Earlier this week Glenn Beck made waves by urging Christians to leave any church that supports social justice. Promptly after he made these statements, prominent Christians all over the country reacted negatively and started to urge their followers to boycott Beck. While I understand the reaction, I’m wondering if it was the correct one. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time Christians made a knee jerk reaction and made the wrong move.
(On a side note, do boycotts even work anymore? Especially when done by mostly progressives against a conservative talk show host they probably didn’t patronize in the first place? But that’s neither here nor there.)
The argument by these Christian leaders is that Jesus preached social justice and as such all Christians should support social justice. I think this is a misstatement. Jesus didn’t preach social justice, he preached justice and believe it or not there is a difference. Social justice as a concept has only existed for about 150 years. When Jesus was teaching he was always pushing people to do what they should. If he had been pushing only (or primarily) social justice he would have rejected that Jews give to the Romans because after all the Romans were occupying the Jews and were rather unjust about it. He would have agreed with the disciples that argued that Mary shouldn’t anoint him with expensive perfume and instead sell it and give the proceeds to the poor. Justice seeks what’s right in spite of political persuasion or personal bias. Social justice is focused on social equality and as such focuses on what is right in terms of achieving social equality. For example, social justice tells us that it is appropriate to tax rich people at a higher rate because they have more, while justice questions whether or not it’s appropriate to force that type of taxation upon someone. Should rich people give more as a result of having more, sure they should – but should they be forced to is the question. Jesus criticized rich people for giving out of their wealth, but never said they should be taxed more.
As Christians we should be looking to increase social justice in our world, but there are many churches where the term social justice is actually a front for a political persuasion and not a theological statement. This is where Beck makes a good point. As Christians we should be aware of the beliefs of our churches and we should question them. We should ask what our churches mean when they discuss social justice among other things and if we find those answers to be lacking, then leaving – in a quiet peaceful manner – is appropriate. Beck misses the nuance – surprise – that needs to be made when thinking about topics of social justice, but for many – though not most – churches the statements he made were correct.
After all this, the point is that as Christians we should be pursuing justice, whether it be of the social variety or not. There is massive overreaction on both sides – again, surprise – and as Christians we need to sort through the fray and ask whether we are pursuing justice or a political persuasion.