Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Christianity and Social Justice

This entry stems from a recent awakening I’ve had. When I was growing up, I was unofficially taught that Christianity only aligned with conservative politics. With a few exceptions, the Christians I knew feared the political left because they felt threatened by some liberals’ anti-God attitude. Only the GOP will protect your God, I was told. It is more important, they said, to protect marriage and outlaw abortion than worry about the poor. The poor can wait, because, after all, you earned your money. It’s about hard work. Each person has what they’ve earned. Those who don’t work hard enough, well, that’s not your problem. You deserve to keep what you earned. So conveniently enough, conservative policies protected “morality” along with wealth. It’s a win-win for suburban Christians, the best of both worlds.

Thankfully, I didn’t completely buy into this logic. I always considered myself a moderate, someone who despised both political parties. I was alienated from the left because so many of them (or at least the most vocal ones) were clearly opposed to religion, to God. Why would I want to be a part of a party that thinks I’m ignorant, that denies the most important part of my life? The left was out. But the right wasn’t much better. They may not deny God, but they do worse. They use God for their own advantage. Parade your materialist-driven, selfish policies under the banner of Christianity and you can win the hearts of mainstream America. Not cool. So there goes the right. And unfortunately, my moderate-I-hate-all-politics stance doesn't do much in the way of feeding the hungry or sheltering the poor.

And then there's socialism. What is it exactly? How does it fit in with Christianity? Why don’t more Christian’s embrace it? In response to the latter question, Christians feel alienated by the left. They sense (as I often do) the prevalent anti-God sentiments voiced by so many liberals. Christians are human, and it’s hard for us to find common ground with people we feel threatened by. Despite this, I have a feeling that more Christians would agree with socialist policies if someone explained to them what it really meant. One of the main stumbling blocks to socialism is the word itself, which is loaded with connotations and misconceptions preventing a lot of people from accepting it.

So what is socialism exactly, and why would so many Christians embrace it if they understood it better…. Well, for starters, socialism aims to undo the harms and injustices found in capitalist systems which can include a redistribution of wealth that is subject to social control. Social democrats want to establish a society where people have a more or less equality of opportunity to flourish. Everyone should have access to the means necessary to live meaningful lives. This can include, but is not limited to, access to quality health care and education. Why would Christians be opposed to everyone having an equal opportunity to flourish? I don’t think they would be opposed, if they saw socialism in that way. After realizing this, they may very well take up the socialist banner.

So what is it about Christianity that lends itself to promoting social justice? If you take a look at the early Church, you’ll see that the first Christians not only valued social justice, but they lived it. These Christians often lived in communes where wealth was shared, and you made sure you took care of your neighbors. These Christians didn't value wealth. They knew that if you served the things of this world, there wouldn’t be any place for God in your life.

We were commanded to feed the poor, support widows and orphans, and look after the sick. The wealth we are given on earth is not our own. It belongs to God. He entrusted us with it so that we would put it to good use, to glorify Him. Luke 12:48 says, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” The more wealth you are blessed with, the greater responsibility you have to use that wealth to serve those in need. It’s not a hard concept to preach, but it’s a hard lesson to live. Why do we gripe about taxes being too high when we live in luxury and those around us don’t have enough to eat or a place to sleep?? We are a selfish lot, and the world knows it. Why would you want to become a Christian when the only Christians you see hoard their wealth while children live in poverty? It is in part because we have been taught to fear those who would join with us in the fight for social justice. The right-wing has exploited faith, and used people’s sense of morality to keep them from doing the morally right thing.

In the book of Matthew Jesus says, “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away…Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…. No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

And as for non-economic justice, well Jesus came to level the playing field. Galations 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” When Christ came, he made us all equal in God’s eyes. So if Jesus doesn’t see our race, sex, or class, then we shouldn’t see them in each other either. This means we need to take care of everyone, not just ourselves and those like us.

Here's a quote from Rev. Roden Noel: "Surely that man or woman is no Christian at all, except in name, in so far as he or she remains indifferent to the awful abyss that yarns between rich and poor; to the insufficiency of the share in our immense wealth which falls to the lot of those who produce it."

So what would Jesus think about conservative economic policies? Would Jesus care if the poor were marginalized? Or would Jesus want his sons and daughters to take care of those in need? I think the answer is pretty obvious. Loving God’s children is the best way we can glorify Him, and it’s the best way to show them God’s love. If they don’t experience God’s love, then why would they want to love Him in return? The best testimony we can have is through our actions, not our words. Would Jesus be a socialist? Maybe he would, but that’s not the point. The point is that what we’re doing right now isn’t working. We aren’t taking care of each other, so we need to change the way we do things. Let’s not make a mockery of God. Instead, let us start being the salt and light of the earth, as Jesus called us to be.

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:6)

Something to think about.


Daena said...

Lindsey - This is an amazing entry. I totally and wholly agree. It was really quite thoughtful, and I'm honestly not sure what to think of it! (In the sense that this side of Lindsey is so new to me!).

I have always felt that way about politics and honestly chose to consider myself as a liberal because that is where I found the lesser of the two evils, which most Christians didn't understand because they did not think about social justice in the context that you just mentioned.

But, interestingly, I do think socialism has strong undertones of Christianity in it, and I wouldn't be opposed to it if it actually worked.

As for political issues, its interesting to think that if we actually all just lived life like Christ intended for us to live, there would be no need to create a welfare system or nursing homes, or medicaid (no government programs), because we would all be taking care of the poor, the sick, the elderly ourselves automatically, as part of our nature. The government wouldn't have to tax us to do it. It would just be done. And it would be done happily and freely without having to gripe about the government "wasting our money" through high taxes.

And so, it seems to me that politics may not be the answer to actually creating a nation in the sense that Christ intended. It can help solve our problems and ensure that the poor our fed etc., but ultimately, I think God wanted us to do this ourselves. Just every day, living it and breathing it and loving everyone around us (which is not happening).

As for republicans claiming to be the party of God, I couldn't agree more. Until they get out there and sic it to the rich people to give to the poor and start LOVING homosexuals as God loves them and loving the divorced and showing compassion, love, and understanding to pregnant teenage girls, well, the republican party cannot be the party of God. (I honestly think that if Christ saw a girl walking up to an abortion clinic, he wouldn't start protesting or condemning her, but would walk up to her and hug her and tell her that she's not alone, and she is not condemned for her actions, and that she CAN be accepted, and so can her child. In my opinion, a much more effective way to show people why abortions aren't right) The Christian political response to these issues is just so warped, it is angering the country and repelling people from the gospel.

Same for the democrats. Until they stop assuming their intelligence can save them and faith is for the stupid and ignorant, they can never represent what God would want, but at least they're not claiming to do so.

My hope is that the Christian community in this nation will realize that it's not about being morally superior, and that a single vote doesn't mean that they are even fighting for morals in the first place. I hope we can stand together as a Christian community to show the oppressed and the impoverished and the suffering and the weak what Christ is really like. Not through politics or through campaigns, but by actually just getting out there and saying no, we don't agree with the political games of the republicans, and we're going to stand for what Christ stands for. By living it every day.

We'll pray for that one.

Anonymous said...

I respect both of you wholeheartedly but when it comes to issues that are more prevalent in southern politics i feel i need to step in. I attend a southern Baptist church and what makes it even more appalling is that we are located in Alabama, the state known for its never changing red shape on election maps. I beg you who are open-minded to read this without bias. Our church may not be of the majority but we sincerely love everyone. Those who come can know they are loved even if their sin is more outward than others. Please know we strongly believe that there is no condemnation under Christ Jesus. Having said that, i strongly believe that for our nation to come together we need to stop pointing the finger and unite. Easy enough to say but who stands with me? I pray all Christian Americans will be the first to come together. Without denominational differences, without racism, and without political agendas...

Lindsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Do tell, who are these liberals who allegedly oppose religion? Name some names. Otherwise you're just making baseless allegations.

Lindsey said...

Well, in fact, a good majority of my fellow students at Madison. Does that count? Perhaps a few professors too, though they tend to be much more polite about it. Remember, I didn't say all. In fact, I think I am a liberal, of sorts, so I clearly have nothing against liberals as such...only those who assume that religion stands in the way of social justice. I hope you weren't offended, because I really didn't intend to hurt feelings here. I just speak from personal experience coming from a large liberal college (a college that I dearly love, by the way).