Two of the key characteristics of social justice are community and culture.
Social justice and community
As we saw earlier Roman Catholic scholars, Aquinas, Taparali, and Pope Leo IIIX understood that a woman or man does not stand alone; every person is part of a larger community. Because God is Community/Trinity, to be made in the image of God means to be made for relationships, for community. Our health is dependent on the health of the community.
Pastor Gary Skinner of Watoto Church in Kampala, Uganda, is fond of saying “the problems of the city are the problems of the church.” Similarly, Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Church says of his church, “a healthy city, a healthy church.” These pastors recognize that the church is not an isolated or internally focused institution. The church exists for others. She is present to serve the needs of the community.
All human institutions—families, businesses, civic institutions, churches, mosques, synagogues—are responsible to promote the good of the larger community, including political and economic justice.
When social justice is reduced to distribution of money, all that is needed is putting a government check in the mail. Help is arm’s-length and impersonal. Relational social justice, by contrast, demands that individuals, families, business, and civic and religious institutions contribute time, talent, and treasure to nurture the flourishing process.
Government has a role to play, guided by an inverse relationship between the size of the government and the level of involvement. The larger the government entitity, the smaller should be its role in the area of social justice. Voluntary associations have greater responsibility than local government, local government more responsibility than state government, and state government more than national government. Perhaps the largest role a national government should have is creating an environment that supports the rule of law and encourages social peace.
In the Old Testament, social justice is known as Shalom – Peace. This peace was bought at exorbitant cost; the grounding of justice is found in the Cross of Christ. We have been justified by grace, calling us to live justly. This is to be done both in our internal and external worlds. Just as holiness is a personal spiritual discipline, justice is a public spiritual discipline.
Justice means right relationships with God, with our fellow citizens, and with the creation. Author, professor and Editor-in-Chief of World Magazine, Marvin Olasky, has said that social justice is “… about human flourishing, the sum total of millions of acts of relational justice.”
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to the United States and observed how radically different America was from his native France and the rest of Europe. He was amazed, for example, by the American penchant for voluntary association. In France, the populace looked to the government to solve their problems. In England, the people depended on the aristocracy. Americans, by contrast, formed voluntary groups to solve their community’s problems.
Social justice and culture
The second reality to understand about social justice is simply this: the root of injustice is cultural, not, economic. Most people think, wrongly, that injustice is rooted in a lack of resources. When people function from the mindset of a closed system, resources are limited, economics is a zero sum proposition and the only way to achieve social justice is to redistribute scarce resources.
But lack of resources is not the main cause of social injustice. The main cause is cultural.
Consider Haiti. The day before the 2010 earthquake, 10,000 mission and relief & development organizations, and tens of thousands of volunteers were working in Haiti. Financial aid was pouring into the country: one billion dollars a year in international aid and three billion dollars in aid from the Haitian Diaspora in the US, Canada, and Europe.
Since the earthquake $1.8 billion in private aid has been sent to Haiti (in addition to plans by the international community to raise $5 billion more.) Haiti was a calamity before the earthquake. Two years after the earthquake Haiti is still a calamity, notwithstanding all the good efforts of private citizens, private voluntary organizations, and the international community. If Haiti’s problem were the lack of resources, she would be a functioning middle-class nation today.
So, why is Haiti poor? Not for lack of Christian outreach. Not only has the nation been inundated with billions of dollars in aid and the help of thousands of organizations, she has also been evangelized. Churches abound. Bible schools and seminaries are training pastors and theologians. If evangelism and church planting were the keys to Haiti’s problems, Haiti would be prospering.
The problem with Haiti is the Voodoo mindset of her people. Our colleague Chris Ampadu recently pointed out that someone described Haiti as 80% Catholic, 20% Protestant and 100% Voodoo. As an animistic worldview, Voodoo does not provide a framework for a family, community, or nation to develop.
Bible schools may teach scripture stories or even the flow of Biblical history. Seminaries may teach theology and denominational distinctives. But unless we break the strongholds of the mind (see 2Cor. 10:4-5), Haiti’s people—Christian and non-Christian alike–will be bound by the mental stronghold of Voodoo. The culture is being shaped by Voodoo rather than by Christ and the biblical worldview that comports with reality.
Most aid organizations seek to mitigate the suffering caused by institutional, moral, and natural evil rather than attack the cultural framework that creates the poverty in the first place. Mission organizations seek to deal with the “spiritual condition” of the Haitian people without realizing that the soul is firmly attached to the body and the gospel needs to have a wholistic reach – all of each person – heart, soul, mind, and strength – and all of their relationships.
Culture is a product of cult (worship). If a people change their worship, say from Voodoo to Christ, a change in culture must follow. Genesis 1: 26-28 is the original Cultural Mandate. Christians and Jews understand that people have been placed on earth to create culture, to take what God has provided and make it flourish. Haiti is waiting for people to have this understanding of life and not the cultural mindset of fatalism and poverty.
The spiritual realm impacts the physical realm through culture. When people come to Christ, their culture is to be reformed. Following that, the laws, structures, and institutions of society need to be rebuilt. Faith rooted in truth must produce godly culture and godly culture must redeem the social, economic, and political institutions of society. This is true social justice.
Such transformation will take more than evangelists and teachers. It will take ordinary Christians who think theologically and/or work from the Judeo-Christian worldview … business people creating a thriving economic order … doctors and nurses increasing the health of the communities … artists and architects bringing beauty into the home, marketplace, and public square … scientists and technicians pushing back the ravages of natural evil (thus preparing Haiti to withstand the next earthquake) … farmers and agriculturalists producing more and healthier food.
We end this series on social justice by quoting Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest: “Never look for justice in this world, but never cease to give it.”
In a fallen world, we will always face injustice. As Christians we should spend more time extending justice to others and less time demanding justice for ourselves.
- Darrow Miller