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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Friday, June 23, 2017

Taking The 'Social' Out Of Social Justice

It's been said that when a hammer is your only tool, one's solutions to all problems look like nails. Few things could resemble that saying more than the Mortification Of Spin's blogpost podcast on 'Social Justice' did (click here for a link to the blogpost). That is not to say that there were no legitimate points made during the podcast. It is to say that overall, some in the Reformed movement seem to try to fit every issue into the confines of their theology even if their theology is not comprehensive enough to handle certain concepts. 

The participants in the blogpost discussion are Carl Trueman (click here for bio), Aimee Byrd (no online bio available at the present time), and Todd Pruitt (click here for bio). Some of their Mortification of Spin blogposts and podcasts have been linked to in this blog's ONIM blogposts. Some of them have value because they provide some useful points. Some of them have value because they deal with important questions. The podcast being reviewed here deals with a religiously conservative Christian view of social justice. But it does so in a casual manner. A more serious approach to the subject from another religiously conservative Christian will follow in the next edition of Friday's blogpost where a writing is being reviewed.

My overall viewpoint of the podcast is that the subject of Social Justice suffered from a continued deficiency in the definition of the term. Thus, as the podcast continued, individual acts of mercy and individual justice issues were being confused with Social Justice. So what will be done here is to examine what was said about Social Justice from a previous blogpost on Social Justice from this blog. In addition, a criticism by Vladimir Lenin of the predominant Church branch in Russia in 1905 will be applied to the contents of the podcast. His perspective will be applied not because I am a fan of his, I am not. But his observations of the actions of the Church to the oppressed of his time in Russia are worthy of consideration. 

In an earlier blogpost (click here for the post), this blog described 'Social Justice' as being a part of the Social Gospel. The other two parts of the Social Gospel listed there are Personal Action and Social Action. What these last two items have in common is that they provide immediate relief for those who are suffering from neglect and/or oppression from those in power. This is being mentioned because, especially when the participants defend their Reformed churches from the charge that the Reformed churches do not care for the poor and oppressed, they attempted to disprove those charges by testifying abouit how their individual churches or fellow church members sacrificed a lot to care for those in need. And I think that their defense against the charge that the Reformed churches do not care for the poor or oppressed is adequate, but it is also incomplete.

The point being that according to the model of thought followed by this blog, providing immediate relief for those who are suffering does not Social Justice make. The definition of Social Justice previously defined in by this blog is as follows:

Social Justice would consist of calling on society, especially those with wealth and power, to cease their oppression and neglect of those who are suffering and are in great need. 

Why was the above definition given? It is because Social Justice issues do not deal with the actions of individuals, it deals with the actions of society as a whole or the different institutions of society. In addition, because Social Justice does not deal with the actions of individuals, providing immediate relief for those who are suffering, though as valid and as important as that is, is not Social Justice. For Social Justice to be accomplished is for Society, either as a whole or its pertinent institutions, to positively respond to the call for justice. Throughout the podcast, the 'Social Justice' response given by the participants were primarily given by individuals or individual churches. Society itself was not responding.
Another point should be added here. There are two beneficiaries of the successful promotion of Social Justice. The first beneficiary is rather obvious: it consists of the victims. When changes can be made to institutions in society as well as its laws, there is a persistent and pervasive relief provided for the oppressed and the neglected. These changes alleviate at least some of the need for ndividuals and groups to continue to help a particular group so that they can minister to others.
The participants in the podcast focused so much on the above first beneficiary that they failed to see the second beneficiary of the promotion of Social Justice: those who maintain or are in charge of society's institutions. And we should note that, for the most part, those in charge of society's institutions are some of those with wealth and power. That is why they have been called out here. How is it that such people can be considered the beneficiaries of the promotion of Social Justice? Consider the following from this blog's article previously cited:
promoting Social Justice by challenging those with wealth and power to quit living as the rich man did in Luke 16: 19-31 as well as to treat all others as equals who have been made in the image of God

In other words, the promotion of Social Justice gives the people in those institutions, especially those in charge, a chance to repent. But since all of society shares varying levels of responsibility for what its institutions do, the promotion of Social Justice gives us all a chance to repent and to change. And this is done with eyes focused not on the eternal as much as on the immediate benefits that come from a changed society.
Now Trueman, Byrd, and Pruitt emphasized that the Church fulfills its call to promote Social Justice when it preaches the Gospel because that preaching produces virtuous citizens who would either prevent society's institutions from oppressing and/or neglecting those in need or would reform those institutions from doing that. At least, that is the theory they expound. But looking at the history of our own nation, especially its pre-1960s history when up to that time, America was deemed to be a Christian nation, we find that theory does not always meet practice. In fact, from rationalizing the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans from the land, to the promotion of white supremacy through either slavery or Jim Crow or other measures, to the harsh persecutions of the LGBT community, to the exploitation of workers and the lower economic classes, as well as to the exploitation of our environment, we see little proof that a Christian creation of a virtuous citizenry has either been accomplished or has prevented our society's institutions from oppressing and/or neglecting the vulnerable. And if we look at the pre-revolutionary times of France, Russia, and Spain, we find that the predominant branches of the Church sided with wealth and power. And something similar is happening here as conservative Protestantism and even some conservative Catholics have sided an exploitive Capitalist economic system called Neoliberalism.

But there is another aspect that this trio of podcasters missed about Social Justice. Social Justice is not the perogative of the Church only, it involves all of society. That means insead of the Church calling the shots on Social Justice, the Church must participate as an equal coworker with unbelievers in the struggle to promote Social Justice. Thus, while the preaching of the Gospel to promote Social Justice should be welcomed, it is not the only tool in society's toolbox in fixing social injustices. And if the Church is going to be an equal coworker with unbelievers, then the Church must find ways of promoting Social Justice with unbelievers that can be used without calling on the Church to compromise what it knows to be true from God's Word.

In short, by emphasizing the part played by the individual in the promotion of Social Justice, Trueman, Byrd, and Pruitt missed the 'social' part of Social Justice. Social Justice calls for the change of society and its institutions so that it no longer oppresses or neglects those in need. Certainly, there are other forms of justice that emphasize the role of one-on-one work in changing society. But that isn't Social Justice.

However, another point must be made. Consider what Vladimir Lenin said about the role religion, in general and the Orthodox Church in particular, played in maintaining social injustices in his day (click here for the source):

Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weighs down heavily upon the masses of the people, over burdened by their perpetual work for others, by want and isolation...But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven. Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze,   in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man.

See, when Trueman, Byrd, and Pruitt use the acts of mercy by their own churches or by individuals in their churches as proof that the Reformed churches care for the vulnerable, they fall subject to Lenin's criticisms of the Church of his day. When do they fall subject to his criticisms? It is when these churches provide immediate relief without trying to alleviate the cause of the oppression. And we should note that the cause of the oppression allows those who benefit from that oppression to have their cake and eat it to. For they get to say that they help those in need while they continue to enrich themselves by exploiting others. Thus, acts of mercy, regardless of how important they are, are not sufficient by themselves to promote Social Justice. For all that does is to provide a large supply of bandaids to cover wounds without trying to stop what is wounding people in the first place. And if a dictator like Lenin could see this, imagine who else can as well. Thus, what Trueman, Byrd, and Pruitt sometimes refer to as making a public spectacle of itself through petitions, tweets, and other public showings are all absolutely necessary and as important as acts of mercy.
Having said all of that, let's get to what Trueman, Byrd, and Pruitt got right about Social Justice. Note that each valid point is followed by my own commentary. 

  1. The Gospel cannot be reduced to Social Justice. But note that because Social Justice is preaching a repentance of sins, though it is a temporal one and not necessarily an eternal and spiritual one, promoting Social Justice is a necessary part of sharing the Gospel as the preaching for the repentance from personal sins is.
  2. Abortion is a Social Justice issue. What those from today's Pro-Choice side fail to see is that by making the value of the unborn contingent on the mother's choice, Pro-Choice advocates are arguing against the intrinsic value of human life.
  3.  There is a tremendous amount of self-righteousness from many who are currently involved in promoting Social Justice. But we should also note that there is an equal amount of self-righteousness coming from conservatives, including Christians, who oppose the promotion of Social Justice especially when that promotion comes from political liberals, progressives, and leftists. In the end, both sides are saying to each other that they have nothing to learn from each other. In the words of President Trump: SAD.
  4. That participation in Social Justice is mandated by the command to love one's neighbor as oneself. But because Social Justice deals with corporate sins, not the personal sins of an individual, what is considered to be social injustice is not always apparent especially to those of us who have lived in a culture that has hyperextended individualism as well as our own exceptionalism.
  5. The Gospel does have the power to transform individuals into virtuous citizens who can work for a more just society. But two points must be made. First, Christians don't always become virtuous enough to work for Social Justice. Second, we must account for the fact that Social Justice is a societal movement that includes the Church as well as unbelievers. So we Christians must be able to use screwdrivers and other tools besides the hammer of preaching the Gospel.
  6. Full Social Justice will never be reached here on earth. We are always working for a partial standard of justice. And if we remember that we all sin, then wishing for full justice on all people acording to their actions can be temporally and is eternally suicidal.
  7. There is no universal agreement on what is Social Justice and what is socially unjust. But such should not cause use to remain in our ideological ghettos. Our disagreements show the need to listen to each other and our agreements show that we can work together for a more socially just world.

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