Posts tagged with: social justice

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In a new commentary, “Beck Vs. Wallis,” Acton Research Fellow Marvin Olasky takes another look at the dispute between Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis over the meaning of social justice. Olasky, provost at The King’s College in New York, offers suggestions on how to respond to those who would define social justice as merely the expansion of the welfare state.

I can understand Glenn Beck’s frustration. As the Beck-Wallis tempest swirled on March 11, I spent 3½ hours in a long-arranged debate with Wallis at Cedarville University. He kept trying to position himself as a centrist rather than a big government proponent. Furthermore, modern usage by liberal preachers and journalists is thoroughly unbiblical: Many equate social justice with fighting a free enterprise system that purportedly keeps people poor but in reality is their best economic hope.

How to respond? I’d suggest four possible ways, one of which is a variant of Beck’s: Challenge those who speak of “social justice” in a conventionally leftist way. If your local church is committed to what won’t help the poor but will empower would-be dictators, pray and work for gospel-centered teaching. If necessary, find another church.

A second: Try to recapture the term by giving it a 19th- (and 21st?) century small-government twist. The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are trying to do this. I wish them success.

A third way: Accept the left’s focus on systemic problems but not its faulty analysis. Learn about the biggest institutional hindrance to economic advance for the poor: the government’s monopoly control of taxpayer funds committed to education and welfare. Work for school vouchers and tax credits that will help many poor children to grow both their talents and their knowledge of God.

Fourth and best: Tutor a child. Visit a prisoner. Help the sick. Follow Christ.

See the “note” at the end of Olasky’s column for more resources on social justice.

And add these Acton events to your calendar:

– “Must Social Justice & Capitalism Be Mutually Exclusive?” March 31 (***tonight***), Grand Rapids. Acton on Tap with Rudy Carrasco. Details: 6 p.m. casual start time; 6:30 p.m., Rudy speaks! Location: Derby Station (formerly Graydon’s Crossing), 2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506. No registration required.

– “Does social justice require socialism?” with Rev. Robert A. Sirico. Acton Lecture Series in Grand Rapids on April 15; Chicago luncheon on April 29.

Acton welcomes new blogger — and long time friend — Rudy Carrasco to the PowerBlog. He also writes at Urban Onramps. Don’t miss Rudy at Acton on Tap on March 31 (6 p.m. at Derby Station, East Grand Rapids, Mich.) — Editors

+++++++++

I haven’t seen the video of Glenn Beck’s call to “run away” from churches that teach social justice. Nor have I read much on the responses by the many – see the Sojo God’s Politics blog for a round-up – who disagree with Beck. (So how do I know these things, you might ask? I scan twitter feeds and email subject lines and pick up the plot.)

Nevertheless (famous last words), here’s what was on my mind when I woke up this morning:

Love Glenn Beck as you would love yourself.

That’s a take-off from Matthew 22:36-40. If you are a Christian, you are supposed to love people first. Not agree with them first. Or disagree with them first. Or speak truth to their power first. You are supposed to love them first. This is an equal opportunity, ahem, encouragement. On both the center-left and the center-right I hear ugly caricatures of the opposition-du-jour. So a question to the wise: “What does it mean to love Glenn Beck as you would love yourself?”

As for Beck himself, he seems to have really stepped in it this time (did he mean to? that’s always the question with show hosts), because it isn’t just so-called left wingers who affirm social justice efforts in churches. As an example, The Heritage Foundation created and just released a DVD series for use in churches entitled – wait for it – “Seek Social Justice.” (Disclosure: Yours truly appears in the video and study guide.)

By the way, here’s some bonus sermon illustration material. You can substitute all sorts of people, and groups of people, for “Glenn Beck” or “your neighbor.” To wit:

Love illegal immigrants as you would love yourself.

Love oil industry executives as you would love yourself.

Love President Barack Obama as you would love yourself.

Love President George W. Bush as you would love yourself.

On NRO, John Leo points out how Glenn Beck missed the mark in his recent criticism of “social justice” churches (the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy, again). But Beck is on to something, Leo says:

When Glenn Beck urged Christians to leave churches that preach social justice, he allowed himself to be tripped up by conventional buzzwords of the campus Left. In plain English, “social justice” is a goal of all churches and refers to helping the poor and seeking equality. As a code word, it refers to a controversial package of goals including political redistribution of wealth, gay marriage, and a campaign against “institutional racism,” “classism,” “ableism,” and “heterosexism.” Beck was wildly off base linking “social justice” (of either form) to Communism and Nazism, but he was correct to note that the term is often used as a code.

Leo cites an article on Minding the Campus by Peter Wood, head of the National Association of Scholars, on one of the newest buzzwords in play today — sustainability:

The most potent of the current buzzwords is “sustainability,” which ties traditional environmentalism to the entire left-wing agenda. As Wood says, hundreds of campuses now have sustainability officers, courses that promote the ideology, and most ominously “co-curricular programs run through student life and residence halls to ‘educate’ students about their mistaken ‘worldviews’ and bring them aboard this new ideological ark.” Kathleen Kerr, who ran an astonishing all-out indoctrination program in the residential halls of the University of Delaware (students were all expected to accuse themselves of racism, for example), admitted in a speech that “the social-justice aspects of sustainability education” included lessons on “environmental racism” “domestic partnerships,” and “gender equity.” We are far from tree-hugging here.

A couple years ago, I wrote an article for the Conciliar Press magazine AGAIN on the use of social justice language in the Orthodox Church as it comes to grips with globalization. When you talk about “social justice” you really need to be careful:

What, exactly, is social justice? It is an ambiguous concept, loaded with ideological freight. No politically correct person would dare oppose it. To be against “social justice” would be tantamount to opposing “fairness.” Today, the term is most often employed by liberal-progressive activists and a “social justice movement” that advances an economic agenda which includes such causes as a “living wage,” universal health care and expanded welfare benefits, increased labor union powers, forgiveness of national debts in the developing world, and vastly increased transfers of foreign aid from rich countries to the poor. Because religious conservatives tend toward support for free market economic systems, they have largely shunned the “social justice” agenda and its government-based solutions.

The religious left is making quite a stink about Beck’s criticism of social justice churches (and let’s be honest here — Beck deserves some of this for his hyperbolic and dismissive attack). Jim Wallis, for example, is egging on Beck for a public debate, so far with no luck. Well, well. Wallis has been ducking Acton’s invitations for years to debate the concept of social justice.

For a serious discussion of what social justice really means today, mark your calendars for these upcoming Acton events. (Jim Wallis, you’re invited!)

“Do the poor need capitalism?” March 18, Grand Rapids. Acton Lecture Series with Rudy Carrasco

– “Must Social Justice & Capitalism Be Mutually Exclusive?” March 31, Grand Rapids. Acton on Tap with Rudy Carrasco. Details: 6 p.m. casual start time; 6:30 p.m., Rudy speaks! Location: Derby Station (formerly Graydon’s Crossing), 2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506. No registration required.

– “Does social justice require socialism?” with Rev. Robert A. Sirico. Acton Lecture Series in Grand Rapids on April 15; Chicago luncheon on April 29.

The hugely influential reformer Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) writes in his commentary on Romans 13:

Meanwhile, the Gospel teaches the godly properly about spiritual and eternal life in order that eternal life may be begun in their hearts. In public it wants our bodies to be engaged in this civil society and to make sure of the common bonds of this society with decisions about properties, contracts, laws, judgments, magistrates, and other things. These external matters do not hinder the knowledge of God from being present in hearts or fear, faith, calling on God, and other virtues. In fact, God put forth these external matters as opportunities in which faith, calling on God, fear of God, patience, and love might be exercised.

There is a certain wisdom worthy for a Christian to know. God cast the church into the midst of these occupations because he wants to become known among men in a common society. He wanted all offices of society to be exercises in confession, and at the same time exercises of our faith and love.

Wise words on justice and the social and political implications of the Gospel from the reformer whose impact is still felt today, 450 years after his death.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, January 14, 2010

Some years ago, I was engaged in a conversation at a religious communicators convention with a liberal/progressive activist who was having trouble understanding how the market could actually be a force for good. Finally, he defaulted to the question that — to him at least — would settle the matter. “So,” he asked, “does the Acton Institute work for social justice?” My response, of course, was, “You bet we do.”

The problem with this brief exchange was that we obviously didn’t understand social justice in the same terms. It was a failure to communicate at the communicators convention. And truth be told, there are probably fewer phrases that are thrown around so loosely, that are so heavily freighted with ideological baggage. Liberal/progressives use social justice as a shibboleth that offers affiliation with the tribe of those who advocate statist solutions, whatever else it might mean to them. Conservatives tend merely to shun its use.

A lot of that confusion promises to be cleared up with the release of an outstanding new resource called Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives In Need from the Heritage Foundation. This resource includes a DVD and companion study guide (available free of charge) and can also be viewed on the Web site. You’ll recognize a lot of the names in this series from their association with Acton over the years as staff members, scholars, speakers at conferences, and policy experts. People like Anthony Bradley, an Acton Research Fellow, Marvin Olasky, Rudy Carrasco, Chuck Colson, Jay Richards, and Robert L. Woodson Jr.

The video for the first chapter — Rethinking Social Justice: Getting to the Root of the Problem — sets the framework for the entire series of lessons. The question: What are the “real roots of poverty and social breakdown.”

On the Web site, Heritage has also posted bonus interview footage from experts featured in Seek Social Justice that is really well done.

Here’s an excerpt from the study guide (download here).

Regrettably, ideas offered in the name of social justice have sometimes misdiagnosed the problem and had unintended consequences that hurt the very people they intended to help. That’s because they have assessed poverty primarily as a material problem.

Programs based on this assumption have kept those willing to help at arm’s length from those in need, often looking first to government and substituting impersonal handouts for personal care and real transformation. Jumping into action without thoughtful consideration has led to damaging results.

Somehow in the urgency to dedicate our lives—or even a few hours or dollars—to a good cause, we’re missing something. We’re missing something about who we are at our core as human beings; we’re missing something about the complex and relational nature of poverty. Though motivated by good intentions, we need a better framework for understanding and engaging the issues surrounding human need and social breakdown.

When it comes to translating good intentions into actions that really make a difference, we need to understand the nature and context of the problem. That begins with correctly diagnosing the suffering we see around us. In the United States, poverty and social breakdown are often rooted in problems that are deeper than a lack of money or material possessions. The poor in America typically suffer in different ways than the poor
in developing countries, where corrupt governments, the missing rule of law, unstable financial systems, food shortages due to famine, and the absence of basic health care systems exacerbate extreme material deprivation. Unique conditions call for a different approach in developing nations.

The lessons are equipped with readings, which will take the student deeper into the subject matter. This is from Michael Novak’s “Defining Social Justice” (First Things, December 2000):

The virtue of social justice allows for people of good will to reach different—even opposing—practical judgments about the material content of the common good (ends) and how to get there (means). Such differences are the stuff of politics.

We must rule out any use of “social justice” that does not attach to the habits (that is, virtues) of individuals. Social justice is a virtue, an attribute of individuals, or it is a fraud. And if Tocqueville is right that “the principle of association is the first law of democracy,” then social justice is the first virtue of democracy, for it is the habit of putting the principle of association into daily practice.

Kudos to the Heritage Foundation, lead writer Ryan Messmore, and all of the contributors and editors behind Seek Social Justice.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, September 5, 2008

The ninth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The ninth and final leg of the journey took the bikers from St. Catharines, Ontario, to Jersey City, a total distance of 430 miles. By the end of tour, the riders had covered 3881 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional contained a key biblical point in the day 57 entry. Reflecting on the separation from family members over the 9 weeks of the tour, hope was expressed that such an experience might “make us more aware of those who are constantly torn from their loved ones and remind us that the water of baptism is thicker than family blood.” As I concluded in a 2005 post, “The water of Christian baptism is thicker than the blood of natural flesh. ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’” The reality of baptism sets upon a path of service to our neighbors. This is a good point of departure for discussing questions of poverty and prosperity.

A good deal of the devotional focuses on the particularities of the experience of riding a bike. This is fitting because the text was designed for use by the riders of the poverty tour. But a few weeks ago I discussed another kind of bike rider, Pastor Bike of China, who was imprisoned because of his bicycle-based evangelism.

The good news coming out of China this week is that Pastor Bike has been released. Praise God.

My concern in following the CRC Sea to Sea bike tour over the last months has focused on the relation of material poverty to spiritual poverty. This remains an open question for me regarding the social justice advocacy of the denomination. There is a real danger that the social justice focus of the Christian Reformed Church will lapse into a post-milllenialist form of the Social Gospel.

The texts and materials of the tour itself were a bit uneven on this. In the end I think the focus is rightly aimed at divine reality. But the prudential judgments about how material poverty relates to spiritual concerns remains under-developed. When Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” he was effectively saying that until he comes again we will always have to deal with the realities of sin and imperfection.

But he gave us guidance as to how to live in the midst of this sinful reality: “You can help them any time you want.” The one lesson we should take from this tour is that there is a real and pervasive Christian responsibility to give to the relief of the poor in a way that addresses both material and spiritual realities. Give thoughtfully and prayerfully. But be sure to give. For a moving testimony on this, see “Auntie Anne’s Pretzels founder cites personal faith, Bible verses as reasons to give.”

AGAIN Magazine has published my “Conflicted Hearts: Orthodox Christians and Social Justice in an Age of Globalization.” The magazine is produced by Conciliar Press Ministries, Inc., a department of the self-ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church of North America.

Excerpt:

Just as there is no real understanding of many bioethical issues without a general grasp of underlying medical technology, there is no real understanding of “social justice” without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else—poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance. In the environmental area, for example, the current debate on global warming is just as much focused on how to finance the means of slowing the rising temperatures of the earth as it is on root causes. And the question always is: Who will pay?

What, exactly, is social justice? It is an ambiguous concept, loaded with ideological freight. No politically correct person would dare oppose it. To be against “social justice” would be tantamount to opposing “fairness.” Today, the term is most often employed by liberal-progressive activists and a “social justice movement” that advances an economic agenda which includes such causes as a “living wage,” universal health care and expanded welfare benefits, increased labor union powers, forgiveness of national debts in the developing world, and vastly increased transfers of foreign aid from rich countries to the poor. Because religious conservatives tend toward support for free market economic systems, they have largely shunned the “social justice” agenda and its government-based solutions.

Read the entire article here.

Enthusiastic atheists are on the offensive in an effort to tear down private faith, now that religion has increasingly lost influence in the public square. Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion”, and Christopher Hitchens’s, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The reason for this attack is because the atheists claim to be committed to justice, while people of faith, along with the divine itself, are and have been purveyors of injustice, according to the new breed of aggressive atheists. It’s an interesting and alien perspective for those with a religious world view, especially those who are familiar with Christ, scripture, and so much of Church history. It is in fact Christ who is the greatest liberator of humanity from evil, and Christian practice and thought that has helped liberate the oppressed, and eased the burdens of the weak.

Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield in a piece entitled Atheist Tracts in the Weekly Standard, discounts the notion that real justice and societal advancement will be empowered by the absence of a belief in the creator. Some essential quotes from Mansfield’s article are provided below:

Atheism isn’t what it was in the eighteenth century. Now, the focus of the attack is not the Church, which is no longer dominant, but religion itself. The disdain one used to hear for “organized religion” extends now to the individual believer’s faith. Despite the change, politics is still the thrust of the attack. It’s just that the delusion of religion is now allowed to be the responsibility of the believer, not of some group that is deluding him. A more direct approach is required.

Edmund Burke said, with a view to the atheism of the French Revolution, that we cannot live justly and happily unless we live under “a power out of ourselves.” By this he meant a power above us, transcendent over our wills and our choices. We must choose to live under a power that limits our choices.

In the contest between religion and atheism, the strength of religion is to recognize two apparently contrary forces in the human soul: the power of injustice and the power, nonetheless, of our desire for justice. The stubborn existence of injustice reminds us that man is not God, while the demand for justice reminds us that we wish for the divine. Religion tries to join these two forces together.

One of the reasons of the failure of atheism to overtake the world is noted by Mansfield in today’s Weekly Standard piece. He notes, “More pointedly, has not the atheist totalitarianism of the twentieth century, with its universal pretensions, proved to be the worst tyranny mankind has ever seen?”

Ironically, it was the atheist dream of utopia which helped secure atheism’s diminishing influence. When put into practice in the twentieth century, it was a hopeless, dark, and dreary mix of bread lines and gulags. It was a Baptist Minister from the American South, Martin Luther King, who was famous for saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) is considering the addition of the Belhar Confession to its set of doctrinal standards, which currently include the ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian) and Reformed confessions (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dordt).

The Social Justice Club at Calvin Seminary, the pastoral school for the denomination, is sponsoring a blog to discuss the Belhar Confession, to “have the student body of the Seminary become leaders in this discussion.”

The consideration of the Belhar Confession comes at the request of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, which has asked the CRC to “consider the Belhar and respond to it.”

The Social Justice Club’s blog notes that “no confession has been added to our present three for nearly four hundred years.” The CRC has modified the text of the Reformed confessions at various points, however, such that the CRC and the RCA, which ostensibly share the same confessional standards, cannot include the text of the Heidelberg Catechism in a new jointly-published hymnal, “because the two denominations use different versions.”

The CRC also has a contemporary testimony, “Our World Belongs to God,” which occupies a position below that of the formally-recognized confessions.

The basis for considering the Belhar Confession is that the CRC does not have a confession that addresses race relations and reconciliation. Here’s a relevant section from the contemporary testimony,

We grieve that the church which shares one Spirit, one faith, one hope, and spans all time, place, race, and language has become a broken communion in a broken world.

When we struggle for the purity of the church and for the righteousness God demands, we pray for saintly courage.

When our pride or blindness blocks the unity of God’s household, we seek forgiveness.

We marvel that the Lord gathers the broken pieces to do his work, and that he blesses us still with joy, new members, and surprising evidences of unity.

We commit ourselves to seeking and expressing the oneness of all who follow Jesus.

I would think too that the relevant section of the Apostles’ Creed, as exposited by the Heidelberg Catechism, would be the clause on “the holy catholic church.”

Do Reformed churches need “a strong confession on race relations” beyond what is offered in these, and perhaps other, sections? There is a strong Protestant tradition, including that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Richard Baxter, that would contend that any such confession must begin with the confession of our sins.

Speaking of a status confessionis, what about some other documents, such as the Barmen Declaration? Are the Barmen and the Belhar statements so contextually-situated and particular that they are unfit for status as more generally-relevant confessions?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, March 9, 2007

Joe Knippenberg reflects on President Bush’s speech earlier this week about advancing social justice in the Western Hemisphere:

Bush has lots to say about encouraging what he calls “capitalism for the campesinos.” He ties this to “social justice,” by which he means, above all, “meeting basic needs” to education, health care, and housing so that people can “realize their full potential, their God-given potential.” But social justice, thus conceived, doesn’t require massively redistributive government action; rather, it requires unleashing the potential of individual initiative, sowing some seeds, and leveraging the efforts of non-governmental organizations, especially faith-based ones.

In comparison to a speech from President Kennedy in 1961, Knippenberg concludes, “If you compare GWB to JFK, you’ll see that the goals aren’t all that different, but the thought put into the methods is.”

See also today’s WSJ editorial, “Capitalism for Campesinos.” More on Bush’s visit in the context of socialism in the NYT today.