March 9, 2010
How Not to Talk about Justice
If you hear "social justice" at your church, Glenn Beck says "Run!" There is another option.
Back in January I wrote a post on “The Battle Lines Over Justice.” As more evangelicals are rediscovering the sections of the Bible that highlight God’s compassion for the broken and abused in this world, there is a fearful response by some that we will slide down the “slippery slope” of liberalism into a social gospel and evangelicals (particularly the younger breed) will abandon the cross of Christ. To prevent this repeat of history, some have their ear to the rail prepared to warn the faithful at the first hints of a justice train coming down the line.
I concluded that earlier post with this caution:
Is the stage being set for another church rift in the 21st century paralleling what happen 100 years ago? Are you feeling the tremors in your church of a conflict over the scope of the gospel and the proper role of social justice? And where are you turning for informed theological reflection on this subject? How we address this controversy, and not simply which side we land on, may impact the evangelical world for decades.
I’ve been trying to faithfully inform the members of my congregation about church history, the scope of the gospel (as it relates to their lives and all of creation), and what Scripture says about justice. I’ve been trying to offer informed theological reflection and create room for dialogue and understanding. In other words, I’ve been trying to avoid the name calling, paranoia, and finger-wagging rhetoric that too often accompanies the social justice issue in evangelical circles.
And then today I read that Glenn Beck, the conservative talk radio host and chalkboard wielding Fox New Channel star, begged Christians to “run as fast as you can” from their church if they encounter the words “social justice.”
Here’s the full quote:
I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes.
What is “social justice” a code word for, you may ask? According to Beck—Communism and Nazism.
I’m not in the least bit interested in debating the beliefs, methods, or sanity of Glenn Beck. But I am most interested in how the church engages this issue of social justice and its role in the life and mission of God’s people. And unfortunately the fear mongering evident in Beck’s statement is not unlike what I’ve heard from some Christians. What Beck demonstrates is how not to handle the tensions arising over justice.
But how should we handle it? I’d like to offer a more edifying alternative.
Today, March 9, I will be moderating a panel at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis to discuss—informatively, civilly, and biblically—the role of social justice among evangelicals. On the panel will be:
Dr. Bryan Chapell—president of Covenant Seminary and author of Christ Centered Preaching.
Darrin Patrick—lead pastor of The Journey and vice president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network.
Doug Birdsall—executive vice president of the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization.
Jim Belcher—pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Newport Beach, CA) and author of Deep Church.
Dr. Wes Stafford—president of Compassion International.
This is one of 12 conversations being hosted in 12 cities in the coming months on this subject. I am hopeful that these conversations will not only inform the church about the proper role of justice in our mission, but also model for thousands of believers how to talk about the issue in a constructive and loving way. You can expect to hear more about this subject in the coming month both on Ur and in the pages of Leadership.
Until then, go to www.12cities12conversations.com to learn more.