Summary: There is no shortage of issues dividing our country and our church today. Should we, as Christians get involved in these issues? If so, which ones? And to what extent should we get involved?
Social Justice, Civil Disobedience, Unity, and the Bible
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There is no shortage of issues dividing our country and our church today. Here is a list. Feel free to add to it: gun control, abortion, vaccines, climate change, drug legalization, gay marriage, immigration, transgender rights, universal healthcare, policing, racial inequality, income inequality, required masks, tax cuts, women’s ordination. Should we, as Christians get involved in these issues? And to what extent should we get involved? What does the Bible teach? Lets see.
In Jesus’ long list of woes against the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 23:13-36), he rebukes them for neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness” (v.23). There it is; first in a list of the top 3. Jesus was essentially quoting Micah 6:8 in which the prophet says that what the Lord requires of us is to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
In the Old Testament alone, “justice” is mentioned hundreds of times in reference to the systemic oppression of vulnerable populations at the hands of the rich and powerful. Here is a very small sampling:
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free…” (Isaiah 58:6)
“This is what the Lord says: Do what is right and just. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)
“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” (Jeremiah 22:13)
“There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts…But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:12, 24)
From these verses it seems clear to me that the Christian should protect the vulnerable and oppressed. But to what extent? Are these commands given for me to carry out as an individual? Are they given for the church to carry out corporately? Are they given to the government to carry out? If so, should Christians work politically to compel the government.
There is strong Biblical evidence that each of us is to individually care for the vulnerable and oppressed. Jesus story in Matthew 25:31-46 about the sheep and the goats and caring for “the least of these” it is pretty clear.
There is strong Biblical evidence that our church should care for the vulnerable and oppressed. In Acts 4 the early church members donated and the church cared for those in need. In Acts 6 the early church was caring for so many widows that the apostles did not have time to preach. Our church should care for the vulnerable and oppressed.
Do these commands apply to governments? On that question the evidence is less clear. In Bible times the idea that governments would help the vulnerable and oppressed was non-existent. There is no Bible text that says, “And Peter and John formed a political action committee to raise money to run ads in the Jerusalem Times and to lobby the Sanherdern to care for the poor.” So we need to look at the principle behind these texts and see if we can apply it to our time.
Is it enough for me to help orphans and widows I personally see? Probably not. What we should see in these passages is not just a clear concern for vulnerable populations, but also that they are identifying large scale, systemic issues that are not solved by way of mission trips, church service projects, or benevolence. These verses and many others mention things like wages, taxes, greed among the rich, and bribery.
Many Christian say that individuals and churches are supposed to help the poor and needy, but not try to do so through political processes nor demand that the government do so. This ignores the context of these Bible passages and the problems they mention. Injustices caused (and maintained) by political forces cannot be remedied by individuals and churches.
Following the logic of these verses, it seems clear to me that the Bible commands Christians to personally protect the vulnerable in their sphere of influence and allows the Christian to convince others and the government to protect the vulnerable and oppressed.. So look back at your list of divisive issues. Circle all the ones that deal with protecting the vulnerable and oppressed. Those are the issues the Bible commands Christians to be personally involved in and allows Christians to work to convince others, including the government.