The problem with “social justice”, part 4

Situational irony. I’ve been asked to present a brief devotional thought based on a chapter from a book that presents problems for me.

The book is on social justice and the particular chapter I’ve been assigned is entitled “Why Should We Do Justice?” If you don’t find that ironic, let me remind you what I’ve said so far in this series of articles.

The problem with social justice is that it is based on justice.

The concept of justice as understood in modern culture is essentially self-centered.

Love, not justice, must be the foundation for addressing the problems of the world.

In all fairness to the author, I haven’t thoroughly explored his concepts. But a quick scan makes it appear that he takes the opposite view on all of these statements. The author speaks of justice as the end game.  He sees justice as the ultimate in caring for others. And, he seems to say that simply asking people to love others is not sufficient because love does not provide sufficient motivation to achieve the purposes of justice.

I believe that the author and I want the same thing. We want to take care of people. We want to recognize the value of every individual. We want the basic needs of all to be met. We want others to join us in those initiatives.

The difference is really the underlying foundation of this whole series.  The problem with social justice as it is trumpeted politically is that it is ultimately based on self-centered justice. “We have decided what is right and good based on what we want and what we think that we deserve. Justice enforces our standards. Everyone else should comply.”

I hope you’ll read the following statement very carefully.

Even though addressing social justice issues through the machine of justice is flawed, it is a necessary exercise while the world struggles to find a better way.

When I teach others about peace, I use a model that defines peace as an “equal balance of justice and mercy.” As we go deeper into that model, we can further say that peace requires a balance of concerns for self and for others.

Thus, if peace is to live up to its reputation as the most perfect of conditions (and it is, by the way), it seems to me that . . .

“Social Justice” must be balanced with “Social Mercy.”

In my next article, I will explore ways that social mercy leads to hope . . . and how hope paves a path toward a better way.

(Photo courtesy of Shlomit Wolf at stock.xchng)


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10 thoughts on “The problem with “social justice”, part 4

  1. Joey, thanks for this series. I too wrestle with the issue of social justice…largely because “justice” is in the eye of the beholder. This isn’t to say justice is relative altogether. Just that justice isn’t as readily apparent as what meets the eye.

    • Tim, thanks for your comment. This has become such a political issue when it needs to be heart and life-driven. Removal of “self” as our standard is so difficult. I’ve got some thoughts on that, as well. Not sure if they fit in this series, but we’ll see. Hope you’re doing well. Would love an opportunity to visit sometime soon. Blessings!

  2. First, let me start by saying that you are full of wisdom, and I usually agree with you completely.

    Next, I go back to my earlier statement that love and justice are not mutually exclusive. defines justice:

    1. the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause.
    2. rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason: to complain with justice.
    3. the moral principle determining just conduct.

    None of that seems self-centered. It seems right. Most of the Christian based organizations I am aware of that are involved in Social Justice are very selfless. These groups feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, free slaves, educate children, oppose war and promote peace. The Social Justice I am aware of promotes selflessness, and the protection of others. Because I support several of these organizations, I am often labeled a liberal, or politically left.

    The way I see it, the opposition of using the term Social Justice is rooted in far right wing politics. The politically conservative anti social justice movement seems to be based upon self. The idea that that helping people might raise their taxes angers them, yet there is huge support for military spending. Obscene bonuses by management of companies bailed out with tax dollars is called free market, yet feeding poor American children is called free loading. The opposition to Social Justice appears to moderates like me to be based upon fear that someone else will get something not earned. Getting something undeserved … like grace.

    Removal of self as our standard would and does promote justice. We live in a fallen world. We can promote love, peace, justice and mercy, but cannot expect that everyone else will treat others in fairness. I am usually able to defend myself against injustice because of the blessings God has so richly bestowed upon me. Most people cannot do likewise. As a community, we must seek justice for all, not just ourselves.

    As much as I am capable, I serve the Prince of Peace, not the god of war. Justice promotes Peace. Often, mercy is part of justice. God is both just and merciful. Why can’t we strve to be both?

    Exodus 23:6

    “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.”

    Dueteronomy 16:20

    “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

    Dueteronomy 24:17

    “Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.”

    Psalm 33:5

    “The LORD loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

    Psalm 50:6

    ” And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
    for he is a God of justice.”

    In Him,

    David Hart

    • Thanks, Dave! I don’t disagree with those definitions as pure definitions. Unfortunately, words take on meanings beyond what a dictionary says. While I don’t agree with those who rail against the aim of the social justice movement, I also know from my peacemaking role that we have to find language that communicates without alienating. Also, I didn’t mean to ignore your earlier comment that justice and love aren’t mutually exclusive. I agree. In the model I’m working from, where peace is an equal balance of justice and mercy, there is a corollary that true love exists in the same realm as peace. In my view, peace and love are conjoined. Thus — and perhaps this is a stretch for some folks — justice and mercy are actually elements of love. A parent’s love for a child embraces both attributes — justice and mercy. Great thoughts. Keep them coming!

  3. Joey,
    I agree that love must proceed justice in addressing and solving the problems of the world. The thirst for social justice flows directly out of our love for God and our neighbor as ourselves. When we love, we cannot help but thirst for justice for others.
    Thank you for this series! SO good!

    • Thanks, Jane! I hope that we can keep love in the mix. A perspective without it is doomed for failure. Great to see you in Abilene! Thanks for reading!

    • One of my favorite verses! Balancing justice and mercy is required. And humility is not optional, either.

  4. The thing I love the most about academics is that it encourages thoughtful debate among people who admire and respect each other, as we do.

    I am not ashamed to be a proponent of justice and social justice.

    I agree that love must be combined with justice to make peace, and, therefore, I agree with the overall message in this series. The problem is that we cannot allow one side or another pervert the meaning of justice into something it is not! There is not a problem with social justice, the problem is with some having a warped view of justice.

    Love and peace require justice. God requires justice.

    Ans yes, humility is not optional, just a lot harder for me.

    In Love,

    David Hart