What does the Bible teach about social justice?

(Ted Kilcup) #21

@WarnerMiller Sorry for the late response, thank you for the thorough reply.

I would like to throw a couple things out and get your thoughts. Great verse examples of what I’m thinking about.

He who has a bountiful eye shall be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor. [II Cor. 9:6-10.] ~ Proverbs 22:9 AMPC

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.
Proverbs 31:8‭-‬9 NLT

In the first verse it seems the giver does not owe the poor their bread. The verse states it’s “his” bread. He is blessed by giving, but not necessarily condemned for not giving it. It may be that someone doesn’t give their bread to the poor man, but they may have other responsiblities (their family etc). So the person isn’t doing wrong by not giving to the poor man necessarily.

In the second verse, justice seems like this is something they are owed. To pervert justice is actively doing wrong. Everytime justice is perverted, it is wrong, period.

I like your definition of social justice here,

***Historical social justice is justice that gives ALL people equal access and equal opportunity, NOT necessarily equal outcomes

There’s probably some definitional differences that arrive in public dialogue when speaking of “equal access and opportunity”. For example, a child may have had really savy parents who know how to invest $. My parents didn’t have that knowledge to teach me, so is that example of unequal access? Maybe? I don’t feel that’s unjust though.

It’s a bit similar to how I’ve thought in the past about partiality and God. There is no partiality in God’s judgement. However, God is free to give someone a gift and not to give that to someone else. But it’s not partiality. It’s God’s to give or not to give. God would not judge one person using one standard and another standard for another. So equality in judgement, but it’s God’s prerogative to give gifts to whom he wishes.

So a parent can give their child a gift of superior understanding of say how to invest $$, that seems like a gift they give to their children. It doesn’t seem like an injustice that the kid got an advantage.

However, it could be that some other child’s parent was denied access to the same opportunities to say…work at an investing firm, because of racism. Then the racial injustice against that parent means his kid doesn’t have an equal opportunity with this other kid. So what isn’t an injustice in and of itself, (unequal education in the home) becomes one.

This is why this topic is so wickedly difficult. What should happen is this case? What does biblical justice look like there? I’m only referring to justice here, not self sacrifice on the part of the advantaged. That should be something people who follow Christ do. But I’m specifically asking what justice looks like in a similar scenario (of which the US is chock full of)?

Why do I ask this? Because, giving or reaching out to the less fortunate in scripture seems to me discretionary. Sometimes we do sometimes we don’t. I don’t mean discretionary as in extra $ for spending or something. I use “discretionary” to indicate it’s up to the person with $/power to give/help. Not totally dissimilar to how God gives gifts, it is discretionary. (That doesn’t mean it’s not mindblowingly generous). But justice is an imperative. Justice should never be perverted. It is not discretionary. Thanks for reading the long post :slight_smile:

(Warner Joseph Miller) #22

No prob, man. I just happened to be up.:yum::+1:t6: But just to clarify, what are you asking? Or maybe what exactly is your discrepancy?

(Ted Kilcup) #23

The first question was what is social justice? I liked that definition you gave. I’m not exactly sure what it means in certain cases and that’s what I was trying to talk through in second part. So the second question I’m dealing with is, “what does justice look like in these complicated situations?”

The reason I’m curious is that the term gets used a lot, but what exactly it means in a situation I think is unclear. How do we have a cultural discussion without knowing what these things look like?

But I also wanted state the difference between justice and being gracious/compassionate with ones owns stuff.

(C Rhodes) #24

Don’t you think that social justice is about fixing things? Whereas GOD’s justice is about fixing life. It is why peace and joy are ready and accessible whether you are a Mother Theresa never owning, never possessing. Or whether you are John D. Rockefeller.

The problem with social justice is that it does not offer remedy for all involved. Therefore it occupies the position of often creating new classes of disenfranchisement. Just shifting the outrage. Balance will never be found in the acquisition of things or even the right of acquisition.

GOD’s justice ensures that from the bottom of the social pile, I not only prosper, but I am happy. Nothing can stop the hand of GOD.

(Warner Joseph Miller) #25

Hey there, guys!? @TJ_Kilcup and @cer7, thanks for your continued contributions to this topic as well as to the greater Connect community. There’s a bit to unpack or, at least, give perspective on. So because of limited time at the moment, I’ll be brief…maybe wantingly brief.

There’s a quote from a speech that Dr. Martin Luther King gave at Cornell College in 1962 that, in a round about way, came to mind as I read the few comments. In this latter section of his speech, Dr. King is responding to the argument that to gain racial justice for the disenfranchised, it would “only be with education and changing attitudes, not legislation” that things would effectively be changed. He calls it the “myth of educational determinism”. Now, obviously, that’s not at all what I take any of you to be insinuating. However, I do see an interesting parallel. Here’s his quote:

> “It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless, and this is what we often so and we have to do in society through legislation. We must depend on religion and education to change bad internal attitudes, but we need legislation to control the external effects of those bad internal attitudes.”

You’re right: a “social justice” that just “fixes things” IS incomplete. It absolutely does not holistic remedy the ultimate problem (sin) that lies within the heart of each and every man. Only Jesus and His redeeming Gospel can address and remedy that malady. However, while a law change, advocacy, giving “discretionary monies”, etc will not change the ultimate problem – at least, to the ones receiving that assistance – it may just affect and ease the pain, hurt, hunger, etc that’s being felt in that moment.

“If a brother or sister is without [adequate] clothing and lacks [enough] food for each day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace [with my blessing], [keep] warm and feed yourselves,” but he does not give them the necessities for the body, what good does that do?” ~ James 2:15‭-‬16 Amplified

“But whoever has the world’s goods (adequate resources), and sees his brother in need, but has no compassion for him, how does the love of God live in him? Little children (believers), let us not love [merely in theory] with word or with tongue [giving lip service to compassion], but in action and in truth [in practice and in sincerity, because practical acts of love are more than words].” ~ 1 John 3:17‭-‬18 Amplified

This last verse is especially apropos because it doesn’t put action against truth or truth over action. Action AND truth. Filling their bellies AND communicating the life giving message of the Gospel. Addressing or showing compassion to an outcry of social injustice AND pointing indiscriminately to the redeeming cross of Christ. Many times, at least in my experiences, one can and does set the groundwork for the other. Again BOTH/AND not EITHER/OR.

Also - and please forgive me for the length - let me just say this with regard to the term “social justice”. The term “social justice” to many, possibly in your respective contexts, has come to take on a negative connotation. “Rights under duress”. Or “unfair, entitlement to others self-sacrifice”. And that could possibly be what you ascribe to it. Similar to the word, “evangelical”. Many Christians wear that word as a badge of honor. Others, however – devoutly Christian, mind you – wholeheartedly reject even being associated with the word. While some hear in it, “Orthodox Christian”. Others hear and ascribe to evangelcal…well, something opposingly different. However, as with the term, “evangelical” which etymologically derives from the Greek word euangelion meaning “gospel” or “good news” – “social justice” is, at its root, simply the practice, advocacy and pursuit of justice or fair, consistent treatment; dispensing it throughout a society. As with “evangelical”, despite the understandings of “social justice” that others or we ourselves have assigned to the word, we must (or should) understand the word as it was intended.


I truly, truly hope that, at the very least, this adds a bit more clarity. I understand if it doesn’t lead to :100: agreement. But I do hope it adds another color (pardon the pun) to the mosaic of the convo.:wink: Love and more love, y’all!

(C Rhodes) #26

I understand fully what you are saying. But I challenge the assertion that Social justice has a history that gave all people equal access or opportunity. Nor can it be considered a principle of the Kingdom of GOD. Historically it has never risen to such lofty heights. That is more a consideration given to it, perhaps in hopes that it can be viewed as an instrument of GOD.

People who consider themselves socially just and fair; should be given credit for championing an image of fairness. Perhaps it is as good as can be expected from a fallen world.

Scripturally we should bring resolution to the natural need not because it lays the groundwork for total healing; but because it is part of the total package that is GOD’s intervention; historically that has occurred despite the laws. I can not see social justice’s alignment with the Word of GOD, especially by its current trajectory. Social justice has de-evolved to the protection to pursue, without ramification, the things we want to do individually.

Social justice should draft all of society into a position of commitment to one another, it does not. The Laws persistently fail to regulate anyone willing to live outside the law of GOD, because much of what we desire violates the Word of GOD. Despite our laws the haters still hate. The thief still steals. The murderer still kills. The abuser still abuses. The liar still lies and etc. Social justice is pseudo-compassion.

I don’t intend to intimate that we should not pursue social justice. But do so understanding it is more of a band-aid on a gaping wound. It is a shadow of what is needed. So, we can look forward to the ongoing outcropping of new groups addressing old problems like BLM decades after the Civil Rights movements.

Social justice is giving the guy holding the handwritten sign, standing on the corner a couple of bucks. GOD’s justice is about coming daily and sitting on the corner with that person. Learning the story. Praying and seeking answers to the problem. Then committing to the time and effort towards wholeness.

(Ted Kilcup) #27

@WarnerMiller @cer7

I’m totally onboard with what you say here

[quote=“WarnerMiller, post:25, topic:6800”]
The term “social justice” to many, possibly in your respective contexts, has come to take on a negative connotation. “Rights under duress”. Or “unfair, entitlement to others self-sacrifice”

Yeah, that is how I see some of the things that are put forward under the umbrella of social justice. As a result social justice, could lead to just another form of injustice. Like in the scenario I shared, there are really complicated dynamics that make the decision about what is a result of injustice and what is the result of life choices very difficult to determine.

But I really appreciate the interaction @WarnerMiller. I really do, because I want my view to be scrutinized by another brother in Christ, who may see things that I’m blind to.

To add another aspect to the discussion, I think justice to a certain extent (not perfect justice) is governments role. This is what I understand Dr. King to be saying and I’m 100% onboard. Showing compassion and self-sacrifice is a Christians role though absolutely. When the government isn’t enacting just laws we should speak up. When someone needs help we should reach out, but I generally don’t see that as a “must do” thing for the state. But justice is a must do thing for the state. So some of the concern I have is lobbying for the state to be self-sacrificial with other people’s stuff under the guise of doing “justice”. Does that make sense? Would you want to qualify any of that?

I also understand that none of this takes away my responsiblity as a Christian to be self-sacrificial. I am trying to practice self-examination here, to make sure I’m not just trying to rationalize away my responsibilities or a defense of turf somehow. Fundamentally, I would like to have a definition of social justice that makes sense and I know what it means. Or at least I would like to know what the person on the street means when they say social justice. Or the pastor, what does he mean? Because right now it seems like such a nebulous term that I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. Not the way you use it Warner, I think we’re on the same page or at least close?

But those are some thoughts and again I look forward to any corrections or input. Thanks!

(Ted Kilcup) #28

I’m not sure, that’s a fair representation of everything social justice represents. Sometimes yes. I’m not sure it’s an either/or thing either. Justice is part of what God loves, because he loves those who are treated unjustly. So as far social justice is a genuine pursuit of justice it has to be a great thing. It isn’t a substitute for the Savior or grace clearly, but it’s not a negative, if the pursuit is justice.

Your quote @cer7
Social justice has de-evolved to the protection to pursue, without ramification, the things we want to do individually.

When it goes there, I’m totally onboard with you though. That’s why I wanted to know how people define this. Because one version is great, another is not. But this is the same with most terms these days. “Love” perhaps being the most prominent example

(C Rhodes) #29

@TJ_Kilcup and @WarnerMiller. What I meant to infer is that social justice does not provide remedy for all concerned. The justice of GOD is about wholeness for the oppressed and the oppressor. But I agree, there is no broad brush for the definition of social justice. But there appears to be for the path it currently follows.

Perhaps true social justice must be married to the purpose of GOD to be legitimate.

(Warner Joseph Miller) #30

And that :point_up:t6::point_up:t6: has been my overall point. That’s what the intention – as I’ve always understood it; as many in my family circle and community of brothers and sisters have understood it, etc – has always been: _social justice, not as THE cure_ (similarly, as a bandage doesn’t cure anything and yet are still so indespensable that you’ll find them in any hospital) but as a triage of sorts. It’s something to, at least, stifle the bleeding. I’ve never, as you’ve asserted, considered the pursuit of social justice to: “draft all of society into a position of commitment to one another”. Not absent of Christ, anyway. Again, I’ve always only saw true social justice as this::point_down:t6::point_down:t6::arrow_down::arrow_down::arrow_down:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.
Proverbs 31:8‭-‬9 NLT

:point_up:t6::point_up:t6::arrow_up::arrow_up: THAT’S biblical “social justice” in a nutshell. That lines up with the definition I gave in the prior post. The “cure” is and has always ultimately been, JESUS, alone. Full stop. And even though (to your point) some social justice endeavors “do not provide remedy for all concerned”…helping people along the way; advocating for the poor, helpless and those that can’t speak up for themselves, as Dr. King succinctly put it, “is pretty important, too”.

Here’s the thing: if the term, “social justice” sits badly with anyone or leaves a bad taste in your mouth, etc, then I would 100% implore anyone not to use it. Throw the term out with the morning rubbish! Call it whatever you want. Whatever you call it, just do Proverbs 31:8-9. Sincerely.

Now, here’s the reality: just as you could go out and find many people that would errantly and exclusively associate “evangelical” with a certain political party, race, geographical location, socio-economic status, etc. – you could also find many people who, like yourself, perhaps errantly (in my humblest opinion) and exclusively associate all current social justice as “(not in) alignment with the Word of GOD, especially by its current trajectory […] de-evolved to the protection to pursue, without ramification, the things we want to do individually.” In addition, you might ALSO find many people who would absolutely and unfortunately fit and play into that false definition of what evangelical is – and same goes for “social justice”. It still doesn’t take away from the true definition of what both those terms are defined as and practiced by many.

The bottom line is that what you or anyone else chooses to define social justice, based on your experience, background, worldview, context, etc is totally your prerogative. I know you don’t need me to tell you that. However, to paint “social justice” - similarly as with the term “evangelicals” - with broad, overgeneralized strokes would be ill-advised and unwise.

I’ll end, again, by saying what I’ve said, before: I understand if nothing I’ve said has convinced, persuaded or provided clarity with regard to the Biblical legitimacy of social justice. If what I’ve tried to flesh out doesn’t lead to 100% agreement…I’m totally ok with that. However, what I DO sincerely hope is that it adds another color (pardon the pun) and dimension to the mosaic of this convo. And more importantly – whatever you do – love God…and LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR (which is the best and most concise and complete explanations and examples of biblical “social justice”. Love and more love, y’all! :v:t6:

PS - forgive me for any typos. I was writing this underground, in the subway. So my cell phone signal kept going in and out. D’oh!:man_facepalming:t6:

(Warner Joseph Miller) #31

Thank YOU, bro for the peaceful and cordial interaction. I appreciate your openness and willingness. I truly hope I’ve presented the same to you, man. Three quick things…

To this statement, tho:

I would ask, would your position be the same with regard to abortion? What about same sex marriage?

Also, I think with regard to this:

…while that is certainly an ideal desire, I think, as with most things in today’s clinate…different people can ascribe different meanings than another person yet use the same words or language. We see this in politics, religion, social interactions, etc. It’s an unfortunate inevitability. So to remedy that, you establish - as close as you can - a well-rounded, informed, robust, etymologically sound running understanding of the word for yourself. Then as you engage with others, you first ask questions, to try to probe what the other means with regard to the words they use. I do this with Mormons, JW, Muslims, “spiritualists” because they can often use similar words such as “salvation”, “sin”, and even “Jesus” to express something totally different from what you intended it to mean. The same principle would apply to a term like, “social justice”.

Lastly, with regard to this:

[quote=“TJ_Kilcup, post:27, topic:6800”]
I’m totally onboard with what you say here

…please understand that there are large sections of our community – and I say “our community” referencing our sincere, Jesus-following, Christ-loving, Bible-believing brothers and sisters – that view “social justice” just as the term implies: justice or rightness, equitable fairness pursued, advocated and allocated for all people created in the imago Dei (EVERYONE). Practicing what the Proverbs 31:8-9 passage I keep referencing details. Knowing that, hopefully, begins to encourage compassion from everyone toward everyone… particularly, believers and followers of Christ. Because…

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV

God bless you, brother. Truly. Thank you for the questions.

(Ted Kilcup) #32

“Thank YOU, bro for the peaceful and cordial interaction. I appreciate your openness and willingness. I truly hope I’ve presented the same to you, man.”

Yes, absolutely. I appreciate the grace with which you’ve interacted.

Would I say the same thing about abortion and same-sex marriage?

On abortion, I think it is a justice issue. I see the state as being an administer of justice and that’s why it should not allow the killing of innocent human beings. Same-sex marriage is more complicated, but I’m not anti-government. The state has a role and responsibility in society. Justice is one of those key roles. Government should act in cases of injustice where the issues are clear.

So no, I would not say the same thing, because the objection to government intervention doesn’t really apply in those cases. My objection, to certain state sponsored attempts to level everyone’s access to opportunity, is that it can just devolve into taking someone’s property or keeping someone from succeeding more than others. I don’t see either abortion or same-sex marriage involving that kind of coerced “charity” or enforced “equality of outcomes”.

I also see that some of “my property” or my privileges could have roots that are unjust. I don’t know what those are exactly…but I have zero doubt they exist. I’ve had a co-worker (a white male) tell me oppression of those in power is fine, because white males have oppressed others, so turning the tables will only serve to make disadvantages equal…and there’s a certain logic to that. The biblical story that comes to mind is Saul and the Gibeonites in 2 Samuel 21.

I appreciate the point made regarding how others see the term “social justice” differently. I want a better understanding of that view and that experience. If I understood more of the experience I might understand more what is meant when the term is used.

Also good point about language always being use differently. Your advice about asking what others mean by the terms they use is a great reminder.

(Warner Joseph Miller) #33

Thanks, @TJ_Kilcup!! So…full disclosure, I had a feeling that in response to my question about whether you had the same concern about a state’s involvement with something like abortion as you had with what you considered social justice…that your response would be something like what you wrote:

On abortion, I think it is a justice issue. I see the state as being an administer of justice and that’s why it should not allow the killing of innocent human beings. […] So no, I would not say the same thing, because the objection to government intervention doesn’t really apply in those cases.

Ted…my brother, for many people…MANY brothers and sisters in the Lord that read from the same Bible as you; that love the same Christ with the same sincere heart and endeavor to make the same kingdom known as you – they believe to be true AND view the unjust treatment of African-Americans (and other minorities); the disproportionate imprisonment and racial profiling; the disenfranchisement and more as, among other things, “a justice issue”. Furthermore, particularly within the Body of Christ; when those “justice issues” are, either explained away, dismissed OR perceived as being either less important, “not that bad” or even non-existent…resentment, frustration, a sense of feeling dismissed, devalued and ignored – again, especially by your brothers and sisters in the Lord – begins to settle in and fester. As a result, a chasm is made and widens and deepens between those who should be united. A chasm of miscommunication, uncompassion, lacking of empathy, grace, tenderheartedness and understanding grows. And here’s the truth: understanding would be an ideal and is definitely a noble pursuit by ALL parties… particularly within the body of Christ. As you wisely wrote:

You are right, sir! However, understanding isn’t necessary for compassion. As Paul expresses this as he was talking about unity in diversity, he writes:

So that there should be no division or discord or lack of adaptation [of the parts of the body to each other], but the members all alike should have a mutual interest in and care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the parts [share] the suffering; if one member is honored, all the members [share in] the enjoyment of it.
1 Corinthians 12:25‭-‬26 AMPC

Again, particularly within the body of Christ, understanding or even immediate agreement isn’t a necessary prerequisite for having and exercising compassion…especially with someone you love (the fellow believer). As an example, if a wife expresses to her husband that something he’s saying or doing is repeatedly hurting her, then a loving and decent husband - EVEN IF he doesn’t understand…EVEN IF he may not agree - wouldn’t have their first response to be to deny, denounce or diminish their wife or their wife’s grievance. His FIRST move would be to approach her compassionately and with a tender heart. Why? BECAUSE HE LOVES HER!! THAT should be our heart posture and practice with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. That’s 1 Cor. 12:26. That’s Romans 12:15 - “mourning with those who mourn”. That’s Job 2:11-13 when his friends first response to his deep distress was to enter into Job’s suffering and participate as far they were able. That’s compassion.

Compassion” literally means “to suffer with” someone else. And as believers; members of the same Body, that is what we are commissioned to do for each other; our neighbors. Again, it’s not so much about total agreement or understanding…at least, not in the beginning. More importantly, it’s about having COMPASSION for one another.

I know I’ve digressed a bit. But I DO believe this to be paramount in understanding and engaging with biblical “social justice” – as it’s regarded and pursued by so many of your brothers and sisters. Seeing each other as fellow image bearers makes it easier to listen and to lovingly engage. Seeing and identifying brothers and sisters first and foremost as fellow image bearers rather than by their political affiliations or social and economic status makes it less difficult to, at least, seriously consider perspectives and viewpoints that are different than yours. It’s easy to overgeneralize a group or a term like “social justice”. It’s harder to do that with a person. Get to know people. Like, REALLY get to know people…that don’t look like you; share the same life, cultural, political, social or even American experience you do. It’ll be uncomfortable; and feel disingenuous. It’ll be frustrating, at times, possibly even inciting anger. Do it, anyway! And if you stick in - dig in long enough and are intentional, I believe that all of the challenge of it will be worth it. The personal (and spiritual) benefits would far exceed the challenging bits.

So if this is truly the desire that you have – to understand your neighbor and their experience, as you wrote – consider what Job’s friends, initially, did for him, when he was going through immense tragedy:

"So they sat down with [Job] on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and none spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief and pain were very great." ~ Job 2:13 AMPC

Initially, Job’s friends responded in the right way. They, FIRST, sat with and listened to Job. They didn’t try to answer. They didn’t try to counsel. They didn’t try to retort or rebuff or even probe. They compassionately sat with their brother, entering into his suffering and supporting him. And as we eventually see, they DIDN’T ultimately understand what Job was going through. And yet…

As always, thanks for listening/reading this. Truly. Thank you for asking and the spirit from which, I believe you are asking. Truly, bro.

(Ted Kilcup) #34

Really good points. My tendency is to ask the questions about facts and go there, before I empathize. So what you wrote about Job is a good correction and something I need to do better at.

I have been talking more about how the state should interact with these issues/what do the terms mean? and you’ve been referring more to how we in the church should relate to each other. You are right on in what you’re saying about attitudes in the church and our attitudes toward each other. Also I’m not sure there’s any disagreement about the state or what justice means.

As far as getting to know people that don’t look like me, share the same life, cultural, political, social, or American experience that I do…dude, I have a hard enough time getting to people who do share all those characteristics with me, haha. I live in Bellingham WA so the major differences here are political and sometimes economic differences. It’s good advice, I often have no clue where to start though.

Thanks again for the discussion Warner, I really appreciate your perspective and willingness to engage.