Modern social justice ideology is not the same as biblical justice:
A little while ago on the social media I posted the following: “Some folks – myself included – are now fully regretful of once being on the wrong side of history. As a wild and rebellious youth, I was one of those radical leftists who hated the West and who did all I could to see it destroyed. Obviously, my conversion to Christianity at the age of 18 put an end to that radicalism, and now I look back wondering how I could have been so blind.”
One person replied with this question: “Was it a strong sense of ‘Social justice’ that made you hate everything about Western civilisation?” I said this in response: “If it was, it was a misplaced and skewed notion of real justice.”
The truth is, there is a lot of talk today about things like “social justice”. It is often rather fuzzily defined – if defined at all. It is more meant to give you a nice buzz – to make you feel good. It is often little more than a motherhood statement, a mantra to sway the masses and push an agenda.
Those who run with this phrase and this concept tend to be mainly of the left – be they secular or religious lefties. And when progressive Christians push this, biblical notions of justice are often marginalised, while socialism and leftist nostrums tend to be promoted.
I have often written about these issues, such as here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/01/06/on-social-justice/
A number of important new books have appeared on these matters that are worth being aware of. I am just now putting together an annotated bibliography on some of the best titles, and hope to have that posted fairly soon. So keep your eye out for that.
In the meantime, let me mention just one of these very good books. Last year Scott David Allen released Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis (Credo House). It is a helpful look at how biblical justice differs so markedly from what is being presented by progressive Christians.
While this article is not a proper review of the book, it will offer a number of key ideas and quotes from it. Hopefully this will encourage you to get a copy for yourself. Very early on in the book he lays out some key definitions. Biblical justice is “conformity to God’s moral standards” and involves “living in right relationship with God and others; giving people their due as image-bearers of God.”
Also, it involves God-ordained authorities “impartially rendering judgment, righting wrongs, and meting out punishment for lawbreaking.” In contrast, social justice has to do with “deconstructing traditional systems and structures deemed to be oppressive, and redistributing power and resources from oppressors to their victims in the pursuit of equality of outcome.”
He goes into much more detail on this later in the book. For instance, he offers these differences when it comes to what the fundamental problem is. The social justice warriors (SJWs) say it is oppression: “White, heteronormative males have established and maintain hegemonic power structures to oppress and subjugate women, people of color, and sexual minorities (LGBTQ+) and others.”
In distinction to this, the biblical worldview says that our main problem is rebellion: “Our rebellion against God has resulted in broken relationships – between God and man, between man and his fellow man, and between man and creation.”
As to the main solution, the SJWs argue for revolution: “Oppressed victims and their allies must unite to unmask, deconstruct, and overthrow oppressive power structures, systems, and institutions.” Biblical Christians offer the gospel: if we accept the work of Christ on the cross, that results in our reconciliation with God and restored relationships with others.
By now some of you might be thinking that the social gospel sounds kinda familiar. Well, it should: it is just old-fashioned Marxism with a new face. Indeed, Allen discusses Marxism 1 and 2. The first saw capitalism as the oppressor and the proletariat (working class) as the oppressed, with the need for armed revolution to overthrow the capitalists and the bourgeoisie.
The second, cultural Marxism via the Frankfurt School, extends the economic (class) warfare to include race, sex, gender, and so on. The bad guys are basically white male Christian straights, and everyone else is basically a victim of this oppressive group.
All these various “oppressed groups” are brought together by “intersectionality”. Says Allen, “the more victim boxes you can check [eg., being a black lesbian], the greater your experience of oppression.” Of course, ideologies “that draw the good vs. evil line between different groups are not just wrong, they are dangerous.”
The Nazis targeted whole groups such as the Jews, while the Stalinists also targeted entire groups (the middle-class, the intelligentsia, religious folks, cultural minorities, etc). But Christianity treats us all as unique persons, made in God’s image. We are NOT judged by our group identity, but by who we are as individuals. Says Allen:
Ideological social justice is dangerous because it is false. It is building a culture of hatred, division, a false sense of moral superiority, and a false understanding of justice. A culture where truth is replaced by power, and gratitude by ingratitude. A culture where everyone seeks out opportunities to be aggrieved and put on the mantle of the victim. A culture where people don’t take responsibility for their lives, but instead blame all their problems on others. A culture of sexual libertinism and personal autonomy, where “sexual desire is the center of human identity and dignity.” A culture where your identity is wholly defined by your tribe, and where your tribe is always in conflict with other tribes in a zero-sum competition for power.
Indeed, everyone who is part of an “oppressive” group is always bad, while everyone who is part of an “oppressed” group is always good – and always a victim. Writes Allen:
Privilege, in this moral framework, isn’t something you experience as an individual. It is wholly associated with group identity. If you are a white male, you are, by definition, privileged. This is true regardless of your history or circumstances. If you were raised in a broken home, in a neighborhood rife with drug addiction, poverty, and violence, you are still privileged. Likewise, if you are a “person of color” or a female, or a “sexual minority” and were raised in an intact family, born into wealth, with all the benefits the best education can afford, you are still a victim. Bear in mind that privilege is indeed real. Some people do have more privilege than others, however the line of privilege should never be drawn exclusively on the basis of skin color.
Sadly too many churches and Christians have jumped on the social justice bandwagon. We have far too many woke churches here in the West: “Evangelicalism appears to be fracturing in response to ideological social justice, with many or most prominent leaders, universities, and organizations moving toward implicitly or explicitly endorsing ideological social justice.”
He goes on to say that historically the church has responded in one of three ways when a “hostile, nonbiblical worldview gains widespread influence in a culture [and] pressure is exerted on the Bible-believing church”: it can conform, accommodate, or resist. We can use more of the third option today.
At the end of the day, the differences between the SJWs and biblical Christians when it comes to the issue of justice are not just differences in politics or economics. They are, as has already been noted, fundamentally worldview differences.
The Marxist or Cultural Marxist worldview is completely opposed to the Judeo-Christian worldview. If you begin at opposite starting points you will end up at opposite conclusions. So your analysis of the problem will differ big time, as will your proposed solutions. Says Allen:
A big reason for our differing approaches, as we have seen, is that social justice ideology sources evil in social structures. We find it, by contrast, in human hearts and demonic forces. They see evil as social. We see it as personal. Unjust people create, sustain, and perpetuate unjust systems and structures for selfish ends.
Ultimately, injustice isn’t a social problem. It is a moral problem. Injustice exists because we are all fallen, sinful, selfish people. The only solution is a personal, heart-level transformation, not just for a particular group of so-called “oppressors,” but for everyone. Biblical transformation encompasses both the inward and the outward, the personal and the societal, the regeneration of fallen hearts and minds and the reformation of society.
Biblical change is an inside-out process that begins with inward transformation….
Yes, the Christian is concerned about what happens in society. But the Christian knows that social change alone will not solve very much. And he knows – or should know – that cluelessly adopting Marxist and socialist “solutions” to our pressing social problems is certainly NOT the way to proceed here.