Category Archives: Social Justice

Causanauts

Join the Cause - People Holding WordsHow many causes are there these days? There is a cause for everything. Every color of the rainbow (even the rainbow itself) represents something that I should support or denounce. A red X says I’m against human trafficking. A pink ribbon says I want to save the ta-tas. I’m green if I drive a hybrid. And on and on it goes. It seems each day is a day for a cause of some sort that calls me to action. Buy Tom’s shoes so that someone somewhere gets a pair of shoes. Don’t buy coffee unless it is free-trade coffee. Drink Coke from this can so we can save the polar bears.

Now don’t get me wrong – no, get me wrong if you want, I’ve had it. Let me put this as plainly as I can: Your cause does not make you a good person. I don’t care how great your cause is or how many you have. I don’t care if you have the bracelet, wear the t-shirt, eat the free range chicken, post a picture on facebook, or whatever other noble expression you choose to make your cause known. Your cause does not make you a good person.

Now why the attack on causes? I have nothing against people doing good things for others. But I am over the self-righteous attitude that comes with so many of these causes. I watch the church train our kids to be causanauts and call it discipleship. We preach a works-righteousness religion. We tell them, “You had better sleep in this cardboard box for the night to show your solidarity with homeless people or you don’t care.” We dress up the cause with a Scripture verse and then declare that it is our Christian duty to support or protest whatever it is. That is nothing more that a first-class guilt trip. And it is exactly what the Pharisees did to the people of Israel.

Preaching this religion causes spiritual pride faster than any else I can thinkbracelet of. “I’m a good person. I support_______, I bought the right kind of _________, I posted ________ on my FB. I’m aware. I care.” Don’t kid yourself. You feel better when you have the cause de jour in front of others. That’s why there are so many Causanauts. We all want to feel good about ourselves in a culture where good is relative. We trumpet our cause because we want to be good in a culture that no longer has a definition of good. Causes give people who don’t believe in morals moral authority.

The Bible teaches us in Micah 6:8 to “do justly, love mercy and (get this) walk humbly with your God.” Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:1-4, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ (read: causes) before men to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets (read: FB, bracelets, t-shirts, ribbons, etc), as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be done in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done is secret, will reward you.”

Jesus tells us to do these good things in secret because it will prevent us from becoming prideful and believing that we are good people. The good things we do can actually callous our hearts and prevent us from hearing the truth about who we really are and what we really need to do in order to be justified before a holy God.

Luke 18:9-14 illustrates it perfectly. To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Causanauts are like the Pharisee, blinded and calloused by his own good deeds. He could not see the truth about who he really was: a sinner who couldn’t possible do enough good things to measure up to a Holy God. He thought he was a good person. As a result he did not go home justified before God. The tax collector who could admit the truth about himself, a sinner, was able to get right with God. You cannot have a relationship with Christ when you think you are good enough because you cannot see the evil in your own heart and repent.

Jesus warns those who practice a works-righteousness religion. Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Many people will list their causes and all they did, even in His name, on that day only to be turned away. The only way to be justified before God is to admit you are not a good person, surrender to Jesus, and let His righteousness cover you.

Do good deeds. Love God. Love others. But don’t be a Causanaut. It doesn’t end well.

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When Social Justice is Unjust

With the recent ruling on Obamacare and people’s attempts to declare mandated government action “compassionate” and “just”, I felt I would post this article again.  It was orginially posted in the summer of 2010 on Dale Tedder’s blog.  Thanks Dale for not deleting it.  I hate retyping things. – Mike

 The phrase “social justice” is thrown around these days like a buzz word on steroids.  Almost every problem faced in society from poverty, health care, environmental concerns, homelessness, etc are now labeled as “social justice” issues. 

 Now don’t get me wrong.  I am all for justice in a social setting.  But what exactly does this phrase, “social justice” mean?  Ask ten different people and you will get ten different definitions.  Ask them what the difference is between justice and social justice and you are more likely to get blank stares.  Why, then, with such ambiguity about what social justice is, do we use the term like a trump card?

 The term “social justice” has only been around for the past 75-100 years.  I believe people use this term because we can demand justice.  If something is unjust, we have a right, a moral obligation, and a duty to God to change the unjust situation.  There is power with a phrase like “social justice.”  And that is where the danger lies.

 Think of what we call social justice ministries today and you will most likely think of working with the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and taking care of the poor.  All of these ministries are essential, but they are not justice ministries.  They are, in fact, mercy ministries.

 People have confused justice and mercy.  Those who confuse justice and mercy would look at the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and surmise that Jesus is being unjust.  How can the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in the kingdom of God?  How can there be such inequality in talents given from the outset?  Is Jesus being unjust when he takes from the servant with one talent and gives it to the servant with ten?  No, the lazy servant did nothing, contributed nothing and therefore received nothing.  Justice was met.

 The classic definition of justice advanced by Thomas Aquinas is “the habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will.” (Summa Theologiae II-II, q.58,a.1.)  To “give a person their due” is the broad definition of justice.  It works on all levels.  If the worker is due wages, the employer should pay.  If the criminal is due punishment, they should receive it.  If the employer is due satisfactory work, the employee should give it.  In short, justice is something that is earned.  When a person receives what is owed them, justice has been met.

 But by calling merciful acts “social justice” we run the risk of injustice.  When we mandate acts of charity, they cease to be charitable.  When mercy is demanded or owed, it is no longer mercy.  It becomes oppression.  We cannot force people to be loving.  Mercy and love must be freely given if it is to be mercy and love.  It cannot be coerced or required by men.  Only God can require it because mercy comes from the heart.  When we can demand mercy, we become tyrants and “social justice” becomes unjust.

 Micah 6:8 says, “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  In order to function properly, society needs both justice and mercy.  God has judged what is just and unjust.  He has determined the standard for right and wrong. We walk with humility by acknowledging that and obeying Him. 

 Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16.  In it the landowner is both just and merciful.  He pays the workers the agreed upon wage.  That is justice.  Those who worked less were not owed the same wage but received it.  They would be unjust to demand equal pay for unequal work.  They received it because the employer was generous and merciful. 

 We are to be both just and merciful.  To confuse the two takes a society towards oppression.  If we cannot define justice correctly, we won’t have any.

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Words Are Necessary

Years ago as a youth director I inherited a poster as I moved into my new office that had a famous quote from St. Francis, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.” It expresses a great truth. Every sphere of our lives, the totality of our existence, is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. All our thoughts, actions, reactions, and our words are to preach Jesus. However, after a few months I began to notice that the quote from Francis was being used to justify not preaching the gospel.

A mindset had developed among the youth that as long as we did good things, then we did not have to talk about the sin that was corrupting our lives, repenting from it, turning to Jesus to forgive, cleanse, and save us from it, and receiving new life from Him. And we certainly did not have to share that good news with those around us. “A picture is worth a thousand words. Actions speak louder than words.” It had been decided that words were not necessary.

I see the same thing in many churches today. The emphasis is on our “social witness.” As Methodists we love to say “both/and” not “either/or.” We are to preach with words and deeds. However it appears that our “both/and” has made the Word ride in the back of the bus.

What are we preaching? I hear plenty of ideology and works, but not the gospel. I hear calls for racial reconciliation, gender inclusion, even churches that call themselves “reconciling congregations”. But I do not hear calls for reconciliation with God. Where are the cries for repentance from sin and the good news of new life found in Christ?

Perhaps the reason we are more willing to preach with works more than words is because the message is foolishness. The world has rejected the idea of sin and to hear the gospel is to hear that apart from Christ we are already dead in sin with no hope. Hearing a message that says, “We are wrong and must turn to Jesus and be forgiven or be destroyed in our sin” is not going to win favor among the intellectuals in our society. We will be looked down upon by the cultured and sophisticated. To preach Jesus as the only way to the Father will cause us to lose the moniker, “open-minded.” Is that label more important to us than helping sinners “flee the wrath to come?”

I heard a well-known Christian speaker celebrating the success of a mission trip to Mexico with some college students. He told them how great it was that they were able to minister to the needs of the people and share the love of God with them without even having to mention the name of Jesus. Really?

Jesus began his ministry in his home synagogue and read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19.

And again in 4:43 He says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I came.” Jesus definitely did both. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, associated with the outcasts, found the lost and much more. But it was for His message, not the healings and good works, that Jesus was crucified.

Demonstrating the kingdom of God by our actions is integral. I am not trying to diminish that at all. I am hoping that our church will once again put words to our actions. “For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:13-14.

To do good works without preaching the good news makes us the United Way not the United Methodist Church. We must preach the Gospel. Words are necessary.

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