Reposted from The Cripplegate.
A few months ago “The Statement on Social Justice” was released. Authored by a group of pastors (including John MacArthur, Voddie Baucham, and James White), the statement declares that the modern concepts of intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory run contrary to the Bible’s depiction of justice. Moreover, it argues that the concept of corporate guilt is more at home in the Old Covenant than the new (an excellent post on that here), and that people only inherit guilt for sins they actually commit, not for sins that their ethnic ancestors committed. The main point of the declaration is that the concept of “social justice” is inherently an outcome oriented approach to justice, which is categorically different than the Bible’s concept of justice (which is process oriented).
What is outcome oriented justice? That is the concept that diverse sociological outcomes reflect an existent injustice. The most obvious examples are America’s disparity in education, incarceration rates, and income along racial lines; or South Africa’s disparity in farm ownership along racial lines. Those disparities are unequal outcomes, which reflect a social injustice.
This is in contrast to process oriented justice, which focuses on the means/access to the legal system. A judge who is racist would be inherently unjust. Other examples would be a country that segregates its schools, or limits land ownership along racial lines, or allows for the legal exploitation of vulnerable people. Those are all unjust by process standards, and the Statement on Social Justice makes clear that this kind of racism is sinful and should be identified as such.
The disagreement comes in seeing how process justice and social justice intersect. Obviously an unjust process will produce unjust results. Much of the social justice debate is dealing with the issue of how long guilt for those sinful societal structures remain, and if that guilt is passed down culturally.
For example, if some evangelicals advocated for slavery, or the banning of African-Americans from schools, it is obvious how that would contribute to inequality in society. But here are a few questions the Christian has to answer on this topic:
- If the next generation of evangelicals opposes those policies, and labels them as racist and sinful, do they still bear the guilt of the previous generation?
- Is there some form of repentance required from people for sins that they personally didn’t commit, but that their parents might have?
- Is calling for that kind of generational repentance a gospel issue?
- Or, is working to rectify social injustice (in the outcome oriented sense) a duty of the church?
The Statement on Social Justice answers all those in the negative.
There have been several people who have voiced disagreement with the document. Some have argued that it is unnecessarily dismissive of the real oppression that has taken place in evangelicalism’s past (that seems to be Mohler’s concern), while others have said that it has an implied hostility toward racial strife in our country (Russell Moore is an example of that concern). Others have responded to those concerns, and that’s not my goal today.
However, there is another objection—one that goes beyond the racial issue to the real substance of the Statement. It is the argument that to oppose outcome oriented justice as a goal of the church is to actually oppose the poor. This objection is substantial enough that I wanted to respond to it today.
One example of this comes from Tim Keller, but there are others as well. The crux of his view is that Christians have a duty to advocate for redistribution of wealth in society as a means of rectifying outcome oriented injustice (he explains this view more in depth here—Christianity Today subscription required; but Keller has written entire books on this, such as Generous Justice, and Ministries of Mercy). So Keller’s objection to the Statement on Social Justice is not going to be rooted in the racial dynamic that others have picked up on, but rather at the core level of what justice is. And thus, to Keller, the Statement does represent an affront to biblical justice, because his concept of justice hinges on eradicating income inequality—or at least poverty.
I disagree, and I have blogged on this topic many times before (for example, here). But I want to try a new approach today, using an argument that Keller himself made this week in the New York Times. Again, this is for the sake of argument. I don’t buy that outcome oriented justice is a gospel mandate, and I don’t believe it is the mission of the church to advance equal economic outcomes in society. But, if I did, I still think the Statement on Social Justice presents a better way.
As Keller points out, in politics there are different philosophies on how to counter poverty. The political left sees welfare and government run social systems as an expression of concern for the poor. Meanwhile, the political right sees low taxes and pro-business laws as more effective for growing the economy for the most people, including those in poverty. So it’s not fair to say that a pro-business Republican “doesn’t care about the poor,” because in his view the pro-business economy will help more poor people than any government run welfare ever could.
Importantly, this is not a case of “do both,” because by nature the growing of the welfare state will involve taxation and regulation that restrains economic growth. So you can’t do both, because one will be hindered.
Now, apply this to the church. If you believe that the church has as its mission the elimination of poverty and ending of unequal outcomes in the social justice scheme of things, how should they do that? One answer appears to be to advocate for social justice, which presumably (and this thing is always short on the practical) involves using the church’s time and money to advocate for programs to affect social justice. The other side of this answer, the one put forward by the signers of The Statement on Social Justice, is that the church should preach the gospel and make mature followers of Jesus Christ who scatter into the world to make more disciples.
My point is, for the sake of the argument, that the second approach (what is dismissively called the preach the gospel approach) will actually have a greater impact on social inequality than an intentional approach within the church to combat poverty. I see this as the model in Acts 2:44, 4:32, 6:1-ff, 1 Timothy 5:3-13. I know the social justice side understands those verses differently than I do, but it has to be granted that the focus on the sacraments of preaching, baptism, fellowship, and communion have a practical outworking in the lives of those who participate. All I’m arguing is that it is ultimately going to be a more effective way to change society than a deliberate focus on changing society.
Christians are free to disagree on that point. But intellectual honesty requires that they not accuse the signers of The Declaration of Social Justice of not caring about the poor. After all, it’s the very thing they were eager to do.