Very few Evangelical churches are changing their statements of faith, but drip by drip a new doctrine is being introduced without a proper hearing. This new doctrine is loosely called “Social Justice.”
Its premise is that differences in material success between two ethnic groups is proof in and of itself that the successful group is sinning against the unsuccessful group. The justice, so-called, is the attempt to eliminate the differences between the two. It has been tried historically under different flags and different names, but there are undeniable similarities in that all these movements are attempts at the impossible.
The early promise of communism was to give economic justice to cover the sins of historically oppressed classes of people. Rather quickly, though, the Russian people found that forgiveness of their economic sins required the shedding of a great deal of blood. Before 1917, socialism had mostly been the den of minority political parties in Europe, but after the October Revolution the specter of its ascendency roused the minds of European thinkers. Three years later, an Austrian economist named Ludwig von Mises proposed one of the earliest and most devastating critiques of socialism in his article “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth.” In short, he points out the now obvious problem that no central planner can possibly know the needs and wants of all the individuals within a society, nor the intensity of those needs and wants. And because they cannot do this, they cannot hope to calculate the just allocation of wealth without serious economic damage. Likewise in the present, no church leader, regardless of sympathy, can calculate the sufficient, but not excessive, justice allegedly owed to certain people groups.
The problems of Russian socialism were manifold, but von Mises knew that the information needed to sustain an advanced society is unimaginably immense. Each person makes a huge number of daily economic calculations to secure their own lives and that of their families. For a set of planners to look at a nation of millions of individuals and reduce their myriad needs and concerns down to simple formulas requires a detached hubris. To then go on and besmirch all economic behaviors as collective crimes that fail to line up to the preference of the planners borders on malevolence. Was a farmer building savings out of greed, or was it a hedge against a realistic threat to his family, such as his failing health? The administrator of this economic justice can only see that the ailing farmer has more savings than his spendthrift neighbor, and deal out a ham-fisted punishment. Nuance and central planning do not hang out in the same circles. A handful of government employees, no matter how golden their self-perception, cannot know all of the needs individuals face in order to calculate a “just” distribution of resources from afar. The more fervent the economic central planning, the more frequent so-called economic criminality will be found. The teeming graveyards in the decades hence proved out von Mises’ thesis.
Now, one hundred years later, the Evangelical Christian community in the US is attempting the same conceited endeavors as atheist empires of the past. The actors are different, but the premise is the same, that is to give so-called justice to historical grievances and current disparities. This new vanity within the Church has adopted the never-found-in-scripture term “Social Justice.” In their view, it is prima facie evident that numerous and grave injustices have occurred in the past and continue to occur in the present against people of color. Undoubtedly this is true to some extent, because all people are sinful, but how do we measure the offenses and adjudicate them? Do white Americans owe $100 Billion or $100 Trillion? Should there be 5% more People of Color in church leadership or 105% more? By what metric do we measure the offense, estimate a proper remediation, and satisfy the aggrieved? Is it possible for the Church to do what the Communists failed in doing? Can we look at vast cultural trends, involving millions of individuals and their incredibly complex decisions and divine social crimes and just solutions?
If Christians are to rely on the Bible to guide them in this pursuit, we should start with the only explicit code of justice, namely, the Old Testament Law. What we don’t find is a list of social crimes along with social punishments for humans to impose. What we do find for humans to implement are clearly defined individual crimes and clearly defined individual punishments. In Exodus 21:23 we find the phrase “Eye for an Eye, Tooth for a Tooth.” This serves as a measure not only for the offense, but also the just punishment. Justice was clearly defined as a proportional punishment, or as the American legal system says it, “the punishment fits the crime.” Guilt could be objectively determined through examination of evidence and eye witness accounts that a tooth was lost because of violence or negligence. The same pattern holds for many violent and financial-related crimes in other passages. Again, justice in the Mosaic Law includes an objective identifiable victim, and an objective level of violence or financial loss. A community’s sins are not given prescribed punishments—only an individual’s.
Interestingly, when looking at certain sins that are prohibited, we don’t see any punishments prescribed. Covetousness was considered so heinous that God wrote it with his own hand on tablets of stone along with the rest of the Decalogue. Yet we see no punishment for covetousness in any of the Old Testament law passages. Covetousness may lead to other sins, but by itself it is not measurable by men and no punishment is prescribed. The sinner is still held to account, but only to an omniscient God who can surely measure all of our thoughts and deeds.
In the New Testament when given instructions on church discipline we see more of the same. We are told in 1 Corinthians 5 to “purge the evil person from among you” related to a case of incest. In Matthew 18:15 we are instructed, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Notably, both these instructions to justice mention only one person. Wholly absent are instructions on administering justice towards whole groups of people.
Amos, a favorite book of the Social Justice movement within the church, does in fact mention some collective crimes. Admittedly, some of those collective crimes are economic crimes with collective perpetrators such as the nation of Israel in Amos 2:6-8. However, who is the adjudicator of these crimes? God alone. He begins 47 sentences with “I will” attached to his punishments. In Amos 5, he tells Israel to reestablish justice in the gates of the cities, but this is an allusion to justice as already defined in the Mosaic Law because no new definition of justice is given. Nonetheless, God does not stay his wrath, and Israel is destroyed and sent into exile as we know from the later chapters.
When there is collective guilt and collective crimes have been committed, only God is capable of discerning the proper judgement because it requires omniscience. God declared collective guilt and flooded the world, sent fire and brimstone, sent plagues, gave nations into the hand of Israel, and Israel into the hands of others. God has not given us tools in the scripture to properly judge collective sins. There is no precedence for humans to mete out collective punishments without direct word from God. We don’t know how much, how little, or in what form or fashion to bring so-called “justice” to millions of people all at once by divining new sin categories. This social justice movement is guesswork, and it is arrogant. The church has no shortage of identifiable sins that warrant individual condemnations before we quixotically search for new ones.
“Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
Charlie MeyneCharlie has a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Economics. He leads a house church and works in the financial industry.