May 7, 2008

Mulling Over 'Social Justice'

Over at The Immanent Frame, Loyola sociology prof Rebecca Sager has an interesting post regarding a "progressive evangelical movement" centered on "social justice." Thanks to Professor Michael Perry's Mirror of Justice post, I was drawn to the article by this quote:

“How can you be a Christian and not care about issues like poverty and health care?”
Exactly! I couldn't agree more. I would also ask, though:

"How can you be a Christian and fail to recognize that the state is incompetent as the primary vehicle for compassion, love, and mercy in this world?"
In other words, have Christians abandoned belief in the mission of the church?

To the extent that social justice involves compassion for the poor and needy, a recognition that there are haves and have nots in the world and in this country, a desire to clothe the naked, an attempt to feed the hungry, and the provision of equal treatment to all under the law, count me in. To the extent that social justice means that the state, the church, the individual, and the family all have exactly the same responsibilties to do these things, count me out.

I am hesitant to embrace the social justice movement because, more often than not, "social justice" does for justice what the "social gospel" did for the gospel: it denatures it. If "justice" means mercy, compassion, and charity, then what is mercy, compassion, or charity? And if the state is fully competent to show compassion, mercy, and charity, then what of restitution and retribution? And what is left of just desert?

The usurpation by the state of the ministry of the church is a problem. Of course, it is not the fault of the government that the church has failed to be compassionate, merciful, and loving, but the response of the church should be to become more compassionate, merciful, and loving, not to further abandon its obligations and then encourage the state-- a notoriously ineffecient and imprudent lover-- to take up the slack.

If "social justice" means that justice is state charity, compassion, mercy, hospitality, care, and kindness to all, then justice just means "everything nice."

I could be wrong about the statist tenor of the social justice movement, and I need to think some more about it. Again, count me as a fan of both justice and the desired ends of "social justice" (compassion for the poor, equal treatment of all, the end of racism, for example). Social Justice, though, seems today to be a term of art that connotes the decline of real justice (administered by the state) and of true mercy and charity (administered by the church, families, and individuals).

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