The end of my commentary on the Social Justice and the Gospel statement us finally upon us. The other installments are easily found here, here, and here. I shall simply pick up where I left off.
Affirmation/Denial 12 The truth is that this is simply so politically loaded, that nothing that is said is going to be able to be correct. While yes, there is an argument that race is not Biblical, and rather a social construct, the Bible does make distinctions between people groups, and yes, some of those people groups (especially in the Old Testament) can be seen as being superior. So while no, race may not be a Biblical distinction, Tribe certainly is. From those tribes, normal human societal development occurs and there are various ethnic traditions, celebrations, etc. that make us wonderfully and beautifully different in much of our cultural practices. The beauty of reading the whole counsel of scripture and treating it as one narrative instead of several individual books, is that we see those distinctions, whatever they are, abolished in the New Testament by the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. In Christ their is no Greek or Jew. The affirmation misses the mark by trying to make an argument that misses the point. The question of if race is a Biblical or Societal construct is moot, because no mater what the fact of the matter is, the scriptures point to it not being an issue to God, thus it is not an issue to Christians, or at least should not be. The affirmation misses that mark, but I am fundamentally ok with the denial.
Affirmation/Denial 13 touches upon culture. Again, this is a loaded topic. That said, I find the statement to be in line with scripture. Ethnocentrism is ugly and should be avoided at all costs.
Affirmation/Denial 14 racism. Racism is bad. It’s a sin. I don’t know that I can agree that all racism is rooted in pride specifically, but I am unconcerned with where it is rooted. It’s ugly. I find the statement to be ok all in all.
This is the end of the affirmations and denials of the statement. There is a lot that could be said about it’s formation and the presuppositions that were involved in it, but I do not find that to be terribly useful all in all. The actual results, and the theology behind them, matter. Also, I find such statements useful as a way to try and communicate the thoughts that a particular group has about faith. I think that, even in disagreement with much of it, it helps us all in the way that iron sharpens iron and also in that it forces us to think about issues specifically.
I want to wrap up with some thoughts on the question of ‘social justice’. I am not fond of Wikipedia as a source, but in this case, it does have a fairly decent explanation of what it has become today. I take issue with the page once it starts delving into religious teachings of various faith traditions as bullet points about faiths that have established doctrine rarely paint an accurate picture, but everything above that is sufficient for the conversation.
John Wesley and the early Methodist societies were very much involved in ‘social justice’ work, most well known being prison reform and abolitionist movements. As a side note, we would do well in America to follow our tradition and do serious work toward prison reform, but that is a different topic. The largest difference, at least in the Methodist tradition, is that while it is true that the early Methodist societies were concerned with the social issues of the day, and rightly so, such concerns were rooted in holiness. For Wesley, that idea of holiness was influenced by several factors including, but not limited to, the Moravian Christians, Lutheran pietists, the Anglican faith, the Eastern church, and likely most importantly what he called “primitive Christianity”. If we want to be a part of the historic and tradition Methodist movement regarding social justice, then we must work within that same frame work. Our thoughts and actions must be rooted in holiness. That holiness starts with the personal conversion of believers, it is then fed and nurtured by the corporate (the church) and then spreads to society. That spread becomes an organic extension of living a holy life that is acceptable to God in community. For Wesley, there was no real personal holiness that was not a part of the church. Christianity is meant to be lived in community. Holiness is also communal. If you are not doing it this way, I dare say that you are doing it wrong, and so does Wesley.
The very question of ‘social justice’ is strange to begin with. The idea of ‘social justice’ is primarily an idea that has come about since the Industrial revolution. The implication then is that somehow human invention brought about the need for some sort of new type of justice that was not covered by God’s justice, which we are to live out in holiness. Remember above that we said that Wesley was involved in social justice work, but this is not really true. Wesley was involved in living out God’s justice with the holy living of the Methodist societies. It was not ‘social justice’ that brought about prison reform or abolition, it was God’s justice, lived out by the faithful. The biggest problem with ‘social justice’ is that it has become it’s own religion played out in the social gospel movements that arose at the same time. Christians should be political because Jesus was political, this is true. Christians should not be partisan because Jesus was not partisan. This is also true. Most of all, Christians should not be primarily political, because Jesus was never primarily political.
At the end of all of this are some very serious questions that we need to ask. What will primarily drive real justice in the world. Is the primary driver of justice the triune God, or is the primary driver the power structures of the world? Is our focus on turning hearts toward Christ, or turning politicians to our particular notions of right and wrong? Will the Kingdom of God come in it’s fullness with the return of Christ, or will we somehow usher that in through human action? Are we more concerned with the communal holy living of the church and inviting others into that, or are we more concerned with shaping laws that force others to follow our own notions of morality no matter the state of their eternal destiny? These are deep theological questions and concerns that get washed over in the hype of ‘social justice’. These are the questions that we should be asking before we march about a cause, support legislation, or try to force others to conform to what we think that they should do. Really, the idea of justice, and how it is best brought about in the world starts with one simple question. Are we worshiping and following God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, seeking to make the world better through holy living, or are we seeking to craft laws that influence god the father we want, jesus the son who fits in our own box, and the holy politician?