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Social Justice and Critical Theory: Biblical Justice in an Age of Ideological Civil War

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There is an ideological civil war taking place in the United States, and in western civilization overall. This is a battle that displays itself along political lines, social lines, academic lines, and along religious lines. This ideological civil war is most pronounced in the partisan political battles between left and right, though it also displays itself in other ways. Specifically, the battle for the soul of the church is a front in this battle, among many other fronts like media, academia, culture, and the sciences.

In the church we see the same divide developing across the normal lines, left vs right. We see both sides attempting to push their political views in the church, and this is causing a polarization. What happens in the culture we see mimic itself in the churches. We see struggles in denominations between high and low views of scriptures, between biblical marriage and gay marriage, between social justice warrior progressives vs. traditional justice causes. We see people in the church wanting to step behind and advocate for President Trump, and we see people in the church trying to turn their movement into hashtag #resistance movement.

In the various movements of the churches in western civilization, I've seen a growing divide along fairly partisan lines. There is a growing polarization, and it shows itself on social media, and in decisions by the leadership of various movements. We see traditional evangelical theology and liberal theology vying for dominance. We see homosexuality and LGBT ideology attempting to supplant traditional marriage and biblical teachings on gender.

The church has re-embraced one of it's founding concepts of justice advocacy; but it's a new ideology, that they call "social justice." And this social justice has increasingly become a means by which progressive ideology is beginning to infect the church.

Only the progressive causes seem to be allowed full vent in this new social justice warrior ideology. It centers around issues like human trafficking, gender inequality, white privilege, institutional racism, illegal immigration advocacy, LGBT advocacy, refugee advocacy, wealth inequality issues, advocating for victim groups, and pushing for multiculturalism (instead of the melting pot concept).

Traditionally justice causes had included topics like biblical marriage support, pro-life advocacy, fighting homelessness, fighting hunger, supporting the family unit, human trafficking, educating children, fighting poverty, and dealing with other evils of the times.

The new social justice warrior causes are not grounded in traditional Christian beliefs, but actually come out of the secular university system, and tend to be rooted in thinkers like Karl Marx, Herbert Marcuse, and Max Horkheimer. We should be very, very careful as a Christian movement when embracing so freely ideologies like critical theory, group identity, and identity politics.

Let's identify some terms. Critical theory is the idea that people are enslaved in various forms by society and that the chief end is to set people free from oppressive societal structures. Should we even accept such a premise about society overall? It's debatable I suppose, but I don't tend to believe society works that way. Our society for example is a democratic republic. I don't see it as an oppressive power structure of racism and bigotry. Neither should you, because it's not. The United States is a meritocracy, we rise and fall based on our merits and how hard we work, not based on oppressive structures.

Critical theory is rooted in Karl Marx's ideology of power structures, that power is controlled by a select few, and only by enforcing total equality can people be free. Marx thought the structures of society must be criticized (critical theory) attacked and torn down to destroy the elite ruling class (the bourgeoisie).

Group identity is part of critical theory in some ways, and it's about dividing people up into victim groups. Victim groups are apparently supposed to be people who are victimized by the oppressive power structures of society and need to be liberated. Thus we are told we have to advocate for victim groups, like blacks, the LGBT community, the Latino community, and so on and so forth. The problem is people are not and should not be identified by groups. People are not groups, people are individuals with unique individual identities. Society is not about victim groups vying for power from an oppressive societal structure. Society is about individuals, who organize in community. Society's base unit is not groups, but the family unit, and more so, the individual.

We should completely reject these false premises coming out of the humanities and social sciences departments at secular universities.

Last term, identity politics is the process by which political movements attempt to gain power by pandering to victim groups. This usually means that anyone who disagrees with the politics of the movement in question is labeled and slandered as a racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, so and so. This also means that anyone who departs from the group think of a victim group, like blacks for example, is slandered and ostracized. You'll often see black individuals who leave the group think, like Dr. Ben Carson, or Thomas Sowell, or Larry Elder slandered as "uncle toms" (a racial slur) for having differing political views.

How have these social justice warrior faux causes invaded various church movements? If politics is downstream from culture, sadly the church is downstream from culture as well. The secular university system pushes ideologies like Marxism, feminism, secular humanism, white privilege, group think, and so on, and then those ideologies gradually invade the church and become part of the churches identity.

Increasingly we see in the church, liberal and conservative on one side, with a rabid progressive ideology on the other side. Liberal and conservative are very similar in many ways, foundationally so because they both embrace the basic principles of the American founding. Both liberals and conservatives share common values like personal liberty, equality of opportunity, democratic republicanism as a system of government, natural law, and the sanctity of life.

Unfortunately, the progressive ideology does not share these viewpoints. The progressive viewpoint tends to see the American founding from a critical theory perspective. Critical theory says that the systems in place are in place because they are evil and stole power from the masses. So the American founding is attacked and slandered. The American founding is re-packaged as evil slave-holding white men killing native americans and forming an evil oppressive religious theocracy that must be toppled and rebuilt from the ground up. Essentially progressivism is an utopian ideology. The idea is that if only the progressives can gain power and over-throw the existing structures, only then will people be free and utopia will finally come about.

We in the churches of western civilization, we who follow Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible should reject these false ideologies, and we should challenge false concepts like multiculturalism, white privilege, institutional racism, supposed gender inequality, open borders immigration policy, the language of advocating for victim groups, and so on and so forth. These ideologies are not rooted in Christianity. They are rooted in secular social theory. We should resist them at every level of our organizations and church movements.

Much of the time it's really political, and based on partisan battles. Though just as often, it's simply what people have been taught. Other times, people in our movements are pushing them out of a misguided desire for justice. This desire is good, but basing it in these secular social theories does little to alleviate societal injustice. Let's look at these social justice warrior causes one by one and see what they are really about.

Multiculturalism — Multiculturalism is essentially the opposite of the melting pot. The melting pot is the idea that various cultures and peoples come to America for a new life, and they assimilate in various ways to American culture, while also enriching American culture with their own unique cultures. Multiculturalism is the idea of cultures remaining separate and unique. We see this play out in major cities where various cultures are divided into different parts of the city. Multiculturalism says you should not learn the native language, but speak your own language. Multiculturalism says you should reject any level of assimilation. This is not good my friends. And in the Christian worldview, we come from various cultures and societies, but we make up a unity, as the body of Christ. We are all parts of the same body, we're not broken up into groups and separated.

White privilege — White privilege is the idea that evil, racist white people stole all the power from the various victim groups we've talked about. And white privilege is this idea that you need to feel guilty for being white, and you need to give away your power, and you need to "check your privilege" and apologize to victim groups for hurting them. This ideology says that all cultures are equal, aside from "white culture" which is evil (a misnomer because European Caucasian cultures are very diverse). So all cultures are equal, except "white culture" which is always bad and fallen.

Your individual conduct doesn't seem to matter here, you are required to take ownership of slavery, of racism, and of all the supposed evils of mean white people, even if you've never personally done those things. Even if your ancestors immigrated (legally) from Poland in the early 1900s, like mine, you still are suppose to take ownership of racism and slavery and apologize for how awful you are. It's ridiculous, and once again based in critical theory, the idea of tearing down existing institutions and advocating for "victim groups."

Institutional racism  This is the idea that entire institutions are racist and evil. They would suggest that some police departments overall are racist. They would argue societal norms are rooted in racism. And essentially, just suggest that just about everything in some way or another is rooted in racism. It's bizarre.

Racism certainly does still exist in our society. But it exists on an individual basis, not as part of oppressive societal structures. We should fight racism and put an end to it forever. But not based on institutions. That's not where it exists. Racism exists on an individual level. Identify an individual racist based on their personal conduct, and deal with them personally, but don't condemn entire entities for the actions of single individuals.

And never forget that a generation of these "evil white men" laid down their lives by the hundreds of thousands (620,000 in the Union) in the civil war to end slavery in the USA. We seem to like to ignore that historical fact, but we shouldn't. Too many bled and died for it.

Illegal immigration — Why open borders should be a cause for the church to champion I will never know. Countries have laws. All countries have borders, and laws to cross those borders. There isn't anything wrong with that. So I've never understood this issue entirely. But I think it probably has something to do with the ideology of utopianism, that the way forward is for the entire world to unite, without borders, and that somehow this produces utopia.

Of course it doesn't, and it's caused huge problems across Europe. But in the United States immigration is seen as a racial issue, just like everything else in identity politics. The victim group is Mexican families seeking new lives in America. And anyone who opposes open borders is then branded as racist, xenophobic, and hateful. But with politics, you have to look beneath the surface.

And the beneath the surface is this reality: The progressives are, through open borders, transforming the voting blocks along the border states and indeed throughout the whole country. Of course this fact would be branded as racist and hateful, but it remains a reality. That is the truth, that and Wallstreet's power brokers want cheap labor. Sadly, those are the real political motivations behind open borders. It's ugly, and grim. But there it is.

In any case, wouldn't it be wiser to help the people of Mexico thrive and flourish in the country of Mexico? Why should the best and brightest keep fleeing Mexico to break into the United States? I dream of churches helping Mexicans to transform their own society, and build a brighter future there.

Refugee advocacy — There is no problem with advocating for helping refugees, as long as those refugees are adequately vetted. It always comes down to the struggle between compassion and truth in the church. Those on the left want all compassion, those on the right want truth. So we have to find a balance.

Gender inequality — Just so you aware, the "gender pay gap" is a myth. And the study that suggested the gender pay gap has been debunked, because it didn't take into account the fact that women typically prefer jobs that don't pay as well in certain cases. Of course that's not always the case. But here is an article to back that up. Once you factor in differences of lifestyle choices and preferences for certain jobs, the supposed pay gap disappears. Interesting isn't it?

Wealth Inequality — The concept here is that wealth inequality exists because the mean rich people are oppressing the poor. I'm sure there are some cases where that is true. But it's not a rule for society overall itself. In a capitalist society, like the United States, one rises and falls economically based on various factors like education, marriage, children, and just how determined you are to work hard and do your best. It's actually amazing how much people can rise and fall economically in the United States. For that reason and many others, I don't understand why the church should be out there pushing Marxist ideas of wealth inequality. If someone wants to be wealthier, they need to work hard, get married, stay married, don't have children until after they're married, maybe go to college, and never give up. And it's also wise to not play the victim!

In conclusion, instead of pushing secular social theory in our church movements, we should look to the Bible, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to understand what justice is and is not.

We as Christians need to be very careful. Many, sadly, don't really love the word of God. They don't really love Jesus, in fact. They love their ideology, and they push it in our church movements. And if we don't stop them, they'll convert us from Christians to secular social justice warriors. Sadly, the end goal for some, not all, but some of those who push the social justice warrior mentality in our church movements, is for the gay pride flag to wave over our churches. For some, the ultimate goal is to transform the church into a progressive movement, in other words, apostasy.

We should advocate for those who struggle and suffer. We should stand up for traditional marriage, pro-life causes, ending human trafficking, caring for refugees, advocating for religious liberty, and we should carry the gospel to the lost all over the world. But we should reject secular social theories based on critical theory and Marxism, and instead look for our causes in the pages of the Bible.

Justin Steckbauer is the founder of He is a graduate magna cum laude from Liberty University, currently holding an associates degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a bachelors degree in the study of Religion. He is currently a graduate student at Olivet Nazarene University working on a masters degree in the study of Ministry. He is a cadet in training at the Salvation Army College for Officer's training (CFOT) as well.

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