Why Are Christians Afraid of Social Justice?

social justice

When the US decided to recently separate immigrant children from their parents, the world lost it’s mind, and so many Christians responded to the outrage with more outrage. “We are a nation of laws,” folks from my camp said, “These people dragged their children into this, it’s their fault, not ours.”

Simply stated, according to every child psychologist I’m familiar with, we caused a mountain of PTSD to a near generation of children. When kids are separated like this, and begin to wonder if they’ll see their parents again, it causes a “break” in their sense of safety, their understanding of the world, and their confidence in humanity.

Some kids didn’t recognize their parents when they were reunited.

In the name of “law,” “sovereignty,” and “authority” we perpetrated an injustice against children. And all God’s people said “hell yeah.”

In general, anytime someone outside of our camp cries “injustice!!” we turn a blind eye. Black Lives Matter advocates are terrorists, regardless of the legion of statistics that all but prove that our system is rigged in favor of whites. The US has the second highest child poverty rate in the developed world, which should outrage us.

But we have bigger fish to fry.

A Brief History of How We Got Here

Long ago, social justice, i.e., taking care of the poor, marginalized, and mistreated was big on our radar – it wasn’t seen as some Godless, pagan agenda. But around the early 70’s an interesting cultural shift happened. The hippies and Catholics were all about social justice, and for myriad reasons we felt the need to distinguish ourselves. We also felt strongly that the pro-social justice groups didn’t care much about the Bible and didn’t understand our God.

Enter the Bible movement, one of the most fascinating cultural shifts in church history.

We began to focus on sound theology and strong Bible exegesis. Our sermons were “verse-by-verse” Bible studies. By the 80’s, most of our churches had “Bible” in their names.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bible. I agree that it contains the heart, desires, and stories of God – it’s on this issue that you could brand me an Evangelical..

But, like any movement, the Bible movement had its dark side.

We ultimately came to believe that “good theology” was the most important thing. As long as people are getting a good dose of the Bible, everything’s OK. I overheard a pastor/former employer once say, “Everyone in our church is reading their Bible, we’re doing great.” Sure, we had a ton of butts in the pews on Sunday morning, most with Bibles under their arms, but that’s as far as our greatness extended.

Somehow, our spiritual ancestors’ focus on social justice got lost in the shuffle, probably because our version of “good theology” doesn’t require much personal sacrifice. Christianity became easy, more self-focused than it had ever been, and less powerful.

About the same time the Bible movement was born, Roe v. Wade happened. We lost a huge battle – abortion in the US was now legal. While we mourned that landmark cultural shift, it also frightened us and made us angry. Now, it’s the liberals who are pro-abortion, and pro-Gay-marriage, another mammoth legal morphing that flies in the face of Evangelicalism.

And it’s these liberals who are pushing social justice.

So, liberal-minded people have become the enemy. Everything they espouse, everyone they support, must be soundly rejected, opposed, etc. And because liberals are so “far from God,” we can judge them, marginalize them, call them names, laugh at them – and in the process spread our fear and anger far beyond us.

This decades-long romance with fear and anger makes us vulnerable. Any political leader who knows the power of fear and anger could easily exploit it.

Social Justice in the Bible

Theology that doesn’t embrace social justice is far from “good.”

Bible studies that dance around God’s expectation for the powerful to take care of the non-powerful are less than Biblical.

The internet is full of articles on the Bible’s emphasis on social justice – here’s one from Patheos.com if you’d like a deeper look. For me, there is no stronger testament to God’s hatred of injustice than the writings of the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah was called, among a few other things, to warn the people of Israel about idolatry and injustice, which, when you think about it, are born of the same spirit, the same confusion about who’s God and who’s not.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.

Isaiah warned God’s people to turn from treating each other like crap, and from ignoring the needs of the poor, helpless and marginalized. If they didn’t respond, really bad stuff would happen.

Shortly after Isaiah published his book, Israel was razed to the ground.

I’m not suggesting that God is warming up some lightning bolts for us, but this prophet seemed convinced that God cannot stand, and will not abide with a nation that ignores issues of justice.

And man do we have issues with justice.

Injustice? What Injustice?

Common to most Evangelicals is a staunch opposition to abortion. And in defense, if a human fetus is a human being, abortion is wrong. If it’s not human, you can do what you want. For most of the anti-abortion people I know, their stance isn’t born from a desire to take away a woman’s rights, but to advocate for an unborn human. You may not agree with this, but you can understand where they’re coming from.

But it’s on this, and a couple other issues, us Christians say that we’re all about justice.

We don’t see problems with poverty. If you’re poor, it’s your fault. This is the land of opportunity, if you can’t make it work, you’re doing something wrong. We don’t see problems with racism. What do black people have to complain about? We’ve given them everything (like freedom and equality are ours to give), if you can’t make life work, you’re doing something wrong.

We’ve come up with a complex matrix of reasons why we should ignore the cries of others.

It’s not that we don’t listen – we just don’t listen to the right people. The folks who cry “injustice” have ironically become the enemy, while the people and news agencies, who are mostly white, upper-middle-class and beyond, have our ear. They also stand to make a ton of money telling us what we want to hear.

Never listen to a prophet that profits from his message.

I don’t know of a single conservative religious person, convinced that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization, that’s sat down with a BLM activist and listened to their side of the story. We don’t do things like that. Why listen to a black person’s perspective, or a poor person’s story when I can get everything I need to know to from rich white people?

Either way, our country, like most cultures, has its share of injustices that need our attention if we’re to truly consider ourselves the people of God. Poverty, racism, myriad injustices against women – things that extend far beyond the 1 or 2 things us Christians would call injustice.

But they’re all part of the liberal agenda right? And we all know that liberals are evil, they want our country to burn, or at least run our $$$$ dry helping poor people. No need to sit down with a registered Democrat and hear their side of the story, I got all I need from a conservative media outlet.

Some Thoughts on Being on the Right Side

Righteousness in the Bible isn’t about behavior, it’s an orientation towards the heart, mind, and values of God. But history is filled with stories of God’s people, clearly batting for the wrong team, convinced they were fighting for the Lord, with hearts and minds oriented away from Him.

It’s easy, all you have to do is come up with a list of behaviors, deem their adherents “righteous,” then go and do whatever the H you want.

“In the so-called ages of Christian faith… there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion.” Bertrand Russell

Given Christianity’s long, distinguished affair with injustice (think Crusades, Slavery/Post Slavery, Nazi Germany, Mass Incarceration, and whatever’s coming next), shouldn’t we err on the side of caution here?

Shouldn’t we overdo it?

Wouldn’t it be better to see injustice where none exists rather than ignore the injustices that are right under our noses?

At the very least, when someone cries “injustice,” we could do better than letting the people who have all the money and power tell us what’s going on. Could you sit down with a BLM leader? Why not? Do you think they might kill you? Aren’t they made in the image of God? Could you spend a few weeks reading a book on poverty in the US that doesn’t support your way of thinking? Could you have coffee with a registered Democrat and listen with closed lips?

If we’re completely unable to do things like this, the chances that we’re a follower of God, batting for the other guy, go way up.

The Bible clearly commands us, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger,” and, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”

Sadly, when it comes to Christians and politics, we too frequently take the opposite approach.

We’re scared – we’ve taken a posture of defense. Jesus’ commands to take the offensive, spreading His light, peace, and power as far as humanly possible have been supplanted by something that makes our faith far less risky, and confirms to the unbelieving world that Christianity is a waste of time.

16 thoughts on “Why Are Christians Afraid of Social Justice?

    • The tough thing about this for me is listening to people who’ve failed to listen. I’ve somehow convinced myself that they shouldn’t have a voice, which makes me a bit of a hypocrite… but working on it.

      • Know what you mean. Don’t lose heart. We’re all in process. Just keep writing/speaking the truth to reason with people. You never know the difference your words can make or how they can change the world for the better.

  • I get so much mail, I need to start vetting all the groups and people who regularly fill my inbox. You were someone I was going to delete for no other reason than I subscribe to too many blogs. I started reading this post and remembered why I subscribed in the first place. You are the only Christian I know who behaves exactly as I would, and I consider myself an atheist. I do love Jesus, the man. His teachings would take up no more than a pamphlet that teaches peace and how to live so all benefit from the beauty of our planet. You are your own religion. You have right on your side. Do not be so accommodating. Always speak truth to power, even if the power is some imaginary deity. we who try to behave as we think Jesus would, should be known as “Christians.” The rest who pull obscure passages from the Bible to justify a pre-exisiting belief, that show no compassion, foments hate and violence and intolerance, shall be known as “Biblicans.” At any rate, I just can’t quit you!

    • Thanx! I’m getting comments from my conservative friends that I’m too disrespectful – I’m not feeling that. Do you see it? Just curious…

      • Not at all – I think you wrote carefully and respectfully. Asking people to think differently can make them defensive! Mind you, I’m a Christian from New Zealand and our politics are very different here and Christians sit on both sides of the political spectrum quite happily. I sit centre right but would be classed as slightly to the left in your country I think.

      • Would you mind taking a look at this and giving your opinion – re – too snarky? I personally don’t think so, I don’t see any other way to put it, but I’m open to toning things down a bit

      • Oh yeah. You should browse some of the comments, lots of hurt feelings… Thanx for your input.

  • Thank you Mark Landry. I left the evangelical movement a long time ago and turned from the GOP sometime later. I see no reason to return to either. It is so disheartening to see the lack of faith that is inherent in a church that allows fear to foment and prevent even their hearts from functioning in any way that resembles the life of Christ. I would like to share this on my FB page if you don’t mind. It would not be a public post, just for friends. May I?

  • Not all Christians. There is a group called West Sound for Social Justice and I will tell you most of the members are Christians. It’s like putting every round peg in a square hole, it doesn’t fit. Not all Christians are alike and not all non Christians are alike, but we have to acknowledge and accept the difference and not make everyone fit into a mold that is not for them.

  • Not all Christian’s we’re outraged. My family (all Christian’s) felt that the law should be upheld, as scripture says. Most of the people at our church were also in full support. ~Romans 13:1-7 13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

    6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

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