Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Social Justice and Critical Theory: Biblical Justice in an Age of Ideological Civil War

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Proverbs 21:15 "When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers."

There is an ideological civil war taking place in the United States, and in western civilization overall.  This is a battle that displays itself along political lines, social lines, academic lines, and along religious lines.  This ideological civil war is most pronounced in the partisan political battles between left and right, though it also displays itself in other ways.  Specifically, the battle for the soul of the church is a front in this battle, among many other fronts like media, academia, culture, and the sciences.  

In the church we see the same divide developing across the normal lines, left vs right.  We see both sides attempting to push their political views in the church, and this is causing a polarization. What happens in the culture we see mimic itself in the churches.  We see struggles in denominations between high and low views of scriptures, between biblical marriage and gay marriage, between social justice and traditional justice causes. We see people in the church wanting to step behind and advocate for one party or the other. In these struggles, we must always be asking ourselves, "But what is biblical?" The timeless word of God has a word for every situation we face. 

In the various movements of the churches in western civilization, we've seen a growing divide along fairly partisan lines.  There is a growing polarization, and it shows itself on social media, and in decisions by the leadership of various movements.  We see traditional evangelical theology and liberal theology vying for dominance. 

The evangelical church has in recent times re-embraced one of it's founding concepts of justice advocacy; but it's a new ideology, that they call "social justice."  And this social justice has increasingly become a concern to biblical Christians who seek to live out true justice. 

Only certain causes seem to come to the surface in this new social justice ideology.  It centers around issues like human trafficking, gender inequality, white privilege, institutional racism, immigration, LGBTQ advocacy, refugee advocacy, wealth inequality issues, intersectionality, and multi-culturalism/inter-culturalism.  

Historically in the evangelical church, justice causes had included topics like biblical marriage support, pro-life advocacy, fighting homelessness, fighting hunger, caring for orphans and widows, human trafficking, Christian education, fighting poverty, and dealing with other evils of the times.  

The new social justice causes have increasingly caused concerns with many in the church. The concerns are rooted in that many of these ideologies are not properly grounded in traditional Christian beliefs, but actually come out of the secular university system, and tend to be rooted in thinkers like Karl Marx, Herbert Marcuse, and Max Horkheimer.  These thinkers come out of ideologies that tend to be rather anti-Christian, and based around an ideology that views the social structure as a constant battle between the powerful and the powerless. We should be very careful as a Christian movement when embracing ideologies like critical theory, group identity, and class warfare.  I'm sure many of us have not given it a great deal of thought, so let's get into it a bit.

Let's identify some terms.  Critical theory is the idea that people are enslaved in various forms by society.  Therefore the fundamental reality of society is that of a constant battle between the haves and the have nots.  The chief goal then is to set people free from oppressive societal structures that perpetuate oppression.

But is this actually true?  It's debatable. There are elements within the scriptures that tell us of our need to advocate for the powerless.  Such as Proverbs 31:8-9  "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Yet in Proverbs we also see Proverbs 28:5 "Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely." So it's hard to believe that a secular social theory like critical theory could be useful for us as Christians. 

But fundamentally, is society a struggle between the powerful and the powerless? Think of the United States, a country where people rise and fall largely based on their merits. A place where someone like Martin Luther King Jr. can lead a movement to bring about justice for the oppressed.  A society where a poor kid like Abraham Lincoln can become president. A society where a Dinesh D'Souza or a Barack Obama, or a Clarence Thomas or a Morgan Freeman can rise to be influential leaders. 

Our society is considered a democratic republic. For many, it's hard to see it as an oppressive power structure of racism and bigotry.  There may be individual examples of racism and bigotry, and those should be addressed. But there isn't a great of evidence to suggest it's systemic. The United States is a meritocracy, where we rise and fall based on our merits and how hard we work, not based on oppressive structures. Of course if oppressive structures do exist, they ought to be rooted out.

Critical theory is rooted in Karl Marx's ideology of power structures, that power is controlled by a select few, and only by enforcing total equality can people be free.  Marx thought the structures of society must be criticized, (critical theory) attacked, and torn down to destroy the elite ruling class (the bourgeoisie). 

Group identity is part of critical theory in some ways. It's about dividing people up into aggrieved groups.  Victim groups are people who are considered to be victimized by the oppressive power structures of society, and need to be liberated.  From this concept comes the idea of "community organizing." This is where an identity group is organized into a force to leverage political change. 

Thus we are told we must advocate for victim groups, such as women, different ethnicities, those with differing views on sexuality, and so on and so forth. So, once these various disparate groups have been organized, by community organizers, they are linked through the concept of intersectionality, to advocate on a larger scale, and also to stack victimologies. So in intersectionality, someone who is female and a person of color and transexual, would have a greater victim status than say, a white female.

Scripture in the Old Testament did refer to many peoples on the basis of groups, such as Israel, Judah, Gentile and Jew, and so forth. Generally those divisions were based on nation, or religious standing, not so much on color, gender, or sexual preference.  But in the New Testament we see a radical dissolving of all classes and groups, famously, in the scripture from Galatians 3:26-29, "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."

We as Christians no longer consider others to be separate based on country of origin, or gender, or skin color, instead we are all viewed as one body of Christ. 

Last term, identity politics is the process by which political movements attempt to gain power by organizing aggrieved groups. In the concept of critical theory, and thus identity politics, perceived political enemies of these groups must be criticized, or slandered, thus you see many words like "racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic" and so on directed toward political opponents.  This also means that anyone who departs from the group think of an aggrieved group, like people of color for example, are slandered and ostracized. You'll often see black individuals who leave the group think, like Dr. Ben Carson, or Thomas Sowell, or Larry Elder or Candace Owens slandered as "uncle toms" (a racial slur) for having differing political views.  

How have these social justice causes come to hold such prominence in evangelical church movements?  If politics is downstream from culture, the church is also downstream from culture.  The university system teaches many of these ideologies like secular humanism, Marxism, feminism, intersectionality and so on, and then those ideologies are gradually brought into the church and become part of the churches identity.  

  Gathered together under one umbrella, these various social justice causes can be considered part of the larger progressive ideology.  The progressive viewpoint tends to see the American founding from a critical theory perspective.  Critical theory says that the systems in place are in place because they are evil and stole power from the masses.  So the American founding is criticized and deconstructed.  The American founding is re-packaged as evil slave-holding white men killing native Americans and forming an evil oppressive religious theocracy that must be toppled and rebuilt from the ground up. This viewpoint is encouraged by a new movement called The 1619 Project that views America's founding and history fundamentally as 400 years of racism.

Essentially, progressivism is an utopian ideology. The idea is that the United States' existing structures must be overthrown, because they are racist and evil, and they must be replaced by an entirely new society. Only then will a true utopia come about, in which economic equality exists, and all classes are united as one classless society.

We in the churches of western civilization, we who follow Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible should consider carefully these concepts before embracing or rejecting them.

Many in the church are motivated by the desire to bring about justice in society.  That is a good thing. But in our zeal to rally for justice, we've embraced many ideas that upon examination appear increasingly suspect. What we really need as the church, is a biblical alternative to critical theory based social justice.  We need a biblical formula for biblical justice ministry based fundamentally on scripture and informed and strengthened by secular practices like psychology, sociology, and so on. But let's continue. 

Multiculturalism - Multiculturalism is essentially the opposite of the melting pot.  The melting pot is the idea that various cultures and peoples come to America for a new life, and they assimilate in various ways to American culture, while also enriching American culture with their own unique cultures.  Multiculturalism is the idea of cultures remaining separate and unique.  We see this play out in major cities where various cultures are divided into different parts of the city.  Multiculturalism suggests that immigrants should not learn the native language, but speak their own language.  Multiculturalism also largely rejects assimilation.  This is not good my friends.  And in the Christian worldview, we come from various cultures and societies, but we make up a unity, as the body of Christ.  We are all parts of the same body, we're not broken up into groups and separated.  

An improvement, possibly, on multiculturalism is the concept of interculturalism. This ideology suggests that various culturals intermingling in the larger society through dialogue form and shape one another, while still remaining distinct and separate. But once again, isn't the melting pot still the best option, in that various cultures and ethnicities all become part of the American culture, while also enriching it and bringing about needed growth and change? It would seem so.

White Privilege - White privilege is the concept that the white majority of countries like the USA have special advantages and abilities above and beyond those of other races and cultures.  The cure then is for whites to "check your privilege" and listen to aggrieved groups, instead of talking. According to books like White Fragility, if you attempt to argue with these ideas, you're just being racist and trying to protect the white power structure. So to repent, you must give up your power, and listen. You must advocate for victim groups hurt from harms of the past, like slavery or Jim Crow laws. 

This ideology indicates that all cultures are equal, aside from "white culture" which is evil (a misnomer because European Caucasian cultures are very diverse). It tends to place the bulk of the blame for slavery on the United States, which is a strange concept, given that slavery existed in the world in virtually every nation, including most Native American tribes, and ancient cultures like Egypt, Israel, and Babylon thousands of years before America even existed.

Your individual conduct doesn't seem to be the chief concern. Instead you are required to take group ownership, ownership of slavery, of racism, and of all the evils of white people, even if you've never personally done those things.  Even if your ancestors immigrated from Poland in the early 1900s, like mine, you still are supposed to take ownership of racism and slavery, and repent accordingly. 

Institutional Racism - This is the idea that entire institutions of society are racist and evil.  The suggestion then is that many police departments overall are racist. Government agencies are racist. Businesses and church organizations are considered racist.  They would argue societal norms are also rooted in racism.  And essentially, suggest that many, many various aspects of culture are fundamentally racist. The American flag is seen as racist. Household products like bread, or Aunt Jemima are considered racist. Even statues of Ullyses S. Grant and George Washington may be deemed racist and torn dorn, or vandalized.

Racism certainly does still exist in our society.  But it exists on an individual basis, not as a part of oppressive societal structures. We should fight racism and put an end to it forever. But not based on institutions. That's not where it exists. Racism exists on an individual level.  Identify an individual racist based on their personal conduct, and deal with them personally. Based on Matthew 18, this seems a more biblical approach to dealing with racism.  

When fighting for a more just society for all races and ethnicities, please recall the important word from Leviticus 19:15 NLT “Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly." In other words, don't favor perceived victim groups, or favor the rich and powerful, instead treat everyone equally.  Sometimes we think we need to give certain groups special privileges to make up for the past, but that is in actuality, a perversion of justice.

Illegal Immigration - Illegal immigration, also referred to as undocumented immigration is the practice of individuals or groups crossing borders of nations without going through customs or immigration departments. Biblically speaking, we are commanded to obey the ruling authorities (Romans 13.)  Very simply, countries have laws. All countries have borders, and laws to cross those borders.  There isn't anything wrong with that. But if we do deal with those who are on the run, disobeying laws, on an individual basis, we ought to treat them with grace, with love, and reach out to care for their needs.  

Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

We should also try to look deeper at the border crisis and it's political realities. It's been suggested that many politicians make use of the crisis, hoping to transform the voting blocks along the border states.  Which is a sad situation, but you know how it is with politicians. They are always looking for the angle.  It's also been suggested that wealthy businesses on Wallstreet want cheap labor.  There are often distinct political motivations behind these issues.  It's ugly, and grim.  But there it is. 

Refugee Advocacy - We ought to care for refugees who are in need. As Deuteronomy 24:14 says, "Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns."

There is no problem with advocating for helping refugees. We should also keep in mind that there can be dangers in assisting refugees, depending upon the ideologies of the places they come from. It always comes down to the struggle between compassion and truth in the church.  Recall that Jesus Christ came full of both grace and truth (John 1:14).  There is a need for balancing the two, in showing compassion, but also being discerning. 

Gender Inequality - Does Gender inequality still exist in our society? I'm sure it does. But once again, we must be discerning. One of the key talking points in this debate is the "gender pay gap." Please do be aware this study has been shown to not be accurate.  The study suggested the gender pay gap, has been debunked because it didn't take into account several factors, like job choice, for example. Of course that's not always the case.  Once you factor in differences of lifestyle choices and preferences for certain jobs, the pay gap virtually vanishes. Should women and men be treated equally? Absolutely. But not by force, in my view, but by merit. Women are wonderful, equal with men, and we shouldn't encourage an attitude of hatred or division between the sexes. Receive the promise from Psalm 46:5  "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns."

Wealth Inequality - The concept here is that wealth inequality exists because the rich are oppressing the poor.  I'm sure there are some cases where that is true.  But it's not a rule for society overall itself.  In a capitalist society, like the United States, one rises and falls economically based on various factors like education, marriage, children, and just how determined you are to work hard and do your best.  It's actually amazing how much people can rise and fall economically in the United States.  For that reason and others, it doesn't seem wise for the church to be encouraging Marxist/Marcusian ideas of wealth inequality.  We as believers are encouraged to be content with what we have, according to Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

In conclusion, instead of encouraging secular social theory in our church movements, we should look to the Bible, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to understand what justice is and is not.  

We as Christians need to be careful. Many, sadly, don't really love the word of God. They don't really love Jesus, in fact. They are more focused on ideologies they've been taught. As we know, in the end times there will be many false teachers, and many who turn away from the truth.  

From 2nd Timothy 3:2 "For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred."

For some, not all, the ultimate goal is to transform the church into a progressive movement, in other words, apostasy. For many more, the desire is simply to live out biblical justice.  And that's a sincere and good desire that we should encourage.

We should advocate for those who struggle and suffer. We should stand up for traditional marriage, pro-life causes, ending human trafficking, caring for refugees, advocating for religious liberty, and we should carry the gospel to the lost all over the world.  But we should reject secular social theories based on critical theory, and instead look for our causes in the pages of the Bible.  

"Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” -John 7:24 NLT

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