The phrase “social justice” has a mixed bag when it comes to its reception among Christians. Like the term “social gospel”, it is often considered the provenance of left-wing, liberal, or progressive Christianity, and held as suspect, or even in contempt, by conservative believers.
This is a bit of an irony, as many conservative Christians (evangelicals and Romans alike) are veritable Social Justice Warriors in the campaign to bring an end to abortion. Although the term may not always be applied, the argument is that abortion is a social injustice (an affront to God’s ordering, or law, for a godly society) and therefore must be stopped. That the term “social justice” is primarily used in the context of race relations or economic disparity, or other popular talking-points of a so-called left-wing cause, is most unfortunate.
Take, for example, this prayer from the 2019 Prayer Book.
FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
Almighty God, you created us in your own image: Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A skeptic might accuse the new prayer book of being too “woke” and pandering to progressives with such an entry among its Occasional Prayers. But the reality is that this prayer is not simply lifted from the oft-contested 1979 Prayer Book, but is also found in the 1928 Prayer Book. Apart from some grammatical re-arrangement, it is the same prayer. And, as should be obvious, 1928 was well before the present version of the American Left-Right divide existed, both in church and in society. “Both sides” have just cause to make use of this prayer and its language of social justice.
So let’s take a quick look at what this prayer contains. There are two requests and multiple reasons for those requests. Here’s one way of breaking it down:
- Grant us grace
- fearlessly to contend against evil
- to make no peace with oppression
- Help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice
- in our communities [“among men” in the 1928]
- among the nations
- to the glory of God’s Name
Whatever one’s personal politics, this is a sound prayer with good biblical theology. We are to stand against evil (cf. Ephesians 6); we must not tolerate oppression (a frequent Old Testament concern); we are to use our freedom for good (1 Peter 2:16 & Galatians 5:13); we are to extend the call for justice begun in the ministry of Christ (Isaiah 42:1 with Luke 4:18) through the Church’s call to repentance and faith (Jeremiah 4:1-2).