Faithlink Discussion: Social Justice and Christian Faith

by Jacob Juncker

Fox commentator Glenn Beck sparked a controversy recently by declaring that church members should “run as fast as you can” away from churches that use the words social justice to describe themselves.

from Faithlink: Connecting Faith and Life, volume 16, number 3, May 16, 2010 (Nashville: Cokesbury, 2010)

Check out the video below to see the entire context of what Glenn Beck had to say:

While attending seminary at Boston University School of Theology – arguably a liberal (politically and theologically) leaning seminary – I had an interesting experience in my United Methodist history and polity class.  The professor asked us to explain, using a few words, what defines the United Methodist Church.  In other words, if this “whatever” wasn’t there, we would be anything but United Methodist.  When it came to my turn.  I explained that I would not recognize the church if it was anything but “evangelical.”  A hush went over the room -I had to define the term.  They were thinking about the “crazy” political agendas of the Religious Right and not what the word truly meant.  I explained that I could not imagine a Church that failed to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  I think Glenn Beck in the quote above is missing the boat.  I think he needs to define his terms.  What does it mean to be concerned about economic and social justice?

For me, you cannot separate economic and social justice.  They are one in the same.  I would define social/economic justice as complete equality and openness to resources.  I think of the stories of the early church, especially in Acts 2:43-47.  To live in a completely just society would be one in which grace and Truth abided with one another.

As I read this week’s Faithlink and listened to Glenn Beck, I couldn’t help but think of a book I read in seminary entitled Good News to the Poor: John Wesley’s Evangelical Economics by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990).  In it he writes about the structures of the early Methodist movement, their pursuit of holiness through practice and discipline, and their overwhelming concern for the “other.”  He writes:

To be holy as God is holy is to enter the world, to contest the rule of sin and pride and greed.  The holiness project cannot consist in retiring from the world but rather in an assault upon the world.  It is for all that the assault of love.  It is the relentless calling of the world to a life commensurate with love.

    The disciplines of holiness, then, are the disciplines of love.  The societies [Christian communities] are constituted so that Christians can watch over one another in love, rooting out all forms of lovelessness in their behavior and in their “tempers.”  But this love cannot be simply encapsulated in the internal life of the community any more than it can be closed up in the interiority of the individual.  Like the divine love, it reaches out, and does so concretely and visibly.

     Just as grace must produce concretely visible effects, so also must love.  Love seeks the benefit of the other.  Of course, the other’s benefit must mean that the other as well comes to live the life of love made possible by grace.  But the love of the neighbor cannot restrict itself to some specifically religious sphere any more than the divine love does.  To say that we should care only for our neighbor’s soul would be an imitation of some other God than the one Wesley knows. […] God is not the prisoner of the “spiritual” sphere but is active in all of life, healing, feeding, and responding to all sorts of human distress.  An imitation of this love will also direct itself to the relief of every form of human distress.

from Good News to the Poor: John Wesley’s Evangelical Economics by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), p150-151.

 We must have an outward, wholistic focus on the other.  We should be involved in concrete, visible forms of aid to all persons.  We are called by God to care for the weak and hurting in the world.  We are called to be broken healers (persons who heal, by the grace of God, through our own brokeness).  We are called to point out and do our best to fix the systemic problems of our society: problems that construct barriers, separating people by race, gender, financial capacity, sexual orientation, physical and mental capacity, etc.  We are called by Christ to establish the Reign of God on earth.  This can only be done by pursuing social/economic justice: the cornerstone of Christ’s ministry and ours too.