I remember well when Glenn Beck first spoke out against social justice.
In a March 2010 radio broadcast, Beck urged listeners, “I beg you look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church website. If you find it, run as fast as you can.”
Eight years later, a Southern Baptist pastor in Texas has called social justice “evil” in a resolution submitted for consideration by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Resolutions Committee at the meeting this summer.
The resolution, which cites Beck and Jerry Falwell Jr. as “authoritative voices” warning about the dangers of social justice, says “eco-justice, economic justice, racial justice and global justice” are variations that also should be rejected.
Among other things, it asserts that social justice “seeks to stoke discontentment,” “is based on the anti-biblical and destructive concepts of Marxist ideology” and “should be considered evil in that it is a vehicle to promote abortion, homosexuality, gender confusion and a host of other ideas that are antithetical to the gospel.”
Also notable is a critique of Russell Moore, who leads the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, for his social justice writings and projects.
For these reasons, the resolution urges the SBC to “decry and reject the terms and framework of social justice as insufficient to adequately reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Christian worldview.”
SBC-affiliated colleges, universities and seminaries are also urged “to review their teaching programs with special attention given to Humanities Departments to ensure that Marxist based social justice is not being taught.”
While I can’t say I’m surprised, it is disheartening. It brings to mind the fear-based rhetoric and tactics used during the “fundamentalist takeover.”
How can you label the pursuit of justice in society “evil,” “anti-biblical” and something to “decry and reject” given the myriad references to justice in the Bible?
Consider a handful of well-known biblical imperatives to pursue justice in the social order:
- “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:20).
- “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).
- “[God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
- “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24).
- “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:2-3).
One of Jesus’ most well-known statements is found in the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
The Greek words “dikaios” and “dikaiosyne” are often translated “righteous” and “righteousness,” but they are also translated as “just” or “justice.”
In practice, this is what I believe most Christians mean when they talk about social justice:
- Finding ways to bring the kingdom / reign of heaven to earth (Matthew 6:10).
- Embracing the imperatives of the Hebrew prophets to stand up for the oppressed and care for those without protection (Isaiah 1:17).
- Joining Jesus in a ministry of good news to the poor and freedom for prisoners and the oppressed (Luke 4:18), which echoes the call of Isaiah to share food, shelter and clothing with those in need (Isaiah 5:6-12).
Social justice, in the biblical sense, is about recognizing both the individual and collective (social) dimensions of sin and evil, and then using whatever power, privilege and resources one has (which we all have in some form or fashion) to help those who are struggling, oppressed, downtrodden, enslaved, without power, privilege and resources (which we all lack in some form or fashion).
It is about solidarity with, and service rendered to, all of our neighbors by loving and caring for them as we love and care for ourselves.
So, perhaps the disdain Beck and this SBC pastor have for “social justice” is a matter of divergent definitions.
Maybe they’re rejecting a conception of social justice that is a “straw man” argument they’ve erected, comparable to atheists who reject a deity that many, if not most, people of faith also reject.
If not, I hope and pray such perspectives are minority positions and that this resolution will be soundly rejected at the upcoming meeting. Otherwise, I fear for the future direction of the faith tradition in which I grew up.
As Baptist social reformer Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) warned us, “If our theology is silent on social salvation, we compel [people] … to choose between an unsocial system of theology and an irreligious system of social salvation. It is not hard to predict the outcome.”