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Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Marvin Olasky has an excellent response to the dust-up between Jim Wallis and Glenn Beck over the issue of "social justice."
Let's review the history: Was "social justice" born as a Catholic term? Yes, Jesuit theologian Luigi Taparelli tried to stem a socialist surge in the 1840s by arguing that religious and civic groups could justly improve living conditions without relying on governmental force.
Did Communists and Nazis flip "social justice" into a promotion of government power? Yes. Communist Party USA leaders instructed me in 1972 and 1973 to use those words. I haven't personally researched Nazi usage, but a leading Nazi sympathizer during the 1930s, radio priest Charles Coughlin, established a National Union for Social Justice and published a million-subscriber magazine, Social Justice. His radio audience of 16 million heard him attacking an "international conspiracy of Jewish bankers."
Do those historical wrinkles mean that the term should not be used? No, but it should certainly be defined. We can study the 150 or so times that mishpat in Hebrew and kreesis in Greek—words commonly translated as "justice"—appear in the Bible. Biblically, justice—tied to righteousness—is what promotes faith in God, not faith in government. Prophets criticized not entrepreneurs but those who combined economic and political power to lord it over others, as today's bureaucrats and corporate/government partnerships tend to do.
Furthermore, modern usage by liberal preachers and journalists is thoroughly unbiblical: Many equate social justice with fighting a free enterprise system that purportedly keeps people poor but in reality is their best economic hope.
How to respond? I'd suggest four possible ways, one of which is a variant of Beck's: Challenge those who speak of "social justice" in a conventionally leftist way. If your local church is committed to what won't help the poor but will empower would-be dictators, pray and work for gospel-centered teaching. If necessary, find another church.
A second: Try to recapture the term by giving it a 19th- (and 21st?) century small-government twist. The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are trying to do this. I wish them success.
A third way: Accept the left's focus on systemic problems but not its faulty analysis. Learn about the biggest institutional hindrance to economic advance for the poor: the government's monopoly control of taxpayer funds committed to education and welfare. Work for school vouchers and tax credits that will help many poor children to grow both their talents and their knowledge of God.
Fourth and best: Tutor a child. Visit a prisoner. Help the sick. Follow Christ.
Labels: Capitalism, Christianity, Conservatism, Economics, Freedom, Liberalism, Politics, Socialism, Wallis