Social Justice Isn’t


We hear a lot about social justice these days. The January 21, 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C. and Atlanta was billed as championing social justice. We even hear the expression “social justice Christians,” that is, Christians interested in social justice since, presumably, other Christians are not. Cru, the ministry once known as Campus Crusade for Christ, wants to interweave the Gospel and social justice. The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) even has its own Office of Social Justice. This shouldn’t surprise us, because the expression was invented in the first half of the 19th century by the Italian Roman Catholic priest Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio.[1] “Social justice” began in the Christian church.[2] At that time it meant what we today term private associations (families, churches, businesses) working to alleviate social problems. That’s not by any stretch the meaning of social justice today, since it has come to mean something like: a Leftist worldview secured by political coercion.


The first main fact to notice about social justice is that the expression is a redundancy — all justice is social. There’s no justice necessary for a person stranded on a desert island. Justice pertains to how people treat other people. There can be no solitary, nonsocial justice. If we are to retain the expression “social justice” at all, we need to bear in mind this redundancy. There are different views of social justice, but all justice is social.

Justice = Righteousness

A second fact is that, in the Bible, justice is equivalent to righteousness. In fact, every time we encounter “justice” in our English Bible, it’s the same word that’s translated “righteousness.”[3] As Christians, if we use the expression “social justice,” we actually denote “social righteousness.” The reason most people don’t use “righteousness” in this context is likely that “justice” has a religiously neutral ring to it. We can be atheists and still cry out for social justice — and some social justice champions in fact are. But if we use the language “social righteousness,” people will know that we have some religious presuppositions in mind. Since the acceptable cultural stance in our time is separation of religion from culture, it’s much less offensive and embarrassing to refer to “justice” than “righteousness,” though in the Bible they’re the same thing. The Christian conception is righteousness/justice.

God’s standard of justice

Third, if to act justly is to act righteously, we might ask: who or what decides what is righteous or just? The answer is not hard. Righteousness/justice is adherence to God’s standard. That standard is his moral law revealed in his word (Dt. 4:8). If we treat others according God’s moral law, we are treating them justly, or righteously. If we do not, we are acting unjustly/unrighteously toward them. This means that justice isn’t subjective. It’s defined by God. You and I don’t get to make up what justice means. God has already revealed what justice means.

Unjust “social justice”

For this reason, much of what’s called social justice today is the opposite of social justice.[4] An obvious example is “reproductive justice.” While it might be assumed that this nomenclature was developed to describe only widespread contraception or the quest for additional abortion rights, it actually has been used to include in addition “gender identity issues.” In the Bible, both abortion and “gender identity” ( = inventing one’s “gender”) are unrighteous. Righteousness includes protecting innocent human life from murder. The preborn child is innocent human life (Ex. 21:22; cf. Ps. 139:13–18), and, therefore, willingly to take it is murder. It is the opposite of justice or righteousness.

The great champions of genuine social justice (if we do opt to use that expression), therefore, are the pro-life, pro-family, and pro-economic liberty champions. On the other hand, the great social oppressors today are the supporters of (for example) abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and state socialism.

Similarly, God made humanity as male and female (Mt. 19:4) limiting legitimate intercourse to the husband and wife (Gen. 1:28–30), and there is no third option. To confuse the two sexes or to support homosexual acts or worse yet, the marriage of homosexuals is therefore unjust or unrighteous, since they violate God’s only standard of justice, his moral law. The pro-abortion and pro-homosexual agendas are ones of injustice and oppression. They oppress preborn children and the family, which is assaulted by perverse sexual acts (and also by abusive husbands and rebellious wives, as well as by premarital sex, adultery, pornography, and all other forms of fornication).

“Economic justice”

Another subgenre of social justice is “economic justice,” which is defined as requiring state socialism. But this is the opposite of biblical righteousness/justice. The Bible protects what we today term private property (Ex. 20:15) and prohibits the state’s theft of property (1 Kin. 21). The socialistic society is, therefore, the unjust, oppressive society.

“Environmental justice”

Moreover, social justice includes “environmental justice,” which largely means enforcing the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency. But many of these regulations pose great burdens on the poor, who are the least equipped to bear those burdens and for whom God manifests special care. “Environmental” justice is consequently an agent of unjust oppression.

The actual oppressors

These are only a few of the ways in which social justice is actually social injustice and unrighteousness. The great champions of genuine social justice (if we do opt to use that expression), therefore, are the pro-life, pro-family, and pro-economic liberty champions. On the other hand, the great social oppressors today are the supporters of (for example) abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and state socialism.

Needed: Young Social Justice Warriors, the Right Kind

Last week I spoke with a long-time friend, a devout older Christian with many years of experience in both Christian ministry and in the business world. He told me that in recent years he knows of only two Christian young adults in his well-known West Coast city that grew up in church and still are strong, conservative, Bible-believing Christians. All the rest have either embraced “progressive” (= contorted) Christianity or walked away from the Faith altogether. Most are vocal champions of social justice.

Thousands of young adult Christians inculcated in the church and Faith flocked to the January “social justice” Women’s Marches. They loudly criticize Donald Trump (and who denies that he often deserves criticism?), but they wouldn’t have been caught dead criticizing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom endorsed the injustices of elective abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and state socialism. It would be simplistic to suggest only one factor contributing to this betrayal of the Bible, but one incontestable factor is the unwillingness of pastors and other Christian leaders to speak boldly, frequently, forthrightly, and thoughtfully about biblical justice. Gratifying exceptions like the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, Summit Ministries, and the Wilberforce Academy are far too few. A primary agenda item for churches, home schools, Christian schools, Christian colleges and universities and seminaries must be to teach young Christians God’s moral law in the Bible and show them how to apply it in society today. Let us train an entire new generation of “social justice warriors.”

Let’s just make sure they know where the standards of justice are found (the Bible) and what they are (God’s moral law).

[1] Michael Novak, “Social Justice: Not What You Think It Is,” Heritage Lectures, October 29, 2009, 5.
[2] For a Christian assessment, see Ronald H. Nash, Social Justice and the Christian Church (Milford, Michigan: Mott Media, 1983).
[3] H[arold] G [S]tigers, “(sedek), justice, rightness,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:752–755. In English, “justice” is almost entirely Old Testament language while “justification” and “justified” and “justify” are New Testament language. But all are virtually synonymous with “righteousness” or its cognates.
[4] On the conflict between modern, alleged Christian, interpretations of justice and the biblical view, see Joseph Boot, The Mission of God (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: Freedom Press, 2014), 157–160.

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