Manuscript: Social Justice vs. God’s Justice (9/11/2021)

This is the manuscript from a lecture given at Sundoulos WNY Ministry, on September 11th, 2021, by Christopher N. Croom, M.BEx.

 

Introduction to the Topic

This morning, I want to discuss the topic of justice with you. Justice has been a topic of intense scrutiny, extensive discussion, and widespread division in America these days. However, the topic of justice is not as simple as it seems, especially for Christians. Any time we are confronted with a cultural examination of morality, as a Church, we should be quick to examine what is in front of us. Is what the culture is talking about the same as what the Bible prescribes? That is the goal of us here this morning. This question is the reason you all gave up sleeping in this morning, maybe had a lighter breakfast than usual, and forgot to take out the trash this morning (which some of y’all are going to hear about when you get home).

Now justice is a term we are used to hearing attached to some other word. For instance, the title of this conference includes two occurrences: Social justice and God’s justice. So lets address the elephant in the room: “Are they the same or not? I suspect that around the room, the mileage may vary. However, this is an important question. How many organizations purporting to stand for social justice exist in the U.S. right now? Organizations like Black Lives Matter immediately come to mind for many of us. Likely, many of us in the room equate the phrase, Black Lives Matter to the idea of racial justice.

So, what I want to do from here on out is this: I want to introduce the concepts that exist within social and racial justice to you. I want to take the time to define the terms because no discussion can ever exist unless we all agree on the terminology. Is that fair? In doing that, I will define them directly from primary sources as they are presented. After I do that, we will take some time to talk about where these ideas come from and why they are relevant to the discussion. After that, we will look at the Bible and examine the same terminology and sources to make a little bit of a comparison. Ultimately, this will lead us to discuss how we should approach and address this topic in our Churches in an accurate, biblical, and purposeful way to effect change in the world around us.

Social and Racial Justice

Critical Terms in Social and Racial Justice

I supposed the very first thing I should do is define racism. However, before I do that, I want to provide a disclaimer. My disclaimer is that: Nothing I will say this morning will attempt to reject the existence of racism; that is not my goal, as you will see as we move forward. So, just… keep that in mind. Now, I need to define three terms for us; two now, one later.

The first term I need to define is racism. Now, many of us in the room may have a different definition of racism. However, a prominent teacher and voice of the social justice movement in America, Ibram X. Kendi, defines a racist as “one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.”[1] Lewis & Clark College, rated a top 100 Liberal Arts College, in their ABCs of Social Justice, defined racism as “an ideology and institution that reflects the racial worldview in which humans are divided into racial groups and in which races are arranged in a hierarchy where some races are considered innately superior to others.”[2]

The second term I need to define is equality. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic discuss equality in their book Critical Race Theory. They imply that equality creates or implements rules that create equal treatment across the board.[3] That pretty much lines up with Lewis & Clark’s definition as well, as they note that equality “focuses on the equal distribution of resources.”[4]

After a relatively brief definition of equality, the last term I need to define is equity. This definition is a critical definition for many reasons. One of the most important reasons we need to grasp this word is because it is often confused and conflated with equality. If we fail to distinguish between these two words, we won’t move much further in our discussion this morning; we will stall out here, and division will abound. Equity is “the situation in which all people or groups are given access to the correct number and types of resources for them so as to achieve equal results.”[5] Now that we have a proper definition of our terms lets circle back and talk about them.

When Kendi talks about racism, he does something partially good and something negligible. The first error is his definition. How many of you know the first rule of defining a word is to make sure you do not use the word in its own definition? Defining racism as a “marriage of racist policies… racist ideas… producing normalized racial inequities” does not give us information on what it means to be racist. So, lets modify it to a simple working definition. How about the marriage of policies, ideas, and procedures enacted against another ethnicity or race of people to normalize the mistreatment of that people? Can we agree to that?

With that said, Kendi rightly says that “the evangelical Church… supported the status quo. It supported slavery; it supported segregation; it preached against any attempt of the black man to stand on his own two feet.”[6] We know there is a history of racism in America. Most agree that there was a time in this country’s history when policy and practice openly separated people based on skin color and effected was available to them, affecting the possibility of positive outcomes.

The essence of any discussion about racism in the past should include equality. Equality is the question of if everyone involved gets a fair shake within an institution. Does everyone generally have access to the same opportunities? More specifically, is there any systematic hindrance to access? As everyone in this room likely knows, 1964 and Lyndon B. Johnson’s signature on the Civil Rights Act ended the legality of segregation. The 1965 Voting Rights Act ended the ban of minorities from the voting booths, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 ended discrimination from renting, buying, and selling homes.[7] We can argue the long-term effects of Jim Crow laws, but they were over at these various points from a systematic, legal standpoint. For now, we will hold on our definitions and come back to equity a little later to discuss it further.

Origin of the Concepts of Social and Racial Justice

I want to move forward for a little bit. The pieces we have discussed are foundational to any discussion or movement of social justice. However, where did this discussion come from in the first place? Do you know the origins of social justice? Do you know what social justice even means? Here are a few definitions and then a summation from the San Diego Foundation[8]:

  • “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.”
    United Nations
  • “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.”
    National Association of Social Workers
  • “Social justice encompasses economic justice. Social justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we call institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.”
    Center for Economic and Social Justice

The common tenets of this are summed up well by the SDF. “Social Justice means equal rights and equitable opportunity for all.”[9] Where does all of this come from? What’s the origin of this kind of thinking? It comes from a concept called Critical Race Theory.

Delgado and Stefancic define it like this: “The Critical Race Theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.”[10] He goes on to say that while this is similar to the civil rights movement, this focuses on “economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious… Critical Race Theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”[11]

Building on Critical Legal Studies and the Radical Feminism movement, CRT turns its attention away from those things and makes race the focus of everything it does. Delgado and Stefancic tell us that the group is built on the relationship to feminism in that it focuses on the construction of social roles and a collection of generally unseen patterns and habits they said are to make up the patriarchy.[12] It takes this perspective and overlays it on to race, with the specific goal to create equity.

Now is an excellent time to bring up some more about equity. I said to you earlier that it is a situation in which all people or groups are given access to the correct number and types of resources for them to achieve equal results. This is what I want you to see: Social Justice, obtaining its roots from CRT, a movement dedicated to transforming the relationship between race and power by employing a focus on the construction of social roles and patterns of “the patriarchy,” desires to create a society in which the goods of society are owned by a central power for the purpose of guaranteeing equal outcomes for people it deems worthy or under the oppression of another party.

Social Justice is not about equality. Social Justice is about equity. (2x)

Kendi’s focus on policy and ideas that “produce and normalize inequity” is summarized by him here: “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”[13] That is precisely what you agree with when you agree with those calls for equity. The fundamental problem with equity is that it requires the same outcome for everyone, regardless of talent, time, effort, or resolve.

Now, before everyone revolts against me, I want to shift gears a little. We have talked about Social Justice directly from three of the most prominent scholars in the field today. Now, I want to take a trip somewhere else. The only question that matters is, “what saith the Lord?” I want to entreat the Lord now, through His word. If you have a Bible, now is the time to break it out.

Biblical Critique and Definition of Justice

Could you turn with me to Ezekiel 18? *Read Ezekiel 18:1-22*

As we look at this chapter, a few things will initially jump out at us. This chapter is explicitly dealing with God and the relationship regarding sin between fathers and sons. For many people, the Old Testament is to be understood as describing a collectivist nation. By that, I mean that Israel is a nation thought of as being driven by a group mentality. You see, there are collectivist nations and individualistic nations.

However, verses 1-4 and 19-22 teach us about the true principles of justice in God’s economy. Verses 5-18 paint us a picture of how those principles play out. In God’s justice and judgment.

Initially, what Ezekiel wants to acknowledge is that God is the owner of each individual soul. You see, what the people are dealing with here is a question of the responsibility of sins. In other words, they need to understand how God’s justice deals with past sins: Does He apply it to the individual who committed it, or does He apply it to people groups and lineage? As we know it today, the problem with Social Justice is that equity needs to be created for one group by associating another group of people with some past sin or transgression. Because yesterday’s “white America” has wronged yesterday’s “black America,” we must now deal with today’s white man and hold him accountable to today’s black man.

For Israel, the discussion had traditionally been about a collectivist sense in which the children would undoubtedly suffer from the sins of the parents. In his commentary on the Passage, John Taylor believes that “Jeremiah and Ezekiel saw this as a pernicious doctrine because it inevitably led to a spirit of fatalism and irresponsibility.”[14] However, pernicious is not the right word. Let me explain what I believe Ezekiel is pointing out in these words.

Verse 5-18 repeats a theme three times. If you look carefully, verses 5-9, verses 10-13, and verses 14-19 all carry the same example of sins (idolatry, adultery, usury, theft, and oppression) but committed by different parties. In verses 5-9, a parent commits sins; in verses, 10-13, the child sins, and in those two instances, Ezekiel says that they are responsible for their own actions. However, in verses 14-18, there is another situation—a situation that speaks to our day: if a father or, more specifically, a parent sins, but the children do not follow in his path, the child will live, and the parent will die.

Ezekiel drives home his points about the justice of God in verses 19-22, reminding us, much as he did in the opening four verses, that God looks on the man who sins as guilty and reserves judgment until the actions of the next generation can be seen. However, something we need to grasp a hold of that is not explicitly stated in the text, but that I hope will be clear in a moment: The collective community still matters, but it is built on the assimilation of individuals into an ethical principle. In this case, the ethical principle is derived from God’s law.

Commentator Lamar Cooper wrote about this Passage. Listen to what he has to say.

“Ezekiel was not contradicting the biblical concept of corporate solidarity that was an essential part of Hebrew thought; nor was he introducing a new doctrine… Ezekiel’s goal was to reconstruct Israel as the holy people of God. Such a community would have to be created on the basis of individual choice. So it is through the commitment of the individual that the social and religious orders are to be saved.”[15]

Yet, this is precisely the opposite of what Social Justice advocates does. Social Justice ultimately divides us into groups of the perceived oppressed and oppressors. And the ethical principles they want us to espouse that today’s white man must pay for the sins of yesterday’s white man; I hope you can see how unbiblical this concept is. If you remember earlier, Delgado wants to change power dynamics; is that a biblical ambition? If you are not yet convinced or need to hear more, I ask you to turn your Bible to Galatians 6. Verses 1-7 are our focus here.

*Read Passage*

As a Christian, this has to grab your attention. Paul almost seems to contradict himself in his opening. In verse two, he tells us to bear other’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ. However, in verse five, he says we shall carry our own load. The difference comes because the words used for burden and load are two different words. The Greek word in verse two is βάρη (bar-eh), and the word used in verse five is φορτίον (phor-ti-on). Respectively, the first is a word that refers to carrying a heavy, burdensome, almost unbearable weight—some even translate it as trouble and suffering, or that which causes pain. The second is a word referring to cargo; heavy, but still portable.

Ultimately, Paul wants us to know we can come alongside others to help through difficult times or struggles of faith or sin. However, in the end, we each will stand before God alone as He renders justice, either for our sin or through our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. And this is just the point: Each man is responsible for his own actions and no one else’s when it comes to discussion about God’s justice. Thus, on Earth, we should mirror this and hold individuals accountable, not through man’s means of social justice, but God’s means of personal accountability. If we, as individuals, hold people accountable individually, and we live by God’s principles, not man’s, we will find ourselves with more allies than we expect and with truth on our side.

The problem we have in our culture right now is that talks of equity are out of line, even though it is the foundation upon which the Social Justice movement is built. People need equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. How can I say this? Because God has given to each man a measure of talent, skills, and time in life. What a man accomplishes generally should be built upon his capability and capacity to do what is before him. With equal access, he can go as far as his gifts and talents allow him to. In fact, do you remember the parable of the talents? Without starting a new sermon, a master gave specific talents to his people to keep while he was away. Do you remember that each person received a different amount? It is no different from this discussion. This idea does not mean that we should not seek to do good. However, it does mean we cannot label entire people groups based on race or socioeconomic status as the oppressed. We must examine each case as it comes and judge each individual on their own merit or demerit.

Next Steps for the Church

Now, I know that I am short on time, and I could not have said everything I wanted today. First, I want to thank you for hearing me out and listening. However, before I go… I want to ask you the question: How can we take this conversation further? We have defined real racism, talking about Social Justice’s root in Critical Race Theory. We have discussed the dangers of pitting new people groups and convincing them they can only right past injustice with present injustice. Furthermore, we have discussed concepts of individualism and personal responsibility and why they are necessary to understand God’s sense of justice.

For the Church, this discussion must move forward. However, it cannot move forward under Social Justice, Critical Race Theory or Black Lives Matter banner. Truthfully, I encourage you to abandon allegiance to those groups so that you can engage society on a one-to-one basis with the Gospel of Christ. As we discussed earlier, for a society to truly change, its people must take up their individual responsibility to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. We have to assimilate into the doctrine of God and walk as a citizen of His kingdom while here on Earth.

I want to leave you with two questions as I close here:

  1. Do you agree that God’s word appears to provide justice on an individual basis?
  2. If you agree, are you willing to collaborate with a movement that rejects that? If you disagree, how can you then, from a biblical perspective, help those who are guilty to find forgiveness in Jesus Christ?

One way or another, we have to address this issue. The question of justice is simply too important not to discuss. However, this is going to come down to one question: whose justice do we want? Society’s justice, or God’s justice? Because I promise you, they are not the same.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Cooper, Lamar, Ezekiel, vol. 17, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994).

Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. New York, NY: New York University, 2012.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC, 2019.

Taylor, John B. Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 22. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. InterVarsity Press, 1969.

“Jim Crow Laws: Definition, Facts & Timeline – HISTORY.” Accessed August 28, 2021. https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/jim-crow-laws.

“Social Justice – Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement – Lewis & Clark.” Accessed August 28, 2021. https://college.lclark.edu/student_life/multicultural_affairs/resources/social-justice/.

“What Is Social Justice?” Accessed August 28, 2021. https://www.sdfoundation.org/news-events/sdf-news/what-is-social-justice/.

 

Review/Study Questions for a Deeper Dive

 

  1. What do you think is the best way to handle real racism in America? Should it be through legislation or individual personal interactions? Is this something that is ever discussed in your local Church?

 

  1. Based on the lecture this morning, how do you understand equality and equity in social justice and God’s justice? Are both necessary? What are the most important differences you see between the two?

 

  1. For the foundation of a functional society, there are basic things upon which we must all agree. Ephesians 2:13 tells us that Christians are brought into a new life upon entering the Church. How does this apply directly to those who consider assimilation a problem?

 

 

[1]              Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist (New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC, 2019).

[2]              “Social Justice – Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement – Lewis & Clark,” accessed August 28, 2021, https://college.lclark.edu/student_life/multicultural_affairs/resources/social-justice/.

[3]              Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York, NY: New York University, 2012).

[4]              “Social Justice – Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement – Lewis & Clark.”

[5]              Ibid.

[6]              Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist.

[7]              “Jim Crow Laws: Definition, Facts & Timeline – HISTORY,” accessed August 28, 2021, https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/jim-crow-laws.

[8]              “What Is Social Justice?,” accessed August 28, 2021, https://www.sdfoundation.org/news-events/sdf-news/what-is-social-justice/.

[9]              Ibid.

[10]             Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction.

[11]             Ibid.

[12]             Ibid.

[13]             Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist.

[14]             John B Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 22, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (InterVarsity Press, 1969).

[15]             Lamar Eugene Cooper, Ezekiel, vol. 17, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 189.

 

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Christopher Croom
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