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October 30, 2006

The Social Justice Spectrum

Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr., a leader in the black community and pastor of Hope Christian Church, a multi-racial church in Maryland, warns against the poles of blaming urban America for creating its own problems or blaming society for causing these problems. In an interview with Christianity Today, he cites Prison Fellowship as a model of mercy and responsibility as it applies to social justice issues:

I'm simply saying it's going to take a little more of a redemptive intervention, such as the kind of faith-based prison aftercare that we see from ministries like Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship. With many conservatives, there tends to be an all-or-nothing personal responsibility thing over and against systemic issues. Sadly, you don't see many people from either side of the spectrum saying, "Hey, could it be that the truth is somewhere in the middle? Perhaps there's a genuine role for society, government, and the church working together with the family and individuals to make a difference." I believe that's closer to the biblical balance of social justice and individual responsibility to which Christ calls us.

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I suspect it has much to do with one's understanding of Christian social teaching.

There are those who take Adam Smith as gospel on that part of life (or rather, a characature of Adam Smith more familiar to Henry Ford's Social Darwinism than to the philosopher), so that "if a man -will- not work, he shall not eat" becomes "if a man -cannot get work- let him hurry up and die and decrease the surplus population"

There are those who see in Catholic social theory the idea that charity is a State function for Caesar. This seems to me to be an inconsistancy because in most other matters, Rome holds to a theology of the Cross, but in this matter, the sinfulness of office-holders seems to be largely ignored with something like a theology of Glory.

There are those who see in the tradition from Augustine's Two CIties to Luther's Two Kingdoms to the Dutch neo-Calvinists, that charity is a Church and personal function and not a State function, and that since all are sinful, and power is a terribly corrupting temptation, Caesar cannot be trusted with such matters. That the Church must preach charity, but may not use the sword to force charity. And that those who have, and will not give to those in need, ought not to be comforted nor consoled over the condition of their souls.

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