The Poor Will Always Be With You: Social Justice and Christianity

Who’s responsibility is it to care for the poor and underprivileged in society? Sarah Posner, in an article for Religion Dispatches on April 9, discusses the liberal vs. conservative theology and the issue of social justice provided by the government. She quotes herself from previous articles in that liberals “need to defend the role of government in creating a social safety net and a regulatory structure that protects and enhances the economic lives of its citizens.” and unless religious liberals defend the role of government “social justice means conservative Christianity is our government by choice.”

Her response came on the wake of an Easter interview with Rick Warren of Saddleback church which covered a wide range of areas, including social justice. In his interview, pastor Warren states “there’s a fundamental question on the meaning of “fairness” (is it fair for some to be richer than others)… I do not believe in wealth redistribution”.

Wealth redistribution is more a political term than a Christian term.  And Pastor Warren was specifically answering questions about government legislation.  But the concept isn’t foreign to Christianity.  In the book of Acts, we are given a picture of the early church. It tells us that the members shared everything and no one lacked for anything. This to me sounds very much like socialism or at the very least wealth redistribution. The difference between what the early church did and what many propose in legislative social reform is removing the choice from it. Taking religious views to such an extreme as to enforce them on individuals through legislation is frightening.  You’re bordering on the government taking away free will in order to provide make sure you live the healthiest, best life.

In the movie I, Robot Will Smith’s character is confronted with the reality that the three laws of robotics have resulted in one master revelation. Mankind is the greatest harm to itself. The new NS-5 robots therefore lock-down all of humanity to protect it from itself. That is in essence what many Christians feel should be done with caring for the poor. Create a mechanism by which people don’t have a choice but to care for each other. But we’ve already been given that mechanism. It’s called THE CHURCH. The greatest tragedy of the 21st century is the wealth of the church and its failure to respond to the needs of the very least of those placed in our midst.

I believe that the conservative stance is the appropriate one.  Not because of any political affiliation with right or left wing politics.  Because as Christians we should take government out of it and take on the joy of care for the poor as followers of Jesus who himself had no place to lay his head (Matt 8:20). The problem is that the church hasn’t done so and simply shows signs of growing fat and happy on a prosperity gospel that Jesus never preached. The liberal approach to enacting legislation is the last ditch effort to enact an attitude of service and caring that Jesus commanded his followers to have.

At the core of the matter is what’s in your heart.  Social justice should be on the heart of every member of the body of Christ. Whether the church forces you or the government forces you, neither is the solution. Giving and caring for the poor should come from the heart. Giving out of resentment or a forced attitude doesn’t mean that you’re actualy helping anyone. Giving and caring for the poor comes with a relationship. It’s a connection with your fellow man. You love and respect Bill the alcoholic you sponsor at AA or Joaquim the child you sponsor through World Vision. You want to see them succeed and as a result they become better people through love, grace, and the hope that you give them.


2 thoughts on “The Poor Will Always Be With You: Social Justice and Christianity

  1. So as we wait for the church to be moved to this compassion, millions of people needlessly go without health care. For me, as a Christian, I believe society has a moral obligation to use the means necessary and practical to provide care for the poor and most vulnerable. While we wait to find a better system than that which a democratically elected government can provide, millions of people wil go without basic health care. What Christian ethic allows to wait?


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