Toward an Adventist Theology of Social Justice


We live in a time of social and political unrest. Liberal and conservative ideologies continually push society toward the ends of the socio-religio-political spectrum, and the middle is left mysteriously vacant. Social Justice Warriors abound on the left and on the right, with each side claiming divine favor over their causes. At times, the Adventist Church has been at the forefront of social justice causes: our founders were abolitionists, and in more recent years the Church has stood against sex trafficking and the mistreatment of immigrants. At other times, the Church has remained aloof to the struggle of the oppressed, not speaking to the injustice at all, as in the case of the relative silence from the denominational leaders during the revelations of disproportionately high levels and incidents of police brutality toward minorities. At other times, the Church has been entirely complicit, including during the Rwandan Genocide,[i] Apartheid[ii] in South Africa, the Nazi reign in Germany,[iii] and the racist and segregationist culture within the North American Division which necessitated the existence of the Regional Conferences.[iv]

The thesis, purpose, and assertion of this paper are as follows:

Thesis: The Seventh-day Adventist Church needs a Theology of Social Justice, from which to extract a sound biblical standard for advocacy. Without it, this church will continue to pick and choose which social justice issues are valid for the church to add its presence and influence to, but 1) without a valid framework around which to make this decision, and 2) without those making these decisions having experienced the injustices they deem unworthy of the church’s attention.

Purpose: To develop a biblical framework within an Adventist theology which will allow for the consideration of social justice activism, when it is and is not applicable to do such activism, and the manner of activism.

Assertion: The Bible calls upon Christians to protest, withstand, and actively work to improve social injustice when the oppressive political power is theologically supported by religion (church-state merger).

Toward a Social Justice Redefinition

What is social justice? It can be the interplay between a person’s duty to society and the benefits received from society for that duty.[v] It can also focus on barrier breaking toward social mobility, social supports systems (i.e., welfare, etc.), and economic justice.[vi] The definitions are numerous,[vii] and this variety makes it difficult for many people. “While its definition varies depending on the source, common themes [that] exist across all of them are the ideas of: humans rights; dignity; political, economic, social, and other equality; equal distribution of resources; justice, use of policy and laws; removal of inequality; societal participation in change; personal responsibility; and creating access to opportunity and chance through action.”[viii]

Social justice then deals with an individual’s or a group’s relation to societal duty and society’s duty to provide in like manner. This makes it societal justice, or justice within, from, by, and for society.

In the context of social justice, I find that Merriam-Webster’s 3b definition of the word society carries weight: “a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests.”[ix] Justice is “the maintenance or administration of what is just/truthful especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.”[x]

Societal justice, therefore, is when a community, nation, or broad grouping of people with common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests maintain the fair, just, and truthful reciprocal relationship between the group as a whole for the care of the individual, and the individual responsibility to the group, in an unbiased, socially supportive way. The societal institutions (the legislation, law enforcement, court system, healthcare, wages, taxes, etc.) are designed to ensure that this is enacted and enforced throughout the society impartially.

Therefore, for me, social/societal justice activism means engaging the political system for the sake of moving that system from injustice to justice via the means of legislative policy change, protest, boycott, etc.

This is my redefinition. It is intentionally narrow and restricted to political and legislative action and reform. Examples of such action, while nonviolent, can be seen in the ministry of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Leo Tolstoy, and many others.[xi] Such societal justice political activism need not be misconstrued with what this author considers compassionate social responsibility.

Compassionate Social Responsibility (or kingdom ethics and morals) is what the church calls charity (i.e. visiting the sick and shut in, caring for the orphan and widow, visiting the imprisoned, feeding and clothing the naked, etc.). One need not engage in political activism, with the aim to change legislation, policy, judiciary, and enforcement to be socially responsible. One simply must be compassionate and locally active.

Based on the above description and redefinition, does the Bible support social justice activity? Yes, but in a specific context.

There are many people who want to look at Jesus and say he was a social justice warrior, while reality is a little more nuanced. In which way does the Bible allow for social justice work, and in what ways did Jesus fulfill this? First, let us consider the covenant.

The Covenant, the Prophets, and Social Justice

Exodus 19:4-6: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

This verse for me is one of the keys toward unraveling this social justice conundrum. Here God tells Israel that they could not free themselves from Egypt. He did that. Then he says two things: 1) they must obey (obligation, fruit) his voice (intimate relationship, cause),[xii] and 2) they must keep his covenant, the implication being that they already have this covenant. He is not asking for a preemptive obedience before knowing the requirement, but is pointing them back to something they already know. That something is the Abrahamic covenant.

Genesis 15 has God promise to make Abraham as the stars of the sky (verse 5), and to give Abraham the land from Egypt to the Euphrates for his inheritance (vs. 18). The deal is sealed with the Suzerainty covenant formula of passing through the blood, except that when it came time for Abraham to pass through, God put him to sleep (vs. 12). God then passed through the blood for Abraham and Himself, thus taking it upon Himself to fulfill the promise. All Abraham had to do was believe (vs. 6). This is a grace-based covenant alone.[xiii]

Let me be clear: A grace-based covenant is what God offered Israel, and this grace-based covenant was what was to make them peculiar. They rejected it in exchange for human effort: “all that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7, also 19:8, 24:3). God did the promising in Genesis 15; humans did the promising at Sinai.[xiv] In Genesis 15 God passes through the blood with the responsibility placed upon Him; in Exodus 24 humans were sprinkled with the blood, with the responsibility placed upon them.[xv] There is no biblical evidence to support the notion that God came with a law-based covenant because the people were so spiritually immature, having just been freed from slavery. That explanation is from the consequence of Sinai by the people making faulty promises in Exodus 19:8, 24:3 and 7, not the intention of God for the people Exodus 19:4-6. Or else how does a Bible believer explain holistically Romans 7, 2 Corinthians 3, Galatians 3-4, or Hebrews 8?

The Jewish Theocratic Nation, where the religion and the state are the same, was born when this constitutional covenant was established. However, this was a legalistic, humanistic covenant, based on human promises. They had promised God that they could be an ethically, morally, socially, economically, and religiously righteous nation. All the Old Testament prophets from this point forward participate in social justice reform work (religio-political activism), with the expectation of the people to fulfill their agreement upon pain of punishment for failure, or reward for success.

Look at the verse again:

“Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”

Nowhere in this verse does God say that they are the only people unto him. God says they would be peculiar. Why? One reason is because every ancient religion other than Hebraism was legalistic. Their views of God (devolved into their plethora of gods) was that God was to be pleased, appeased, and feared. God came to the Hebrew nation with the Abrahamic grace covenant. If they accepted it, they would be peculiar. Their peculiarity would be their dependence upon God, not their ability to be obedient. It would also be a higher view of God, not one of fear or appeasement, or needing to please him. They, like Abraham, would be God’s friends.[xvi]

Just as they would be peculiar to God above all other nations, so their view and experience of God was to be peculiar as well. If they chose to continue in the Abrahamic grace-based covenant, then every person in the kingdom was a priest (not just the tribe of Levi, not only men), making the entire nation “Holiness unto the Lord.” There is ample evidence in scripture to demonstrate that God and the non-Hebrew nations had a covenantal relationship,[xvii] but the works-based origination of these non-Hebrew religions reveals that they chose (and Israel in similar fashion) human effort over divine grace. Thus, we see the biblical prophets speaking to any people whose relationship with God is a legalistic humanism religion, where this religion undergirds the foundation of the current political climate or regime, demanding social justice reform at a religio-political level of legislation and policy, and condemning all unjust nations to the wrath of God.[xviii] This makes social justice work a prophetic work, according to the Bible.

Jesus Christ, Social Responsibility, and Social Justice

Jesus Christ enters the scene as the supreme prophet like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18). There are three things happening during Jesus’ ministry: 1) He ministers at the time of the waning of the Jewish theocracy, 2) He ministers through a Jewish religion which is opposed to Roman rule, and 3) He ministers to establish the kingdom of God. He is here to introduce the New Covenant.

Jesus, Social Justice, and a Theocracy

Was Jesus a social justice warrior? Yes, if we are considering the waning Jewish Theocracy. Jesus fought to overturn the status quo of the waning Judaism religio-political theocratic government. The success of the Roman Empire was its use of client states, where Rome allowed the indigenous people it conquered to retain a certain level of autonomy in exchange for taxes, etc. Thus, Rome left Judea alone to some extent. The Jews were allowed to live by their religious laws, so long as there was no revolting. Jesus healing on the Sabbath, eating in the field on the Sabbath, claiming He is Lord of the Sabbath, redefining the law, forgiving sins, not condemning sinners to death contrary to the law, cleansing the temple, touching and raising the dead, confronting the religious leaders on their hypocrisy, showing himself more influential than they with the people, revealing their legalistic view of God, Jesus claiming to be “I Am,” etc., these are all very prophetically revolutionary social justice activities within a theocracy. In this way, Jesus was a social justice warrior, pointing Israel back to their Sinaitic Covenant and promises, calling on them to remain true to their duty.[xix]

Jesus, Compassionate Social Responsibility, and Church-State Separation

Was Jesus a social justice warrior? No, if we are considering that the Roman oppression was not undergirded or supported by the Jewish theology and religion. In this way, he was just compassionately socially responsible (kingdom morals and ethics) when raising the dead, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, etc.; he was doing charity work. He never challenged Rome. He taught people to turn the other cheek, to give their cloak and shirt, to walk two miles if compelled to walk one, to love one’s enemies, to pay taxes to Caesar (the State), to bear one’s cross (State imposed capital punishment), etc. Jewish theology did not undergird Roman oppression so Jesus did not resist Rome. He died to save Romans.

Jesus as the Kingdom-Founder

Jesus was a Kingdom Warrior, in the sense that he came to wage war, defeat an enemy, and establish the reign of God. Thus, he did not embroil himself in all the political intrigue and machinations of his day. While he was calling Israel back to their covenantal obligations he was also redefining, reapplying, and broadening the terms of that covenant. While he did not confront Rome or her policies, he embraced opportunities to demonstrate compassion to Romans, and he submitted to their leadership by encouraging those under them to pay taxes. Rome was not his enemy. He was not invading Rome. He was invading hell. His enemy was Satan, the prince of this world. By taking out the superior kingdom he ensured that all lesser kingdoms would fall as well, as their source of power had been defeated.

As Kingdom Founder, Jesus chose to institute a New Covenant in his blood. If Hebrews 8 is correct, and the Old Covenant is established on faulty promises, since God cannot give a bad promise, and Hebrews says God found fault with Israel, it stands to reason that Jesus’ New Covenant is established on his promises to God. Thus, it is only His performance, His faith, His spirit, His life, and His obedience that is of any merit. Therefore, the New Testament Covenantal believer is accountable only to accepting and submitting to grace through faith. All else is the work of the Holy Spirit.[xx]

As the prophet like unto Moses, Jesus is societally revolutionary within theocratic Judaism as He points them back to their Sinaitic pledge of obedience or death. But as the apostle of the New Covenant, within a Jewish religion separate from humanistic Rome, He is societally responsible, pledging His value in place of ours. As the founder of the new kingdom, with its new covenant constitution, He inaugurates the divine theocracy within the church, for it to be a cultural grace-change agent in a human works-based world.

Are there any theocracies dominant in the West? That is a matter of debate to be sure. If we look at the American separation of powers, the separation of church and state, one could be inclined to say no, and thus model one’s Christian activity to being socially responsible and charitable without protest or political engagement. However, if this separation is a pseudo-separation, a shrinking separation, or a biasedly-applied separation, if the theology of the dominant religion has and is undergirding Western oppressive ideologies, legislated policies, and practices of oppression,[xxi] then one is to model one’s Christian activity after the ultimate prophet Jesus Christ, and oppose the theocratic hypocrisy of a nation claiming the name of God while acting anything but.

I’ll even go further and say it is one’s biblical prophetic duty to oppose, withstand, and protest against the abusive misuse of the name of God when there is an oppressive political power undergirded by Christian theology. One must “cry aloud and spare not.”

The Apostles, Social Responsibility, and Social Justice

Why don't we see the apostles taking any political stances, fighting and writing for societal justice? I submit that’s because they were operating under the separation of Rome (State) and Judaism (Church) — and in their case Rome (Secular State), Judaism (Theocratic State), and Christianity (Church). As apostle means messenger, all this new body of believers did was spread the gospel, and live socially responsible lives in relationship to state policy. However, we do not see them engaging in the political arena at all, as they understood that Judaism and Christianity was not undergirding the abuse of Rome.

They were there to save souls, not rebuke the system for hypocrisy. The one-time exception to this was Paul[xxii] when he used his Roman citizenship to appeal to Caesar for justice. This was because the Jews of his day were trying to use their religious influence to encourage the state to oppress him.

Where we do find the apostles’ focus is with intra-church issues. They gladly accepted punishment and persecution from both Jews and Romans, because they viewed each as fallen governments. Their Jerusalem Council would be their version of the Sanhedrin. They were worried about “kingdom” issues. Thus, in their own right, they were an extension of the religious side of God’s Divine Theocracy established by Jesus. Therefore, if the Jerusalem Council were to have been oppressive, if anyone grossly misrepresented Jesus in any way, they would have prophetically protested immediately, with Divine judgments ensuing for failure to comply. Cases in point: Ananias and Sapphira’s deaths, Simon the magician is rebuked, Paul addressing Peter in his hypocrisy.

In their zeal for kingdom expansion, the apostolic church was creative, relative, and innovative. Much of apostolic preaching was preaching from the cross forward, and thus was grace-based. They were extending and creating newness, not returning to the old. When they spoke of holiness they spoke of it in terms of what was possible to accomplish, not what was one’s responsibility to abstain from. This apostolic ministry was cataphatic (of or relating to the religious belief that God can be known to humans positively or affirmatively),[xxiii] making it relevant, relational, creative, innovative, mercy-full, forgiveness-saturated and empowering. It was a “positively” and divinely-oriented movement of freedom and liberation that was not dependent upon political state legislation because it did not seek to set up an earthly kingdom but expand a heavenly one.

Conversely, prophetic ministry by its nature is calling for people to actually keep their covenantal word and negate from sinning as they promised. This holiness by negation is apophatic (of or relating to the belief that God can only be described by a process of negation).[xxiv] It is noncreative, non-innovative, non-relational, unforgiving, unmerciful, punitive, non-empowering, and legalistically and humanly-oriented. Prophetic ministry offers no power to accomplish its requirements; it simply points to one’s promise to God, and demands fulfillment of obligations. Any grace we see in the Old Testament, any forgiveness and mercy found post-Sinai, is contingent upon the cataphatic Lamb to come, or the grace-based covenant of Abraham, into which God grandfathers Israel in order to not destroy them entirely for their rebellion.[xxv]

Prophetic ministry definitely calls for the state legislation to ensure the values, morals, and ethics the state claims to provide, since this state’s policies and legislations would be undergirded by the established religion. Prior to Christ, God was not known positively. Christ came to affirmatively reveal the Divine Self to fallen humans, and thus raise our understanding of God’s heart for us.

Therefore, so long as there is a church-state separation, Christian ministry can be solely apostolic and cataphatic. One can do like Jesus and be socially responsible by feeding the poor, healing the sick, visiting the prisoner, etc. If, however, the church is the theological foundation of state oppression, one’s Christian duty is to also be apophatic and prophetic. One must then work for economic justice, not just give free food. One must work for health care equality,[xxvi] not just teach people how to eat better, which natural remedies to use, or how to use hot-cold treatments. One must not only visit those in prison, one must also work toward criminal justice reform.[xxvii]

Considering that the apostles viewed Christianity as the extension and themselves as the extenders of the Kingdom of God, there was the attempt to handle conflict “in house.”[xxviii] Thus, this nonpolitical entity replaced the earthly theocratic Judaism. If in this new theocracy, Paul can publicly protest Peter’s racial “preferencing” and segregation, Simon the magician can be openly rebuked, Ananias and Sapphira can die for lying to the Holy Spirit, it would behoove the Adventist Church and its membership to treat each other with respect and integrity, in line with the message that we preach, rather than side with the political status quo of injustice, or popular social moral stances.[xxix] If someone is outside of the biblical moral and ethical bounds, or sides with injustice, the Bible gives the church and/or its members the duty to visibly and vocally protest the Church’s injustice. More than that, God is the divine judge in His theocracy. His judgments are final, and swift when needed. Mistreatment of fellow members in this kingdom can result in divine punishment.[xxx]

Toward an Adventist Social Justice Eschatology

Any Adventist student of Revelation will readily recognize the Advent movement and the Great Disappointment in Revelation 10. What is of interest for this article is verse 11:

“And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.”

Why didn't God say, “You must apostle-ize again”? Why prophesy? Could it be because Revelation 13 declares that the whole world wanders after the beast? Could it be that the lamblike beast causes all men, small and great, to receive the mark? Could it be that due to the coalescing merger of church and state that the voice of rebuke is all that is left for the world?

The Global Socio-Political Context of the Eschatological Protest

Consider this. Chapter 13 has two great beasts: one makes blasphemous claims and receives worship (vs. 5-6, 8) and the other claims the separation of church and state (vs. 11b) while being oppressive from its infancy (vs. 11c). Under both governments horrible atrocities against humanity have taken place. Under both it was theology that was the moral and ethical justifier of the human greed and abuse perpetrated by the state. Between these two, things turn so bad at the end of time that a third beast is created, equally as brutal (vs. 14b). This third beast causes all those not receiving the mark of the beast to experience persecution, poverty, deprivation, starvation, and death (vs. 13-17).

The Method of Eschatological Protest

The next visual we find is the 144,000 standing on Mt. Zion with the Lamb. This is not literal. Even as Ephesians says we are seated in heavenly places in Christ, and we are not literally there, so the apostle places the 144,000 as standing on Mt Zion, though they are very literally present on Earth. It is their spiritual orientation. They have an elevated view of global injustice, and they stand on a higher moral and ethical plane than the rest of the world. That they are standing is equally telling, as Ephesians states that we are seated in heavenly places in Christ. Ephesians says Christ ascended and sat at the right hand of God. Daniel 7:9-12 tells us the thrones are set in place, and the judgment sits. Daniel 12 tells us Michael stands at the end of time.

So picture this: Jesus ascended to heaven and sat at the right hand of God. The only time the Bible says he stood up is when Stephen was stoned. Jesus stood at that injustice; he stood up in protest. When the antitypical Day of Atonement came, God and Jesus moved to different seats and sat down for judgment. When we see Jesus and the 144,000 standing on Mt. Zion, they stand in solidarity with the oppressed. They stand in protest against the blasphemy, injustice, and oppression. If the Ephesians connection is allowed to continue, they stand in the armor of God.

This is a musical protest, because it says they are singing. This is a peaceful protest, because it uses harps. The harp is harkening back to David with his harp playing to appease the evil spirit of Saul. Their musical protest against injustice is designed to create awareness and space for the final call to sinners, just as David’s harp soothed Saul’s wrath for a time. They are standing with the Lamb, not the Lion. This means that this is a sacrificial, humble protest, not a violent, vitriolic one.

In Revelation 3:14 Jesus is called “...the Faithful and True Witness...”, and this witness is the same word used when Jesus tells the disciples in Acts 1, “ shall be witnesses unto me...”. This witness is martus, from where we get our word martyr. Make no mistake: one cannot stand with the Faithful and True Martyr in protest of the injustice of an evil church-state system, and not expect to join Him in martyrdom and suffering. This is why Revelation 14:12 calls them patient saints. One must have patience to endure oppression as one protests injustice and demands societal change, knowing that such justice will ultimately never be realized outside the actual and effectual literal reign of God.

Such patience allows the saints to keep standing, though they stand on a sea of glass mingled with fire in Revelation 15. Such a description harkens back to three stories: the liberation of Israel through the Red Sea (the song of Moses), the Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace, and the lamb which is burnt on the altar of sacrifice (Song of the Lamb). No, the believers are not literally, but rather symbolically, on the sea of glass. Instead of walking through the Red Sea they pass above the torrents of persecution. As the three Hebrew boys stood firm in the fiery furnace, they stand firm in the presence of the persecution church-state alliance. As the lamb was consumed by the sacrifice, some may die during the persecution. However, they are patient saints. They know how the story ends.

If this is true, and it is, then it is impossible for Adventism to be a prophetic movement and not participate in, not be, a social justice movement. Equally, it is naive and implausible to think we will participate in social justice work and not have to endure suffering. Christian theology has undergirded western abuses for centuries, and it will continue to do so. Its claims to separation of church and state were based solely on the comfort of the dominant, but their oppressive practices were significantly built upon Christian theological interpretations and applications.[xxxi]

The Message of Eschatological Protest

Even as Jesus was both Prophet and Apostle, calling people to keep their old covenant world while simultaneously offering to them citizenship under the new kingdom of God, the Advent message during this time is both apophatic and cataphatic.

Our cataphatic message is “Fear God, and give him glory for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven, and earth, and the seas, and the fountains of water.”[xxxii] This is holiness by the affirmation of what is right. It is innovative, creative, and relative. It is apostolic.

Our apophatic message is “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, the great city, because she made all nations drink the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”[xxxiii] Babel is where languages were changed, and people were separated due to sin. Babel is where human life was less valuable than materialism. Babylon is where men are emasculated. Babel is where humanity tried to ascend into heaven through human effort. Babylon is where men were thrown to the fire. This message is doom. There is no alternative hope given in this message. This is very much a Jonah in Nineveh message.[xxxiv] However, though Babylon is fallen, they can still “come out from her my people.”[xxxv] Implied in the announcement of doom is one’s ability to make a last-minute decision. One’s doom is not fated, it is chosen. The prophetic movement is about personal responsibility and ability, and it assumes one still has the freedom to choose.

Our final message is both cataphatic and apophatic: “If any man worship the beast or his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand...Here are the patience of the saints: here are they which keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus.”[xxxvi] Notice the contrast: any man vs. saints, worship the beast/the image vs. keep the commandments of God, and receive the mark vs. faith of Jesus. What has been eclipsed is the prophetic description of divine judgment, but the contrast we see between verse 9 and verse 12 lets us know that this message is not only one full of doom. There is still the ability to choose. They could choose to be the patient saints, fearing God and worshiping the Creator. Or they could choose to worship the beast, his image, and receive the mark. They still have time to turn to the Lamb standing on Mt Zion. But not much time.


Social justice activism is working toward the establishment of societal justice within a given society through protest, legislation, policy, and in extreme cases, force. The force in the Bible is seen as a judgment from God.

The Bible supports social justice activity. God has always expected morals, ethics, and justice from those who claim to know Him, and to do His will, be they pagan, Hebrew, or Christian. When religion uses its theology as the foundation and buttress of governmental oppression, the Bible reveals that social justice activism is not only appropriate, it is expected. It is called being prophetic.

Where there is a clear separation of church and state, social political activism is not a believer’s focus. They are to be socially responsible — visiting the sick and prisoner, caring for the widow and orphan, teaching people how to better manage their finances and their health — as they work toward extending the kingdom of God in positive, relational, and affirming ways. However, where this separation is biasedly-applied, false, or shrinking, the believer has a divine responsibility to speak truth to power and demand criminal justice reform, economic reform, health reform, welfare reform, etc.

Finally, the book of Revelation reveals that the final generation of believers will be protestors, standing with Christ in peaceful, prophetic, sacrificial opposition to the blasphemy and oppression taking place at the hands of the church-state union, as they give the final apostolic call to worship the creator, and the final prophetic protest of the fall of Babylon.

Notes & References:

[xi] Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-violent Conflict. New York: Palgrave, 2000.

Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. (SNCC is the acronym for Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.

M K Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2001, orig. 1961.

Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973

David McReynolds, A Philosophy of Nonviolence. Originally New York: A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, 2001.

Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash, eds., Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

[xii] Think of Jesus saying, “if you love me (intimate relationship), keep my commandments (obedience is fruit of relationship, not cause)”

[xiv] Consider Genesis 15, Exodus 19:8, 24:3,7, also consider Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:22-27, Romans 7, 2 Corinthians 3; Galatians 3-4; Hebrews 8

[xv] Consider Exodus, 24: 3, 7-8; Matthew 26:28/Mark 14:28; 1 Cor. 11:25; Hebrews 12:24

[xvi] Consider James 2:23

[xvii] Consider Genesis 12; Genesis 20; 2 Chronicles 35:20-22 as evidence of non-Hebrew nations relationship with YHWH

[xviii] Consider Isaiah 14-24; Ezekiel 25-38; Amos 1-2

[xix] Consider Daniel 9:27. Jesus confirmed the Sinaitic Covenant with Israel for 1wk/7years even as he was introducing and inaugurating the New Covenant

[xx] The Holy Spirit does the work (Ez. 3626-27), gives gifts (Eph. 4/1 Cor. 12), and bears fruit (Gal. 5:22-25)

[xxii] Consider Acts 25:1-12 Jewish religious leaders try to use their influence to have Festus persecute Paul

[xxv] Consider Exodus 32-33:6

[xxviii] Consider Acts 15:13-21,18:26; 1 Cor. 5:4-5, 6:1-8

[xxx] Consider Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:17-30; James 5:16

[xxxii] Consider Revelation 14:6-7

[xxxiii] Consider Revelation 14:8; also Revelation 18:2

[xxxv] Consider Revelation 18:4/ Jonah 3:6-10 (Nineveh repented)

[xxxvi] Consider Revelation 14:9-12

J.A. O'Rourke, MDiv, is a husband, father, military veteran, former hospital chaplain, and currently the pastor of Bethanie SDA church, in Almere, Netherlands.

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
1 Like

What you’re advocating is NOT following the Biblical instructions for how we deal with others and social issues, it is attempting to interpret the clear meanings of scripture through the lens of popular Liberal-Socialism, which puts you on a short path to justifying all manner of things that change in whenever the winds of politics blow in a different direction instead of following the consistency of God’s principles. Justice in scripture is the concept of treating others according to the principles of God’s laws that do not change or give privilege to one person or racial/ethnic group over another, not even for the sake of that never-definable concept of “equity.” The concept of “social justice” is found only in the writings of Socialist philosophers who are dedicated to disregarding and destroying the principles in the Constitution and the rule of law in America. The concept is a pleasant-sounding sophistry that requires a person to make Socialist philosophy superior to scripture and using prophecy as a conceptual foundation for supporting the misconception shows how hard that thinking must reach in the search for credibility.

1 Like

What an unfortunate statement.


John 18:36 King James Version (KJV)

36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight

1 Like

J.A., if I may call you that. I felt your presentation was a bit torturous and hard to follow and perhaps needs a brief conclusion as well as the things you are suggesting as , “social justice.”

In my brief partial “meta-narrative” I see Christ as the “perfect covenant keeper.” He was fulfillment of the promises and requirements of the Mosaic, Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. He fulfilled the requirements and promises of each by His faithfullness and perfect obedience. The Kingdom started in Christ and it is in the “now and not yet” stage of fulfillment. His perfect life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension to sit on the throne as priest king since His ascension is the basis for our hope.

As to “social justice.” Obviously, God is a God of justice/righteousness. The BIG problem today, I suggest, is often the original meanings or authoritative statements regarding it’s biblical meaning is deconstructed and replaced by meanings that often have no biblical basis at all. Instead, as I earlier commented to Barry in his article “the Acts of the Disciples”, “social justice” as commonly used today have filters that remove what the “plaintiff” doesn’t like and has a “fill in the blank” for what their favorite cause is.

These are my initial thoughts and perhaps you can clarify some points and direction for us.
I.e. What social, welfare and economic reforms and church-state unions do you presently see? What happened to footnotes v.- x?


Unfortunate if you are a defender of the misconception.

1 Like

Thank you for your comment. Considering that adventist already participate in social justice via religious liberty, as is written in the 1st amendment, and as secured more firmly by the civil rights movement, i submit that your opposition is not at social justice, else you lose religious liberty, but at a perceived branch or application of such. God bless

1 Like

This is a great article. I applaud my friend Pastor O’Rourke for bringing this issue in a central theological place.

However, I want to differ with one of the claims Pastor O’Rourke makes: That Jesus did not challenge the Roman empire politically. Jesus did directly attack the Roman system. Pastor O’Rourke fails to consider the fact that Jesus challenged the temple system, which was at the time deeply intertwined with Roman rule. Roman governors worked closely with the high priests, and the temple scribes were a key part of the maintenance of Roman rule. (This is the major point made by William Herzog in Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God .) There are other places in the Gospels where Jesus reveals his opposition to Roman political authority, such as the incident with the pigs in the region of the Gadarenes (the term the demons use for themselves–“Legion”–is a clear reference to Roman power, see John Dominic Crossan’s work on this).

The reason the Gospels are not more explicit in pointing out Jesus’ opposition to Rome is that Roman censorship would have been a problem. Anti-Roman documents could not hope to achieve wide circulation in the first century.

Part of the reason Pastor O’Rourke doesn’t realize the extent to which Jesus opposed Rome is that Pastor O’Rourke anachronistically projects a modern “separation of church and state” onto Jesus. In the first century, there was no separation of Church and state. If you claimed to be “Lord” ( kurios ), you were challenging the Roman emperor, who demanded to be recognized as kurios . I myself think the whole notion of a separation of church and state is a myth, albeit a convenient and sometimes useful one.

Other than that, however, I really like what Jason has done here. We need this type of theology, and I’m glad for this contribution. It is outstanding work.


Thank you for your comment. In answer to you questions:

  1. I have no ideas what happened to the footnotes
  2. we are agreed that Jesus is the only hope for Justice
  3. we are agreed that God is the just judge
  4. i think, as Andy Blosser points out below, that separation of church and state is a conveniently used ploy when it is desired. I think the history of American oppression is one in which such a separation is bias-ly applied while, as i attempted to document, the theology of Christianity as been and is currently being used to undergird western abuse. Case in point for me is the religion of nationalism as being supported by the evangelical right in a crusading way against Islam in the east and immigration from the west and south.
  5. if the theology of Christianity was used to support racism (fact) for example, which led to the mass impropisonment of men of color for crimes their white counterparts barely get slaps on the wrist for, then such one must not only visit the prisoner but work for prison reform.
  6. additionally, as we head toward the consumption, we know that church state unions will become more prevailant. With the description of the end time government being Babylon, which is a symbol for human aggrandizement and self effort and attainment, and since the prophets in my view address theocracies of legistic human self effort, it seems that the role of prophetic voice and resistance (you must prophecy again) against the self righteous is called for in revelation.
    But, i writing is “toward” a theology of adventist social justice. I do not consider this to be the authoritative voice. I expect others to do better than me. I welcome it. Until then, i write.
    God bless

Thank you for your comments Andy. I have always valued your insights since seminary.

  1. i think the intetwinement of roman rule with the Sanhedrin is an interesting point, however, i do not see his actions toward Judaism as an affront to Roman rule into first sense, or else their accusations would have been jsut bfore Pilate. However, that Pilate found no fault in him for me is telling, especially after jesus informs him that his kingdom is not of this world and thus by inference is no threat to Roman rule
  2. I will get the books you have recommended
  3. I will further develop my perspective on theocracy and church state separation. Suffice it to say, some of my initial research intimates the Rome under the senate was not a proper theocracy, where the gods dictated morals and ethics, as the the case in Judaism. As such, Rome appears relatively secular, in governance, and pluralistic in its allowance of various religions.

Thank you for your contribution.

God bless you my friend


I cannot think of any Christian who does not support social justice. Actually, Jesus clearly and obviously supported social justice. It’s sad that there are so many so-called Christians who either do not understand the concept, or just don’t actually care about their neighbors. Their selfishness obfuscates their understanding of the needs of those who are around them. They are not in the group of that good Samaritan that Jesus talked about.


Actually JA they initially appeared v.-x) on my laptop (then disappeared) but not my phone. I see that the prism of thought was for globalization rather than nationalism. That may be a telling thought.
It is an interesting topic…but one with very little biblical “definitive/authoritative/particular” support in the NT age of the gentiles.
“Social Justice” has indeed been used as a political social concept linked to certain views. So, is it possible that is a “spiritual/social” view embraced by some with certain meanings with the desire to impose those meanings on society?

1 Like

Thank you for your comment,
I do not believe i start of globalizing, but with nations in mind as they are revealed in the Bible. however, i do agree that revelation reveals a global “nation”, if you wil, and the end of timel.
As far as social justice being utilized by a certain segment of society, sure. Has that segment be marginalized, sure. Would such usage anger the dormant status quo within a theological group, sure. Is it the imposition of a spiritual social construct? It depends if one is the dominant or the dominated in my opinion.
As far as authoritative NT perspectives on this subject, im sure that is still to be seen as it is equally debatable, but i am open to learning and more study.

God bless you


1 Like

Thank you for your comment. We agree on this point.

God bless

“The clear meanings of scriptures…”

Scripture is rarely clear to a modern mind, and your response only demonstrates this.

You seem to feel as though equity is undefinable, or worse still not a biblical concept, then I must ask if you ascribe to the un-Adventist belief of headship theology, for if not we find equity in the God head. And if humanity was a reflection of God at creation then we find equity in humanity too. Thus better than a definition we have an example of equity. However, if you believe in headship theology It is understandable that you would struggle with this concept.

I would also be curious as to how you are defining God’s Laws. The principle of the Golden Rule seems to be very much so built on the belief of equity, after all we are to treat others as we our selves wish to be treated. However if we broaden the picture, then we do see differences in how people are treated based on race and nationality. When we look at Leviticus chapter 25 we see different sets of laws concerning the treatment of Hebrew slaves and non Hebrew slaves. Are we going to just discard Leviticus now?

Finally it is interesting that you feel that social justice is destroying the constitution and rule of law in the US. What takes priority for you; the constitution of the US or God? Your stance is very much one of the constitution being perfect, and thus any opposition to it is a threat, but nothing is perfect apart from God, as such you should expect the constitution to be challenged, and if need be destroyed. Of course if the constitution never legally enshrined you or your ancestors as being anything less than 100% human it is understandable why you would not see the fallability of the document or a need for it to be destroyed or at the very least challenged.

1 Like

I looked up the definition of SOCIAL JUSTICE:

SOCIAL JUSTICE includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.

Is the treatment of women in our church equitable ?.

If not then that is the first social justice issue we need to address.

Are our gay lesbian and transgender members psychologically safe and secure in Adventism and are they treated equally??

If not, then that is one of the first issues of social justice needing to be addressed.


Thanks for your reply JA. It appears something chose to edit out the footnotes from V.-X. I can appreciate the fact that there are injustices in the world. It is after all occupied by sinful humans and “the prince of this world” and that has consequences in all aspects of life. There are at times blatant injustices that normally are recognized by society and attempts made to help “over time.”
What is your church doing locally in Holland about the injustices of the “girls” from Asia and elsewhere being taken there for the captivity of prostitution. How about the terrible drug problems you have there. Here are 2 issues that indeed are social injustices most people would recognize that hold some in captivity.

I believe the church is to “keep the main thing the main thing.” That is Christ crucified, buried, raised and sitting on the throne in heaven. Ultimately this earths only cure is the coming of Christ. If that is without meaning in today’s society it is because we don’t recognize we are dead in trespasses and sins and prefer to lash out at symptoms rather than the core problems. Once the core problem is accepted perhaps we can better deal with some of the more flagrant violations?

1 Like

You point out well the problem of human understanding of “social justice” and blending that term with “the church.” Could you provide the texts in scripture to support your chosen lists “rights that are violated?”

1 Like

Didn’t you rather mean equality? :thinking:
Just double checking.


Great comment.
I don’t know why some people associate “social justice” with “Socialism.” Lack of insight maybe?

I also looked up the definition of “democratic socialism,” and found this one on Google interesting:
Democratic socialism can mean Social democracy as in Sweden , Denmark and other Scandinavian countries and that works, Denmark is the happiest country in the world while Sweden , Norway and Finland are among the happiest.