I recently spent a couple of hours watching the Al Mohler/Jim Wallis debate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s Henry Center for Theological Understanding. The resolved was that social justice is integral to the gospel. Wallis took the affirmative, while Mohler, reluctantly in his own admission, took the “no” position.
Mohler rightly stated that the term social justice is not mentioned in the Bible. Neither, I might add, is economic justice, civic justice, or the Justice League of America. However, the word that these phrases share–justice–is mentioned. In fact the mentioned phrases are all more than implied in scripture, they are clearly addressed numerous times (well, not the last one). The Bible does address how God’s people are to relate to the poor, it does address how we are address the orphans and widows, it does address systems of economy that are unjust. About this most people do not argue. As a group the minor prophets rail against the disobedience to God that was so often demonstrated by injustice. Numerous of them specify mistreatment of the poor, the needy and the widows and children. Whenever a form of injustice is mentioned as happening “at the gate” or “in the gate” it refers to embedded, systemic abuse or oppression by those in power; i.e., legalized injustice.
Nearing the time of His betrayal Jesus disciples expressed their desire to help the poor. When Jesus told them to stay near Him he reminded them, “The poor you have with you always, but me you do not have with you always.” In this Jesus isn’t saying it isn’t important to help the poor, but that once He was not longer with them they would have plenty of opportunity to fulfill those ministry opportunities. (Perhaps Jesus is referencing Deuteronomy 15:11, which states, “There will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land'” HCSB.)
The question, and an implication from it that I will further address in my next post, is “Does it matter whether these things are integral with the good news of Jesus Christ, and what is a practical effect of separating the two?” When Jesus came proclaiming the “good news of the Kingdom,” was seeking to right injustice part and parcel to His message, or were (and are) these things merely expectations of behaviors that would spring from that message? If it is the “good news” (gospel) of the Kingdom then does speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, standing against admittedly fallen economic systems that oppress the poor, and working against tyrannical leaders who brutalize their own people for their own wicked, self-aggrandizement or monetary benefit constitute “good news”? If it is good news of “the Kingdom” what does the King Himself expect as the ethic of His reign? Can we hold to the King while disparaging or ignoring the realities of His kingdom? Put another way, “Can we parse the ‘good news’ into integral and additional?”
If justice is part of righteousness, how can it not be integral to the gospel? Does the righteousness of God include His justice? If it does, why does our imputed righteousness not include a call to seek justice as well? If justice is not a part of our righteousness in Christ, what is the point of “judging with righteous judgment” as Jesus instructed, or how can we even do that? It seems to me that justice is the activity of God’s being just. If so, then how can we be clothed in the righteousness of Christ and it not include the characteristic of being just like He is just with the integrated activity of seeking to overturn injustice in all its forms?
I’m not sure I know the answers to all those questions or any of them for that matter. While Wallis argued that social justice is integral to the gospel and Mohler said it wasn’t, Mohler was quick to note that even though it wasn’t it was certainly the responsibility to every believer. In my paraphrase, “It isn’t integral with the gospel, but it is so much a fruit of righteousness it might as well be.” His humorously expressed displeasure with taking the “no” position was because no Christian wants to be viewed as against injustice!
The question is not whether issues of social justice should be addressed by Christians; only from where that impulse should come?
Thoughts? Are justice issues–abortion, the sex trade, socio-economic oppression–part of the gospel itself?