Fox News commentator Glenn Beck recently raised concerns about churches promoting social justice. He noted that the term “social justice” has been linked with Marxist economics and government redistribution of wealth, and he called it “a perversion of the gospel.”
Various Christian commentators have responded that social justice is a central theme in many Protestant and Catholic churches. A concern for the poor and justice in society, they argue, aligns with the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets.
All of this buzz reveals the great amount of passion and confusion surrounding the notion of social justice in our culture today.
Many have used the idea to advocate redistribution of wealth. Others, especially young adults, use “social justice” more generally, simply to signal their interest in issues like poverty, sex trafficking and social breakdown. They rightly note a concern for the poor and others in need throughout the pages of the Bible.
The question isn’t whether it’s important to care for those in need, but how to act on that concern in ways that do the most good.
Numerous Christian scholars and leaders address questions of social justice by emphasizing the importance of civil society. Catholic scholar Michael Novak, for example, has argued that social justice has to do with the “elementary habits of civil society.” And Marvin Olasky, Editor-in-Chief of WORLD Magazine, has highlighted the importance of building interpersonal relationships from the bottom up.
This question is taken up in a new resource from The Heritage Foundation called Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives in Need. This six-lesson DVD and small group study guide provides a framework for understanding poverty and social breakdown and what to do about them.
Seek Social Justice emphasizes the role of social institutions such as families, charitable groups, and businesses in promoting the common good. It also provides helpful clarity about the important role churches specifically can play in caring for those in need. And it addresses the proper but limited role of government in a just society.
This innovative curriculum can be viewed in its entirety, or ordered for the cost of shipping and handling, at www.seeksocialjustice.com.
Stephen Roberts, a visiting religion fellow in the DeVos Center on Religion and Civil Society, contributed to this piece.