Christianity and Social Justice

So, I had originally thought this might be two posts, one on protest and one on social justice in general, but they are so connected that I thought it impossible to separate the two.

I had a short discussion with an American pastor who said that the social justice movement was tantamount to “Social Marxism.” This, of course, is only an offensive idea in America and he meant it to be so. The conversation was held after the protests of another policeman shooting another African American and not being punished by the court system. Expecting the judicial branch of our government to uphold the law and being outraged at the result is not expecting Social Marxism. It’s the same fight of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being waged today. (Social Marxism was a term being used incorrectly in the derogatory manner most Americans speak of Marx and his ideas in order to demonize the general movement.)

These protests have largely died down except for the most surprising place to find any particular moral fiber: the NFL. Several players began to protest what was happing in black communities by kneeling during the national anthem. (I am not going to focus on what these protests eventually came to stand for or whether or not they were disrespectful to a flag, government, etc.) These were peaceful protests and done in the spirit of bringing awareness. While many people can watch the game and forget what is going on, or be unaware entirely, there are communities which are increasingly afraid that today is the day they will hear that one of their own is going to be shot without reason— other than the perceived reason of skin color.

What do we do, as Christians, in a world with injustice?

Answer: we stand for justice, we join in redemptive work.

We find in Jesus a living example of protest. While there are many examples of this, including my favorite of Jesus driving out people buying and selling sacrifices from the the temple in each of the gospels (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:41-44), let’s look at the woman being saved from being stoned to death for adultery:

1 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

(John 8:1-11 NLT)

There is a lot to this passage, but an aspect I want to focus on is the actual stoning of a woman, not including her male partner. Part of this is a ruling religious class attempting to make a point with or against Jesus, using the woman, and the law of Deuteronomy 22:22-24, merely as a tool. I’ve heard various explanations for why the male is not being punished, but the obvious answer is the one which holds the most water for me: the Pharisees, an entirely male group, were sexist. (There are finer points to this that could make for an entirely new blog post.)

Looking at this passage, I cannot help but wonder what some people would have said. “Jesus, you shouldn’t be getting involved. They just need to hear about your good news.” “I can’t believe that Jesus is using his position to do this— that’s so wrong!” “I can’t believe Jesus is being so disrespectful of our leaders, our laws!”

Still not convinced? Try the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus uses this story to show how those who truly proclaim that they love their neighbor are those whose actions show it.

There are many minutiae to how to enact our faith in such a way to work toward the world’s redemption, but one thing is clear from Jesus: it doesn’t involve simply being stagnant, perhaps slinging Bible verses at people. We are called to act. Those with a more visible or powerful position to act have an even greater responsibility to do so. We will likely step on toes when we argue for what we believe is right— but that doesn’t mean that the fight is not worth pursuing.

Thank you for reading. I hope that you join me in thinking about things you can do to make the world a better place, more like the Kingdom we are supposed to be living in. My November post will be on Christianity and Psychology; I hope you continue to follow along!

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