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.