Social Justice is a word we hear often. From discussions with our neighbors at our local coffee house, to the nightly news, to the political arena, social justice seems to be a common topic of discussion and debate. But what is meant by the term social justice? Is it biblical? Should Christians participate in acts of social justice?
Two Predominate Views of Social Justice
(1) Unconstrained view – This view is based on everyone getting their fair share. As we are all aware, every society has a finite amount of resources to go around. This view holds that everyone should have their fair share of those resources. It is unjust to allow some to hold onto a greater portion of those resources. We should, then, do all we can to see that those resources are shared equally.
(2) Constrained view – This view is based on the fair treatment of all peoples, and it is not concerned with everyone having their fair share of the total resources in a given society. In this view, it’s not unjust for people to hold onto wealth. People are entitled to what they have earned. Instead of putting energy into the redistribution of wealth, we should put our energy into seeing that everyone is treated fairly.
Which View is Biblical?
Let’s look at a few verses on social justice from the Bible:
- Exodus 21:1-11 provides laws regarding the fair treatment of slaves.
- In Deuteronomy 15:1-18, especially 7-11 and 13-15, rules are given concerning meeting the needs of the poor.
- Psalms 72:12-15 and Psalm 103:6-7 tells of God redeeming the oppressed and persecuted from their oppressors, working righteousness and justice for them.
- Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to judge righteously and to defend the rights of the poor and needy.
By far these are not all the verses in the Bible on social justice, but they give us an idea of which view the Bible is upholding. I believe that is the second view, the Constrained View.
God’s Word does not command us to redistribute our wealth to neighbors, so that we all have equal access to the total resources of the society in which they live. Differing classes and a distribution of wealth does not constitute injustice .
A biblical view of Social Justice holds that we are not to show partiality, not to steal, not to swindle others, not to take advantage of the weak because they are uninformed or unable to stop us.
Rather than saying we need to redistribute our resources, so that we are all on equal footing, the Bible tells us that we are to care for the oppressed and seek to stop others from oppressing them. We are to speak up for those who are being persecuted. We are to work for laws that stand for the fair treatment of all peoples regardless of race or nationality.
Christians are to Work for Social Justice
If we believe part of God’s mission is to redeem the oppressed and persecuted, to make sure the poor are cared for and the helpless are not taken advantage, and if we believe we are a part of that mission, then we are to do the same. Christians are to work for social justice in their cities.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you agree that the constrained view represents the biblical view of social justice?
- How does your church care for the needy, oppressed, and persecuted?
Gilbert and DeYoung, What is the Mission of the Church?, 176, 180-183.
 I do not believe the churches actions in Acts are meant to be prescriptive. Rather, I see their actions as being descriptive of what took place in that city.