Behind the social justice banner lurks an ugly choice.
Nineteenth-century French thinker Frédéric Bastiat's summation of free will is quite succinct: "Society has for its element man, who is a free agent; and since man is free, he may choose -- since he may choose, he may be mistaken -- since he may be mistaken, he may suffer."
A basic understanding of free will elicits a particular truth about God's ordained relationship with man: that He wishes for us to obey Him, but for us to obey Him freely.
Can a comprehension of free will -- of our relationship with God -- give us clues as to how He would have us relate to each other? Can it give us clues as to how He would have our institutions relate to each of us individually?
If it is agreed, for instance, that charity is a desirable human action, should charity therefore be a forced action? And if charity becomes a forced action -- if governments, rather than citizens, mandate its application -- does it cease to be charity? Is it reduced to mere obedience?
This is the essence of the debate over social justice.
The faith-inspired proponents of social justice seek not only to assist the poverty-stricken, but also to altogether dissolve the conditions that allow for poverty. These noble ends, though they may appear universally appreciated, have drawn vehement opposition due to the coercive means through which they are to be obtained.
On his website, Reverend Jim Wallis -- ringleader of the leftist anti-poverty group "Sojourners" -- has outlined the mission of his organization: "... to articulate the biblical call to social justice." Further perusal of the site elicits how this "biblical call" is to be answered:
By means of a government-directed redistributive effort.
By spreading the wealth through taxation.
To this end, the "Sojourners" site stipulates that "[t]here is a biblical role for the state," and "social justice requires economic support from government."
It is this governmental role that has the critics of social justice reeling. One such critic is conservative Fox News host and liberal media lightning rod Glenn Beck. Beck has been attacked for his opposition to social justice, most vocally by Reverend Jim Wallis, and the clash between the two has been much-publicized.
Although Beck has been adamant in expressing that his objections are concerned solely with how -- not whether -- the needy should be assisted, Wallis nonetheless seems content in portraying him as antagonistic to the plight of the poor. And because of this unfair portrayal, Beck has been painted in the media as a monster for simply emphasizing his belief that it is better for individuals to donate their assistance to the downtrodden by choice rather than by dictate.
During a March 12 interview on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," after repeatedly mischaracterizing the subject at the core of Glenn Beck's criticism, the Reverend offered Beck a challenge: "Let's go back through the bible, verse by verse, and look at what in fact God says about justice."
Here, Wallis uses the term justice as if it were synonymous with coercion. This is no mistake. However, if such a verse-by-verse challenge were ever to take place, the results would likely have the Reverend quite dismayed, because such a detailed biblical review -- once the subject of the debate had been adequately defined -- would place the onus on Wallis to demonstrate where the Good Book calls for a governmental role in charity.
Its often the case that liberal Christians, like the "Sojourners" and others, will operate under the misconception that government is the subject of the Gospel's appeal to charitable action. Christian apologist Greg Koukl, in articulating this error, aptly describes the fallacy upon which it is based:
A significant mistake ... is to take the commands that Jesus has given ... applying to the church; the followers of Christ; the believers ... and then apply that principle to government. Government cannot be loving because an organization -- a government -- cannot love.
Such mischaracterizations of biblical verse are representative of the way in which the advocates of social justice would prefer the debate be carried out: based on subjective interpretation. Passages like Luke 4:18 are perverted and said to express God's desire for man to strong-arm his brothers into donation. And for every 2 Corinthians 9:7 that the conservative claims for his side, the liberal will find countless other verses to misconstrue.
The subscribers of social justice -- socialists using the guise of Christianity to promote their unpopular view -- offer their deliberately twisted interpretation of the Gospel as a means of having the public at large conform to their notions of proactive and coercive government redistribution.
These constant manipulations should prompt conservative Christians, and indeed all opponents of redistribution, into redirecting the debate away from the analysis of biblical verse and toward that which is objectively evident in the truth of our existence -- the nature of free will.
Our experience shows us that we are not forced to love God, or to obey Him, or even to acknowledge His existence. He has left those decisions to us.
But which philosophy should we adopt based on this reality: Conservatism or Progressivism?
Freedom or obedience?
Bastiat acknowledged that he found this choice to be quite simple when he declared, "I have faith in the wisdom of the laws of Providence, and for the same reason I have faith in liberty."