Social Justice vs Relational Justice

A friend recently sent me an article called Is Social Justice Just Ice? by Marvin Olasky (editor-in-chief of World magazine and an elder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Austin, among other things) in which he argues that true Biblical justice is “interpersonal rather than collective” – or, in other worlds, “relational” vs social.

On the surface, Olasky argument sounds good – focus on the individual with the hope that enough individuals will change society through their lives.

In fact, I loved his statement that “we should rejoice over justice because it points to God”. However, if you look just below the surface you see some glaring flaws in Olasky arguments – flaws that should be noted and looked at before agreeing with him.

1)  The first flaw is a common one in America – especially with the political culture wars of the time. It is a flaw that comes out of the Western emphasis on the individual to the exclusion of the community or society as a whole. [@more@]

America was build upon the idea that an individual could escape social trappings of their birth and better themselves through hard work. There is Biblical support for this in that Jesus taught that each man or women as an individual is to be valued.

At the same time, the Bible also teaches the value of community and society as a whole. God worked with and through the family of Abraham and the nation of Israel as a whole – He was not just concerned with the individual, He was, and is, concerned for society as a whole – as seen in the OT community laws governing the treatment of the immigrant, the orphan and the widow (Deut 24:19-22)

Going back to Marvin Olasky article, in my view he lets the American focus on the individual and the American fear of socialism cloud the way he reads the Scriptures. It is a both/and approach and not an either/or decision.

2)    The flow of logic in the article seems lacking in places to me. Take this paragraph for instance:

The Bible also emphasizes justice between individuals. Psalm 112:5 praises the person who "deals generously and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice." Jeremiah 22:13 pronounces: "Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages." Justice isn't charity—recipients pay back loans and work—but it is generally interpersonal rather than collective: We might call it "relational justice" rather than "social justice."

The last two sentences do not flow naturally from the verses quoted at the beginning of the paragraph. Psalm 112 and Jeremiah 22 are dealing with people who abuse others for their gain. They have nothing to do with charity or loans.

Yeah, they are interpersonal – I granted you that – but then about Deut 15:1-2, 7-11 which states that all debts are to be cancelled every seven years? Is that not collective?

Again, justice is not a choice between the individuals or society. There are injustices happening on both levels – and God cares about ALL injustices – not just interpersonal ones.

3)    Olasky ends the article saying

I'll leave you for now with C.S. Lewis' advice: "Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither." Today, "social justice" aims at earth and produces just ice. Relational justice aims at heaven, and the just acts that occur along the way can melt many frozen hearts.

Again, on the surface it sounds great – Relational justice is heaven focused while social justice is earth focused. Yet, I don’t think Marvin Olasky is using Lewis’ quote correctly (granted, I don’t know the context of Lewis’ quote and therefore, have limited knowledge as to his definition of “heaven” and “earth”).

1 John 3:8 says that Jesus came to destroy ALL the works of the evil one – that includes the buying and selling of human beings, the sex trafficking of children and women, the social-economical conditions that trap millions in poverty, and the raping of the land for financial profit as well as the forgiveness of sin, the sanctification of the believer, the renewed fellowship between God and His people and the spiritual conquest over all darkness.

To split up justice into interpersonal and society is not Biblical – it is culture. We must listen to Jesus and do what He is doing in each situation. There will be time when we should focus on the individual and other that we should focus on society as a whole.

We MUST live in the tension and trust the Lord to guide us through all the cultural, political, economical, and spiritual traps placed before us by man and the evil forces of darkness.

Yet know this – evil HAS been destroyed, IS being destroyed and WILL be destroyed.