Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why Social Justice Matters

Recently, Glenn Beck told his viewers to leave their church if they preach about social justice. I don't normally pay attention to Glenn Beck, but this recent comment is particularly out of line and I want to address it.

What is social justice? Broadly speaking, social justice is the effort to create a society that is more equal, both politically and economically, for everyone. Those who seek social justice seek to help support and uplift those groups that are marginalized within a given society; for example, the poor, the oppressed, slaves, widows, orphans, immigrants, and racial minorities.

The specific term "social justice" was coined by the Jesuit scholar Luigi Taparelli in 1841, but the idea has been around for much longer than that. The idea that society has a responsibility to care for the poor and the marginalized goes at least as far back as Moses.

In the Old Testament Law, which was written by Moses, God's people are instructed to care for the poor, widows, orphans and foreigners. This instruction is repeated in several different places throughout the Law of Moses.

This theme of social justice is picked up by the prophets, who frequently criticize Israel and Judah for oppressing foreigners and not taking care of the poor. Nearly all of the Old Testament prophets touch on this theme. The book of Amos deals almost exclusively with the theme of social justice.

When we enter into the New Testament things only become worse. Jesus frequently commands his followers to share their possessions with people in need. The book of Acts, which describes the history of the early church, tells us that people in the early church shared all of their possessions with one another so that everyone's needs were met.

Glenn Beck also warned his viewers that they might lose their right to read all the passages of the Bible. If Glenn Beck had actually exercised that right himself, then he would know that social justice is not a minor issue for Christians. It lies at the very heart of scripture and of Jesus' teachings.

Glenn Beck's show provides a great example of what happens when you mingle politics and religion. Having a conservative pastor tell their congregation how to vote is bad enough. Having a political pundit tell his audience where they should go to church is even more disturbing.

Glenn Beck is telling his audience not to follow the teachings of Jesus because they don't fit with his particular political agenda. This is a disturbing trend, to say the least.


  1. It might seem strange to people who follow this blog that I wrote a post full of scripture citations after I said I was going to try and cite scripture less.

    The truth is, given the nature of Mr. Beck's criticism I feel the need to refer to the Bible to defend my position. In all honesty I think I showed a lot of restraint. The issue of social justice is one that runs through all of scripture. The amount of scripture devoted to the subject is simply staggering.

    That's why I felt the need to cite all those scriptures up there. I hope you understand.

  2. Viewers, leave your church if it doesn't preach about social justice.

    Or, alternately, start doing it and invite your church into it. See this later post for a couple ways to get involved.

    Make sure you're not just giving or serving from a distance. If you're not building relationships, aka bringing relational wholeness, then I'd argue that you're not doing social justice.