Activist, academics divided on whether the social justice movement is biblical

Demonstrators participate in the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March in Washington D.C. on Aug. 28. 2020.
Demonstrators participate in the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March in Washington D.C. on Aug. 28. 2020. | The Christian Post

How biblical is today's social justice movement? Amid a group of professors, the head of an emerging coalition of progressive, urban Christians spoke plainly. 

“Social justice is biblical justice as applied to the social context,” said Justin Giboney, AND Campaign co-founder and president, during a forum last Friday discussing whether today's social justice movement squares with biblical justice. "The Christian social justice mission is not a complete embrace of a secular progressive agenda."

The forum, titled “Social Justice: Biblical and Secular,” was hosted by Baylor University’s Washington, D.C. program and the Christian nonprofit Faith & Law. 

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The latter hosts reading groups, film screenings and congressional breakfasts on Capitol Hill, bringing a wide variety of distinguished speakers before members of Congress and congressional staffers to address contemporary political and cultural issues.

Friday’s webinar is the virtual, COVID-inspired version of the organization’s weekly discussion for U.S. House and Senate staffers.

R.J. Snell, director of academic programs at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, expressed concern that social justice activists think only on the social group and societal levels, which are frequently “following what God thinks is neither just nor reasonable.”

The emerging language of the movement seems “decomposed from Marxism” though advocates seem really to want “the bourgeoisie vision” for themselves, said Snell. 

“How do you argue for social justice without natural law or biblical morality?” Snell, who has a doctorate in philosophy from Marquette University and a research agenda focusing on Roman Catholic intellectual and ethical traditions, asked. 

He asserted that Marxism and some of its contemporary cousins pursue the “negation of normativity itself" as expressed in Scripture.

Matthew Anderson, associate director of Baylor in Washington and holder of a doctorate in Christian ethics from the Oxford University in the United Kingdom, harkened back to Micah 6:8

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” the verse reads.

Anderson reminded the 300 viewers of the webinar that just before that passage, God talks of how Israel queries Him whether it should sacrifice its firstborn to atone for its offenses. 

“Within both the Old Testament and New Testament, the Lord is one to set free,” he explained. “You are not able to make restitution for your own sins; restitution has to come from outside.”

This means society and Christians can only hope for a limited form of justice on Earth, not the comprehensive sort for which today's social justice activists lobby.

Giboney agreed that fully eliminating racism and injustice in this life is not possible and efforts to make everyone use “politically correct” terms undermine what truly counts.

“Sometimes what’s happening today is we’re being too idealistic,” he said. More important is not to have “correct language, but to actually correct injustice.”

Anderson indicated a difference between “justice” and “charity” (used in some Bible versions to mean “love”). For example, the principle of objectivity in courtrooms certainly aligns with justice but not necessarily love, though instructions in the Law of Moses do give a basis for Christians to advocate for fair treatment of all. 

The Christian Post asked the panel whether the social justice movement not only is biblical but realistic in trying to tear down American systems failing to produce absolute equality of results. Moderator David Corey, professor of political science at Baylor, said flatly, “No.”

He elaborated that complaints about “systemic” racism often are really contending that institutions are “saturated” with discrimination.

“Our system isn’t saturated with racism,” Corey said. He added that he’s disheartened that many people he asks cannot imagine a future in which America is not as beset by racial problems as it is now.

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