Christianists, justice, and social Darwinism.

In the scriptures justice is defined on doing what’s just—what’s appropriate, what’s fair, what’s right, what’s consistent with the Law of Moses.

And lest you get the idea, “Oh, the Law of Moses; so it’s about breaking commands and meting out punishments,” no it’s not. Read the Law sometime and you’ll notice there’s a lot in there about doing for the needy and powerless, about loving one’s neighbor, about compassion and mercy and grace. Read the Prophets and you’ll see they get on Israel’s case not just for breaking the Law, but for shafting the poor and needy… which is forbidden by the Law. Anybody who thinks the Old Testament is all legalism, and the New Testament is all grace, clearly hasn’t read the Old Testament—or is projecting their own bad attitudes onto it. Plenty of grace in there… called “favor” or “mercy” or other synonyms, but you shouldn’t miss it.

Okay, that’s the bible. In our culture it’s assumed a very different definition. Justice in the United States is about upholding our laws. Particularly about punishing the guilty.

In so doing, justice has become another word for vengeance. Meted out by our government, but it’s still vengeance; check out all the people who push for the death penalty, or who stand outside death row while an execution goes on, pleased as punch that somebody’s getting what’s coming to them. It’s all about karma. It looks nothing like biblical justice.

Hence Christian activists have to distinguish biblical justice from unbiblical justice; from civic justice, which sues fast-food restaurants for making their coffee too hot, and from criminal justice, which gives people life sentences for stealing three cars.

This is where social justice comes in: It’s biblical justice. It’s nothing more than God’s admonitions to his people to do right by the powerless and needy. It’s helping those who can’t do for themselves—which is 180 degrees away from the way our individualist society tends to treat ’em. Society ignores anything Christ Jesus and his scriptures have to say about helping our neighbors, and instead holds to a very selfish, karmic attitude which blames ’em for their own troubles, blames ’em for being unable to escape their troubles, exploits or penalizes or punishes ’em for it, and (on the off chance we realize any of this is evil) justifies itself by inventing “biblical principles” which make it sound like it’s God’s idea.

God’s response to such folks?

Isaiah 1.16-17 KWL
16 “Bathe! Get clean! Get rid of the evil deeds before my eyes.
Stop doing evil. 17 Learn to do good. Seek right judgments.
Straighten out oppressors. Judge orphans fairly. Defend widows.”

Ancient Israel’s worship wasn’t working for the LORD, because they figured they could please him by sacrificing fields of animals to him—not by actually obeying him, and loving his people whom his Son would eventually die for. In Isaiah 1 he expressed his frustration with their rotten attitudes… and since American Christians are so biblically illiterate nowadays, of course we’ve fallen right into the very same behaviors.

Social justice and Christian history.

Lemme make this clear: Politics is about the pursuit of power. Both the Christian Right and Christian Left are regularly co-opted by politicians so they can gain power. So though I’m about to critique the Christian Right a bit, do not get the idea the Christian Left doesn’t have plenty to critique as well. I’ll discuss them in a bit. But first the rightists.

Historically the Christian Right in the United States has not been on the side of justice. It was on the side of slavery. And once slavery was abolished, it was on the side of segregation and the Jim Crow laws. The Christian Right baselessly believed blacks were “the sons of Ham”—descendants of Noah’s son Ham, who had mocked his father’s drunken nakedness, and as a result his son was cursed with servitude. Ge 9.20-27 As far as they were concerned, black people need to know their place and stay there. Their economy, politics, philosophy, interpretation of history, society, theology, everything, was designed to support their racism. Still does.

For a number of years, the Christian Right’s segregation and racism was largely outlawed and went underground. Oh, it still exists. It’s why black families still can’t move into certain suburbs; it’s why white people get plea bargains and black people go to prison; it’s why cops racially profile blacks, kill them carelessly, and get away with it. And while many in the Christian Right are now firmly anti-racist, many simply assume they’re not racist because they don’t hate blacks and browns—but they’re totally fine with leaving racially biased systems as-is. Because it doesn’t affect them negatively. Just the opposite.

It all goes back to selfishness and unaccountability. That’s always been the desire of sinful people. Slavery and racism gave it a theology, and justified it.

The Christian Right largely clung to their racism till the 1980s, when they realized the only way to join the political mainstream was to set it aside. In the meanwhile the main faction in American Christendom, from the founding of the colonies till the ’80s, was actually the Christian Left.

Most of the social reforms in American history were promoted by the Christian Left. Mostly this was because they believed in postmillennialism—the idea Jesus’s followers have to establish his thousand-year kingdom of God on earth so Jesus can come back and reign over it. (Nope, it’s no more biblical a view than the Left Behind novels.) Hence everything in the Christian Left was about progress, reform, and improvement. Read Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps sometime—the novel which popularized the slogan “What Would Jesus Do?”—and you’ll see what the Christian Left looked like in 1899.

Evangelicals and mainline churches were largely Christian Left, as was every evangelistic movement. Even the early Fundamentalists were part of the Christian Left. Yep, you could actually be Fundamentalist and progressive!—an idea today’s conservatives can’t imagine, because that’s how far their politics have compromised them.

Fr’instance. Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, California, was founded by J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of the Fundamentalist movement. Machen firmly believed in government reforms, social programs, and social justice. Westminster’s current president, Dr. Peter A. Lillback, occasionally appears on conservative talk shows to denounce such things. To decry “the roots of social justice.” To claim it’s unbiblical. Conservative Christians regularly assume their founders believed exactly as they do; that they’d be appalled by the directions our society is going. And maybe they would be. But the forebears’ solutions to these problems were not conservative solutions. Nor did they look back to the past, and insist things oughta return to the good old days… which really weren’t that good. They were looking forward—towards Jesus.

Lillback claims justice only applies to individuals, not groups: It’s about resolving individual mistreatment. He points out the words “social justice” aren’t found together in the bible. He’s right; they’re not. They don’t need to be. Look up every instance of justice in your bible and you’ll notice it’s all social: It consistently pertains to groups.

Leviticus 19.15 NIV
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”
 
Leviticus 19.15 NIV
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
 
Psalm 82.3-4 NIV
3 Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
 
Psalm 140.12 NIV
I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.
 
Jeremiah 22.3 NIV
“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
 
Luke 18.7-8 NIV
7 “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Apparently Lillback’s not done any word study on justice. Or he has, but he’s willfully blinded himself to the results ’cause they don’t suit his politics. As a conservative, he’s so fearful of collective responsibility—of communism, socialism, anything which interferes with his right to avoid a movement and do his own thing—that he’s even willing to dismiss God’s movements as Lefty inventions.

Social Darwinism in its place.

SOCIAL DARWINISM 'soʊ.ʃəl 'dɑr.wən.ɪz.əm noun. The idea individuals and groups are subject to the same fight for superiority and supremacy as plants and animals.

“Do for others” is a central tenet of Christianity, Lk 7.12 and “do for yourself” is a central tenet of total depravity. Yet “do for yourself” has also become a central tenet of American philosophy. Independence, individuality, freedom from co-dependence, freedom from external influence, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, learning to fish instead of being given a fish, making and running on your own steam: These are all qualities Americans consider admirable, and part of a good character.

But they don’t look like God’s kingdom at all. In his kingdom we’re called to submit to one another, Ep 5.21 love one another, Jn 13.34 encourage and build one another up, 1Th 5.11 and care for the weak. 1Th 5.14 Our churches, the kingdom’s outposts, oughta look like this. They don’t always. Because too many of us are Americans first, Christians second. Or we’re simply Christianist instead: We love the trappings of Christianity, but do our own thing.

Americans have largely adopted the philosophy of social Darwinism. Like animals fighting over prey, the strong will survive, the weak will perish… and that’s fine. It helps ensure only the genes of the strong will be passed down to the next generation. No it doesn’t account for time and chance, which can undermine the results. Ec 9.11 But then again social Darwinism isn’t actually a scientific description of the world. It’s solely a justification for letting the “unfit” perish—however we choose to define fitness.

The reason God calls for justice is precisely because the strong try to dominate the weak. He doesn’t want the strong to get away with sin, simply because they’re strong. Nor for the weak to perish, simply because no one offers them help. He wants Christians to treat both strong and weak equally. To stop favoring the strong, the popular, the winsome, the wealthy, the famous; and dismissing the weak. Especially since it’s the strong who exploit us Christians most. Jm 2.1-9 Historically, God takes the side of the weak against their oppressors. Far be it from us Christians to ever be found on the oppressors’ side—and suffer consequences either in this world, or the next.

We need to ask ourselves which side we’re on. In any issue. Are we helping the needy, or do our politics and personal behaviors do nothing for them, or even fight them? Are we helping the sick? The disabled? The mentally ill? The uninsured? Those people who work 60 hours a week and still can’t afford to support their families? The convicts who’ve served their time, yet still no one will cut them a break? Those people whose other life circumstances mean no one will ever hire them? Are we condemning them for their lack of skills, their lack of education, their lack of citizenship, their lack of drive, or any lack they have?

“They’re not my problem.” Wrong; they are. The default mode of every Christian must be that of a problem-solver. That’s why God gave us the Spirit’s fruit and gifts in the first place: To apply these abilities to others. That’s why the apostles instructed Christians to help the weak. 1Th 5.14 They’re precisely the people whom God’s strength is given to us to help.

This doesn’t always mean we gotta help directly. Sometimes we gotta connect people to better help. Nor does it mean we help con artists who steal what’s meant for the truly needy. Nor is the existence of con artists and lazy people an excuse for doing nothing. A lot of us Christians ought to be more generous with our resources, instead of looking for excuses to be bitter, and give less.

Helping the needy takes God’s side. Dismissing the needy—and helping their exploiters—opposes him. Our choice is clear: We must contribute to social justice, or we’re contributing to social Darwinism.