Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Why Social ‘Justice’ Isn’t Enough; or In Reluctant Pseudodefense of Glenn Beck

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

I watched Glenn Beck’s foolish statement about “social justice” and the ensuing outcry with mixed reaction.   I agree with what motivates the outcry, mostly.  And I agree that Beck said something foolish. On the other hand, he didn’t say the foolish thing that most people seem to think he did.  (Some people came back with “He doesn’t understand the gospel,” “He doesn’t think we need to care for the poor,” etc.)

That puts me in the reluctant position of sort-of defending someone whose wild, dramatic antics & outrageous rhetoric generally bug me.

Three basic points:

  1. The Christian call. If your Christianity doesn’t move you to action–caring for people and working to fix injustices around you, then you’re not following Christ well.
  2. The term “Social Justice”. It’s strange to use “social justice” as the overarching term for social action. Sometimes, we mean “compassion” or “love”–not “justice”.  If you only seek justice, you’re not all that you should.
  3. What Beck said. That strangeness of terminology was partly behind Beck’s statement.  He still said a couple foolish things, but he didn’t say anything like “Social action isn’t for Christians.”

The Christian call

Of course the Bible calls us to act, both Old and New Testament.

The prophets called us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  Jesus fleshed out the Golden Rule in multiple ways–the Good Samaritan, “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me“, etc.  James pointed out the hypocrisy & vileness of religion that doesn’t care for the poor.  In Proverbs, the king is told:

Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

The term “Social Justice”

On the other hand, it’s strange to call it “justice” when you feed & clothe someone in need.

“Compassion” and “love” and “mercy”, yes.  But “justice” seems to assume that I’m acting to correct a wrong done against them.  When the Old Testament prophets cried out against injustice for the poor, in all the passages I’ve seen, the poor were being cheated.  (The prophets weren’t, as this pastor reads Amos, talking about our responsibility to care for the poor–not when they called for justice.)

Yes, sometimes, people are in need because they were abused & cheated of their rights.  Then it’s a justice issue.  But that’s hardly the case all the time.  And if we see a starving man or freezing homeless person who got there by their own choices, we should hardly turn them away with, “Sorry, you’re just getting what you deserve–and my mission is justice.  I’m going to go help that other guy who was cheated.”

Justice prevents people from being cheated, and it rights wrongs.  Compassion gives wherever there’s need.

And maybe you think I’m wrong. Maybe you want to argue that compassion for the needy is always a matter of justice, in biblical terms. (Like Scott McKnight did here–not persuasively, in my opinion.)  Just realize that we’re not disagreeing about the call to love & serve–but about how to describe it.

What Beck said.

I want to defend Beck this far:  He did not say to leave a church that teaches people to care for the poor and to work for justice in society.  On the contrary, he said the gospel does require us to care for people.  As I read it, Beck mostly said:

  1. The terms “social justice” and “economic justice” always mean socialist governmental policy, versus personal action.
  2. You should leave a church that advocates governmental redistribution of wealth.

I have some agreement and some objections on both ideas.

What about the past association of the phrase? In my past experience, most people who used the phrase were also advocating left-wing economic policy:  Government-based distribution of aid.  Conservatives who cared about the issue didn’t use the phrase, and pursued different solutions:  More focus on private & grass-roots charity & relief efforts.

So the term did tend to imply government-enforced redistribution of wealth.  A more “socialist” solution.

But I’ve seen it change.  The phrase is used more broadly these days.  You can’t make the automatic association.  (On the other hand, I’m not sure about the term “economic justice”. It’s not used as much.)

What about leaving a church?

It’s foolish to suggest leaving a church because they use a phrase.  What about leaving it because of political advocacy?

I don’t have a cohesive conclusion on this, but here are a few thoughts:

  • A church should be teaching biblical principles, including our responsibility to pursue justice & compassion.
  • That calls for personal action.  Sometimes it implies political action.
  • But advocating particular government policies?  That gets more dicey.  More questionable.
  • You shouldn’t assume “We need to care for people” implies that it’s good to do it through taxes.  Maybe it is, but maybe not.  Someone can oppose government programs without being a selfish nasty rich person who doesn’t want to help people.
  • Politics shouldn’t be the driving focus for a church, whether it’s left-wing or right-wing politics. (Members of the church might be focused on it, but politics isn’t what a church gathers for.)
  • There needs to be room for political disagreement in a church. As a friend of mine put it, “Christians should still respect one another and worship God together if they have a differing opinion on, say, universal health care.”


Christ does call us to act.  Social action isn’t limited to “justice”, but also “compassion”.  I wish people wouldn’t say “social justice” when that means “care for those in need”.  Beck went too far and said something foolish, but he didn’t say everything that people are criticizing him for.

Hackers?!?!? Problem solved!

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

I wake up this morning, and all of my links are messed up!  I’m trying a back-up and upgrade of my WordPress software.  Stay Tuned!

Update: I tried upgrading the WordPress software, which (maybe?) should have rebuilt all the links.  It didn’t work.  That’s all I can try for the moment–I might be down for a day or two.  (I hope my entire database isn’t corrupted!  I’m not sure how to fix that.)

Further Update: I remembered that there’s a “Permalinks” setting, where you can change what the URLs for you site will look like.  So I played with that, and that forced all the urls to get fixed.  Yay!  I’m not sure how the problem started, but I’m glad it was an easy fix.  (Especially since I didn’t have a recent backup of the blog!)

On the Dangers of Podcasts

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Frank Turk did a post of miscellaneous thoughts, including some commentary on celebrity culture in Christianity.  It included the following gem for podcast aficionados:

May we all have the opportunity to use our gifts for the goods works God intended them to be used for, amen? But let’s never forget that while it is a virtue to do those things which God has ordained beforehand, it is not a virtue to merely admire those who are doing what God has ordained and then nothing else. You are not a Paul-plus-James Christian if you merely enjoy the podcasts from all the T4G guys and all the Gospel Coalition guys. You are a Paul-plus-James Christian if you count trial as joy, and can say that you see that the aim of what the apostles taught is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

That hit home for me.  I love the T4G guys, and I listen to podcasts somewhat obsessively.  And I’ve noticed some dangers:

  1. Letting podcasts act as a substitute for your devotional walk with God.
  2. Spiritual pride based on the people you listen to/like.  Justification by podcast.
  3. Picking podcasts for the interesting controversy, rather than the edification.

Aside from the podcast issue, Frank’s point was key, about how “the aim of what the apostles taught is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”.  (How much easier to be a hearer-but-not-a-doer, in this age where hearing is so easy?)

There’s (not) a Virus on NPR’s Website! <-- Whoops, false alarm.

Monday, February 16th, 2009


Cancel this warning.  I was getting a virus warning from AVG Free about NPR’s website.  But it turns out that it’s a false alarm–AVG fixed it with their most recent virus definitions.

Ben Stein on Financial Crisis, 1979 vs. 2009

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

This is a rather good perspective on the financial crisis.  Add a dash of the Sermon on the Mount, let simmer, and serve.

Thirty Years Ago, by Ben Stein

Advice on Prayer

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

A recently received piece of advice about personal prayer:

Pray out loud, not silently.  That way you know when you’ve stopped praying.  (If your mind drifts, you stop talking.)


Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

From the illustrious Sacred Sandwich:

I Think My Wife’s A Calvinist

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Stolen from the Internet Monk:

More on the Morality of Voting

Monday, November 17th, 2008

In the comment section of the previous post, I linked to a debate, Is it Immoral to Vote for McCain/Palin?, and the associated discussion thread.

One side was arguing that it is wrong to vote for the lesser of two evils.  (They argued that McCain is evil on abortion, because of his willingness to allow abortion to be left up to the states, along with his support for rape & incest exceptions, and his support for some government funding of embryonic stem cell research.  That this is morally equivalent to wanting it to be legal to lynch black people, or to beat women.  And that wanting something to be legal leaves you effectively guilty of the crime itself.  There was more–you can read their arguments to get the full picture.)

The “morality of voting” issue turns out to be a more difficult question than I thought.  Think about it this way:  Take some heinous evil, and imagine a candidate who thinks it ought to remain legal.  Would that make it impossible for you to vote for him?  (This is single-issue refusal-to-vote, not quite single-issue voting.)  Could you ever vote for an avowed member of the Klu Klux Klan?  For someone who wants it to be legal to lynch black people?  Could you give approval to such a candidate?

Internet debate can be really bad sometimes.  And some of the debate and discussion was painful to read.  But it was good food for thought.  I posted my conclusions to the discussion thread.  It was a bit long, so I’ll just post the major bullet points here, and follow up with the link, if you want to read more.

1.) Do not do evil to avoid bigger evil. In your actions, words, and thoughts, do not compromise God’s standards. Ends don’t justify means.
2.) To figure out this question, you have to figure out what a vote means.
3.) If voting is inherently an act of approval, support, or participation in the proposed policies of your candidate, then you shouldn’t vote for a candidate with any policies that violate God’s law.
4.) If voting is only a tool for affecting what happens, then you should vote to have the best possible effect, according to your best judgment about what everything that will happen.
5.) I’m not sure how to view voting. I suspect there isn’t an objective answer. When Christians differ on this point of political philosophy, then they’re disagreeing over disputable matters–not over the teaching of Scripture or over the demands of God’s Law.

Keep Reading

Voting Your Conscience

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

What does it mean to vote your conscience?  What is the meaning of a vote?

I have two conservative, pro-life friends who can’t stand Obama, but also do not want to vote for McCain.  Instead, one says that he is going to leave the ballot blank.  I’m not sure what the other is going to do–she may be voting third-party.  But in both cases, they do not want to vote for McCain because they do not believe he is authentically conservative–especially on pro-life issues.  Their conscience won’t allow them to vote for him.

So that makes me wonder… How do you view your vote?

I think my friends are probably thinking about it this way:

“I don’t want to vote for the lesser of two evils.  I want to vote on principle!  Am I going to vote on principle, or am I going to vote pragmatically?”

If you think about it that way, you’ll probably vote “on principle”.  You won’t be willing to vote for the lesser of two evils.

But what if you think about it this way?

“I really don’t want candidate X’s policies to go through.  Am I going to vote to affect what happens, or am I just going to vote to make a statement?”

If you think that way, you’ll probably vote for the lesser of two evils.

So, how should you think about your vote?  How will your conscience reason?

  • A principled vote vs. a pragmatic vote?
  • A vote to make a statement or a vote to affect what happens?