Like Crocus in the spring, “social justice” seems to be in vogue in the broader Christian community in recent years, popping up where you least expect it. Largely a conceptual assertion confined to “progressive” or politically leftist religious circles in post-war America, the renewed interest in the catch-all concept of “social justice” has jumped the tracks and landed in the wider evangelical movement.
This was recently evident in the “Occupy” protests where a surprising number of evangelicals joined leaders of the mainline churches to lend support, even if tacitly, to the “Occupy” movement. The language of “social justice” and “justice” peppered the discussions explaining the rationale for the protests, as though there was a specific Biblical warrant which called Christians to be sympathetic to the occupier’s demands. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope gave oblique endorsement to the protests based on non-defined assessments of “justice.” (All of this in spite of the virulent anti-Semitism and organizational efforts provided by various Socialist and Marxist groups – all of which was extensively documented at the events.)
In addition to the “Occupy” protests and a number of books in recent years, the apparent ground swell of interest in “social justice” as the animating feature of “real” Christianity received a big boost within evangelical ranks with Dr. Tim Keller’s book, published last year. Dr. Keller is the hugely successful author and nationally known pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
It is a surprising book following the other writings of Dr. Keller. The enormously engaging preacher has a large following among evangelicals (even though he is personally dismissive of them and does not identify himself as one) for his defense of Biblical authority and his preaching that tailors Biblical truth to the rough and tumble of modern community life. But in , Dr. Keller bites into the apple of politics, transporting the vagary of “social justice” to an unsuspecting, and perhaps, ill prepared audience by page 14 of his book.
, some have noted, may be a reflection of the Reformed idea of a “cultural mandate” percolating to the forefront with Dr. Keller, who taught in a Reformed seminary. Indeed, he has said that, “the primary purpose of salvation is cultural renewal, to make the world a betterplace.” In , Dr. Keller goes further, comingling the concept of unmerited salvation by Grace, with the idea that “[i]f you are not just, you’ve not truly been justified by faith.” Identifying a single trait that confirms our faith is risky business, of course, as the Book of Galatians informs us.
Dr. Keller also asserts in that self-indulgent materialism must be replaced by a sacrificial lifestyle of giving to those in need; in “doing justice,” and in “permanent fasting," which he explains is to “work against injustice, to share food, clothing, and home with the hungry and the homeless.” This, he say flatly, is the real proof that you are a Christian. To others it might suggest that the assurance of our salvation is an open question.
But whatever the origins or motivations for Dr. Keller’s embrace of “social justice,” the term and its working out in society has a long, ignoble history that cannot be simply ignored, as it is in .
The amorphous concept dates to the early nineteenth century and the Catholic reform movement. However it was quickly picked up and welded to Marxist language and idioms (and has remained a fundamental precept in the radical left for over 100 years) by the Socialist International and other radical groups, because it fit the Marxist model perfectly; it was a nebulous concept by which every perceived ill of society could be corrected; and how could anyone be against something that sounds so noble and caring?
Dr. Keller follows others that have set out to “rescue” (their words) the term from the radical left, but do no better than others in the last 100 plus years to bring definition to the concept.
(Surprisingly, Dr. Keller accentuates this reality when he rewrites Psalm 33:5 in . The original text in the NIV reads; “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Dr. Keller’s version reads; “The Lord loves Social Justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” He takes a perfectly understandable sentence and renders it senseless.)
The Catholic philosopher and writer Michael Novak captured the inherent ambiguity of “social justice” this way: “This vagueness [of the concept of “social justice”] seems indispensable. The minute one begins to define social justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties. It becomes, most often, a term of art whose operational meaning is, ‘We need a law against that.’ In other words, it becomes an instrument of ideological intimidation, for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion.”
So it is for Dr. Keller. He seems to advocate both spiritual and official coercion, while employing little Biblical or real-world perspective.
It’s ironic that takes a subject about which there should be no argument, and turns it into an argument. How many of us - not being theologians or pastors - didn’t realize that there was no dichotomy between being a Christ-follower and having a deep concern for the poor, the oppressed and those who struggle with real injustice? It seems perfectly obvious in Scripture that we are to be the hands and feet of our Lord, and that clarity is why so many lay believers on those Biblical truths. It is also the reason why the charity of the believing community is unparalleled on any level.
There is also inherent in the “social justice” movement a perspective which is somewhat juvenile in outlook. For example, Dr. Keller talks about “practical” things a congregation can do; such as pressuring police to “do justice” to the poor, as they do to the rich, and to demand regulations for high cost loans in poor communities. But what does this mean? There is no actual context to the recommendations. Policing in one community with one set of values and citizen cooperation can be very different from another community. A police officer’s life can be at great risk in one, and not in another. Likewise, is a lender taking the same risk of non-repayment with one economic group than another? And if further regulation drives lenders out of a poorer community, who suffers? The very people Dr. Keller wants us to help.
Also implicit in Dr. Keller’s book is the sense that America and the American experiment as a ConstitutionalRepublic is no more worthy than any other culture or government. Perhaps this is unintentional, but it’s such a pervasive critique of the left, that it’s hard to think it isn’t his belief. The only problem with this thinking, of course, is that everything Dr. Keller writes about in is made possible in the modern world by the God-ordained concept of liberty and individual responsibility. The American economy has not only enriched the average citizen beyond any in the world, it has literally fed the world, saved the world at least three times from totalitarianism, and financed the spreading of the Gospel around the world. The world without American leadership would be a dark place; and immeasurably poorer both spiritually and financially.
Finally, and most importantly, does the new home for “social justice” in the evangelical church have room for the orthodox Gospel of Jesus Christ? While the case for good works and fundamental justice is simply a plain reading of Scripture, the call from Christ is for a personal, individual and life-changing perspective change – from us to Him; with charity of heart and a charity of acts. If the church takes its collective eye off the Risen One; if it does not hold the Cross of Christ high for all to see and proclaim the only Way, then does any amount of good works or justice matter?
If Christians are to take the throttle of political power, as seems intrinsic in what Dr. Keller and others of the “social justice” mindset propose, does that suggest a top-down, authoritarian state that defines what is best for the poor, or disadvantaged? Perhaps this explains why there is such an affinity for Socialism and Marxism in the church. What does that do to liberty, which in the end is the great gift of Grace from the Holy One?
[Michael Giere lives in Northern Virginia and has been widely published on politics, public policy, and foreign affairs. He served in both the Reagan and Bush Administrations and is a member of The Falls Church (Anglican) in Falls Church, VA.]
It has always been a mystery to me how some folks could think character does not matter—or rather, that it doesn’t matter enough to demand particularly high standards of our elected officials. It was the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who instructed us that character was the defining qualification for a ruling class. A study by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia sheds light on America’s strange ambivalence. “The Politics of Character” survey was based on 1,200 telephone interviews drawn from a national probability sample representative of the adult civilian population, eighteen years and older, living in private households in the United States. The survey has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent. Basically, the study found that most people do think character is important (90%), but the same people aren’t exactly sure what constitutes character or how it remotely relates to politics or to public policy. Character is popular, but the concept is bereft of content! The study found our country’s commitment to character is pretty shallow—and probably inertial, a function of our history.
Indeed, character and conviction were once conjoined and esteemed. The Founders were adamant about character’s importance. Christian faith and traditional Western values supplied its content. No one doubted that people should and would choose leaders of character, and that good representatives are indispensable to good government. George Washington said, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” Thomas Jefferson said, “A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of [a republic’s] laws and constitution.” Alexis de Tocqueville wondered how America should escape destruction, “if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed.” And James Madison, Father of the Constitution and author of its most famed checks and balances said, if there be no virtue among us, “we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks—no form of Government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of Government will secure liberty or happiness without any form of virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”
The architects of this Republic knew the importance of character and the high moral qualities that comprised it. Taken together, this was a basic article of democratic faith. Today’s democratic faith is laced with confusion and contradiction. The majority of Americans believe that “all views of what is good are equally valid” (72% agree) and that “everything is beautiful—it is all a matter of how you look at it” (69% agree). On the other hand, the majority (77%) also believes “we would all be better off if we could live by the same basic moral guidelines.” By wide margins, the majority believes that both “obeying those in positions of authority” (92%) and “following your own conscience” (81%) are important to character. They also believe “sacrificing your own interests for the good of others” (88%) and “protecting your own interests” (88%) to be important to character. Likewise, the majority believes that “sticking to one’s principles no matter what” (95%) and “enjoying yourself” (92%) are essential. Similar contradictions continue, when respondents are asked about specific moral issues. In terms of holding officials accountable, just 46% insist the president (a high symbolic representative of the people) needs the same virtue as the people, in order to govern effectively. Americans have become rather indiscriminate it seems, and that’s not fuzzy math—it’s fuzzy thinking.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves asState Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC). This article is from his newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium available on-line atwww.WesRiddle.net and from fine bookstores everywhere.Email: .
As 2011 draws to a close, I would like to look back at some of the legal system’s less than shining moments during the year.For starters, let’s begin with one of my favorite subjects—the “benchslap.”For the uninitiated, a “benchslap” is when a judge delivers some stinging criticism, usually directed at one of the parties, their lawyers, or a position taken by either of the above.This time, however, the “Tell Us How You Really Feel” award goes to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito for a benchslap directed at some fellow federal appellate judges.In a speech at Rutgers School of Law (Newark), Justice Alito bemoaned the poor quality of judicial opinions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, saying:
“If Learned Hand’s opinions are like the products of a bespoke tailor, the opinions coming out of the Ninth Circuit are like the products of a factory that is staffed by machines and menial workers who are overseen from afar by a handful of overworked managers.”
The “It Couldn’t Happen To a Nicer Guy” honor goes to the Steven J. Baum law firm, a New York foreclosure “mill” that—according to one legal analyst—filed more foreclosure proceedings against New York homeowners than any other lawyer in state history.Baum’s firm allegedly used such shady tactics as robo-signing to overwhelm already besieged homeowners, and in October 2011 paid a $2 million fine to settle a federal lawsuit’s allegations of filing deceptive paperwork in order to accelerate foreclosures.That same month, Baum and his law firm got more unwelcome attention, when the New York Times published a former employee’s photos from the firm’s 2010 Halloween party.In a remarkable display of callousness and bad taste, a number of Baum’s employees dressed up as homeless people, even holding up cardboard signs referencing the law firm’s efforts at tossing the foreclosed out of their houses.The ensuing firestorm of bad publicity led to mortgage giants like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae dropping Baum’s firm.By late November, Baum announced that his law firm was shutting its doors for good.That’s karma for you.
The “Are You Serious?” award goes to European Union officials who have instituted a law forbidding drink bottlers from claiming that water can prevent dehydration.Defying both science and common sense, the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA)—after a 3 year investigation, no less—concluded that labels on bottled water could not include the claim that drinking water helps avoid dehydration.In 2008, the same EFSA officials were ridiculed for banning “bent” bananas (I foolishly assumed that all bananas are curved, but what do I know?).Bottled water producers who defy the EU’s new regulation can face up to 2 years in jail.Critics of the EU were incredulous.“This is stupidity writ large,” said Conservative MEP Roger Helmer.The United Kingdom’s Department for Health’s spokesman also ridiculed the new law, saying “Of course water hydrates.While we support the EU in preventing false claims about products, we need to exercise common sense as far as possible.”Denying the right to say what is both scientifically correct a matter of common sense?With reasoning like that, it’s no wonder the EU is falling apart.
The “Let’s Go to the Videotape” distinction goes to Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams.The disturbing 2004 video of Judge Adams beating his then-teenage daughter with a belt and cursing at her went viral last month after the now 23-year old woman uploaded it to YouTube.As a result, Judge Adams was engulfed in controversy, with CNN, the Associated Press, and other national media outlets picking up the story.Judge Adams admits the incident took place but insists that “it’s not as bad as it looks on tape.”Besides the public outcry, multiple official investigations are underway prompted by the footage.Judge Adams went on paid leave in early November, and by late November, the Supreme Court of Texas had temporarily suspended him as well.The suspension, in which Judge Adams makes no admission of “guilt, fault or wrongdoing,” is effective while the State Commission on Judicial Conduct pursues an inquiry into the jurist.I cannot imagine what Thanksgiving was like at the Adams household, but I’ll bet cellphone cameras were not welcome.
Finally, nothing says more about our litigation-obsessed society than the “You Mess With the Bull, You Get the Lawyer” award.If you have ever admired the thrill of running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain after reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, but wanted a less dangerous alternative, then consider promoter Phil Immordino’s Running of the Bulls event in Cave Creek, north of Phoenix, Arizona.Ten years ago, Immordino organized several “bull runs” in Nevada and Arizona that were patterned after the famous Spanish tradition during the San Fermín festival, but had to abandon the events due to the high cost of liability insurance.But now, with ample lawyering, he has figured out a way to conduct an American version that reflects our liability-conscious culture.First, the bulls’ horns are duller than those in Spain, and they are a less aggressive breed than their Spanish counterparts.Then there are the paramedics standing by, the rodeo clowns poised to step in and distract the bulls, and the strategically-placed escape routes along the quarter-mile course that allow runners to evade those bulls that get a little too close for comfort.And, of course, since this is America, everybody involved is insured to the hilt.Immordino’s company carries $1 million in coverage, the owner of the land where the course is located has another million, and the owner of the 1,500 lb. rodeo bulls that will be used also has liability insurance.
Then, of course, comes the waiver of liability that each of the bull run participants is required to sign before he can pay his $25 and indulge his inner Hemingway.According to Immordino, “We have a seven-page waiver, and they need to initial every paragraph and every page.It says you, your neighbor, your cousin, and your cousin’s brother can’t sue anybody about any of this.”While no one has ever been gored or made a claim stemming from Immordino’s events, the organizer has learned that legal trouble is never far away; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) threatened a boycott of the Cave Creek bull run.It’s just like Pamplona, only you run more risk of being gored by a lawyer than a bull.
Old times and ‘the good old days’ of one’s youth, etc., is what is meant by the Scottish phrase auld lang syne. It has been a custom, probably as long as the years have changed, to run over in one’s mind the things of the past and to consider one’s hopes for the upcoming year. The custom of auld lang syne involves fond sharing of memories with friends, usually around a table with some convivial drinking—and as the New Year rings in at the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve, to lift a toast to the future and wish each other well, and the very best part, to share a memorable kiss with the one you love. It’s a good and healthy custom if you have your designated driver and adhere to moderation, or celebrate at home. The purpose isn’t a drunken stupor or blackout after all! Instead, the occasion—as the old year wanes and the new one starts, as Father Time figuratively leaves the scene and a baby takes his place—is all about fellowship, about sharing laughter, about enjoying a little levity. Which is ironic, because memories sometime involve pain and regret, if nothing else because ‘time stands still for no man’ and every succeeding year brings changes—including the change of getting older. But Father Time doesn’t just drop off a cliff. Like an old soldier, so to speak, he doesn’t die—he just fades away. The sound of the song “Auld Lang Syne” is sad, but the customary indulgence of those notes is not a long cry in your beer! Rather, it is to quickly dry your tears if you have any, and to accept the inevitable moving on from the past. The rationale is this, no matter what your situation: life ain’t over til it’s over—and I ain’t given up yet! The American is a boxer by nature and by choice, a scrapper in the field of dreams. Hence, the American custom of auld lang syne is ultimately an accentuation on the positive, an appraisal but an optimistic one: taking stock good and bad, but making every plan for progress and doing better next year. The goal is around the next bend; we’ll have it someday for sure, and we’ll understand every single pothole in the sweet bye and bye.
When I was a youngster, I recall the adults on one occasion shortly after Christmas looking at the coins in their pockets. They would read the date off a penny or nickel or dime and try to recall what that year had meant to them—where they had been, what they had accomplished. “I remember the man whose head is on this dime—FDR led us so well and gave us renewed hope—I always think of him like a man on horseback riding at the front of a column, bringing us out from the desert of despair and Great Depression into the Promised Land!” “Kennedy’s half-dollar is so beautiful—I wish he’d been able to accomplish all he wanted—oh God, I remember where I was November 22nd, 1963 like it were yesterday, don’t you?” “Oh this was the year we attended the World’s Fair in New York City and had so much fun.” On and on, I heard the grown-ups talk about years fifteen and twenty years removed, dates before my birth—times for which I had very little understanding, times for which the backs of pennies and nickels were sometimes different. Their descriptions helped me build my mental impressions of the olden days. But the reality of time before one’s own experience is always a leap of faith. I mean you know it must have been, but you weren’t there. Likewise, the future is a leap of faith. The sun will come up tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar. I reckon you could lose that bet, however, and millions of years from now somebody will but what the hey! Auld lang syne is about taking those leaps of faith, backwards and forwards, and reminding ourselves there’s continuity in this universe and in our lives. Continuity implies purpose and design, and there’s a comfort knowing as we look behind and yonder, the pathway lies forever. Possibilities are endless and crooked paths made plain. A line from horizon to horizon curves to form a cosmic smile in the distance, with all the colors of a Rainbow. Happy New Year, and Godspeed.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford . Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves asState Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC). His newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium is available on-line atwww.WesRiddle.net and from fine bookstores everywhere.Email: .
’Tis the Season, as they say. For most of us here, we celebrate the birth of Christ. I do. My Christianity, as imperfectly as I may represent it at times, is my core belief. I don’t remember having one of these zapped by lightning or Eureka moments in my travels as a Christian. I just remember a belief in Jesus Christ as my Savior, even as a small boy.
I remember my mother making sure I made it to Sunday school and worship at the old red brick FirstUnitedMethodistChurch in Midlothian before it was torn down. Later I was baptized at the church that still exists on Mountain Peak Road. My father attended sometimes, but he worked weekends and late shifts because he was a Dallas police officer. I remember praying that my father would make it home safely.
I am thankful. I should be.
For some who doubt or do not share the outright belief in the birth of Christ, the themes of the Season can still cause reflection, just as they should for a believer. Are you thankful for what you have? Many of us have challenges or even disabilities in our lives, but are you thankful for your next breath?
At this time of year, do you focus on the relatives or friends whom you may not get along with? I have to admit there are times when that has tempted me. How about you? Really? You never have? Wow, you must be special. Perhaps you should be thankful for you. At this time of the year, some reflection on what is really important is often useful. Maybe you should be thankful that you have people in your life.
Are you thankful if someone bought you a present? I remember receiving a pair of white socks during a Christmas gift exchange in grade school. I am not sure such things are even allowed any more in our public schools. I was about 7, and I remember I wasn’t very happy about the gift.
I thanked the boy who drew my name, but he probably sensed my disappointment.
The ride on the school bus home that day was a real bummer.
After all, I had carefully selected and purchased a toy as my contribution to the exchange. Something was wrong with the Universe! Your great aunt might give you socks for Christmas, but not your classmate! What would Charlie Brown have done? Lucy would have hurt him!
When I got home, Mom and Dad pointed out that they were really good socks. They both talked about how I could use them and that they looked warm and that they were well made. When we came back from our Christmas Break (we called it that back then), I remember thanking the boy for the neat socks. Funny, I still remember that made him happy. It felt right.
Maybe in some ways, the sock story is my own personal Christmas story. It seems it always goes through my mind at this time of year. In a way, it is a redemption story. I don’t mean spiritually, but I bet you get it.
This column was also published in the Waxahachie Daily Light