Thursday, March 11, 2010

yes to social justice

I don't spend any time, really, listening to Glenn Beck. In a society that values free speech I certainly grant him the right to say what is on his mind, and I am aware that he has a large following. Among them are some of my closest friends. Yet his recent commentary on social justice seems to have struck a nerve across the church; his denial of the inherent value of social justice seems clueless to anyone who has read the Old or New Testaments, or reflected on three thousand of years of Judaism or two thousand years of Christian teaching. It is flawed because it reflects a superficial gloss on privatized religion. There is a place for the inner life, the mystical experience and the personal relationship with Jesus Christ, as my evangelical friends describe it. I have had this experience, and it came to me as a gift. Yet it is by necessity linked to the outward journey, the call to compassion and an organic relationship with the body of Christ (in its glory and suffering), a community called by Jesus Christ into the world that God loves (John 3. 16) and is seeking to transform.

When the church is used for a politically partisan purpose, either left or right, something is deeply wrong. We have lost our way. But Beck's appeal to his listeners to leave churches that advocate social justice does appear to be beyond the pale. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with passages that speak of our duty and obligation to our neighbor and God's desire and demand for justice (Micah 6. 8). Jesus came certainly not to abolish this law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5. 17), and the church that is his body is the expression of his love and justice in the world. John Wesley, the founder of my own tradition, was passionate about personal and social holiness.

I am personally drawn to what is often called a consistent ethic of life, beginning with care for the creation and the protection of the unborn, continuing with a passionate advocacy for children in poverty, the right to health care, civil rights for gays and lesbians, the pursuit of nonviolence and peace (in domestic settings and in warfare), and a bias against both capital punishment and euthanasia. These concerns cut across political ideologies, and yet all are inherently social in nature. We are our brother's and our sister's keeper. God is always on the side of life and life is inherently social. When life is threatened, an intervention is required: our word for private intervention is mercy, and our word for public intervention is justice.

So my intention is not so much a rant against Glenn Beck---God knows our culture has enough of that kind of back and forth rhetoric---as a strong affirmation of a generous Christian orthodoxy. Quite simply, it would be absurd to imagine the Christian faith without social justice.

Here ends the lesson!


Blogger Lane said...

The problem with your deconstruction and justification of the term "social justice" is that it ignores the history of the social justice movement as a leftist/socialist movement and philosophy. Just because the individual words sound good - yes, we all want justice; yes, it occurs in a social milieu - doesn't mean that the underlying principles of the movement itself can't be flawed.

9:44 PM  

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