Does the Church Have a Role in Working for Social Justice?

Does the church have a role in working for social justice? Conversations that begin with this question usually take one of two diverging paths. When the response is enthusiastic, the discussion very quickly takes on a political tone. If the response is, “Don’t you feel like the church already focuses too much on social justice?” the discussion turns to explaining why we shouldn’t mix politics and religion. These two divergent conversations have led me to a conclusion: Our ideas about issues of social justice are, regardless of ideological standing, largely influenced by cultural and political forces rather than biblical ones.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11121

When failing to have social justice in the church how do we expect to achieve social justice outside the church? Only when we have established social justice within us, our homes, can we have the world looking for us to help with justice, that will be true evangelism. Evangelism encompasses social justice, so we can’t separate the two, there is no social justice without evangelism.

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All religions, Adventist, Presbyterianism, Islam, Baptist, Mormonism, must serve the “common good”, care for our “common home”, support a deeper understanding of “social friendship”, and submit to the lord of this world. Fratelli Tutti!
( https://www.wearesaltandlight.org/blog/2020/fratelli-tutti-and-call-participation )

the author is misapplying the prophetic perspective of Jesus’ message of peace into a political application of social justice in our time and completely missing the promises of the Gospel.
• The good news to the poor as prophesied by Isaiah and stated by Jesus was not about income equality but rather about the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom to the “poor in spirit”, the meek, the ones who know they have nothing to offer to gain salvation and accept their complete dependence on Grace. He chided the Pharisees who considered themselves morally rich, superior, and self-sufficient.
• Release to the captives was not in reference to prisoners of political social injustice of their time but rather to the oppressed by the chains of sin. He offered to those then and today to set them free of error, all who are willing to accept the truth.

The author again here is misapplying human historical and socio/political “peacemaking” movements – In contract Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you”

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I disagree with the your comments on the article, I think there is a failure see the ‘gospel’ in a wider context. Of what value is the plan of salvation if you are to reman a ‘slave’, poor and destitute, in bondage to another? Your value and freedom is only after you get to heaven, what ever that may be?

Jaray,
Are you saying that there is no benefit to the financially poor in gaining infinite life in the presence of an ultimate just and loving God as long as they remain destitute while here on Earth? On the other hand, no one is saying that the benefits of accepting the Gospel are exclusively spiritual. Clearly the blind, the lame, and the lepper that Jesus cured received physical health and a new chance at life. I have personally seen many who are born into poverty and social deprivation wake up and transcend their social deficiencies once they accept the truth; it is as if they suddenly are transformed with new confidence and their eyes opened to new possibilities. I feel that this is the the result and the work of the Holy Spirit and also God’s providence - our schools and colleges are filled with poor and deprived of students who go on to success in life.
But should not fall into the prosperity gospel trap nor align with “social justice” messages which so easily can be disguises of politically motivated leaders. What would you suggest is the right balance for the SDA Church?

Balance? Two commandments, Love your God and love your neighbors. “… born into poverty and social deprivation wake up and transcend their social deficiencies once they accept the truth;…”. Just another way of saying I am not my brothers keeper…unless you accept the ‘truth’. Whose truth? Whose explanation of the ‘truth’? Yours, mine anothers? Is the hungry supposed to eat…what, while you give them the truth? Your suggestion that accept Christ and then you life will be physically better is no different than the prosperity gospel so much taught today. Your statements show no compassion.

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First, define “social justice”.

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precisely my point, I was going to start with that paragraph

Indeed we love our neighbor by sacrificing 10% of our income to bring him/her the Gospel. We also love our neighbor when we join our church organizations, such as ADRA, with our offerings to bring food, clothing, farming products and training, medical care, Etc. Is this where we lack compassion?

You are judgmental - Here are a couple of day-to-day examples of my dad, a pastor and administrator his entire life of the SDA Church you so criticize. As the director of the Peruvian ADRA, I remember how he would use his personal time to fix a poor family’s leaky toilet, As the director of Education in Chile’s Patagonia I remember (Our entire family would accompany him on some trips) how we literally waded rivers and rode on horseback for an entire day to reach remote areas and he would lead/join the teams of church members building small grade schools to bring education and social justice to the poor. As a pastor I remember him using his carpentry skills and personal time to build a room in a house for a sick elderly person to have some peace and quiet. Ultimately, long after he retired and could no longer preach from a pulpit due to his failing health he delivered physical and spiritual food to the elderly through the Meals on Wheels program, into his 80s, when he was told it was too dangerous for him to continue driving a bus, BUT he was completely against the SDA church joining so-called social justice movements like MLK as politically motivated.

How do you practice what you preach? don’t be shy

10% ehh…what happened to the admonition of ‘two shirts’, lay down your life, etc, etc. Again we have above a narrow definition of ‘love your neighbor’, might we not broaden our perspective/view to something than just physical ‘doing’ to actually loving the other person just like we love ourselves?

Really, 10% so that we can convert the person! Astounding! Wow!
(enough said)

Seriously? I thought you were the one arguing for something more than just spiritual, which I demonstrated to you with actual personal sacrifice and actions. You are going in circles here but still haven’t come up with a serious alternative. I guess your “loving” your neighbor is synonymous with criticizing your neighbor. Way to go. JR

Some thoughts on “social justice”:

First, there can never be justice of any kind on this earth. I don’t know what is meant by “working for” social justice - (marching around with placards, yelling and screaming for justice, equal pay (compared to whom?) - calling everybody racist when you don’t like what someone is saying - giving a percentage to the nearest poor person - what?

Justice has never been part of life on earth. How did Jesus make out with justice? He was scolded for permitting his feet to be bathed in expensive oil - his response was “the poor will always be with us”.

OK, that’s not what this means, then what is it? Treating others the way we want to be treated - :heavy_check_mark: that one; don’t covet - :heavy_check_mark: that one too. I had the off the wall idea that being a Christian already meant you were automatically to be working for the welfare of others. Why do we need to keep covering this topic like it’s a new concept… Could it be we have been engulfed by the current political climate and have to chime in just to be woke (a new word/old concept).

Does the church need shape up and treat everyone better - OK, but what’s more, we have to get off the band wagon and do some introspection and deal with the un-christian attitude we can’t seem to shake in some corners of the world. That “heart of darkness” needs to be dealt with - 'nough said.

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I would hazard a guess, just a guess, that maybe, just maybe the topic keeps coming up and people don’t like discussing it, same as racism, because we see that the issues still exist. Comments that come up each time suggesting it is already being dealt with or that it is not as serious as it seems, may corroborate that idea. What you think?

On the contrary, this discussion has been going on for a long time, and has now been politicized. That’s just it, people think if we just keep talking about it we’re actually doing something about it; but that’s why the issue still exists. Racism and social injustice doesn’t go away the more we wring our hands and make accusation. So what do we do - tear down monuments and change a few historical dates and think that will solve the problem - all the while hatred multiplies and both sides dig in with a little help from agitators that have their own agendas. This is not going to end well. The church is just a microcosm of the rest of the social fabric. You would think churches everywhere would have the solution to hatred and discord; but each group points at the other and no one is ready for some introspection.

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Even in the systems that are oppressive, unfair, and make laws that favor the rich and the powerful, the church and individual Christians, without openly opposing (or aggressive towards) the government when it would prevent the spreading of the gospel, are required by God to find ways to meet the needs of the poor and the oppressed. It is very clear that one of the main concerns that God had against His children of the past (Israelites and Jews) was their treatment. of the poor and disadvantaged in their midst. The pioneers of the SDA church were very much involved in addressing the treatment of black people in America. I do believe that for the most part the church in general has a failing grade in the treatment of the poor and disadvantaged. We should and must do better, especially at a time when the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor.

If you read the parable of the talents and try to glean some lessons it is trying to teach, there are few things that I would note
1 the talents are not evenly distributed. Does that bother you ? If it does, why? Is it referring to capital or natural talent ?
2 The 2 servants who doubled their talents were praised As a matter of fact the one servant who began with the most was given the talent of the one who had the least
3 the servant with the one talent was reprimanded in no uncertain terms for his poor stewardship. If God is the Master in the story ,what does that say about God’s treatment of the poor servant. Do you relate to the one talent servant?
My conclusions God appears to favor and is pleased with the capitalists and approves of their entrepreneurial spirit They are rewarded for their good investment strategy and given more responsibility which leads me to think that I ought to embrace capitalism
As for the one- talent servant, I think that’s saying, don’t squander what you have but take what’s given, even if it isn’t much, and make something of your assets. No excuses are acceptable. Don’t blame your circumstances Don’t blame the “system” or your history for your poverty .Everyone has opportunities in life and are there for you to capitalize on .In other words when you’re given lemons, make lemonade.

Dave Okamura

There are people who do not even have the lemons to make lemonade because the land on which the lemons were to grow was taken away from them. Do you recall the story of Ahab and Nabot? God made it very plain that the poor will always be with us, and He gave the children of Israel a system that they should utilize to ensure that the needs of the poor were met. Your comment seems to imply that poor people in general are poor because they are lazy and that capitalism (which I did not make reference to) is perfect. Capitalism can only work well if people are honest and do not take advantage of each other, especially the poor and uneducated ones. I would suggest that you read the book of James and see what the Lord has to say about the treatment of the poor and how a day of reckoning is coming for those who mistreated the poor.

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Both your father and my father, Pastor Francisco Jimenez, practiced social assistance to the poor of their pastoral district in Chile; my father was a skilled carpenter who repaired furniture, doors and windows for poor families. But both and the other South American pastors did not bother to promote public policies or eliminate unjust laws that would solve the high rate of infant mortality, with malnutrition of children, the lack of drinking water and basic sanitation, the absence of primary medical services, and the lack of decent pensions for the elderly. This denominational indifference to social causes during the twentieth century stands in stark contrast to the public commitment that Adventist pioneers, particularly Ellen White, had. Pr Daniells, in 1915 said that in his writings, E. White “Nor is the social status of the human family lost sight of. Slavery, the caste system, unjust racial prejudices, the oppression of the poor, the neglect of the unfortunate,—these all are set forth as unchristian and a serious menace to the wellbeing of the human race, and as evils which the church of Christ is appointed by her Lord to overthrow “. (Life Sketches of Ellen White. Pag 385.)
Church Adventism often interprets in a limited way what the Church Manual says “Even though we must stand apart from political and social strife, we should always, quietly and firmly, maintain an uncompromising stand for justice and right in civic affairs, along with full adherence to our religious convictions”. (Church Manual. Pag 144) . Adventists translate quietly, utter silence, and social strike, with self-referential indifferentism, and sanctified escapism (Jonathan Duffy. Pag 90.) https://absg.adventist.org/assets/public/files/lessons/2019/3Q/SE/PDFs/EAQ319_11.pdf .
Our parents attended social causes at levels 1 and 2 of the Four Levels of Community Services. https://nnsw.adventist.org.au/departments/adventist-community-services/ The challenges of social justice require that as a church we move to level 3 that declares “Some Adventists also work for “systemic (structural) change” (also known as advocacy), seeking to change the institutional policies and laws that encourage unjust or unhealthy conditions An example is efforts to impact laws that make housing affordable or work or living conditions more humane, or to help disadvantaged people gain access to resources and opportunities that will make their life better.”.
The Adventist silence in the face of social causes has done enormous damage to the image of the remnant people. For example, remember the horrible stain of white supremacism on Sister Lucy Byard in an Adventist hospital… https://adventistregionalministries.org/lucy-byard-1877-1943-her-end-helped-regional-conferences-to-begin-part-i/ Also, by not addressing social causes, the Adventist Church practiced apartheid in South Africa from 1948-1994. (Jeff Crocombe. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Southern Africa — Race Relations and Apartheid). The indifference to social affairs of the African Union and Division leaders allowed the local Hutu Adventist leadership to discriminate against Tutsi Adventists in Rwanda. The president of the Adventist Rwanda Mission, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, and his son Gérard, medical director for the adventist hospital, had encouraged hutus people to seek refuge at the hospital. Once they were there, they called Hutu militias to come in and “clean up the country. Three thousand people were brutally murdered on the compound of the Adventist hospital in Mugonero, on April 16, 1994, https://www.adventistreview.org/remembering-rwanda/2014-03-31-rwanda-20-years-later .
Closer to us we have seen the dark silence South American Adventism in the face of the serious abuses of human rights that occurred in the 70s in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Therefore, the words of Sister Yolanda Clarke, who on August 23, 1963, were with MLK on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial have great value. Now 90 years Clarke declared “we as Adventists are too withdrawn from what’s happening around us. We must change that. Jesus was among the people — that’s where His ministry was. And so we also need to be a part of what’s going on. That’s the only way our light will shine.” https://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story2267-whos-that-adventist-woman-beside-martin-luther-king-jr
I think we should practice this, and what Pr J. Paulsen has preached to us “As a church—and individuals—we have not only the right, but the obligation, to be a moral voice in society; to speak clearly and eloquently on that which touches our core values. Human rights, religious freedom, public health, poverty, and injustice— these are some of the areas in which we have a God-given responsibility to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves.”. http://archives.adventistworld.org/images/issues/2007/may/2007-1005.pdf
To the initial question Does the church have a role in working for social justice ?. My answer is definitely yes, the church has a role to play. This is also officially recognized by the General Conference. “Seventh-day Adventists believe that actions to reduce poverty and its attendant injustices are an important part of Christian social responsibility. Working to reduce poverty and hunger means more than showing sympathy for the poor. It means advocating for public policy that offers justice and fairness to the poor, for their empowerment and human rights. It means sponsoring and participating in programs that address the causes of poverty and hunger, helping people to build sustainable lives.” Seventh-day Adventist Official Statement on Global Poverty, June 24, 2010. https://www.adventist.org/articles/global-poverty/ The problem we have is the presence of prejudices, fears and administrative barriers for its proper application.

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