This July I have the opportunity to teach a module on “Biblical Justice” at Mount Hermon (a large Christian Camp and Convention Center in the middle of the Redwood Forrest outside of Santa Cruz, Ca.)
I’ve been in correspondence with one of the directors who is a really great guy (we’ve been trading articles and thoughts). His frustration with Christians talking about Social Justice is in reaction to the more radical socialist – redistribution of wealth – agenda he keeps encountering.
Below is a short e-mail response I sent yesterday as part of our dialog.
The article you sent is a short and accurate critique of “socialistic” tendencies.
The problem of those on the left is they make biblical justice about socialism – the problem of those on the right is that they react to biblical justice as if it is socialism.
The middle ground, like in most things, proves to be where the balance is. Justice (my generation calls it “social” more as a way of marking it off from “criminal” and other sub-categories of justice than anything else) has to do with protecting and standing with the vulnerable. This, understood rightly, is a lot more about empowerment, voluntary service and restoring dignity to the person. Helping fight trafficking, standing against gender violence, caring about AIDS orphans and recognizing that poverty, however earned, is still something worth caring about because of the worth, the Image of God, in every person. The extreme of simple socialism is like spoiling your children on the one hand and embittering them on the other (handouts on one side and abusive taxation on the other).
Then of course there is the issue of killing the Golden Goose, which makes socialism a foolish long-term endeavor. Wasn’t it you who gave me the Margaret Thatcher quote, “The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money?”
The real fruit of the conversation on justice comes out when we start with theology and leave the politics for later once we’ve grounded ourselves theologically. Most conversations, however, start with the politics and obviously degenerate quickly as a result.
My job in focusing on justice has been threefold: to expose Christians to the theological roots and nature of justice as found in scripture; thereby forcing love into the equation as a genuine necessity and not an option (what I believe Jesus was doing with the Pharisees); and, lastly, to educate thinking Christians on the nature of the ‘human rights and justice conversation’ as well as some of the great injustices of our day so they may be both empowered to take action as well as be conversant on a subject so important we as Christians should be able to add light instead of just heat.
I’m looking forward to the time at Mount Hermon to unpack justice a little more fully than most will have the opportunity to hear.
Hopefully folks will be relieved to have it broken down in a balanced way instead of in extremes, which tends to be the norm.
Would love your thoughts,