Thursday, April 16, 2015

Progressive Christianity: Social Justice

The next chapter in Ben Corey's Undiluted that I'm going to comment on is 'Undiluted Justice' in which Ben shares some of his thoughts on social justice. And again he uses his own story to get at it.

Ben begins by referring to a course that he took in seminary titled 'Biblical Global Justice'. And it sounds as if one big reason taking this course was so significant in Ben's life was the instructor, Dean Borgman.

Before meeting Dean, I was sure that the problem with American Christianity was that we had lost sight of just how pissed off God really is. Instead of being honest about an angry God who is so fed up with our abortions and same-sex marriages that he frequently sends his justice upon us by way of natural disasters and terrorism, I was convinced that we had diluted our idea of God’s justice to make him seem a little too loving and a little too merciful.

That's the 'before' picture of Ben. Here is the 'after'.

Justice, as it turns out, isn’t so much about God’s anger as it is his love. I discovered justice not as God throwing a violent tantrum, but God’s passion for restoration, liberation, healing, and wholeness. Justice was no longer something to be feared, but something I wanted to participate in with every fiber of my being. In order to arrive at this place however, required me to set aside an obsession with retribution in regards to the concept of justice, and forced me to enter the Kingdom like a little child— willing to rethink and relearn.

He then spends a little time exploring some of what the Scriptures have to say about social justice.

In Deuteronomy chapter 15, we find God prompting Israel for what it will be like to live in the Promised Land. God tells them that as a nation they will have enough wealth and resources for everyone, and that as a result, “there should be no poor among you.”

He also includes comments on what Job and some of the prophets have to say about the care of the needy. After that, Ben turns to the New Testament. First, there's John the Baptist.

The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry” (Luke 3:10-11 NLT). Biblical repentance, as taught as a gateway introduction to the message of Jesus, was an invitation to be generous toward the vulnerable, honest in our dealings, and content with what we have.

He also comments on Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about the critical importance of caring for the hungry, the naked, the sick and imprisoned.

In all of this Ben makes some really good points. The Scriptures are clear about how those who have are to aid those who don't. And this is something that we all need to be careful about since it is easy to neglect this, especially in our Western culture. But is it as bad as he says? Are Christians actually that calloused about caring for those in need? In my years in the Church I have encountered some very generous Christians who cared very much for those in need. Is it possible that Ben is actually reacting to the particular sub-culture that he grew up in more than American Christianity in general?

Ben also writes this.

Often we sponsor a child for $39 a month and write letters four times a year and call it good. But I think Jesus is looking for something a little more radical—a little more counter to our culture. Jesus, I think, wants more.

There are Christians who do exactly this. But what if this is all that they can do?

That leads me to this question. What is it that Ben wants us to do? He has been quite clear when it comes to what he is against. But what is he for? What should we be doing? And why should we be doing those particular things? There is less detail when it comes to this.

God has called us to love and care for [those in need] with reckless abandon.

What might that look like?

There are many Christians who are caring for some of the needy around them in very quiet ways, ways that aren't intended to be noticed. For some it's volunteering at the local food bank. For others it's bringing over a hot meal for the family next door that's going through some trauma. Sometimes it's sitting with a cup of coffee and just listening to someone unburden himself. There are many other quiet ways that Christians are helping those around them who are in need. Do these count for Ben?

Then Ben writes this.

People who do undiluted justice are simply the people who are trying to make the world a little less broken.
A little more reconciled.
A little more whole.
A little more beautiful.

I am so for a world that is a little less broken and a little more reconciled, whole and beautiful. That desire is one reason I am a pastor. But those things won't happen unless Jesus is at the center of it all. Ben didn't say much of what he is for so I don't know what he thinks about this. But it seems to me that what we need to do is deal with the whole person, body and soul. So, there are, to be sure, physical needs that must be met. But what good is that if the needs of the soul aren't also met? People need food and clothing. But they also need a lively trust in Jesus. In fact, they need that more. So, I don't talk about social justice. To my ears that sounds too large, a little flashy and programmed. I would rather talk about people caring for people: meeting them where they are and seeing what they need. And then, doing what they can to help them meet those needs, needs both of body and of soul. This includes things like being at the food bank each week, sharing a dinner or simply listening: showing Jesus by your life. But then, it's also talking about Jesus with your words. This is small (something one person can do), ordinary (no flash here) and not at all programmed (no need for someone to organize it). But I think that this is how the church in its early days (as well as in some later times) changed the lives of so many.