“But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream.”
– Amos 5:4
The conversation in the evangelical Church right now concerning social justice movements and intersectionality is inescapable. Thus, it seems appropriate to take a quick detour from our metaphysical exploration of the kinds of things human beings worship, to provide an excursus on how the Church might engage in social justice movements, activities, or events.
In this post, I am primarily concerned with speaking to Christians, but not necessarily everyone who calls themselves Christian, or who goes to church. Here, I am mainly addressing those Christians (evangelical, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox) who take seriously the truth claims of the Bible, and the propositional statements of the early ecumenical creeds (through the Nicene) and councils (through Chalcedon). In other words, this post will likely find little resonance with people who identify as post-modern Christians; who are theological anti-realists of some stripe; or who merely practice Christianity as a form of cultural expression– an expression that can change as easily as the culture does.
With this in mind, then, I would make the further caveat to the following questions, namely, that these questions are not meant as air-tight, logical criteria for making a decision on how, when, or with whom one should engage in Social Justice (SJ). These are pastoral suggestions, all of which I believe are biblically grounded, and that each individual can prayerfully reflect on to see if it applies to them.
Thus, I present 10 questions that might be helpful for all who hold fast to the Lordship of Christ to carefully consider, before we engage in an event or activity that can be reasonably identified as a Social Justice one:
1. Can you protest issue “x” without making accusations against other people, businesses, groups or institutions, especially if those accusations are not grounded in substantial evidence that you yourself have examined and carefully weighed? In other words, don’t be a Shaytan who is merely out to accuse or shame others.
2. Can you protest issue “x” knowing that you, in your own personal life, are not currently engaging in a similar or comparable type of sin or injustice? In other words, is your own house in order, before you go out and tell other people they need to get their act together? Don’t be a Pharisee.
3. When you protest “x” is the cause you are advocating for compatible with God’s moral law as laid out in Scripture? In other words, can you make distinctions between social justice issues that are also issues of biblical justice (e.g. sex trafficking), versus social justice issues that are actually seeking liberation from biblical forms of justice (see pt. 5)? Don’t be unbiblical.
4. Are you currently engaged in any kind of sexual immorality in your own life, and if so, can you get that under control before you go out and support some external cause or movement? This question, I think, is particularly for the Christian men, especially those younger men. It also needs additional points of clarification.
Point 1: It is my suspicion that getting involved in very emotionally sensitive movements and events like ones that arise within the SJ context, are often used as a means for young men to meet girls. Not that meeting girls is wrong for young, Christian men, but if one has an underlying motivation to meet and maybe even sleep with women under the pretense of being a social justice warrior, then I would want to warn those young men to rethink their motivations for engaging in social justice. I cannot quantify this claim, nor do I have a study to link to, but I can admit from personal experience that I used to do this all the time when I was younger (before I was born-again). Back then, I often engaged in “noble” expressions of SJ primarily in the hopes of attracting women. It worked…a lot, and I have repented ever since.
Point 2: More than anything, I believe that the most significant issue facing the church right now is sexual immorality (not racism, not economic inequality, not immigration laws). Sexual impurity is devastating both evangelical churches and the Catholic Church. Thus, if there is one sin habit that the Church needs to focus on breaking, it is this one. Not to mention that it also seems to me that a good number of SJ movements and their events are directly related to the sexual mistreatment of women (e.g. #metoo). Therefore, I want Christian men to be exemplars of personal, sexual discipline when they are out and about advocating for SJ causes.
Point 3: I am also of the opinion, having studied in some detail the roots of Critical Theory, and especially one of its main proponents Herbert Marcuse, that many SJ movements are inherently movements that view the Bible, and Christianity itself, as that from which one must be liberated, especially in the area of sexuality. Thus, you may go out to protest in some SJ event that says it is concerned with racial injustice, but find yourself implicitly involved in a protest that also wants a society liberated from the norms of historical, Christian teaching on sexuality. That could be tempting to someone who is not already disciplined in his own sexual life. It would be to me.
One last thing on this point. I do see many, not all, of the SJ movement as an extension of the Sexual Revolution of the ’60s. I have reasons to believe that what many are all ultimately looking for is not liberation from external oppressors, but liberation from the guilt associated with sexual desires. This is too complicated to explain in a short post, but it has a lot to do with Freudian explanatory paradigms that, I think, are accurate in part.
5. Does the movement or cause you are joining support or promote sexual behavior that is against the clear teachings of the Scriptures? See points 3 & 4.
6. How is your family life? If you are married, are your spouse and children on board with your activity? If not, why? I’m not saying a spouse is always right, but it’s at least a conversation that needs to happen. Remember to keep your first vocation first.
7. What are the metaphysical and epistemological commitments of those groups you are protesting alongside? What are those groups’ view of moral values and duties? I’m not saying you cannot protest some issues alongside co-religionists, or even atheists, but perhaps know a groups’ fundamental starting points (i.e. their first things) before you get involved.
8. Does the protest you are engaging in have the potential to actually speak to those who might be involved in perpetuating an injustice in such a way that they will actually come into dialogue with you, or is it purely polemical? Or, is the protest or movement itself just out to wrest political power from one group to another? In other words, is it really about reconciliation, or is it more about revenge? After all, even white supremacists need Jesus, and, sometimes, they even find Him.
9. Does the protest or movement you are engaged in also seek to defend those that are truly the weakest among us (I call this the Mother Theresa Principle)? This would include the unborn, the elderly, and the handicapped (especially the mentally handicapped). I’m not saying every SJ event has to explicitly address those issues, but it seems to me that consistency should count when it comes to claims of justice for the marginalized.
10. Can you honestly say to yourself that you are not joining this movement out of a personal desire for popularity, prestige, power, affirmation, acceptance or financial gain? Watch for the Devil in Do-Goodery!
I think, if one carefully prays through each of these and can provide a good, reasoned answer to each, this will at least act as a constraint on our natural desire for justice; a constraint that would hopefully lead to discernment, and, with discernment, ultimately to a legitimate, Christian response to the real instances of injustice that do exist in a society stained with original sin.
For more on this topic, and on Critical Theory, I would strongly recommend Neil Shenvi’s website at: https://shenviapologetics.wordpress.com/social-justice-critical-theory-and-consistency/