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Christians Shouldn't Be Afraid to Talk About Social Justice

Christians Shouldn't Be Afraid to Talk About Social Justice

The reactions I got to my last Voices article stunned me. I wrote that it is time for Pentecostals to embrace peacemaking and social justice. Many of the comments communicated things like: "social justice is a code word for socialism", "social justice is anti-American", "the Bible talks about justice, but not social justice".

The usage of the term "social justice" triggered something within mainly American readers. The claim that it's a code word for socialism implies that I'm a socialist who try to sneak in some evil Marxism into the church. This is, of course, ridiculous.

I'm not the first to use "social justice" as an umbrella term for the Biblical commands about helping the poor, defending the vulnerable and preventing discrimination.

The great evangelist Billy Graham who recently went to be with the Lord taught on the importance on social justice and said "Certainly the church is to be concerned about the social injustices in our world."

John Stott, one of the most influential evangelical leaders of the 20th century, wrote in his book The Cross of Christ: "The community of the cross should concern itself with social justice as well as with loving philanthropy." (p. 292).

John Wimber, leader of the Vineyard movement and one of the most influential charismatic evangelicals who have ever lived, said: "I love to teach on social justice! Justice always go hand in hand with true revival and renewal of the Spirit."

Were Billy Graham, John Stott or John Wimber communists? Absolutely not! To think that only socialists would talk about social justice is simply not true.

Why, then, are modern American evangelicals afraid to talk about social justice? A Fox News segment by Glenn Beck in 2010 introduced the American public to the idea that social justice is socialism in disguise. Without any evidence whatsoever, he claimed that churches preaching social justice have been hijacked by socialists, promoting "the extreme left". This idea has gained massive influence among American Christians.

The term "social justice warrior" was actually coined in the 1990's as a neutral description of somebody passionate about civil rights. The pejorative usage of today originated in 2011 on Twitter, and exploded during 2014's #gamergate when thousands of against Anita Sarkeesian's attempts to highlight how video games often portray women in objectifying and sexualized ways.

The problem with shaming people who mention "social justice" is that any honest conversation on how to promote social justice becomes impossible. If you're not a fan of social injustice - and I hope that you aren't - you should not try to silence those who try to initiate conversations on how we, as followers of Jesus, can abolish such injustice.

Some suggest that the solution is to merely talk about "justice". But the reason "social" is added is simply to distinguish the type of justice Amos or Isaiah talked about, when they defended the poor and marginalized, from legal justice (such as a criminal getting the punishment he deserves).

I fear that many will not even read this article, but accuse me for being a "socialist in disguise" based on the headline alone. We might have a long road ahead before American Christians can have a normal conversation about social justice again. But to the reader who have reached this far, I just want you to acknowledge the fact that evangelical leaders have talked about the importance of social justice for decades, whereas those who despise the term have only done so since 2010. Because of this, followers of Jesus should be encouraged, not ashamed, if somebody call them a "social justice warrior".

Micael Grenholm is Editor-in-Chief of Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice

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