Fervent Jesus follower, brilliant legal mind, and co-founder of International Justice Mission, Gary Haugen said:
“25 years ago traditional evangelicals viewed any presentation … [that suggested] we want justice, care about struggles for the poor, fighting abuse and oppression as a distraction for the ‘real Gospel.’ It would have been viewed as lefty political agenda … liberation theology.”
Haugen went on to say that this is no longer the case and that those prejudices and theological objections have abated. And while I appreciate the sentiment, I haven’t found his positive outlook to be an entirely accurate picture of the “First Church of the Boomers.” I hear some of those same suspicions and labeling from among peers in my generation. It’s disheartening at times.
Pastor Matt Chandler said:
“If I preach a sermon out of the book of Isaiah on justice, my inbox would fill with their glee that I would broach the subject. But if I applied it to the subject of race, then all of a sudden I was a Marxist or I’ve been watching too much of the liberal media. If I spoke on abortion, I was applauded as courageous, as a ferocious man of God, and yet when I would tackle race I was being too political … If I quoted the great reformer Martin Luther … never did I get an email about his blatant anti-Semitism. But let me quote the great reformer Martin Luther King Jr., and watch my inbox fill with people asking me if I’m aware of his moral brokenness.”
Similarly, Dom Helder Camara (Brazilian Catholic Archbishop) said,:
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
I bemoan the horrendous blind spot that afflicts much of my generation of evangelical believers in reference to restorative justice. They’ll teach and absorb with gusto on the subject of retributive justice and all but disregard the restorative aspect of biblical justice. They conclude that a just God is consistent in retribution and all but entirely neglect to show how he is also compassionate in the just cause of restoration and distribution for all.
It’s like they are more interested in culpable people getting what’s coming to them than vulnerable people getting what should be coming to them!
It appears they prefer spending their time loving, singing, and hugging one another until all of our problems go away and view the work of justice as ancillary at best, or at worst, irrelevant . But it seems to me that the more conservative is one’s theology, the more liberal their social conscience should be. Maybe that’s just me.
Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” With the exception of some professional preachers who are trying to keep their giving base intact, it may not be salary at stake, but pride or tradition or maintaining the status quo.
Those who say there’s no connection between the gospel and social justice are being disingenuous. Ask them if they’re against the systemic killing of babies in the womb. Based on their Christian worldview most will say, “Of course!” But isn’t abortion on demand a social justice issue? The verdict then is not, “Is social justice connected to Jesus and the Bible?” but “Which justice issue are we choosing to care about?”
We’re all selective in what matters to us. Unborn babies matter. Agreed! But the question remains, “Are they the only ones that matter to God and should therefore matter to us?”
That said, I am encouraged by Haugen’s claim that Millennials (and younger), in spite of our Boomer political prejudices and spiritual shortsightedness, are the ones who will renew the Church’s vision for justice. With sighs of relief and cheers of joy I welcome his remark, “They don’t even remember those old days [of social justice bashing], and in their view if you aren’t talking about justice, you’re probably not credible!”
The younger generation gets that there aren’t two gospels, a salvation gospel and a social justice gospel. They know that they’re one and the same. Over and over Jesus argues that faith in God is always expressed in tangible acts of love for our neighbor, whoever he or she may be. He weaves the spiritual and social into a seamless fabric that shouldn’t be torn in two. Millennials seem to hear his voice more clearly on this.
If the generation to come sees some things that the generation that barely still is doesn’t see, then God be praised! At least they have a chance at reversing the trend that we’ve set, restoring the reputation of the Church and doing the good in the world that we should have been doing all along.
Way to go, kids! Put your hearts, minds, and backs into the work of justice. Pick up the baton we dropped and run with it!
“Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God!” Micah 6:8
For more about biblical justice take a look at these: