“Christians should know that God has a special interest in the welfare of those at the lowest end of the social ladder: widows, orphans, legal aliens and others who are oppressed or disadvantaged in society.”
Is it fair that David Beckham makes millions for playing a game of football, while the average person struggles to pay the bills? Deals over Birmingham hosting the Jamaican 2012 Olympic team – including the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt – are worth about £20m to the city’s economy, but is it fair that the local Jamaican community has not been given a penny, and have been excluded from senior positions in the council, but have been charged to host local celebrations?
In the 60th year of the Queen’s reign, is it fair that some people are born into extreme wealth and freedom, while others must live and often die in dire poverty? No, life is not fair. But life can and should be just. Whenever people’s actions – or lack thereof – lie at the heart of these inequities and suffering, then ‘social injustices’ have occurred. Unfortunately, these injustices shame our world every day.
A socially-just society assures that every person is given fair and equal opportunity to access a society’s economic resources and its political and legal systems. Social injustice occurs when people do not get what they deserve. This begs the question: What should a Christian do about it?
Christians should know that God has a special interest in the welfare of those at the lowest end of the social ladder: widows, orphans, legal aliens and others who are oppressed or disadvantaged in society (Jeremiah 7:5-7).
The fundamental basis for pursuing social justice goes back to the fact that every human being is created in God’s image, and thus has intrinsic value. Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that God’s law can be summarised in two commandments: love God, and love your neighbour (Luke10:25-37). He explains further that “Love thy neighbour” means helping people in need until they can become self-sufficient, as illustrated by the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In fact, all people have a moral duty to help other people who are disadvantaged in society.
The Early Church exercised great care in discerning who should receive their social support. For example, a widow in 1 Timothy 5:3-6 must be at least 60 years old; left alone without family or presumably any other means of support; a woman of prayer; married only once, and with a reputation for good works, among other things. In contrast, Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to withhold their social care to those unwilling but able to work: “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
You can’t be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the current Government’s same-sex ‘marriage’ agenda. Christians can and should influence social policy through their voting; being involved in party politics; forming public interest groups; serving in government, and participating in lawful demonstrations.
Christians must exercise careful discernment when considering the problem, root cause and best solution for any social concern. As Christians, we need to acknowledge that not every social action is necessarily good and positive – even if it springs from sincere intentions.
An example of seemingly helpful actions is the distribution of clean needles to drug addicts. Whilst doing this may address immediate problems, over time, they can lead to much worse social problems. It has been widely shown that such projects only perpetuate the social problem they are supposed to alleviate.
The harsh treatment of slaves might have been improved through social services, but the problem could only have been properly dealt with through its abolition, which was achieved via a campaign of strategic, social action. Another example is, if accidents keep occurring at an unregulated road junction, then what is needed are not more ambulances, but traffic lights. So, if we truly love our neighbours and want to serve them, we may be obliged to take political action on their behalf. As Christians, we have a duty to offer prudent and wise solutions.
The evangelical church, in particular, has an over-emphasis on evangelism whilst excluding social action. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, in Matthew 25:31-46, is a sobering passage that makes it clear that Christ is concerned about our life here and now, not just in the hereafter. People are not just souls to be saved. In the parable, the sheep were welcomed into eternal life, because they have engaged in practical ministry to people’s physical and emotional needs. In contrast, the goats are condemned for failing to meet those needs.
In the final analysis, recognising that life can and should be just, though not always fair, Christians can take the lead in social action to right societal wrongs. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” This and many other biblical passages make it clear that every human being has a God-given, unalienable right to life and liberty in society. By working to create a more socially just society, Christians play their part and “fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, 10).
Stephen Brooks is National Development Manager for Excell 3 (National Black Boys Can Association). For more details, visit www.blackboyscan.co.uk