defining social justice

I think this is a pretty good definition, or at least understanding of, social justice. It is by no means complete, but the next step in my struggle with what this all means and how it translates into how we live our lives.

LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin

“The Jewish and the Christian scriptures repeatedly pair two inextricably interrelated qualities: “righteousness” (right relationship with God) and “justice” (right relationships among people). “Justice” is always focused on those who have been excluded from the advantages of economic and political power – the poor, the sick, the outsider, the despised and rejected. The prophets challenge the Kings and wealthy of Israel with neglecting their responsibility because they do not care for the poor. Jesus equates the way people treat “the least of these” with the way they treat him personally. He also calls equal the two greatest commandments – to love God wholly and to love your neighbor as yourself. The vertical relationship with God necessitates the horizontal relationship with humankind.

Christian spirituality is never just individual and personal; it is always also communal and collective. Centripetal faith always becomes centrifugal, and vice versa. A “spiritual” gospel which has no call to social responsibility is self-serving sentimental narcissism. A “social” gospel which has no reverence for the Divine is barren self-justification, prone to burnout.

Biblically speaking, a primary responsibility of the nation is to take care of its entire people. The responsibility of religion is pastorally to model this compassionate social justice and prophetically to call the whole nation to follow.

Social justice is not an occasional theme of Christian faith and scripture; it is the central theme. Though they may not agree on their definitions of righteousness or justice, both progressive and conservative churches believe in the responsibility of the state and the church to be socially engaged in making the world a better place for all people. Without it, the faith becomes a way for the powerful to feel good about themselves while ignoring the exploitation and suffering of the powerless – and their own participation in it.”


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