Justice and Order

I’ve been challenged recently to jump down another rabbit-hole of endless research. This time it is Tyson, who writes:

We Christians in the United States point out that the Declaration of Independence is based on biblical principles. We protest when the Ten Commandments are taken out of courthouses because we believe the principles found in the law given to Moses are a good basis for our country’s laws. In my opinion, Christians are right to point to the Bible when looking for principles of good government and societal interaction. The Bible provides guidelines for fairness and establishes basic rights, such as the protection of personal property.
Yet, I’ve had consistent pushback from Christians close to me when I suggest that biblical principles advocating social justice deserve our equal attention.

I agree with this. I’ve known a lot of conservative Christians who are eager to outlaw homosexuality and abortion at the federal level, yet insist that it is unbiblical to allow the federal government to collect taxes for welfare programs. Moreover, for a long time it has been popular to account for disasters as the consequences of certain moral problems (abortion, homosexuality, not praying in school) while ignoring other moral problems (self-righteousness, hatred of foreigners, injustice toward the poor).

I recognize that principally this is a question of how our society and our economy should be organized, and that’s a big area to cover. So, I’m just going to do a focused study in the Bible and try to leave the current political, economic, and social controversies out of it until later.

The first thing to set aside is the use of the term “social justice.”

This is a loaded term for conservatives, since some have identified it as a secret code for “creeping communism.” Well, I think people who are paranoid about “creeping communism” need to stop obsessing about whether everyone is thinking happy thoughts about General Motors and Wall Street. The idiotic mindset of the 1950s is gone. The Chinese Communists are going to crush us with consumer debt, while the capitalist corporations are going to turn us into little mush-brained drones who parrot everything from the Glorious Leader; the white mainstream churches are heading down the primrose path of sanctifying homosexual marriage, while the black and latino Churches are standing up for traditional marriage; this is just the opposite from what the reactionary morons 50 years ago believed would happen.

Seeking social justice means seeking the most just way of ordering society, including politics and economics. Personally I am strongly libertarian, but the Old Testament has quite a bit to say about justice and the correct way to order society. Not even the most hypocritical Christian can deny this for long, so in the past most of the discussion has revolved around what parts of the OT apply to us now. I’ll get to that after I first survey the OT teachings on justice and society.

I’m focusing on the OT partly because Tyson is, but also because the NT is too easy. The NT has little support for any political involvement at all. It assumes that all authorities are coldly pragmatic up until they get swept away by the second coming of Jesus. One excuse for ignoring Jesus’ ministry is that He actually had nothing to say to Christians about how to behave in this world; all of His commands are said to concern behavior in the far future, when He will reign on earth during the Millennium. The OT, on the other hand, clearly concerns itself with contemporary matters of social order and justice. Or does it?

One take on this question is found over here, where Peter tries to distinguish between believers running their own country (e.g., ancient Israel) and believers exercising political power in pagan countries (Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah). This seems promising, until one reads Genesis 47 closely. Maybe God wants us to sell all our property and our bodies if we are starving, but sharecropping would have a pretty tough sell in the US right now. Maybe it will become popular after a few years of Great Depression 2.0.

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3 thoughts on “Justice and Order

  1. Thanks for the link. Well, selling one’s property to Pharaoh and paying back 20% of one’s income has a lot of advantages over selling (mortgaging) one’s property to a bank and having to pay whatever interest they ask and being forced into poverty if you can’t.

  2. Well, maybe it’s a good way for the middle class to avoid becoming homeless. I’m hoping to find some other passage in the OT to substantiate a doctrinal view of this practice, other than the loose analogy to Jacob and Esau.

  3. Muwahahaha! This certainly is a tough nut to crack, so have fun! I look forward to your thoughts.

    Since writing my first post, I’ve done some additional drafting on what may turn into a little pamphlet in the future. I decided to start at the beginning and talk about the obligation that Christians have to get involved in public affairs, especially when we live in representative democracies.

    Here’s what I have so far …

    The Basis for Christian Political Advocacy
    Unlike the Israelites in the Old Testament or Christians in past centuries, many Christians today live in secular democracies where they have the privilege of electing representatives in government. In the United States, we aspire to have a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” As such, everyone in this country has a civic responsibility to educate themselves, engage in public discourse, and to vote according to their best judgment.

    Many Christians, including myself, believe we have a unique responsibility to engage in public discourse and advocate a “Christian position” for the social good. Although many secular critics may accuse Christians of wanting to impose theocracy, or religious government, most politically active Christians believe that God promises blessing for societies that follow His principles and punishment for those that reject those principles. We do not advocate the enforcement of religious law—there is no Christian equivalent for Muslim Sharia law. Rather, we advocate policies and platforms that we believe are just and right based on God’s standard of justice and righteousness depicted in the Bible.

    In fact, all people who vote in a representative democracy vote according to their conscience, or what they think is just and moral. Yet, somehow it is only when Christians do so that they are accused of foisting their morals upon society. The only difference between a non-Christian moralist and a Christian one is the latter bases his or her belief on what they understand from the Bible. For the non-Christian, they themselves are the arbiter of right and wrong. In this way, people naturally tend to self-interestedness. But for the Christian, God’s principles found in the Bible are the basis for right and wrong. Hence, the signers of the Declaration of Independence could affirm based on their understanding of biblical truths, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    The basis of Christian political advocacy, therefore, is a genuine concern for the general welfare of society. Charles Finney, a 19th century American revivalist, said this as he exhorted his congregants to join in an effort to repeal the Fugitive Slave Bill, which required citizens of Northern U.S. States to aid in the capture of fugitive slaves:
    “Have not all Christian men political duties to perform? Ought they not to search out these duties, and settle in the fear of God all the great questions they involve, and then meet their political responsibilities in the fear of God and for the welfare of the nation?”

    Quoting Micah 6:8, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., urged civil rights protesters to vote for God-fearing government representatives for the overall good of society:
    “Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress men who will not fear to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God. Let us much on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.”

    Paul the Apostle wrote to Christians, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede for on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”

    At the time, Paul addressed Christians who lived under imperial Roman rule—they had little choice but to pray that God would give His wisdom to authorities who decreed laws and made judgments. If I may update Paul’s advice for today, would add that Christians in secular democracies also pray for God to help the electorate decide who to vote into office and what policies to support or oppose.

Instigate some pointless rambling

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