Methinks Jim Wallis doth protest too much
My co-panelist Jim Wallis is shocked--Shocked!
Anyone who has the barest familiarity with the way different Christian movements are described knows full well that "social justice" is used as a recognizable catchphrase for a certain subset of the Christian family.
The phenomenon is not exactly new: all Christian churches practice baptism, but Baptists are the ones who make a big deal of only baptizing people when they are old enough to choose to do so. All Christian churches are evangelical in that they are constituted by the gospel (the "evangel") of Jesus Christ, but Evangelicals are the modern-day Protestants who are neither liberal nor fundamentalist. Heck, I don't know of a church that doesn't have committees but it's the Presbyterians who have raised them to an art form.
In the same way, political movements adopt labels like "family values," "peace and justice," "hope and change"--words that in themselves are unobjectionable but which in their specific contexts do in fact circumscribe particular movements with particular agendas.
It's been a hobby of mine for several years now to ask people what they mean when they use the phrase "social justice." I've asked pastors, scholars, activists, laypeople...dozens of folks. I never get the same answer (which is interesting in its own right), but I do find that the people all support roughly the same political causes. I do find that all identify economic inequality as inherently evil, or at least as deeply problematic. I do find that all believe that resources ought to be redistributed from those who have much to those who have little. I do find that while all applaud charitable activity, they also tend to think it would be a fine idea for governments to be involved in that process of redistribution.
(Given the time of year it shouldn't be necessary to do this, but I would remind readers that using the tax code to take money from one person in order to give it to another is in fact "forced redistribution of wealth." If you don't believe me, try telling the IRS that you'd prefer to help poor people get medical care by donating to your local clinic rather than by having tax dollars taken from you to pay for Medicaid.)
I also find that all who identify with the "social justice" movement consider their political views to be deeply rooted in -- if not necessary applications of -- strongly held religious convictions.
My co-panelist Al Mohler offers a helpful cocktail-napkin (well, dinner-napkin for him) sketch of the genesis of the movement to which the "social justice" label applies today. I should note that while the social justice movement is dominant among those branches of the Christian family tree that embraced theological liberalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not all "social justice Christians" are themselves theological liberals. I have plenty of evangelical friends--people I respect, like and even admire--who fall into this category.
And it is quite true that evangelicals have been guilty of being so focused on a personal experience of faith that we have neglected our responsibilities to be salt and light in the times and places where God has seen fit to put us. Indeed, it was in reaction to this odious quality in fundamentalism that people like Harold Ockenga, Billy Graham and Carl Henry worked to raise up the movement known today as Evangelicalism. As Henry put it in his classic The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, "A Christianity without a passion to turn the world upside down is not reflective of apostolic Christianity."
There are many people working hard to turn the world upside down by pursuing political agendas quite different from Jim Wallis'. At the end of his March 27 piece in the Post Wallis said that in light of Glenn Beck's attacks on him "Who knows; it may be the moment to launch a new movement of Christians for Social Justice." If it's true, as he said earlier in the same piece, that "social justice is central to the teachings of Jesus and at the heart of biblical faith," you might just as well call the movement "Christians for Christianity."
But what Jim Wallis means by "social justice" is not what many others take the phrase to mean, and rather than fighting him over the phrase I think we're content to leave it to him and his comrades.
Posted by: howtotownight | April 21, 2010 8:23 AM
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Posted by: Athena4 | April 19, 2010 11:16 PM
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