. I tend to take the middle road approach here, as with most things. I believe one of the identifying markers of true faith is how we help others. However it should not be used as a merit badge. It also should not be the sole, or soul if you will, focus of Christian life. A more holistic approach, which I perceived as an underlying theme in your post, would be best when dealing with such matters.

  33. Here’s a solution for people who don’t want the government to take care of the poor with their tax money – live at or below the poverty level! (It’s a solution I first heard from a Mennonite man who works with Christian Peacemaker Teams, who didn’t want the government using his money to wage wars – which, of course, is how the government uses most of our tax money anyway.) Work for just enough pay to meet basic needs, and then you will owe no income taxes. (Though, admittedly, affordable health care becomes a complicated consideration. . .)

    Though you may not have much money to give away, you will have more time to invest in your community. I work with a hospitality house for homeless people, and while we are always grateful for financial donations, we could always use more in-the-flesh everyday volunteers.

  34. The way I read about Social Justice is that its a program where the government is not suppose to be involved but where if you want to help your fellow man if you want to. Which some people who advocate Social Justice wants the Government in our lives.

  35. Excellent. I totally agree–“You can be liberal, or someone else will be liberal for you.” God’s people need to stop complaining and start doing. That’s it.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. :)

  36. My favourite American organisation fighting to make the world a better place is the Capt. John Birch group – http://www.jbs.org .
    In U.K. – Holy Trinity Church, Brompton & the Alpha evangelism programme. http://www.britnoramfreedom.blogspot.com
    R.H. recently posted..Bibi Votes Republican – Takis Magazine

  37. Until a person protects and seeks to speak for the unborn, there claims to care about “social justice” are a lie.

    Simple.

  38. “A lot of “social justice” seems to be born today out of some perception that our parents and grandparents were somehow indifferent to injustice, blind and deaf to human suffering. First, helping poor people to spite your parents is pretty lame.”

    Blind, deaf, lame. Have you ever heard of the term able-ist?

    Kill yourself, this rant is the worst thing I have ever read.

  39. The Sermon on the Mount was pretty particular about social justice too. Brian, thanks for the clarification.

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