Rev. Daniel Meeter, pastor in the Reformed Church of America (RCA), writing in the Reformed journal Perspectives, “Observations on the World Communion of Reformed Churches”:

My participation at Johannesburg is the reason I was an observer at the General Council, and why I was assigned to the General Council’s committee on Accra (though there were many other committees and a host of workshops that interested me, from worship to theology to inter-faith dialogue). Our committee was huge: sixty people or so. We eventually divided into table groups, and I was a pinchhit table leader. My table included Taiwanese, Chinese, Filipinos, and Indonesians. Our tables were charged to come up with a variety of responses to Accra, such as actions and outcomes or further work on its content and theology. Our responses were recorded and two delegates were appointed to consolidate them into a report to the plenary. I had to leave before the report was made, so I look forward to reading the minutes of when they come out.

One of the table groups reported that a key outcome was that the main concern of the WCRC in general should be “social justice.” The reporter was from a church that had belonged to WARC. This worries me. It suggests to me that this WARC delegate was not talking to REC delegates. It also worries me because I suspect the view that the main concern of the WCRC should be “social justice” is more widely held. Here is my second observation: this is going to be a problem for the WCRC. I hope the executive committee can direct a more holistic kind of ecumenism for the WCRC. (Would there was a Hungarian on the committee.)

I don’t mean to be flippant, but “social justice” is the main concern of civil government, not the church. This is an example of the politicization of Christian witness on both left and right which James Davison Hunter analyzes in his new book, To Change The World (Oxford, 2010). It is certainly true that on such issues the church is responsible to be prophetic in speech and active in demonstrating a just and wholesome life in real and even institutional ways, but to consider this the main concern of a church body is to miss the main concern of a church body. Unfortunately, this is not rare among the churches of the WCRC, the most Protestant and secularized of the world ecumenical groups, and with the weakest common ecclesiology.

I want to be clear that I think it’s right for the WCRC to be focused on the Accra issues (while the Anglican Communion is preoccupied with the sexuality of its bishops). I believe that justice in the economy and the earth is the great issue of our time, and critical to the church’s credibility. But it seems to me that the Reformed tradition can do better than “social justice”–to the actual benefit of social justice. It seems to me that the main concern of the WCRC is the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or in classic terms, the Sovereignty of God, or in gospel terms, the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God. As the Belhar says, “Jesus is Lord,” and this makes all the difference for justice in the world and in the human race. Making some version of the Kingdom of God the main concern of the WCRC will also provide a place for such other concerns as worship, doctrine, ecumenical dialogue, and inter-faith dialogue. Otherwise, the WCRC will have no right to consider itself a “communion” instead of just a big religious NGO.

As they said, read the whole thing. And for an engagement of the Accra Confession and the WCRC within the broader ecumenical context, see my book released earlier this year, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

  • Rick

    What is social Justice? Equality of opportunity or equality of outcome?

  • Roger McKinney

    Rick, in my experience anyone who uses the term mean equality of outcomes.

  • Ken

    I would agree that the proof of social justice lies in the demonstrated outcome. It would seem however that it is an ongoing interplay between opportunity and outcome that leads us to a more socially just world. It may be more of an ongoing cycle of theory and informed actions, evaluated by outcomes which in turn shed new light on more effective ways of creating equal and just opportunities.

  • Roger McKinney

    Ken, history has shown that an emphasis on outcomes destroys opportunity. Take progressive taxation for example. Few wealthy people today store their wealth in stack of gold sitting in a vault; most unconsumed wealth is invested in businesses and creating jobs. So if you take away that excess wealth and give it to the poor, you take away future jobs that would have benefited the poor. Progressive taxation and redistribution of wealth in general is a choice of present consumption over future jobs. Fewer jobs in the future means less opportunity for the poor.

    All of the poetry and dreams of utopia by the left doesn’t change the facts. We live in a world of scarcity that forces us to make trade-offs. If we want to reduce poverty tomorrow, we must reduce consumption today and invest in more businesses. There is no other way. Redistribution now does nothing but reduce jobs later.

    Of course, some redistribution now is necessary and good. But we need to be aware of the trade offs and make wise choices. We can’t assume that investment will always be there to provide jobs in the future regardless of how much we consume today.