The social justice movement has risen to the forefront of the socio-political economic milieu in our current American culture. It asserts that “privilege” has caused oppression for certain sections of the population. Advocates call to change this milieu in order to right these wrongs. Christianity is part of the milieu and is confronted by the following question: is the social justice movement compatible with orthodoxy? The answer is no.
The notion of “privilege” is the heart and soul of the social justice movement. Joshua Rothman explains, in an interview with Peggy McIntosh (designated founder of the term), the idea of “privilege “is that some people benefit from unearned and mostly unrecognized advantages, even if those advantages are not discriminatory.” McIntosh states in the interview, “I asked myself, “On a daily basis, what do I have that I didn’t earn?” It was like a prayer.” She ultimately concludes that
everybody has a combination of unearned advantage and unearned disadvantage in life. Whiteness is just one of the many variables that one can look at, starting with, for example, one’s place in the birth order, or your body type, or your athletic abilities, or your relationship to written and spoken words, or your parents’ places of origin, or your parents’ relationship to education and to English, or what is projected onto your religious or ethnic background. We’re all put ahead and behind by the circumstances of our birth. We all have a combination of both. And it changes minute by minute, depending on where we are, who we’re seeing, or what we’re required to do.
Even religion falls under the notion of privilege according to McIntosh, which I shall address below.
The recognition of privilege is not enough for the social justice movement. The egalitarian definition of social justice, which is the most prominent one, embraces the equal value of people, their right to the opportunities to obtain needs and wants, and the elimination of unjustified inequalities. Egalitarianism guarantees that members of society are granted equal rights, opportunities, and access to goods and resources. This guarantee necessarily elevates redistribution to a moral requirement to achieve justice. Privilege, being unearned, is the source of inequality and is the foundation of injustice. It is inherently illegitimate and must be expanded to all or eliminated entirely. Redistribution is the only way justice as fairness and equality can be established.
Egalitarian social justice fails when viewed under the lens of the Gospel of Grace. Ephesians 2:8-9, for example, states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Grace, therefore, is not earned. It is a privilege. God offered it to humanity for the purpose of redemption, but He was not required to do so.
The opportunity to hear and receive the Gospel was given to some but not to others. For example, God appeared to and blessed Abraham and his decedents but ignored other people and nations. Some of those nations he destroyed for their sins. The Gospel did not immediately reach the whole world after Christ’s death and resurrection. To this day, some have not heard it. Further, the benefits of the Gospel, such as the fruit of the Spirit, various church ministries, and both spiritual (if not earthly) blessing are not given to all. The regenerate did not earn them, and the unregenerate will not receive them or even get the opportunity to receive them. All these benefits of grace are privileges: unequally distributed and discriminatory.
The Gospel is steeped in privilege and is unjust according to the social justice movement. It is not fair and equal that some, but not all, receive grace. It is not fair and equal that some, but not all, receive the spiritual (and potentially earthly) benefits of grace. It is not fair and equal that some, but not all, have had the opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel. God, therefore, cannot be good and just to privilege certain people over others. Rather, God should distribute privileges and benefits equally. Since he has not, Christianity is founded on injustice and is immoral to its core. It must be rejected and opposed.
Clearly, orthodox Christianity cannot accept this conclusion. The Bible declares that God is righteous and just. He is perfectly good and incapable of immorality. God and his Gospel of Grace cannot be unjust or immoral as the social justice movement claims. The problem lies with the social justice movement’s definition of justice as absolute equality. Biblical justice is based on merit and mercy. We merit punishment because of our sin. As Rom 6:23 states, “The wages of sin is death.” God, however, mercifully provided a means of redemption, but he was not required to do so. He is also not required to provide it to all. As Ex 33:19 and Rom 9: 15 say, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.” The Bible also says that God is not a respecter of persons. God does not show mercy based on who the person is or what they have done. We do not deserve the benefits of grace simply because we are human beings. We deserve nothing but perfect justice, which results in judgment. Grace and its benefits are freely given based on God’s purposes and desires.
Social justice, as it is currently defined, is not compatible with Christianity; therefore, Christians should not accept it. There is no legal claim that can be levied against God demanding absolute equality among people. If there is such a thing as social justice, Christians must seek a different definition resting upon a truly biblical foundation.
Joshua Rothman, “The Origins of ‘Privilege’,” The New Yorker, March 12, 2014, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-origins-of-privilege; accessed July 13, 2018.
Janet Flynn and Maxine Jacobsen, “What is Social Justice?” OUPblog, March 25, 2017, https://blog.oup.com/2017/03/what-is-social-justice/; accessed July 13, 2018.
Gal 5:22-23, Matt 5:3-11, Matt. 19:28-29, Mark 10:29-30.
Gen 18:25, Deut 32:4, 2 Chron 19:7, Job 8:3, Job 34:12, Ps 19:8, Ps 33:5,Prov 28:5, Isa 61:8, Jer 9:24, Act 10:34-35.
Num 23:19, 1 Chron 16:34, Ps 119:68, Mark 10:18, 2 Cor 5:21, James 1:13, 1 John 1:5.
Matt 20:15, Act 10:34, Rom 2:11, Rom 9.