Glossary of Terms Part 3: Social Justice
We are at a moment in society and the Church where it is essential for us to speak about matters of race, justice, and righteousness. It’s crucial that we define our terms with loving precision so that we can make Kingdom-of-God progress rather than descend into the misunderstanding, frustration, and the loud emotion that the enemy would paralyze us with.
To this end, I’d like to expand on the short glossary of terms that I’ve recently begun by exploring the topic of Social Justice.
Social Justice occurs when society allows equal opportunities to all people without engaging in discrimination. Social injustice occurs when a person, people, or groups of people are treated unfairly based upon a certain characteristic of that person or group of people such as age, race, gender, orientation, height, or weight.
Christians should be able to endorse the broad definitions above simply based on the inherent dignity afforded every human being as an image bearer of God. In 2020, however, many practical definitions of “social justice” imply a commitment to a particular political movement, cause or policy. For example, I’ve heard that “You MUST fully support BLM if you care about social justice.” Yes and no. See week one of this glossary.
It has been extremely clarifying for me to differentiate between “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome” when applied to issues of social justice. We can and should take great pains and every possible societal, political, legal step to create access and opportunity for all who live within our borders. Happily, America is still known worldwide as a land of opportunity and to this day enjoys a bright global reputation as the country where any person can pursue their dreams; a land where hard work, education and self improvement make a difference.
While equality of opportunity is at the core of America’s ideals (yet to be fully realized), equality of outcome is a shadowy impossibility that will never, and ought never be achieved in this imperfect world. Simply put, life isn’t fair. Some of us are born with the ability to run like the wind. Others of us will always be slow of foot. Some of us are born with the sales gene and find novel ways to make a buck by age five. Others of us will have lifelong struggles simply balancing a checkbook. Some of us are born as intuitive listeners and relational geniuses. Others of us are loners by nature. Life will never be a level playing field. Any human attempts to make it so will unwittingly diminish the beautiful variety of gifts and abilities that God himself has so liberally scattered through the human family.
It is noteworthy that Jesus himself made no attempts to change, alter, or maneuver the levers of political power either within the structures of religious Judaism or in the Roman politics of his day. At the same time, Jesus planted the seeds that ultimately transformed, reformed, and toppled the core structures of injustice of those once mighty systems. Jesus routinely lifted the lowly and forgotten. Jesus brought dignity to those outsiders for whom society brought none.
I believe that the Church in 2020 can find a similar way of engaging and acting justly. Progress will not be simple, swift, nor dependent on political power plays. Solutions will be personal, relational, and costly — just as they were for Jesus. Jesus said:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. - Luke 4:18-19
By God’s grace, this year of pandemic can still be a remarkable year of the Lord’s favor.
~ Pastor Gregg