Posts Tagged social justice

Rescuing Social Justice: Individual Virtue, Association, and Hayek

What is social justice?

For some, it’s an ideal. For others, it’s a dream. For others — perhaps most — it’s a mere marker of ideological orientation.

For Michael Novak, however, the answer is none of the above. As he argues in a recent Bradley Lecture, social justice is a virtue, and if it is not, “its claim to moral standing falls flat. The rest is ideology.”

Watch it here:




Novak spends significant time outlining the misuses of the term (this is sorely needed), but eventually offers his own definition: “Social justice is a virtue of specific characters, skilled in forming associations for the larger purpose of benefitting human beings both near and far.”

(If that sounds familiar, you’re on to something.)

This virtue, Novak argues, is also a protection for society at large. Without it, we become like those French Read the rest of this entry »

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Economics, Ecumenism, and the Church: An Interview with Jordan Ballor

Jordan Ballor, author, Ecumenical Babel, Acton InstituteI recently reviewed Jordan Ballor’s new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, in which Ballor aims to promote (and initiate) a “critical engagement” of the modern-day ecumenical movement.

Ballor’s argument is careful and thorough while also being engaging and precise, and although the book’s primary focus is on the way we approach ecumenism, it also stirs broader questions about the role of economic ideology in the church at large:

  • What is the proper role of ideology in the church’s social witness?
  • Do ecumenical organizations “count” as churches, and if so, how should we understand their place in the broader “playing field”?
  • How do we as Christian individuals — or even as private Christian enterprises — differ from the church in our responsibilities regarding socio-economic ideology and God’s social purposes?

To expand on these questions (and plenty more), Ballor was kind enough to engage in an interview with Remnant Culture. As in his book, Ballor offers a healthy dose of criticism while providing some clear-cut ways to promote a healthier ecumenism going forward.

Q. As you mention in the book, there is not much “transdenominational authority” in Protestant Christianity. How influential has the ecumenical movement been in establishing such authority?

Not nearly as influential as it might have been, especially over the last three decades or so. There’s an instinct in Protestantism to look outside of institutional groups for leadership and authority, and when such groups squander their standing by spending their time talking about prudential issues in imprudent ways, they do a great deal of damage to their own credibility. The lack of influence that ecumenical groups have these days is largely due to these dynamics. This is more the case for the “mainline” ecumenical bodies, such as the World Council of Churches, than it is for some of the “evangelical” ecumenical efforts, such as the Lausanne Movement. But there’s generally a suspicion of such “transdenominational” authority, and in many cases for good reason.

Part of why I wrote Ecumenical Babel was to try to articulate why recovering such Read the rest of this entry »

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Collective Bullying: The Social Injustice of Public-Sector Unions

This week at Common Sense Concept, I comment on the recent goings on in Wisconsin, focusing specifically on what I call the social injustice of collective bargaining in the public sector.

Here’s an excerpt:

The most dizzying of the spin has been the notion that public workers are entitled to a “right to collective bargaining” — a claim made so frequently and with such conviction that one would assume the taxpayers were granted some bargaining powers of their own.

But alas, although politicians began to invent such rights in the 1950s, the merits of these unique privileges have been highly contested, even by the likes of pro-union leaders like FDR and George Meany.

If you think that “social justice” is an odd way to approach the issue, I am somewhat sympathetic. (What doesn’t constitute social justice nowadays?) But as long as folks are tossing the label around about fake exploitation (as they often do), I thought I should at least be entitled to use it about the real stuff:

Framing my argument in terms of “social justice” will surely strike the pro-public-union crowd as odd. After all, they are the ones scolding the rich for “excess” and comparing Wisconsin teachers to third-world sweat-shop workers (need a laugh?). But when one begins to understand the unfair advantages that public-sector unions hold over the rest of the citizenry, such moping and mourning is quickly revealed to be the posturing Phariseesm that it is.

After examining the ins and outs of various public-sector advantages (relying heavily on Yuval Levin), I conclude that the institutionalized, coercive privileges held by public-sector unions are far more troublesome than their bloated line-item status in the budget:

Governor Walker claims that his actions are fundamentally about the budget, but based on the reactions from the unions (“It’s not about the money!”), it appears that the real gem they treasure is their coercive “right” to collectively bargain over the funds of the private citizens they are supposed to serve — a privilege of unfair and exploitative advantage.

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Economics of Hipsterdom: An Interview with Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken“Is Christianity cool in today’s culture?” asks Brett McCracken. “And I mean naturally cool? As in — are people attracted to and desirous of it on its own accord?”

McCracken explores this question (and more) in his new book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. I outlined some of the book’s major themes in my recent review, but there are some other areas I found particularly pertinent for readers of this blog — namely, the societal systems and cultural institutions that influence and steer hipsterdom.

How should the church respond to “cool” in a capitalistic society? How does competition jive with Christianity? How do we avoid the artificial and attain the authentic in our pursuit of cool?

Although McCracken touches on these matters in the book, he was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with Remnant Culture. If you’re intrigued by his answers, I highly encourage you to pick up the book. Enjoy!

Q: In your chronicling of the history of hip, you call America a country that was “born to be hip.” What about America makes it stand out in the evolution of hipsterdom?

America’s founding principles were utterly conducive to a thriving culture of hip. Individualism and a “self-made-man” ethos, in which status was no longer bound to blood or land but was determined by things like ambition and cleverness, were particularly hip-friendly values. America was founded on the notion that each man is sovereign and subject to no one but himself. The republic was governed by and for the people, and thus it was your right — indeed, your mandate — to be independent and upwardly mobile. America upended the old world’s hierarchies and power classes and made democratic, bottom-up populism the new force majeuer (well, in theory at least). America amplified the dance of power between hereditary elites, upstart entrepreneurs, and newly educated bohemian/intellectual classes, which was the hallmark of hip’s development in Europe in prior centuries. Furthermore, America was just this totally new, fresh, immigrant-heavy melting pot in which ideas, cultures, and ideologies from all over the place came together in dynamic ways. Hip always thrives most at the intersection of a plurality of voices and perspectives which can freely interact under the banner of democracy, and America has been ground zero for intersections of that sort ever since its founding.

Q: If American capitalism has led to “hyperindividuation,” and if the resulting self-centeredness opposes the Christian calling, how can Christians hope to achieve authentic Christian cool in a capitalistic society?

It’s difficult. Our capitalistic society is based on feeding our human impulses to want to stand out, be noticed, and be envied. In many ways, the economy is based on status symbols — buying and selling things that help us Read the rest of this entry »

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Giving and Government: Why Charity Belongs to Us

Offering plateDouglas Wilson recently posted a rather lengthy piece about tithes and offerings, in which he outlines a “brief theology of designated gifts.” I disagree with him on a few points, but for the most part it serves as a great resource for understanding the importance of giving, as well as the Biblical principles and instructions behind it.

Although Wilson doesn’t wade into the political realm, I think he offers some valuable lessons (or warnings) for those who think the government can or should serve as a vehicle for fulfilling our Christian calling to give.

From the social gospel of the Progressive Movement to the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush, citizens and politicians have shown a fondness for using political economics to execute spiritual acts. Christian giving and government redistribution are incompatible on a number of levels, and we can see this through some of the core features Wilson highlights. Based on his post, I have built a list of essential components of Christian giving that cannot remain intact with a government takeover.

1. Giving must be voluntary. Although government and taxes may be necessary, we should not assume that any sort of coercive redistribution can somehow replace our responsibility to give. Here is Wilson on the importance of giving freely:

Give, and it will be given to you again (Luke 6:38). This is a foundational Christian principle. The foundational Christian principle is not “make sure others give,” or “make sure others give the right amounts or in the right way.” Parishioners should in fact be taught how to give the right way, but they should be taught this largely by example (Heb. 13:7,17) … [W]e are commanded to give freely because we have received freely. Further, as we give freely, more will be given. Give and it will be given to you.

2. Giving should be a lesson in faith and trust. If our charity is co-opted by government programs, we are stricken with a stifling form of security — one that prevents us from depending wholly on God’s provision and blessing. Here is Wilson on the matter:

The giver of the tithe is trusting God. “How do I know that God will bless the remaining 90%?” So also must the recipient of the tithe learn to trust God. “How do we know if God will continue to finance the work we have to do, unless we Read the rest of this entry »

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Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America

Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America by Anthony BradleyThe first time I heard Reverend Jeremiah Wright yell, “God damn America!” I was eating breakfast with complete strangers. My college choir was touring the Midwest and each night we would stay with local volunteer families. There I was, sipping coffee with my host family, when the now-infamous clip of Rev. Wright’s sermon began to play on the morning news.

A bit of awkwardness set in, but it was eventually relieved by the mother, who let out a modest laugh and simply said, “Well…that was interesting.”

It was the spring before the 2008 election, and that replay of Rev. Wright’s sermon was certainly not the last. But throughout the entire media hubbub that followed, I couldn’t help but think back to that mother’s reaction.

What did most Americans really think of all this? What was it about Rev. Wright’s sermon that so thoroughly enraged them? Did it have to do with his core religious beliefs, or was it merely his insult to America? Did they outright dismiss Rev. Wright as a fringe radical, or did they understand that his belief system held prominence in some circles?

For those whose education in black liberation theology ended with media sound bites, theologian Anthony Bradley’s new book, Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America, will sufficiently fill in the gaps.

For Bradley, however, the Obama-Wright controversy serves only as a window into the realm of black liberation theology. Without it, most Americans, including most blacks, would be unaware that such theology even exists. Therefore, Bradley’s book is not about politics, nor is it even about Rev. Wright. Instead, it focuses wholly on the actual theology — its history, its anthropology, and its overall implications. More specifically, Bradley seeks to both outline its core problems and suggest a proper alternative that is, in his belief, consistent with both the black experience and the Word of God.

So what is black liberation theology?

Here’s a definition quoted in the book from the National Committee of Black Church Men (1969):

Black theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Black theology is a theology of “blackness.” It is the affirmation of black humanity that emancipates black people from white racism, thus providing Read the rest of this entry »

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The Christian Origins of Social Justice: Pope Pius XI on Individual Freedom and the Common Good

Pope Pius XIAs I’ve discussed before, “social justice” can be a pretty slippery term (see here and here).

For some, social justice means exactly what it implies — plain and simple social justice, whatever that may look like in whatever situation it may manifest. For others, it’s a bit more specific — sometimes only concerned with poverty alleviation, other times only concerned with basic human rights.

In any case, it seems that much of the surrounding discussion fails at a fundamental level simply because nobody wants to talk about their personal definitions or perceived meanings or implications. People seem very anxious to say, “You’re against social justice!” despite the variety of approaches to the term.

Anthony Bradley recently wrote an article for WORLD Magazine in which he brings a bit of historical insight to all of the confusion. Bradley argues that although the term “social justice” originated in the Church, it has now assumed multiple definitions that are “antithetical to the concept of justice within the history of Christianity.”

I encourage you to read the full article, but here’s a starter:

According to Hinze, Italian theologian Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio introduced the term into Catholic social ethics in the mid-1800s to rearticulate potentially misunderstood concepts like “legal justice” and “general justice.” Gustav Gunlac and Oswald von Nell-Breuning were particularly influential in inserting the language into QA. The concept was officially described later in 1937 in the encyclical Divini redemptoris, which attacked atheistic communism.

But what was so wrong with atheistic communism?

As Pope Pius XI wrote:

[T]here [is] social justice with its own set obligations, from which neither employers nor workingmen can escape. Now it is of the very essence of Read the rest of this entry »

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Biblical Justice vs. Worldly Justice: Avoiding the Scapegoat Mechanism

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Job's accusers were well aware of his innocence.

I am currently reading Douglas Wilson’s Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, and I was particularly struck by a chapter that focuses on what Wilson calls Christ’s “inexorable love.” The chapter’s fundamental argument is that Christ’s love is widely available to humanity and cannot be suppressed by natural forces.

Wilson begins by discussing the common approach that paganism has taken to achieving justice, namely scapegoating murder to achieve serenity:

Pagan civilizations have always been built on the bedrock of scapegoating murder — this kind of turmoil is managed until it gets to a crisis point, and then everyone wheels on the designated victim. After the murder of this victim, everything becomes tranquil again…For the carnal man, this is the most natural thing in the world. Accusation equals guilt, and condemnation for him equals salvation for us. (emphasis added)

But Christianity also has its fair share of scapegoating, so what’s the difference?

From beginning to end, the Scriptures stand squarely against this pagan mentality — the mentality that is always serene and self-confident about the guilt of the designated victim. Think of Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused. Think of Job, falsely accused by Satan in the heavenly courts and by his so-called comforters here on earth. Think of all the prophets, from Abel to Zechariah, son of Berechiah.

As we can see, Christianity is told from the perspective of the victim rather than the accuser. In addition to this, the victims are almost always innocent and are understood to be so by their accusers — a significant departure from paganism. On this point, many of Wilson’s arguments echo those of René Girard (see The Scapegoat). As we all know, Christianity’s history of scapegoating climaxes with the ultimate (and finally redeeming) murder of Read the rest of this entry »

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A Necessary Distinction: Public Justice vs. Social Justice

ChristianityToday recently conducted a brief interview with Gideon Strauss, the new CEO of The Center for Public Justice. I came across the interview through a post by David T. Koyzis over at First Things.

Koyzis was struck by one of Strauss’ answers regarding how we define justice, and I found it equally refreshing. Strauss was asked to define “justice” and explain how it differs from “public justice” and “social justice.”

He answered with this:

In the biggest sense, justice is when all God’s creatures receive what is due them and contribute out of their uniqueness to our common existence. We are called to do justice in every sphere of our lives: how I love and educate my daughters, collaborate with my colleagues, interact with neighbors. Public justice is the political aspect—the work of citizens and political office bearers shaping a public life for the common good. Social justice is the civil society counterpart—nonpolitical organizations that promote justice.

I think Strauss makes very good distinctions here, and I think such distinctions are sorely needed in our public discourse.

I only wish that more Christians were as careful in their use of the terminology. I think it is more often the case that those calling for “social justice” also advocate a partnership with the government Read the rest of this entry »

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Human Trafficking in Moldova: Q&A with Missionary Patrick Stitt

The Stitt Family

The Stitts (from left to right): Patrick, Kalyna, Finnian (2), Jack (3), and Levi (1)

I have the great privilege of knowing Patrick and Kalyna Stitt, who will be shipping out in June to be missionaries in Moldova. The Stitts will be working through the Home of Hope to curb human trafficking in the country and help bring spiritual and physical restoration to its many victims.

Human trafficking has been at the forefront of global discussion lately, and for good reason. Innocent women are being sold or duped into sexual slavery, and it is having a devastating impact on those involved. There are currently many high-profile efforts to eradicate the sex trade, but most have been highly ineffective and counterproductive. After all, sexual slavery is, in many ways, a cultural epidemic, and top-down organizations usually have a pretty difficult time influencing cultures for the better.

What I love about the Stitt family is how fully they embody the concept of Radical Individualism. Through their own pursuit of God, the Stitts have decided to leave the comforts of America and follow the voice of the Holy Spirit across the world. They are not dwelling in fear or cowering behind earthly securities, but are founding their family’s self-interest in what matters most to God. Such courage, faith, and determination is incredibly inspiring.

Patrick was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions about their mission, as well as discuss the issue of human trafficking on a broader level. In addition to reading the following Q&A, you can find out more about the Stitts at their website by clicking here or you can donate money to their effort by clicking here or here. If you are interested in hearing Patrick and Kalyna give a more extended version of their testimony and ministry, you can listen to it on our church’s podcast.

Q: What initially sparked your desire to minister to victims of human trafficking?

 
Patrick: I suppose everyone is struck by the idea of slavery and oppression. In particular, I reflected on the suffering of the hopeless — those who are distraught but are without the means to ameliorate their situation. When I learned about the girls and women who are forced into the sex trade I realized that these poor souls were possibly the most forlorn on the earth. But as horrendous as their lot in life is, I realized I wasn’t the man with plan. What can I do? For many years I took the easy route of Read the rest of this entry »

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