While the Christian Left tends to be skeptical of appeals to scripture, one Biblical author they do favor is James. The book of James is often used to justify appeals to social justice. But as David Nilsen realized, James wouldn’t necessarily support their position:
In the course of dialoging with my friend about federal welfare programs, I quoted from James, perhaps to establish my social justice cred, and also to preemptively rebut potential accusations that I don’t think Christians have a duty to care for the poor. When I looked up the passage I had in mind, to quote it accurately, I was a little surprised. James 1:27 reads,
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (NRSV)
Now, I always hear about the orphans and widows, but rarely hear about remaining unstained by the world, to the point that I forgot it was even part of the verse. This prompted a thought. While I believe it is certainly possible for Christians to support social welfare programs that demand more and more tax revenue and ever increasing government power, what happens when James 1:27a butts heads with James 1:27b? In other words, what happens when our attempt at following the first half of James’ instruction ultimately forces us to compromise on the second half? When Christians place the necessary responsibility of caring for widows and orphans in the hands of an increasingly secular entity whose goals are frequently in opposition to other important Christian beliefs, this dilemma is sure to follow.