The Problem of Social Justice and Libertarianism ChristianityEssays, Featured — By Carole Smith Turner on September 1, 2010 at 8:00 am
There is now a strong and perplexing dichotomy in American Christianity: the Social Justice Christian and the Libertarian Christian. Both have been formed and strengthened by the politics of the last 10 years. They are polars, they wage against each other, yet both ideologies base their belief in scripture.
2 Thessalonians 3:10-13 (The Message): Don’t you remember the rule we had when we lived with you? “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” And now we’re getting reports that a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings are taking advantage of you. This must not be tolerated. We command them to get to work immediately—no excuses, no arguments—and earn their own keep. Friends, don’t slack off in doing your duty.
Ezekiel 16:49 (New International Version) 49 ” ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
What I find more and more is that the “don’t work don’t eat” libertarian Christian’s join the Tea Party, bash any policy desired by the Obama administration, love Glenn Beck and give more energy to prosperity than the social problems they feel the Obama administration policies perpetuate.
On the other hand, the Social Justice Christians give a pass to anything the Obama administration does or says because they want more social programs to help the poor. They love Michael Moore and hang on every word from Reverend Jim Wallis. They feel government is the only way to help the poor on a mass scale, even though history has proven that not to be the case. They support government doing poorly what Christians are supposed to be doing correctly.
“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a life time”
I believe there is a healthy middle ground. I believe this is the time for Christians to hand out fish and teach men how to fish. This is the time for the church to be holistic in their approach to helping the poor. We don’t have to be extreme. We should not be either Libertarian or Social Justice-focused, but Christ-focused and THAT will reveal to us the truth on both sides.
The church should be changing the political world by “being the change” not by towing party lines and becoming lazy spoonfed extremists.
I personally believe this is the age of the Dream Center. We only need to look to places like the LA Dream Center as an example. I speak of Dream Centers because that is my point of reference, but there are many variations of Christian community outreach facilities. I work at the Baton Rouge Dream Center, so I see the fish given out and the fishing being taught. The people I work with know that balance is essential to seeing real change in the lives of the poor. It is not easy, it’s a lot of work and it takes time, which may explain the lack of participation in such community outreaches.
One example: statistics show that if less then 1% of all American churchgoing Christians adopted a child in the foster care system, there would be no more children available for adoption here in the US. If only 6% of churchgoing born-again Christians worldwide adopted, there would be no more adoptable orphans in the world!
Another example: mentoring. In a Pew Public/Private Ventures Study of 959 boys and girls with 60% members of a minority group, 60% boys, and 80% from low income households, 487 were matched with mentors and the remaining 472 were the control group with no mentors.
After 18 months with mentors, an evaluation of these children revealed the mentored boys and girls were:
* 46 % less likely to use illegal drugs
* 27% less likely to use alcohol
* 37% less likely to skip class
* 53% less likely to skip school
* 33% less likely to hit someone
But instead of spending 4 hours a month mentoring or opening our homes to a foster child, we let children grow up with life stacked against them, then when they get caught up in a life of crime, single parenthood, on welfare, etc., we complain about the “poor” draining our economy through social programs as adults, when the problem could have been alleviated much sooner.
See, the problem is, we are like Sodom. We are comfortable, lazy in our luxury and gluttony and efforts to help the poor before they become more impoverished, both mentally, spiritually and physically. If we are Libertarians, we’d rather talk about how hard we have worked for our hard earned money, which helps no one. And if we are Social Justice Christians, we’d rather talk about how much we have done, judge the ones NOT doing the same, and then give the government our blessing to implement more social programs, which also doesn’t really help.
In a nutshell, the true solution is for comfortable Christians, whether libertarian or social justice leaning, to give their time and money to Christian community outreach facilities that treat the poor in a holistic manner. The church needs to be the example of family, unity, and mostly love in action toward all mankind as Jesus demonstrated and instructed us.
We don’t get to escape the results of our neglect of the poor. We will all pay the price eventually. Why not be a real effective part of the solution now rather then letting our neglect hurt all of us in the long run?
What is the ideal that modern Western societies are supposed to be achieving? According to Chesterton, it is democracy: “It is this which prophets promise to achieve, and politicians pretend to achieve, and poets sometimes desire to achieve, and sometimes only desire to desire. In a word, an equal citizenship is quite the reverse of the modern world; but it is still the ideal of the modern world.”
As Richard Tawney says of medieval Christendom in his classic study Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, “Stripped of its eccentricities of period and place, its philosophy had at its centre a determination to assert the superiority of moral principles over economic appetites, which have their place, and an important place, in the human scheme, but which, like other natural appetites, when flattened and pampered and overfed, bring ruin to the soul and confusion to society.”
- Richard Gill, Oikos and Logos, Chesterton’s Vision of Distributism