The Problem of Social Justice and Libertarianism Christianity

Essays, Featured — By 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

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    28 Comments

  • JamesW says:

    Most of this piece is great, but you start off with some very bad presuppositions about us:

    “…join the Tea Party, bash any policy desired by the Obama administration, love Glenn Beck and give more energy to prosperity then even looking at the social problems they feel the Obama administration policies perpetuate.”

    Many of us don’t like Beck, do care about the poor, and don’t like the Prosperity gospel. We do look at the social problems of which you speak, but have thoughtfully come to the conclusion that government is not the solution.

    Feel free to come to a different conclusion. I support your right to do so, and am willing to listen to your ideas. But when you start with assertions about us conservatives/libertarians/tea partiers that aren’t true (for many of us), you have deviated from any sort of discourse that’s going to be helpful. And you lose me.

    • Lace says:

      Agreed. As a libertarian/volunteerist I disagree with many of the values of the Tea Party and Glenn Beck. Libertarianism is based on one simply principle, that it is unacceptable to use coercion and violence on peaceful people. What is described in the article would be better titled Republican Christianity, or Neo-conservative Christianity.

    • Jordan Green says:

      I’m going to agree with Lace here that the definition of libertarianism mentioned in the article is more the Beck-brand than the actual, old-school definition.

  • Gwen says:

    This is an insightful essay, but it needed to be proofread before it was posted.

  • Emily Adele says:

    I think you make some excellent and passionate points here! And I agree with your statement that, “We should not be either…but Christ focused and THAT will reveal to us the truth on both sides.” I do think there are a growing number of Christ-followers and church communities who surrender their social justice involvement to God’s guidance- avoiding the politics of it all whenever possible. I am grateful to be a part of such a community. I pray that all Christ-followers learn more ways to surrender completely to God’s promptings. And God’s promptings are both in the bible and available through prayer and truly seeking to know God more.

  • JamesW says:

    Just ran across this quote today, and think it fits well here:

    “The ideology of the Left believes big government and social reform will solve social ills, while the Right believes big business and economic growth will do it.

    The Left expects a citizen to be held legally accountable for the use of his wealth, but totally autonomous in other areas such as sexual morality. The Right expects a citizen to be held legally accountable in areas of personal morality but totally autonomous in the use of wealth. The North American idol of Radical individualism lies at the root of both ideologies.”
    –Tim Keller

    • JamesW says:

      I formatted that badly. At first glance, it may appear I was favoring the Right and slamming the Left. I should have made this its own paragraph, so it would stand out, because it’s what matters most:

      “The North American idol of radical individualism lies at the root of both ideologies.”

    • Lance says:

      I don’t see that what the Right and the Left “expect” as exact opposites, as might be understood by the quote. Would not the Right’s expectation that personal morality also include the appropriate use of personal wealth? I don’t see an “authority” i.e. the government, organization or some legal statute, as relating the use of wealth as having anything to do with lifting a persons behavior to a higher morality (and personal morality of course is not entirely without social consequence)

  • annie says:

    Maybe the problem isn’t so much that people are one or the other, but that we demand they be one or the other. More often than I come across people who are this extreme, I come across people who seem determined that everyone else is and, once they have classified someone, refuse to listen to anything that contradicts their black and white charicature.

  • I understand your disagreement with my view of Libertarianism Christianity but I did say “What I find” which means, what I have seen, observed, heard, around me. I live in Louisiana, the hard core Republi-Christian south. I am surrounded by lovely Godly people who have called me a socialist, tree hugger, liberal all because I dare to even question Glenn Beck. So, please forgive the personal observation from a state that just reelected (by a land slide) a family values republican senator who spent years buying prostitutes in Washington and New Orleans.

    From where I sit, Christianity and politics is all messed up.

  • Oh, and I forgot to mention, the harshest opposition I encounter when championing the poor, or fighting for social justice, comes from Republican friends who tell me out right that they are actually more Libertarian. I know many church leaders who do not believe in helping the poor really, in a hands on way, because they believe most American poor people are just lazy and working the system. Again, these are people that tell me they are Libertarian more then Republican.

    • JamesW says:

      Sorry you are experiencing that, Carole. I know that I hear a lot of bad things about Tea Party and republicans, and most of the worst stuff I hear doesn’t match what I see with those I know. Of course, I’m on the inside, as one who agrees, more often than not, with conservative economic policies (for non-theological reasons more than theological ones). But the more extreme folks I know, those who have gone to tea Party rallies and Palin appearances and such, are nothing at all like the mean-spirited neanderthals that I typically see them described as. I’ve certainly never heard anyone slam government assistance because the poor are “lazy.” Not that I know every Tea Partier or anything. You have your observations based on who you have run into, and I have mine.

    • JamesW says:

      Sorry for he sidetrack. I really think your article is dang good after that first part, and really, you make a case for non-govt assistance pretty well. Maybe you’re a closet conservative after all……

  • Jeff says:

    But aren’t we once again losing track of our focus? Christians, at least in my experience, on either side of the aisle feel a definite call to serve the poor and those in need. Maybe we should take government out of the question. Instead of arguing and wasting our energy deciding who called who what, perhaps our efforts would be better utilized if focused on grassroots ministry to those in need. Instead of waiting for Obama or Glenn Beck to do it, let’s get busy doing the work of the church. Maybe I’m way off base, but that’s what I got out of this article.

    • Levi Rogers says:

      I agree. The church must usher in the kingdom regardless of what people on the right or left are doing. I think it’s sad that whenever the issue of poverty comes up, the discussion is often framed more by political ideology than scripture (not blaming anyone.) Could it be that if we perhaps took political ideology out of the equation, amazing things oculd happen?

  • I totally agree, the point of my article is that most people I know fall into the two categories, they speak out politically or align themselves with an ideology rather then actively being a part of the solution. They leave it up to government or political figures like Glenn Beck and Jim Wallas, rather then dong what the church is called to do. I give examples in the article of ways the church could make real difference. These are actually doable solutions that would bring about real change but they require work and sacrifice.

  • Rachelle Eaton says:

    You TOE the party line, you don’t TOW it. The idiom “toe the line” comes from students being required to stand with their toes to a line on the floor to recite their lessons.

  • Matthew says:

    I loved this piece and will link to it on my facebook to share with friends. And quite frankly, I agree with the author’s observations.

    The heart of Christianity is humility and there is no humility in politics.

  • Jeff Wright says:

    Great article! I responded to your post with ‘On Social Justice Christians and Libertarian Christians’ which has been re-posted at The Ooze. Thanks!

    Jeff Wright

  • AC says:

    Interesting article….

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