Newsletter #496 – Who Cares About Social Justice?

I don’t pay much attention to politicians, political conventions or campaign literature, especially when this gets invasive or focuses on personal attacks. But behind hyperbole and distortions of fact there are genuine issues at stake—issues that concern mental and physical health, core values, personal beliefs, biblical teaching, and all kinds of suffering. The words social justice are not new but they have emerged as the overall umbrella concept to cover any focus on decreasing human suffering, promoting fairness, stimulating respect for all people and “promoting human values of equality and justice.” Even if you have no special interest in psychology please ponder these reflections stimulated by Melba Vasquez in her presidential address on social justice presented to the American Psychological Association (American Psychologist, July-August, 2012):

  • Dr. Vasquez never referred to the Bible but the scriptures often mention suffering and injustice with appeals for believers to make a difference. Jesus bypassed many of the issues that concern Christians today but he put significant emphasis on helping the needy, especially the poor.
  • Some believers and churches focus either on personal salvation and discipleship or on what once was termed the “social gospel,” something more like social work than encouraging commitment to Jesus. Over history, haven’t Christians been involved with both: introducing people to Christ and fighting injustice?
  • Many of us have training, knowledge and expertise that equips us to work with individuals. But that also enables us to help “facilitate the resolution of personal, societal and global challenges in diverse, multicultural and international contexts.” Should we be more proactive in “addressing critical social problems, especially those to which our research speaks?”
  • How do we respond if our professional organizations, churches, or political parties take stands with which we disagree? That is likely to happen. Resigning may not be the best solution. Maybe it is better to work together when we can but otherwise work with like-minded colleagues elsewhere.
  • Should we work across-generations? I have noticed growing interest in social justice among younger counselors and psychology students, sometimes bordering on elevating social justice above other basics of the Christian faith. Can we learn to work on this together, cross-generationally?

Should we care about social justice? How are you showing this? Please comment.

  1. These are important thoughts, since we are our “brother’s keeper.” I get to watch all of the polarization and polemics every day as I work on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to avoid cynicism and sadness, but “image bearing” means serving as reflections of Jesus in our world. We toss around the term Pro-life a lot, but limit it to the unborn. It seems to me that being Pro-life means to care for all of the voiceless and all of those who suffer. To be Pro-life to me means that I want people to meet the Risen Jesus who proclaimed both salvation and social transformation (see Luke 4:16-21). I can’t separate the package into compartments…a package that calls me to think beyond current political ideologies.

  2. From a European perspective (which many Americans may not care about) it is astonishing to see how much US- Christian Churches identify with the political right. I often felt that it is not “christianically correct” to talk about the enourmous injustice and lack of care for the poor. To me, Jesus is quite clear on the issue. Following him implies taking care of weak, poor and burdenend, imprisoned and hungry people. Usually, when visiting the US, I keep quiet with criticism – as a guest, I want to be corteous to my host. I remember Tony Campolo speaking at the 1992 AACC World Conference and wonder if that would be possible again — I doubt it …

    • Hi Ulrich, You may remember that I grew up in Canada. Before I got US citizenship I kept my mouth shut about American politics and I never mention local politics when I travel to other countries. I have a friend who believes that only Republicans are welcome at CAPS and especially AACC conferences. Others keep their mouths shut. Of course you don’t have to be a Republican to be a committed Christian in the US and you might be surprised at the number of Christians who identify as Democrats or Independents.

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