Glenn Beck, a cable TV personality, urged Christians to leave their churches if the words "social justice" were used. He is quoted as saying,
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.
This makes me think about some of what went on in Alabama a few years ago -- the notion that churches should be dispensers of charity, and that they should not be campaigning for social justice because if there were social justice, there would be no need for charity!
As I read some of the comments on a NYT blog,
"Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25)
I am led to wonder whether people understand the difference between charity and justice. To me, Matthew 25 merely describes charity. Helping an individual in difficult circumstances, without seeking to correct the structures which put him into those circumstances and will put the next person in those circumstances. If he is hungry because he has no job and no skills, feeding him will keep him alive another day, and training him will aid him if a job is available -- but if there is no available land for him to labor on, you've not moved a step toward justice. Welcome, and clothing, and visits are all wonderful -- but they don't change the structure which makes it impossible for some people to provide for their own needs and the needs of their families.
Susan Pace Hamill, the University of Alabama law professor who has made extensive studies of Alabama's tax system and the federal tax system and is now running for the state legislature in Alabama, said of the churches a few years ago -- I'm paraphrasing -- that even if they deserve an "A" for charity, if they earn an "F" in justice, that does not come out to a "C"; it is failure. If I recall correctly, the Alabama chapter of the Christian Coalition was opposed to tax reform (reducing sales taxes on groceries, raising the state income tax threshold to approximately the poverty line -- no one was even talking about reforming the perversely low property tax) on the basis that churches would no longer have as many objects for their charity if Alabama moved in the direction of economic justice. They'd be depriving the churches of poor people to serve!
I wonder whether Mr. Beck considers our current society to already be perfectly socially just and economically just, and, if not, what entity(s) he considers should seek to move us in that direction if he specifically excludes the Christian churches from having a concern for these issues.
To me, social justice and economic justice start with treating that which nature -- God, if you prefer -- provides, and that which the community creates -- as our common treasure, and treating that which individuals and organizations create as their private treasure. Glenn Beck, Dick Armey and Grover Norquist may be very focused on that second portion, but if they fail to get the first half right -- first! -- they will not create a stable -- or just -- economy or society.