"peace and social justice"

Many, many churches have “peace and social justice” committees, in one form or another, by this, or similar names. It is likely that many of these do very good work, mobilizing their congregations to help “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). It is also close to certain that many, if not most, of these “peace and social justice” committees are attempts to extend the welfare nanny state approach to problems of race and poverty.

In fact, there is something about the very name, “peace and social justice”, that is like fingernails on a blackboard. Principally because these are the inheritors of the “social gospel” movement. See, by way of just one example, this essay on this late 19th-early 20th century phenomenon. The essence, and the massive error, of this movement, no doubt borne fully by today’s “p&sj” groups, is found in this extract from the essay:

The historic Jesus came to be seen [in the social gospel movement] as a moral exemplar who had worked for social justice, and the transformation of social institutions, not as the Christ of faith.

It is that last that constitutes the massive error. A “gospel” of Jesus Christ that does not involve the “Christ of faith” is a false gospel.

It is not that good works should not be done. On the contrary, Christians should know from their own experience that such works are a necessary outcome of their regeneration by the Holy Spirit to faith in the Christ. Once you have faith in the risen Christ, and know that He died for your sins, you will become your own “peace and social justice” committee. You just won’t necesarily, or even likely, go down that socialist road to secular salvation that is embraced by so many mainline Protestant as well as Catholic churches.

As an example of taking back our Gospel from those who would preach the false social gospel, consider a piece by in today’s Wall Street Journal. It’s by Iain Smith, a Conservative British MP, and Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA). The article gives a “conservative vision of social justice”, and its essence is this:

The social justice agenda we endorse is grounded in social conservatism. That means helping the poor discover the dignity of work, rather than making them wards of the state. It means locking up violent criminals, but offering nonviolent offenders lots of help to become responsible citizens. It endorses a policy of “zero tolerance” toward drug use and sexual trafficking, yet insists that those struggling with all manner of addictions can start their lives afresh.

What you won’t find in a “conservative social justice” is a lot of whiny and teary searches for “root causes” of crime or bleatings about how not everyone can enjoy caviar with their champaign brunches.

Given what we know about Sen. Santorum, you probably also won’t find much effort to end the death penalty in such a social justice approach, either. This is part of the problem for both the liberal (now conventional “peace and social justice” approach) and the “conservative” approach. Both have some merit; the conservative approach far more insofar as it wishes to place the responsibility for the individual’s secular welfare where it belongs: solely with that individual.

Despite labels of liberal or conservative, what is sorely lacking in the liberal approach is any true notion of God’s justice. The liberal approach is only about mercy. On the other hand, some conservatives often forget entirely about the Lord’s mercy and go about dispensing His terrible swift sword of justice.

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