The Theological Perspective of Social Justice

Justice is a biblically defined, theological, Christian issue. It is not a human construct. So, it is Scripture that determines what the justice issues are. This gives a distinct authority and delineates what justice is, and what it is not.

This is so integral to humans that we carry within us an innate sense of right and wrong, a conviction that oppressors should be held accountable and the weak protected. We instinctively want justice. Around us we see a world that is fallen and filled with injustice. Yet, in this same broken world, God calls his people to justice.

Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. We uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.

United Nations World Day of Social Justice – 20 February 2021

We believe that the biblical and theological foundations of Social Justice are as follows:

Hebrew Foundations – The ‘Justice Bedrock’

The Hebrew Scriptures contain a repeated theme to care for the outcast, marginalised and powerless. They insist on the dignity of the poor and counsel us to resist any temptation to view the poor as somehow different from ourselves. God holds us accountable for the way in which we care for the weak. Indeed, if we do not care for the poor, then we are accomplices in their oppression.

Jesus Boundaries – Justice Extremities

With the coming of Jesus we see justice lived out on the very margins of society. He does not deviate from the Hebrew Scriptures, which he ‘came to fulfil’ (Matthew chapter 5). He personally tends and cares for the very same kind of vulnerable people that God cares for in the Old Testament. He incarnates the compassion and justice of God.

Global Landscape – Justice Initiatives

With the birth of the Church there is an important development in the journey of social justice.

Citizens in the Kingdom of God start responding with initiatives to compassionately care for the vulnerable.

The expansion goes hand in hand with the story of salvation. As the Church takes root and grows, organised social actions begin.

Being raised up by God for a distinctive work, The Salvation Army has been led by God to adopt the following combination of characteristics:

‘…its worldwide tradition of service…without discrimination or preconditions, to the distressed, needy and marginalised, together with appropriate advocacy in the public domain on matters of social justice.’ (The Salvation Army in the Body of Christ, IHQ, 2008)

Social Justice Champion Story:

Salvation Army officer Major Campbell Roberts is widely known for his tireless work in social justice, described as a ‘trusted voice advocating for those in need’.

Campbell was awarded the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2019 and has also received the Salvation Army’s Order of the Founder. Over the years, Campbell has become a social justice advocate to prime ministers and a confidante to politicians. When asked, he says he is encouraged by millennials who are responding to a gospel of social and environmental justice, as well as personal salvation.

Some traditional evangelicals still baulk. There is a current backlash against what has been dubbed ‘social justice warriors’ which, astonishingly, is used as a derogatory term. But Campbell points to Micah 6:8: ‘And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ noting that ‘walk humbly’ is the personal relationship, ‘act justly’ is the creation of a just society between God and community (which includes the environment) and ‘love mercy’ is the caring part of the Army. If you don’t have them all together, you are not proclaiming the gospel.

The above information is taken from the International Social Justice Commission’s Newsletter for January – March with full permissions. To see the original please go to the ISJC website.

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