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What’s all this about social justice?

January 2020 | by Paul Smith

Morality is back. Once again, moral absolutes are not just possible but popular. The #metoo movement has demanded universal standards of sexual morality. People are talking about social justice and the need to liberate the oppressed.

This all gives tremendous gospel opportunities, because it invites the question: on what basis can universal moral standards be asserted? It also brings tremendous challenges, because acceptance of the new morality is required to have a voice in society. So, should Christians embrace social justice?

Social justice seems, at first glance, to fit with biblical standards. After all, did not the prophets urge rulers to treat people, especially the poor, with justice and mercy? The problem is that the dominant narrative in current conceptions of social justice is not right and wrong but a power struggle between oppressors and oppressed. And oppression is taken to be anything that hinders individual self-expression.

That means God’s law is oppressive, along with anything or anyone who promotes any part of it. To suggest the Ten Commandments form the bedrock of society is thus unjust and immoral. People are rejecting Christianity not because faith in God is intellectually impossible but because the God of the Bible is morally repugnant.

Social justice warriors (SJWs) take great pride in their morality. Student activists, liberal journalists and progressive politicians see themselves as crusaders against oppression. So sure are they of the righteousness of their cause, that words like ‘bigot’ or ‘Nazi’ trip off their tongues whenever anyone opposes them.

Their invective can take us by surprise. Why, Christians think, are we so hated? Because perpetuating traditional morality makes Christians an enemy in the battle against oppression. Fighting oppression means smashing oppressive power structures, silencing oppressors and standing as an advocate for the oppressed. We will look at each part of the battle strategy in turn.

Fighting oppression means smashing oppressive power structures

This means attacking the traditional fabric of Judeo-Christian society. Unrelenting criticism is being used to destroy what’s left of the traditional family, patriarchy and the influence of churches. Infiltration is key: turning the ‘robes’ – judges, lecturers, pastors and politicians – against traditional society.

This strategy has been very successful. The divorced president of the supreme court has been agitating for no-fault divorce, schools are awash with the LGBTQ agenda and there are few politicians of any hue who dare support conservative morality. Not only liberal vicars but increasing numbers of evangelical ministers are more interested in trendy social justice concerns than the gospel.

Objective biblical justice is rejected. Rather, there is a demand for retributive justice (punitive measures against historically privileged groups, like white men) and distributive justice (forced redistribution to historically oppressed groups). In the name of racial justice, differences are emphasised, destroying the chance for social harmony.

The destructive elements to this agenda help explain why liberals who hate traditional Muslim views are so supportive of increased Muslim immigration. By pursuing multiculturalism, they are removing the unifying power of our historic Judeo-Christian values. Their aim is to make traditional Christian views only one option among many – and an oppressive one at that.

However much we aspire to live quiet lives (1 Thessalonians 4:11), Christians are seen by their promotion of the traditional family and local biblical church as perpetuating oppressive power structures. We must expect attack.

Fighting oppression therefore means silencing oppressors.

Members of privileged groups – like white men married to women – are warned that their unconscious bias might lead to ‘micro-aggressions’, cowing them into silence. A micro-aggression is any instance of everyday prejudice that might make a member of an oppressed group feel bad about themselves. Notice the focus on feelings over fact. The intent or content of a person’s words or actions is irrelevant: if offence is taken, that is final.

Should anyone have the temerity to challenge the tenets of social justice then they must be no-platformed. Voices of oppression should be shouted down, drowned out or cowed into silence. Facts don’t matter.

A GCSE sociology textbook was pulled for stating ‘in Caribbean families, the fathers and husbands are largely absent’. Opponents did not deny the facts, but said it was racist to state them. There is a repressive progressivism: ‘You just can’t say that in 2020!’

The issue is not whether something is true but whether it might make people feel bad. If we inwardly wince at the kind of convicting evangelistic preaching which once was commonplace then we may well have been unwittingly influenced by this agenda.

Christians can simply be called bigoted and written off without even a hearing. It is unsurprising that there is a close connection between the benign-sounding ‘social justice’ and social Marxism. Lenin, Stalin and Mao brooked no criticism of their crusade against economic oppression. Social Marxists permit no criticism of their crusade against oppression in general.

Feeling oppressed renders someone immune from challenge or criticism as feelings trump facts. When people can demand a ‘safe space’ where their opinions cannot be challenged, a gospel of repentance is anathema. This all aligns with the devil’s aims of not allowing the gospel to be heard and not allowing people to feel bad about their sin. But he wants yet more – vocal approval of this new morality.

Fighting oppression also means standing as an advocate of the oppressed.

Social justice promotes works-based righteousness. Privilege requires penance, and the greater the privilege (e.g. white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, native born), the greater the need to be an advocate for the oppressed. The privileged are urged to vacate the stage to allow minority voices to be heard; their comments are praised not so much for their wisdom but for the fact they can be made.

The mantra, ‘Always believe the victim’ has led to debacles like the bogus VIP abuse scandal. Complex issues like immigration, welfare or health and social care cannot be properly debated because as soon as a ‘victim’ is found they must be acknowledged as right.

Evangelical Christians sometimes express hope that the calls to stand up for oppressed minorities will render them sympathy as a persecuted minority. Such hopes are misplaced. Despite being a numerical minority, evangelicals are classed as part of the majority culture of oppressors. A minority rights agenda (against racism, sexism, homophobia, disablism, Islamophobia, etc.) means actively opposing Christians who won’t embrace it.

Historically, the Test and Corporation Acts shut nonconformist believers out of many prominent parts of society because of what, in good conscience, they could not affirm. This is increasingly re-emerging in public service professions, where believers cannot in good conscience ‘promote diversity’. In other public spheres they are deemed oppressors when they refuse to use pronouns which deny a person’s God-given identity. In such cases, believers are deemed immoral because they are perpetuating oppression rather than advocating for the oppressed.

When under attack, it is tempting to seek common ground. The problem is that the social justice agenda is like a train of issues coupled together: you think you are only embracing one point, only to discover the rest comes with it.

One key issue is that social justice emphasises groups over individuals. Standing up for individual victims of abuse necessitates advocating for an oppressed group (women) being oppressed by men. The remedy, therefore, is not merely justice for individual victims but breaking the power of the oppressors (men) by putting women in church leadership.

Paul writing an epistle, by Valentin de Boulogne 1619
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According to social justice thinking, the apostle Paul, as a man, obviously had unconscious bias. Therefore, his teaching can be reinterpreted to filter this out. There is a strong correlation between Bible teachers’ sympathy with the social justice agenda and their rejection of a plain reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

But let’s remember, in all this there is a great gospel opportunity. We can ask: by what standard do we measure what is oppression? What basis is there for universal morality outside of an unchanging God? It is the gospel that offers a positive, harmonious vision for society.

Social justice warriors focus on what divides people from each other. Concentrating on issues that divide people (such as race or sexuality) tends to foster division, despite good intentions. But the gospel offers unity. There is social unity as the only race – the human race – share God’s image. Moreover, there is family unity in Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female — for believers are all one in Christ Jesus. No amount of platforming minorities or redistribution of wealth through historic reparations can bring people together because it cannot change the heart. The gospel can.

All this should prompt believers to support one another in prayer. We need courage to refuse to conform to the Social Marxist morality. We need grace to respond in a way which avoids the anger and rancour found too often on the political right. We need confidence to proclaim one who by oppression and judgment was taken away to the place where his people are made one: the foot of the cross.

Paul Smith is full-time elder of Grace Baptist Church, Broadstairs.