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Why We Fear Social Justice

The pursuit of social justice is in the very fabric of faith. Justice is not an isolated term reserved for the individual in the sanctuary of his/her soul. Justice is lived out in the context of community and is, therefore, social. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 ESB)  Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly are social in every way. You can’t see justice, feel justice or touch justice without a social context. The transformational nature of redemption puts us in the world to live out our faith in a variety of communities.

Recently, I was reminded that there is an element in the Christian religious tradition that fears the term social justice. They prefer “justice” or “biblical justice.” Social justice reminds them that somehow, somewhere, someone might confuse us with Marxists or Socialists – displaying a complete ignorance of Marxism, Socialism and now we must add to the list – scripture. This element would censor our language.  Many, not all, would seek to shut down efforts to participate in the pursuit of justice in all aspects of society. That is really not an option for people of faith. If ever there was a biblical mandate – it is to love our neighbor and to stand with the poor.

Susan Sontag in her seminal book AIDS and Its Metaphors, published in 1989, illustrated how language often attempts to deconstruct our understanding of an issue. AIDS was a classic example. It has been understood as a homosexual disease.  As one reviewer suggested, “She finds that the metaphors that we associate with disease contribute not only to stigmatizing the disease, but also stigmatizing those who are ill. She believes that the distractions of metaphors and myths ultimately cause more fatalities from this disease.” (Wikipedia)

In the same way, those “good folk” that suggest Social Justice is really the language of the progressive liberal would also condemn the social justice activist as advancing some kind of progressive liberal agenda. This stigma diverts us from the true mission of the church and now gives the critics a convenient excuse to be silent about systemic injustice. Social justice is the language of the “liberal” or “Socialist” therefore, it cannot be the gospel.

Social justice is the new metaphor of stigmatization.

What concerns me is that leaders of faith organizations capitulate to this criticism and dismiss the language of social justice in order to appease the critics. What’s new? Appeasement is often a requirement of leadership – or at least so it would appear.

The pursuit of social justice is not an option on the menu of Christian obedience. You cannot remove it from the lexicon of discipleship by simply demonizing the phrase social justice. Why this has become an obsession with certain groups mystifies me. I can only conclude that there must be fear. My critics will quickly point out that social justice is not a biblical phrase – then again – neither is biblical justice. Okay, so let’s compromise and just use the term justice. We could, I suppose and then everybody would be happy. The whole criticism of social justice is a Trojan Horse (how do you like that metaphor Susan Sontag?) and advances a political agenda that undermines the efforts of the community of faith to be engaged in a world broken by injustice, greed and pride. Perfect love casts out fear – fear is anchored in ignorance – perfect love is social – unless of course we have become a narcissistic community determined to sanctify ourselves by trying to practice justice only in the privacy of our own homes.

Language is important friends and we should not surrender the truth of the gospel to fear.

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