English: “Social Justice,” founded by Father Coughlin, sold on important street corners and intersections. New York City Medium: 1 negative: nitrate; 2 1/4 × 2 1/4 inches or smaller. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
THIS IS MY CONTRIBUTION TO THE DESPISED ONES SYNCHROBLOG: solidarity, social justice, and the American Dream!
Perhaps one of the hot topics last week was the issue of Christianity and social justice. Its an underlying issue on when it comes to the definition of what it means to be an evangelical. Aside from Rachel Held Evans and her critics, evangelical Christian Professor Roger Olson posted his beliefs the other day, defining why he is an evangelical: Why and How I am a Confessing Evangelical: A Response to Al Mohler. Mohler is a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, to give this some context, and some SBC leaders (not all), have a habit of playing gatekeepers of who is in and who is out, while ignoring the importance of nuance and context. At the same time, I agree with some thinkers like Denny Burke, that it is important to set boundaries. Unlike C.S. Lewis, I do not believe in “secret Christians” where we can look at our neighbors and friends who haven’t believed on Jesus and call what they do Christianity. I think that is a disservice to our neighbors first and foremost, and for anyone who does hold that view, I see it as a colonizing gaze imposing ourselves on that person’s practices. It may seem like a compliment, but it is condescending at best, imperialist at worst.
My purpose today is to start a conversation about what Social Justice Christianity is for BOTH those who are unfamiliar as well as those who THINK they know but really don’t and resort to all sorts of false assumptions. For starters, I have qualms with the terms social justice, it does have it’s use, but it has become a catch all phrase for anyone who wants to take up a cause. It’s too general and abstract of a term, and so I like to turn to particularity (as I normally do), and prefer the term Christian Justice, since this is the position where I stand. Under the umbrella of Christian Justice, I am also committed to economic,racial, and gender justice. I do not have the usual liberal progressive conversion story where one is raised as a white evangelical/fundamentalist, goes to college or some trip, and then has an experience where they start on the road to Social Justice Christianity/Justice-Oriented Christianity. No, from a young age, I believe 3 or 4, it was in the living with my brother that we learned from our mother the Sermon on the Mount, as well as Jesus’ command which he said was the greatest of all the of the commandments, as well as the summary of the entire Law (the 10 Commandments and the first 5 books of the Bible).
The Great Commandment is this:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”– Matthew 22:37-40 NIV
I was baptized in a black Southern Baptist Church that did not have anything to say about social issues, so it was primarily from home that I learned about the Resurrection of Christ, the Second Coming, and Jesus’ ministry to the poor and oppressed. No where in Scripture or in Jesus’ life does it require Christians to be beholden to ancient Creeds. In fact, the one creed we are obligated to follow first and foremost is the Great Commandment, which flows from the Jewish Shema, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
For more on that, I would highly recommend Scot McKnight’s The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others.
For Christians, our Rabbi and Messiah Jesus of Nazareth added the Shema with a passage from Leviticus 19:18, “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” to teach us what the Law was all about. If Jesus is the Savior and Messiah of our religion as Christianity teaches, he is the final authority, and not those who pretend to speak of some religious orthodoxy. The Great Commandment comes first, and all else comes second, and when other things (yes, even creeds and practices), fall short of the Great Commandment, then they must be confronted and even dispersed with. Some Christians claim that our actions mean nothing, and hold to their Enlightenment view of truth as being propositional in nature, but they still fall short, because Jesus said He is the truth in the face of his oppressor, Pontius Pilate.
Now as for the creeds and formulas of the early Church prior to the Catholic and Protestant Reformations, I do affirm many of them, in so far as they affirm the Great Commandment and the One who taught it, Christ Jesus. Justice-oriented Christianity has a startling message: that God who is Invisible, took up a body (the Incarnation) and has a unique concern for the arrangement of human bodies (politics + economics). This Divinity is not the laizze-fairre pagan construct of Adam Smith who relied more on Greek philosophy than Christian theology; this very God is YHWH of the Old Testament, the God of Resurrection and Life. If we can make a claim about what Scripture says about God, it is this: that there is no passage that indicates that God is apathetic to social arrangements of humanity. There are a litany of verses that proclaim God’s love for the poor, the widows, and the foreigners, more than any of the “problematic” violent passages, more than anything about sexuality or ethnicity.
One of the most prominent words in the New Testament is “household,” and for our 21st century, Western ears and eyes, we can only think of a house, with a nuclear family of husband and wife, and children. Not so fast my friends. The Greek term that is translated to “household” is oikonomia, and with that comes notions of managing social arrangements. In the case of Christianity, the primary director of God’s household is the Resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. In Christ, God has shown us that God has intimate knowledge and experience in being a member of oppressed peoples. Suffering is not beneath God, it is not some act of charity made from the standpoint of distance. This is solidarity, oneness with the victims of history. Let me repeat: this is not sympathy, this is NOT charity: this is compassion, with acts of solidarity. Having solidarity with and listening to the poor are things that US Christians have a hard time learning because we have been taught in church only about “CHARITY,” with charity being an act on our part, an act of privilege more precisely. I can use as an example the negative reactions to my posts on Hope For Haiti and solidarity So, I would argue that a Justice-Oriented Christianity is one that teaches the supremacy of SOLIDARITY over and against charity.
The emphasis on solidarity should lead reasonably to the other marker of Justice-Oriented Christianity, a celebration of difference over commitments to sameness. By being committed to solidarity, Justice-oriented Christians recognize the different positions and contexts they find themselves. Joerg Reiger, one of my favorite writers, likes to say that “context is what hurts.” Liberal and conservative (primarily white) Christians like to proclaim their pride in being “colorblind.” Colorblindness is a problematic method to begin with, because those who talk about color-blindness, are the ones who ALWAYS dismiss the experiences of People of Color. If a POC protests or suggests that what a person does or says is racially problematic, or tries to articulate the notion that race is A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT rather than any biological truth, “The Colorblind” in every instance (generally) will call POC “angry” as if “angry” is an insult to begin with. Colorblindness is a popular defense for racist practices and actions that both members of the left and right love to employ.
Fortunately, for Justice-Oriented Christians, we worship the Triune God who delights in difference. Dogs are born naturally color-blind but they can still discriminate abour which persons to bark at based on whoever has a darker hue. The Creator, however, made all of humanity in God’s infinite image. Everyone is created of immeasureable value, and this sacred worth can not be measured on a scale of “cultural hierarchies” or social classifications (especially race and class). Christian antiracism begins and ends with the Imago Dei, the very antithesis of racist masks such as colorblindness.
In sum, I have taken a different approach to making a case for Christian Justice. Rather than the typical white liberal/progressive talking point of discussing Jesus’ teachings, I point to the centrality of the Incarnation and Resurrection (Jesus’s sovereignty) that are complimented by what Christ taught. I hope to comeback to a discussion of the ancient creeds later this summer, and their relation to Christian justice. But, for now, the two markers of Justice-Oriented Christianity : celebration of difference and solidarity, reflect the paradox of the Church: joy and suffering, the Resurrection and the Cross.