I know I’m a bit late to this dance, but recently there has been a lot of talk in evangelical circles about the topic of social justice. Not much of it has been very encouraging.
In fact, one evangelical leader even drafted a statement to refute what he calls the “most subtle and dangerous” threat to the gospel he’s ever seen–social justice. Thousands have signed the statement.
It is believed by some that social justice is a distraction from the central message of the Church, the good news about Jesus.
I respectfully, but wholeheartedly and vehemently, disagree. Social justice is not a distraction from the central message of the Church. It is part and parcel of that message.
Here are 5 reasons why I think every Christian should care about social justice.
1. It reflects God’s character.
The weak and vulnerable are God’s favorite people.
He shows this constantly throughout history. When God established Israel as a nation, he made sure that the weak, the poor, the marginalized, and the foreigner were treated better in Israel than anywhere else. Women and servants had the most rights of anybody.
God did that on purpose.
Jesus continued this ethic in his own ministry. He loved those outside his ethnic group, those who were powerless in his community and disregarded by everybody. Jesus elevated the role of women and didn’t treat them as though they were second class citizens. He cared for the chronically ill, the mentally unstable, and those whose conditions made them unsightly and ceremonially unclean.
Ought we not to follow the example that God has set for us throughout history?
God created us to express goodness to the world.
2. We were created for it.
To work towards greater equity, justice, and social harmony is the birthright of every human–especially Christians.
We were created in the image of God and given dominion over the earth. And God blessed us with the ability to “be fruitful and multiply.” Most of us take that to mean that we should have lots of kids. But that’s an underdeveloped understanding of what God meant.
We are meant to use our God-given authority over creation to harness its goodness and to cultivate it exponentially. To build flourishing societies that benefit all of creation, and especially other human beings.
Where there is something systematically broken in society, the God-given impulse of humanity is to fix it. As followers of Jesus who are expressly aware of the fact that we are created in God’s image, this should be a no-brainer for us.
And yes, it is true that we can’t ever do it perfectly. The fact that we simply cannot completely fix things points to our need for a Savior.
But that doesn’t mean that our efforts are useless.
3. It’s a parable of the gospel.
As Jesus was preparing to launch his ministry, he came to preach in his hometown of Nazareth. And the text he decided to speak on was Isaiah 61.
He felt that the prophet’s words pretty well summed up what he came to do.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)
That sounds an awful lot like social justice to me.
What Jesus said next ruffled more than a few feathers. He rolled up the scroll, sat down, looked out at everybody in the synagogue and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
As in, “I’m the guy who’s going to make this all come true.”
Freedom to the captives. Liberty to all those who are oppressed. This is what Jesus came to do. Those who heard Jesus that day would have understood those promises the same way you and I hear them today.
And the thing is that what Jesus came to do was far greater than what they thought. The people of Israel thought that their Messiah would come to free them from the oppression of Rome. But Jesus came to free them from something far more sinister and oppressive–sin and death itself.
But in addition to freeing us from the oppression of sin and death, Jesus will eventually free us from all other oppression too.
When Jesus comes back to establish a new heaven and a new earth, he will free us from all worldly injustice. Social justice is a part of Jesus’ eternal plan. This is the message of the gospel.
So while acts of social justice are not a replacement for actually telling people about Jesus, social justice is a living parable of what the gospel came to do.
We can tell those whom we save out of sexual slavery that Jesus came to save them from an even greater slavery.
We can tell those for whom we provide food and opportunities that there is a God who is offering them eternal abundance.
When we treat the marginalized with dignity, we can tell them that there is a God who has given them eternal dignity that he fought to regain at the cost of his own Son.
4. It authenticates our message.
Not only is social justice a living picture of the gospel, it also authenticates the message of the gospel. Whenever a message is brought from God, it needs to be authenticated.
This always happens when God does something new.
Every time a prophet brought a new message, he proved it was truly from God by performing signs and miracles. When Jesus brought his message, he did the same. As did his apostles after him. They authenticated the message with something tangible.
I believe we are called to continue to authenticate the message of the gospel with signs of our own.
And while they might not be miraculous from a supernatural standpoint, they might as well be a miracle to those we give them to.
A faith without this kind of authentication is a dead faith. That’s what James, the brother of Jesus, tells us.
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
We can’t say we love people if we aren’t willing to help them. That’s a kind of spirituality that isn’t actually spiritual at all.
5. The right thing to do is always the right thing to do.
To quote Gary Vaynerchuk, “The right thing to do is always the right thing to do.” While GaryVee is decidedly non-Christian, he seems to understand the principle of kindness far better than most Christians I know.
Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth. In the days before refrigeration, salt was used as a preservative to keep food from spoiling. We are to be agents of preservation in the world. The people who stave off corruption and destruction.
Jesus also calls us the light of the world. The light of goodness should shine brightest from the community of Jesus followers. And the promise is that when those who know nothing of Jesus see our acts of justice and mercy, they will bring glory to the God we serve.
But even if a high proportion of the people for whom we offer acts of justice don’t come to faith, we should still do it. Because the right thing is always the right thing.
We are called to treat people as valuable and worthy of love. We can let God sort out the rest.
Bottom line, Jesus has called us to love with the same measure of love that he gave to us. The kind of love that is willing to die even a horrible, bloody death for the sake of people who hated him at the time.
May we be known for being people of justice. Despite its recent bad press, justice is a good thing.