Justice without Justification
The culture believes that social justice is very important, but is there any foundational logic behind WHY they believe it’s important? It’s time for Christians to take this topic seriously again…before it’s too late!
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
Let me start by giving you some of the most common American phrases or ideologies that you might hear today:
“I’m free to do whatever I wish as long as I don’t hurt anyone”
“You don’t have any right to tell another person what is right or wrong…they determine that”
“You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history”
“You just need to be yourself and not care what anyone else says”
These are phrases you’ve probably heard so many times, it’s hard to not believe they’re true.
They’re in your Facebook feed every day, your kids favorite Disney character says them, and your co-workers invoke them weekly at happy hour or at your cubicle.
They’ve become as American as baseball, the statue of liberty, and bacon.
We’ve heard them so many times, most of us haven’t ever given any real thought to them.
We haven’t actually sat down and said, “Do these things even make sense…are they even rational…logical?”
And so here’s what we want to do with our new series, “A Chair with No Legs.”
We’re going to talk about how many of the culturally accepted norms for how we should live…actually have their roots in Christianity.
And yet, over time, the culture has disassembled the foundations for WHY we believe some of the things we do, and thus, we’re left with a “Chair with no legs”…
A chair that…doesn’t make sense…and without a foundation…will fall.
My belief is that this series is going to cause you to believe deeper in God.
My hope is that when you see the logic of God’s ways versus the hollow logic of society, it will actually deepen your belief in God
It may also potentially open your eyes to some things that you currently believe that perhaps aren’t Biblical…or even logical
We are, after all, a society based on feeling, not reason.
DEFINING SOCIAL JUSTICE
To start our series off, this week we’re going to talk about the issue of social justice, which our culture places a high value on.
And I want to examine does American culture actually have a foundational motivation for being active in social justice anymore?
Or have the legs mysteriously walked off?
Before we get into this, we HAVE to define what Social Justice is…because there are 1,000 different definitions, and you each thought of something different when I said “social justice”
Over time, the meaning of social justice has become more narrow.
For many nowadays, social justice could simply be defined as anti-discrimination...equality for all.
Some have even taken it a step further and defined “social justice” to mean: state distribution of society's advantages and disadvantages
It’s almost become something political… related to the government’s role in making things equal on every possible level (socially, economically, etc.)
I believe the Biblical definition, which is what we’re going to work off, is significantly broader.
The Bible would say that Social Justice is taking care of the less fortunate in society.
Giving food to hungry, clothing the needy…
But certainly…a piece of taking care of the less fortunate…is fighting for their equality or rights as well:
(Isaiah 1:17) – NIV
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
The Bible is incredibly concerned with the plight of the orphan, the widow, the foreigner in your land, the homeless….
In Matthew 25, Jesus says that we honor him when we take care of the least of these. These are the examples he gives:
(Matthew 25:35-36) – NIV
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
And so this is Biblical Social Justice in a broad sense: To take care of the less fortunate in society, the oppressed, the hurting…through any means possible.
HOW THE CHAIR WAS CONSTRUCTED OVER TIME
So how did we, as Americans, or more broadly, as a Western culture come to even value social justice in the first place?
Just our good instincts? J
Far from it.
Charles Taylor and Timothy Keller, two great thinkers whom I’m borrowing from extensively for this series, do a great job of showing how pre-Christian societies didn’t care much at all about what we call “social justice.”
2,000 years ago, before Christianity, the Greek thinkers considered individuals as rather unimportant.
For the Roman, or the German Barbarian, or any culture of that time, only the clan or tribe was important…not individuals in of themselves.
No one even entertained the idea that every individual deserved help and respect simply because they were a human being
It just simply wasn’t in their worldview.
On top of that, the ancients believed everything was fated by “the gods,” and so human choices didn’t matter.
It didn’t ultimately matter how you treated the less fortunate…that was their fate.
You can still see some of this thinking today in non-Christian cultures…like in the Caste System of India.
The poor aren’t helped because it’s their fate…their karma.
But when Christianity made its way into Europe and taught that God wasn’t impersonal at all, but a personal God who loved ALL people…things started to change
People started to believe that every single person was made in the image of God…and therefore valuable.
People started to believe that this personal God cared about how we lived and how we treated the poor.
And out of Christianity, the idea of social justice was born.
Women were finally respected, hospitals were built, orphans were taken in, and the homeless finally taken care of.
And history was changed.
HOW THE LEGS CAME OFF
We don’t have the time to walk through the Enlightenment and the last 300 years of history, but over time, secular culture (which secular means non-religious) has begun to disassemble the foundations for WHY we live the way we do.
And today, in a post-modern and increasingly post-Christian West, we’re in this strange, transitionary in-between stage.
Many of the ideas of Christianity still exist, social justice being one of them, but the foundation for WHY they exist has mysteriously gone missing.
Over time, secular culture has become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of God, or absolute truth, or even the idea of morality…
They would rather determine what is right and wrong for themselves…as individuals.
And thus our cultural norms for how we are to live…are quickly evolving (because we’re each changing what these norms should be)
And now…our way of life…has no permanent/attached foundation…the legs have got up and walked away
Yet, in this in between stage…we still have some holdovers from Christianity…like social justice.
For now…we’ve got a chair…but without legs.
WHY? HOW is the chair still there?
Let me give you three reasons
3 reasons on why our culture seems to still care about social justice…even though, if it were logically consistent (as we’ll see time and time again in this series), it actually wouldn’t care.
REASON #1: WE FEEL GOOD
Before I became a Christian, I wasn’t as nice as probably some other non-Christians, but the only reason I served other people…was to help myself.
To build my resume.
And maybe…just maybe…along the way…I felt good doing it.
Which is still a selfish reason J
And so #1, a lot of people still engage in social justice because…there’s something in us (that I would argue is a God given moral compass)…when we serve at a soup kitchen…that tells us, “This feels good.”
REASON #2: WE FEEL GOOD ABOUT BEING RIGHT (include #1 as well)
For many who are fighting in social justice for rights or equality…what they truly feel is a sense of satisfaction (even perhaps, ‘superiority’) when they conquer over old-fashioned people (or just plain wrong people) who are oppressing equal rights (either here in the U.S. or abroad).
It feels good…to be right.
To stop others from doing wrong.
To help people get caught up with the right way…how things should be done nowadays.
Perhaps the best evidence for this is the fact that we now call the act of doing these things “social justice”
It used to be simply called our “moral duty” or “acts of mercy”…maybe even social mercy.
But we don’t have a common morality anymore, and today’s modern person doesn’t want to be associated with “morality,” and so we had to give it a new name.
And so the culture settled on “justice”…we’re making things right.
Judging those who are oppressing and doing wrong.
And it feels good to be right.
REASON #3: WE FEEL GOOD ABOUT BEING RIGHT IN GIVING PEOPLE FREEDOM OF CHOICE (include #1 & #2 as well)
One of the primary goals of Western culture is to ensure that everyone has a CHOICE to live as they choose…no matter who they are (some of that is of course good)
But just so we’re clear, in the culture, the driver of this…is one of the culture’s absolute favorite sayings: “Everyone has the right to believe what they want and live as they want”
And therefore, social justice, for many actually isn’t the end, but social justice is a means to an end.
The culture thinks, “If I can ensure that this person has more equal rights, then they’ll be able to choose”
So the core motivation isn’t actually the person, but “choice” itself
WHY THE CHAIR WILL EVENTUALLY FALL DOWN
(Back to Justice without Justification Slide)
But see, none of these 3 aren’t actually strong reasons, and certainly not deep foundations to why we should do social justice.
In fact, I had a really hard time even finding secular articles on WHY we need social justice.
There is PLENTY on what it is…and that it’s “right,” but almost nothing on “WHY it’s right.”
And that’s dangerous.
Because what we’re advocating justice for now, we might not 20 years from now.
Any historian will tell you that a culture’s definition of “what’s right” is constantly shifting.
The chair for social justice and taking care of those who so desperately need our help…is GOING to fall down…without a stronger foundation.
Let me be clear:
“It’s still there now because God isn’t necessary for people to want to do moral actions
You can have ‘moral’ feelings without God
Maybe you’re nice because your family was nice, or your temperament is nice
A culture can have moral feelings without God…but it cannot have MORAL OBLIGATION without God.
Without a moral obligation…without a higher law that tells us how we should live and tells us “what is right”…on what basis can you tell someone: “You cannot pay your workers 50 cents an hour…that’s slave labor…that’s wrong!” On what basis?!?
This is precisely where the culture’s “logic” turns hollow.
As I said in the beginning, one of our favorite American mantras is: “You don’t have any right to tell another person what is right or wrong…they determine that”
So then, if we’re being logically consistent, how can a person who believes that then tell another person or group, “You can’t treat your employees like that…or women like that…or ignore the sick like that! That’s wrong!”
Couldn’t that person just answer back, “You can’t tell me what to do. I believe my treatment of this person is right, and as you said, I determine what’s right.”
See, the only way this actually gets solved is if one can appeal to a higher moral authority…outsider of ourselves…or our cultural bias.
And that’s God.
But without having a higher moral authority, we’ve taken the legs right off of the chair.
Many in our culture are trying to change the world based on what they believe is “right” while at the same time professing there is no “right”
This is what Philosopher Charles Taylor calls the “extraordinary inarticulacy of modern culture”
It doesn’t make any sense.
Most Americans haven’t yet realized that by cutting out Christianity as a moral basis for their life, they’ve taken the legs off of social justice.
Most haven’t noticed the legs are missing.
And so…for now…in this in-between-stage…we carry on with social justice…but w/o any legs.
But it won’t last forever.
In his book “Visions of Vocation,” Christian author and thinker Stephen Garber tells the story of meeting a woman who directed the Protection Project, an initiative under Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government that addresses human trafficking (against the sex trade / slave trade worldwide).
He says that they were talking in her office and he noticed several serious and eager staffers walking the hallways.
The woman from the anti-trafficking organization said that these young adults were some of the best and brightest from the best universities in America.
But then Garbers writes, “But then she surprised me with these words:
She said, "After a few weeks they almost always find their way down the hall, knock on my door and ask to talk.”
She says, “I already know what they’re going to say. After thanking me for the position and the opportunity, a bit awkwardly they ask, 'But who are we to say that trafficking is wrong in Pakistan? Isn't it a bit narrow-minded for us to think that we know what is best for other people? Why is...what is wrong for us…wrong for them?”
She then goes on tell him that she wants another applicant like the Christian staffer he sent her who believed there is a basic right and wrong in the universe.
But there it is…
The young people…especially…are starting to look below the chair.
They’re starting to say, “This isn’t even consistent! This doesn’t make sense with everything else we say and believe.”
And this is the thesis of my series: I believe, that eventually the West is going to realize how full of holes their logic truly is.
And when they do, they will move on from on from things like Social Justice.
And most likely, they’ll move on from caring about the poor, the hurting, and everyone else.
Our focus will simply be caring about ourselves.
Some would say, that all throughout Western Cultures, this trend is already beginning.
Abortion is, sadly, a glaring example of this.
For the culture at large, at one time, abortion was mostly unthinkable…and happened only in the back alleys and fringes of society
From a social justice perspective…Why are we unable to do for these babies what we still do for many vulnerable people around the world? What’s the difference??!
Well, because without Christian legs to that chair, we don’t have the right motivations left to do social justice in this case.
Our motivations are no longer grounded in things like… there is a higher law that says it’s morally wrong to do such a thing.
And this is why abortion is a good example of where the chair of helping the powerless (what’s more powerless than a baby??) is beginning to fall.
Let’s go back to the three reasons for why secular people still engage in social justice today…and you can see that these reasons are NOT enough to stop abortion.
(put up 3 reasons screen)
I certainly don’t “feel good” getting an abortion…so that won’t stop me.
As far as the 2nd reason, if it’s up to us to determine if abortion is right or not… in the interest of the self…then, like so many, I can just say, “It’s right and okay in MY situation”
Can you see the chair of “social justice and defending the powerless” falling??
If we’re only ruled by our desire to make ourselves happy (helping this person makes me happy…helping this person does NOT)…we simply can’t make good moral decisions on what is truly “just” for the less fortunate anymore!
And as far as the 3rd reason:
If our core motivation for social justice is to provide equality so someone can have freedom of choice…than what we really value is choice…not people
And so you can see, that if that’s the case, the helpless will suffer.
Because if choice (to do whatever I want) is KING…than social justice ironically gets trampled.
Because if what’s most important to you is that everyone has equal rights to choose whatever they want…then one day…we WILL say… “Who am I to stop that sex trafficker in Pakistan...he has the freedom of choice to live that way”
“Who am I to look out for my neighbor in their poverty? They made those choices themselves.”
A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE
Friends…let’s not let the world go that way.
For far too long, Christians, especially of the evangelical sort, have sort of shrunk back from social justice.
From helping the poor and disadvantaged.
But the world needs us…now more than ever.
We have the legs…a solid foundation…for why this truly matters.
And this doesn’t mean we go out and fight some culture war.
It means…we go out and we serve…because we know “the why”.
We go because:
The Bible tells us that: Every person is worthy.
Because Jesus loves everyone… and died for all…hoping that none should perish
(2 Corinthians 5:15) – NIV
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
We go out because Jesus Himself went out.
In the Bible, Jesus constantly goes out of his way to help the outcasts and disadvantaged.
The Samaritans, women & children, Gentiles, lepers.
He’s our model. Our true source of inspiration. Our motivation.
We go because He commands us to.
(Proverbs 31:8-9) – NIV
8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
And we go…because we go with God’s power.
Let me ask you something…why was Martin Luther King Jr. so effective?
You ever listened to him preach?
He was the REVEREND Martin Luther King, after all…
His methods were effective…for the same reasons the methods of the abolitionists’ against slavery were so effective 100 years earlier…
They had the reason and the power of God behind them.
We may not be the dominant culture shapers anymore, but we still worship the one who causes cultures to rise and fall.
Let’s trust that through us…God can make some incredible changes in this world.
Let me be honest: This is something we as a church have got to get better at…we need your help with it…we will get there.
But the greatest power for change is not in some “system” an organization creates…but in what it’s people can do…in what you can do.
My hope is that in this room…is someone who will start a non-profit that might work to serve and love the many, many international people that are moving into Anoka County.
My hope is that in this very room right now…is someone that God is inspiring to move overseas and fight for those who have no voice
Those suffering in unthinkable poverty.
Those who have no clean water, no clothes, no money.
That, we as Christians, would be the people who figure out how to bring it to them.
Just as our CHRISTIAN predecessors, centuries before, brought hospitals, medicine, orphanages, business, and enterprise to help serve AND empower those in need.
Because when we serve, we open up hearts to hear the Gospel.
The Good news about Jesus.
My hope is that in this room right now…are a lot of people who are willing to take steps forward in this. We ALL CAN.
--That many of you would go home and Google “Hope4Youth”…a nonprofit that helps the homeless youth here in Anoka County…and you would be a part…like the Bible says… of fighting for the less fortunate.
–That many of you would look up Alexandra House in Blaine…an organization that provides housing and services to those who have experienced sexual or domestic violence.
–That many of you would start cooking or providing meals for the homeless who reside at Stepping Stone, Anoka County’s only homeless shelter.
My hope is that as God whispers something unique to each and every one of you on how to live this out…that you follow…that you obey.
My hope is that ALL of us…would say…we’re not going to just leave social justice to secular culture anymore.
If Christians continue with that sort of strategy…the world WILL suffer for it
One day…social justice won’t be trendy anymore
One day…the culture won’t even say it’s necessary.
We can’t let someone else be the legs of the chair…because those legs are about to run off.
In the early 20th century in America, the Bible believing church was known for its incredible balance of spiritual vibrancy and social justice.
In much of the world today, Africa especially, Christians are known for balancing the spiritual side and the social justice side.
Let’s get back to looking like Jesus…like the Christians of the Bible.
The world needs us now more than ever.
My prayer…for this church…is that people would look at us…the people of Renovation…and say, “I see something different in you”
You’re not like those other religious people that just talk about their beliefs…you live them out too.
Your “God”…I see Him in you.
Like he’s real…like he cares.
Friends…this is how Jesus softened so many hearts!
With truth…and compassion.
May God use you in the same way.
Let me pray.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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