Last month, Sovereign Nations hosted a “Social Justice & The Gospel” conference in Atlanta, Georgia, the purpose of which was to gather scholars and church leaders to discuss an issue that has become a major focus of the media, higher education and faith communities.
Pastor, scholar and speaker Dr. Voddie Baucham delivered the opening message on Jan. 16, offering a detailed definition of what the term “social justice” actually means.
Why Christians need to understand social justice
Despite the widespread use of the term social justice in Christian circles, Dr. Baucham noted that it doesn’t mean what many believers claim it means. To clarify his personal stance on the subject, he cited a quote from 20th century economist F.A. Hayek:
“I have come to feel strongly that the greatest service I can still render to my fellow men would be that I could make the speakers and writers among them thoroughly ashamed ever again to employ the term ‘social justice.’”
Baucham noted that it has become popular for Christians today to declare social justice a “Gospel issue,” or a moral imperative for Christ-followers. Given this, our understanding of the term will determine whether or not we are on the side of righteousness or sin.
“God demands justice,” Baucham said. “Justice is not optional for the believer. Injustice is sin. Therefore if social justice is truly justice, then disagreement cannot be allowed.”
He then cited Micah 6:1-8 to support the claim that it is a biblical requirement “to act justly.”
What is the meaning of social justice?
Drawing from a general definition of social justice provided by the Oxford English Dictionary and commonly employed by leading schools of sociology, Baucham went on to discuss the meaning of the term. He quoted scholar William H. Young, who describes social justice as “state redistribution of advantages and resources to disadvantaged groups to satisfy their rights to social and economic equality.”
In other words, social justice is redistributive justice — a material process of leveling the playing field for certain groups that are deemed “disadvantaged.”
What is the mission of social justice?
Baucham proceeded to break down the mission of the social justice movement:
- Identify disadvantaged groups.
- Assess group outcomes.
- Assign blame for disparate outcomes (i.e. if a group is experiencing a negative outcome, the next step is to determine who is to blame).
- Finally, there needs to be a redistribution of power and resources in order to redress the group’s grievances.
Baucham offered an important qualifier, which is that the disadvantaged group is never to blame for its own problems — the group is perpetually the victim, always to be believed and sympathized with.
If a disadvantaged group is found to actually be advantaged or dominant in a particular area (Baucham offers the example of black people dominating the NBA, NFL and Olympic running), they deserve it because they are oppressed.
However, if a non-oppressed group has an advantage (economic, social, educational, etc.), that is an injustice and requires redistribution to deserving disadvantaged groups. Baucham noted that according to social justice ideology, someone could be a self-made man or woman who came from nothing and achieved success in some area, but whether or not that is just has nothing to do with the individual and everything to do with which group he or she belongs to.
“Inequality equals injustice unless it accrues to the benefit of … an oppressed group,” Baucham said, noting that the term “oppressed group” doesn’t always signify a minority — women, for example, comprise the majority of the population but are given minority status under the social justice mission.
Three things we must consider when examining the term social justice:
Finally, Baucham outlined three key factors for Christians to examine when considering whether to take up the cause of social justice.
- Clarity — Does the term “social justice” offer the most clarity? “Absolutely not,” according to Baucham. In order for Christians to argue that social justice is or can be a Gospel issue requires that we part from the commonly understood meaning of social justice. Redefining social justice to fit the Christian mission, Baucham argues, only spreads confusion.
- Toxicity — “It’s toxic terminology,” Baucham noted. When you look at prominent social justice groups and the issues they are fighting for — same sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action for women and select minorities, redistribution of justly earned income or power — it’s clear that these are toxic to our culture and incompatible with the biblical understanding of true justice.
- Necessity — Is it necessary for Christians to use the term social justice to communicate our message? It is not. There are alternatives that better communicate Christian values and objectives, and we must use those.
Baucham concluded by explaining why the term social justice shuts down debate. God demands justice, he repeated, so if a person begins a debate by declaring his position to be a “social justice issue,” he is assuming the moral high ground; he’s saying that if you’re not on his side — the side of justice — you’re in sin. This is problematic when groups fighting for so-called social justice are advocating policies and practices that go against biblical morality.
Watch Dr. Baucham’s full message below:
To see more videos from the Sovereign Nations “Social Justice & the Gospel” conference, click here.