The following is adapted/edited from an entry I made on another blog about the term “social justice”.

What is social justice? I have been struggling over this issue since I first noticed this blog soon after I started my own here. Please allow me to share my ongoing struggle with the “social justice” idiom.

Some qualifications first. As a NewStart pastor, it has been a high priority to teach and example personal involvement in the lives of people, especially those in your circle of influence, but also intentionally within those areas of society often purposefully forgotten and neglected. Our outreach is eclectic and reaches multiple strata. We are eager to be used by God in whatever capacity He directs us – homeless shelters, disaster victims, single parents, our literal neighbors, colleagues, and friends. We exercise the “social justice” component of holy living intentionally.

Having said that, I do take issue with the term because of its implications on society and the Gospel.

In terms of society, I feel that it enables what I see as a rabid victim-mentality that fosters all kinds of self-destructive tendencies (such as apathetic dependence and resolute entitlement) of those who are not experiencing “social justice”. This enabling is the result of the implied opposite term: social *injustice*, connoting that some actual or intentional act of injustice was perpetrated upon some segment of society. And while apathy does deserve a classification as antithetical to holiness, it hardly deserves judgment as an intentional affront. And, if it truly is our intent to help our fellow Christians discover this apathy, charging at them with pointed fingers will hardly result in a willful change of heart. Nor will a guilt-ridden approach. Words mean things.

The connotations of the term “social injustice” are not palpable as a bridge-building term. In my opinion, if our passion is to change people’s minds so that we can truly make a difference, we will get “there” with a more lasting result if we are not so confrontational out of the gate. What we need to do is to help people’s hearts break for what breaks God’s heart – to help people adopt God’s passions as their own. This requires an approach that is mutually edifying, not condescending or condemning.

In terms of the Gospel, we understand that we are part of a creation that has been crippled, fundamentally, by the Garden’s corruption. Jesus Christ is the remedy for that corruption. The “social justice” attributed to our Lord, has often been characterized, mistakenly, as an end unto itself. However, the thrust of Jesus’ ‘social’ ministry was always used as a vehicle towards heart change. Again, because words mean things, the term “social justice” falls short. It limits the scope of the Gospel to feeding the poor and looking after widows. Both of these things are good and necessary, but they are not the end of the Gospel.

The Gospel is also about heart change – a restoration of the relationship between a person and his/her Creator. Such a change will not come because we feed all of the poor. Such a  change will only come as people are individually confronted with the gospel, not in a shotgun approach, but in an approach that addresses each individual personally. However, that takes more time and commitment from us than a soup kitchen or feel-good legislation.

Additionally, the message of Christ is not that life on earth is to be perfected, as if fixing all the ills of society will somehow bring salvation, or that it is even possible with human effort. The message of Christ is that in the midst of earthly torment, our hearts can be perfected. While we are hungry, we can find satisfaction in the obedience of Jesus. While we are thirsty we are quenched by the love of God. When we are alone we are nurtured by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I understand the resurrection of the term, but I find it limiting and confrontational. However, it has been difficult to offer an alternative that brings with it both the ideas of compassion and intercession in a way that invites others to join in the mission with passion and conviction. However, let us not allow the term (either as a champion of it or a detractor) to distract us from the purpose set before us – to make a real difference in people’s lives as agents of heart change.

Respectfully offered.

In His grip,

Pastor Herb

One thought on “social.justice?”

  1. Hey Pastor Herb. I appreciate everything you've said here. You know, what you say here is particularly convicting to me on a few levels that don't directly relate to "social justice." It's that I can just see myself in the mention of the finger-pointer in other areas, and I'm terribly ashamed of it. I've talked with the Lord about this tendency before, because I've noticed that I have a hard time being gracious with others when discussing apathy in any area, as if I'm thinking to myself, "they should know better." It's just terrible. I know I've been this way toward others because I am such a cruel taskmaster toward myself when it comes to being faithful in ways that we've been commanded to be faithful, like I just won't allow myself any room to fail. I know that this is unhealthy, and I'm praying about it.. What's bizarre and frustrating is that I often am able to dole out generous mercy on the spot to others one-on-one who have fallen short or have become apathetic, but then I refuse to show myself the same mercy in any area, jabbing my finger in my own face. God is graciously working on it, making it clear to me that He's not angry with me, and I've started to become somewhat more forgiving of myself. I'm hoping that will help me to be more gentle with others. Related: I seem to have such a hard time doing what you've said here about relating God's passions in a mutually edifying way, especially in my writing. I find myself writing things in a cut-and-dried, harsh way — and this even when I'm writing about how we need to lose the harshness in our daily interactions with others. I feel like I'm not cut out for ministry before groups of people because I seem to lack that ability to gently entreat other Christians. And I'm just not sure how I got to be this way. I know that I wouldn't want somebody goading me every week in church about how I need to be changed. It's not effective at all. But when I feel like God is wanting to relay something to the church, particularly during a time of worship with music, my delivery is just not gentle when I say what I feel God is saying. I find myself staying silent more often than not now because I can't seem to deliver what I'm "hearing" in a gentle way. It's not delivered to me in a harsh way by God. And I see others have such a gentleness when they address the church and I desperately need that quality. I think there must be some hardness of heart deep inside that hasn't been dealt with. I haven't yet been able to pinpoint it, but this is bothering me a lot right now. Sorry this is so long, but one more thing: I was at the library the other day wandering the book stacks and came across the book by Max Lucado for which your blog is named. I have known about this book for years but never picked it up, although I've read others of his. Anyway, I thought of your blog and picked it up and started on the first chapter this morning, with the parable about the sons who rebelled against their father and got swept away by the river. This parable is incredibly convicting, and I saw in myself attributes of the finger-pointing son and the works-righteousness son and it almost moved me to tears! I think I'm supposed to be reading the book right now. I think God is giving me understanding and is breaking through whatever hardness of heart makes me so unforgiving of myself and demanding of others.

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