By / Jan 10

According to Pew Research Center, 80% of Americans say social media platforms are effective for raising public awareness about political or social issues, and over half have also been civically engaged on social media in recent years. Social media can be a powerful tool when harnessed with wisdom as we seek to influence change and address grave issues of injustice throughout our world. 

But for all of the positive change that these tools can help facilitate, one of the temptations in this age of social media is to believe that digital activism is all that is needed to address real-world issues. Digital activism can quickly become a substitute for true and lasting change because we buy into the lie that simply participating in an online campaign is enough. 

Here are two ways to think about social change and move beyond raising awareness of these issues online.

Raising awareness is good, but action is better

Marking our hands with an X to raise awareness about sex trafficking around the world or changing our social media avatars to show support for a cause can be a helpful way to let others know about issues that may fly under the radar of our daily experiences. With all of the busyness and constant distractions of life, digital activism can be an important tool in the age of social media. 

But as our teenagers and families participate in these online movements, we need to stop and examine our motivations for participating. It is tempting to post, share, or like things in order to be seen as the type of person that is socially involved but then fail to actually address these issues in the real world.

Social media can quickly become a way to show the world a version of ourselves that we want them to see rather than seeking true and lasting change through a concerted effort in our communities. Talking or showing support for an issue is one thing, but acting is a whole other level of engagement.

Look for ways to partner with others

One of the blessings of social media is the ability to connect with others, but these online connections can become shallow or superficial. It is more important than ever to move those connections offline and engage with others face-to-face. You may feel called to get involved with important issues like abortion, sex trafficking, or racial injustice, but true change usually happens in real-life relationships with others.

There are countless reputable and gospel-centered organizations that you can partner with in your community to help move the needle on these important issues. You can give resources, volunteer time, and and participate in community events that allow you to put feet to the online support. 

God calls his people to be the hands and feet of Christ in a broken and sin-torn world. May God find his Church actively engaging the world around us, caring for the least of these, and championing human dignity for all, instead of thinking that performative online activity is enough.

By / Jun 11

Benjamin Watson lent his voice, along with many others, at our Evangelicals for Life Conference in Washington, D.C. We hope this adapted message will encourage you to expand your understanding of what it means to be pro-life and care for the vulnerable.

“Thus says the Lord, let not a wise man boast of his wisdom and let not the mighty man boast of his might. Let not a rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on Earth. For I delight in these things, declares the Lord” (Jer. 9:23-24).

Several years ago, I was playing for the New Orleans Saints. I became a free agent, and a phone call came from the Baltimore Ravens. We took our family of five kids at the time and moved to Baltimore. I remember getting to Baltimore, not knowing anybody or what to expect. This was a new place, a new area, a new coaching staff, and new teammates. 

I also remember reading Jeremiah 9:23-24. My wife and I have always been people who tried to leave a place better than when we got there. We say, “Lord, you placed us in certain places on purpose. Nothing happens by accident. We spent time in Boston. We know we’re here on purpose. How can we leave this place better? What’s your reason for us being here?”

It’s a question we all must ask ourselves. Why are we here? What’s the reason God put you in the various cities that you’re from? What’s the reason God put you on the West Coast when you’re an East Coast kind of girl? What’s the reason God put you down South when you know you’re a guy from Canada, and you didn’t even want to come to the United States? What’s the reason God has you in Washington, D.C., of all places? What’s the reason God had us in Baltimore? 

Jeremiah says God delights in three things: Lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness. So I prayed, “Lord, wherever we are, we want to delight in what you delight in, we want to be people who bring justice, who bring kindness, who live rightly. We want people to know about you because of the things that we do and the way that we live our lives.”

Pro-life is about more than politics

As I looked at this pro-life arena, I started to realize that if we’re not careful, we will go into a tribal mentality; pro-life will become more of a political stance than truly being about standing beside and for life from the womb all the way until we leave this earth. I want to stand for life in that way. This is more than politics. 

If this becomes about politics, then we lose the power of the gospel, and it becomes more about us winning than about women, men, and families being cared for and being an earthly picture of the way that Christ loves his Church. If it becomes about politics, then why do we need God in it in the first place? It becomes all about pointing the finger, saying, “Hey, we beat you in this race. Our candidate won.” But God wants more for us than that. 

There’s a reason why we are pro-life. And it’s not just to win; it’s because our hope is that [the unborn baby’s] life, and those lives affected by that life, come to know a Savior who can give them spiritual life. That’s what we’re about. That’s what I want it to be about.

Pro-life and pro-justice 

Recently, justice issues have come up. There have been videos that we’ve seen of altercations between police and citizens where young black men have been killed by police officers. We’ve seen police officers killed. There have been riots and protests. And the idea of social justice has come up a lot. And as believers, it’s really important that we engage the culture from this standpoint. Being pro-life does not mean you’re not pro-justice. We can be both. 

This idea of justice emanates from God’s character. Jeremiah 9 talks about God being a God of justice. And as believers, we want to be like who God is. We want to identify and love the things that he loves. At the beginning of verse 23, he says not to let the wise man boast about his wisdom. One of the things we’re lacking, from my perspective, in this life and justice fight, is humility. Pride comes before a fall. It is the wedge that drives between people. Pride prevents you from admitting your own faults and guilt and from seeing where you’re wrong. And it prevents us as a community from giving the life of Christ to people who so desperately need it.

We can’t turn a blind eye when people are suffering and we have resources to help people. So while being pro-life is about the womb, supporting the unborn, and protecting the vulnerable, my challenge to you is to see vulnerability in many different forms. There’s more than one color of it. It comes in many shades. And as a community, we are able to address all those. Domestically, 1 in 3 women will experience physical harm from a partner, an intimate partner. There are churches that profess to be pro-life but won’t address this topic. And those who are abused are led to ask, “Why doesn’t my life matter?” As a community, we can change that.

My wife and I have had a chance to go overseas and support an organization called International Justice Mission. They support victims of sex trafficking and slavery. There are 40 million slaves in the world today. They’re right here in the United States as well. We were able to see a field office in the country of the Dominican Republic, where there are children in the sexual exploitation industry. These children range from little babies to teenagers, young girls, and even young men. They’re forced to do horrific things for money, simply because they have nothing else. This is a justice issue that we as a pro-life community must address.

Isaiah says, “Learn to do good. Seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s case”(Isa. 1:17). Over and over in Scripture, we see where God challenges the people of Israel to be people who protect widows, foreigners, the young, and the vulnerable because they had no power in those societies. And it’s the same way today. 

We can’t stop and only think about one issue. That is not being true to the gospel. The gospel, in its totality, challenges each one of us to, in humility, ask God to show us places where we can make a difference. Ask him. He’ll tell you. Open yourself up to different opportunities. And not just for the cause’s sake. We get involved in these causes of justice because we have an eternal perspective. 

An eternal perspective 

The work my wife and I do with justice and pro-life issues is not simply for us to be nice to people. The reason is because we understand that there’s an endgame. Like football, we go through the tough times, the two-a-days, wanting to quit because it’s too tough, the pain and the injuries, the ups and the downs, and the emotional times because there’s an endgame there. We want to have a chance to win the championship. We know that if we put in the work, we may have a chance to hold the trophy. Similarly, Christians have an eternal perspective.

My challenge to all of us is to have an eternal perspective when it comes to being pro-life and pro-justice. We’re not simply doing these things because we want to check a box behind a certain candidate, or because of our parents, or because of our youth group or a group in our church. We’re doing it because we want to win souls for Christ. We hope many will see this love of Christ and turn themselves to him and say, “What must I do to be saved?” That’s why we do it.

When we sit down with a young mother who is in crisis because her boyfriend has turned his back on her, her family is pressuring her, and she has nowhere else to turn, we stand in the gap for her, hold her hand, and say, “We want to walk you through this.” We do this for the baby, yes. We do this for her, yes. But we do this because we want to see her say, “What must I do to be saved?” 

And what we found every time we’ve done anything in our communities is that the way you get to people’s hearts, usually, is by first meeting their real needs—for clothing, shelter, warmth and understanding, a companion, and to know that they are loved and worth it. Many people feel that nobody cares. By meeting that need, you show people the love of God. In turn, our hope is that at one point we’ll not only see them now, but see them in eternity.

Justice and righteousness

Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This idea of justice occurs 200 times in the Old Testament, and what it usually points to is treating people equitably, repairing broken relationships to people and to structures. So the idea of justice is individual. 

But justice is also about structures. It’s about correcting structural issues and injustices and standing for those things that are bigger than the individual. God is a God of justice. Because of the fall, he has to be a God of justice. Sin entered the world, and we have inequities. We have people that take advantage of other people. We have hatred and racism. We have things that need to be corrected individually as well as systemically.

Righteousness and justice occur together a lot. For example, in Jeremiah 9:24, kindness, justice, and righteousness occur together. And the reason for that is because righteousness is right living. So, you have the idea of justice, which is correcting structures and relationships that are wrong. And you have the idea of righteousness, which talks about our relationship with each other, as well as our relationship with God. 

Because of justice, we need to live rightly. We need to have righteousness to enact that justice. In a time of righteousness, we don’t need justice, right? Because we are doing things the way that they should be done. Therefore, you have to have both. We need to be people who stand for justice and righteousness. We need to look for ways that as a pro-life community we can expand our repertoire. Don’t allow the world to confine us to what they want us to be.

Conclusion 

My challenge to you—and myself—is to be people who humbly come before God and say, “God, what would you have me be a champion for?” For some of us, it’s the unborn. For others, it’s sex trafficking victims. For others, it’s racial injustice. And for some of us, it’s all of the above in various ways. Ask God where he would have you pour into. Pray, “Lord, you’re a God of lovingkindness, of justice, and of righteousness. I want to be about those things. Please help me as I discover where I can best use my talent, my time, and my treasure to honor you in all of these areas.”

View this and other event messages at https://erlc.com/resource-library/event-messages.

By / Nov 30

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our primer series on Christians ethics where a respected leader and thinker recommends and gives a summary overview of a book that helps orient readers to a certain aspect of ethics and philosophy. This series is designed to equip the local church to engage foundational texts of Christian ethics. Find the entire series here

Everyone has an interest in justice. Everyone would say they want justice and despise injustice. We learn about the complexity of justice as we age, but are born into the world with a spectacularly sensitive sense of justice. No child, for example, has to be told to feel angry about being wronged; the sense is innate. Injustice is rightly decried, denounced, and opposed. Justice is universal. 

The existence of rather widespread disagreement about justice today hardly requires elaborate argument. Some of our most significant disagreements as a society are at base disagreements about the meaning and scope of justice. Abortion, capital punishment, universal health care, immigration, warfare; these and similar issues are at their core about promoting justice and curtailing injustice. But this raises the question of why, if all these pressing social questions are fundamentally about justice, there remains such broad, deeply-felt disagreement about what justice really involves. How can there be rival accounts of something so basic and fundamental to social life?

Explaining rival accounts of understanding justice 

That is the central question raised by philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in Whose Justice? Which Rationality? In pluralistic societies of the West, we simply assume disagreement on core social questions as a matter of course, but we cannot stop there if we are to avoid a relativist conclusion. Instead we must ask, “How ought we to decide among the claims of rival and incompatible accounts of justice competing for our moral, social, and political allegiance?”1WJWR, 2. MacIntyre’s answer to this question is fascinating, but on final reckoning, incorrect. It’s precisely why and how it is finally incorrect that the book continues to be of great importance.

Whose Justice? Which Rationality, like MacIntyre’s earlier work After Virtue, stands in the genre of modernity criticism common among intellectual histories of the past four to five decades. It is a compelling how-we-got-here story. Disagreements about justice are disagreements about practical reason, our thinking about judgement and action. But finding a solution through analysis of practical reason is equally futile, because accounts of practical reason are equally divergent. As MacIntyre puts it: “we inhabit a culture in which an inability to arrive at agreed rationally justifiable conclusions on the nature of justice and practical rationality coexists with appeals by contending social groups to sets of rival and conflicting convictions unsupported by rational justification.” Any resolution to this cycle of assertion and counter-assertion is fleeting, and any appearance of consensus simply disguises the facts of disagreement. 

The only reason we are able to discourse at all is because we all inhabit traditions. A tradition here functions as a ground for human agency; we all inherited one, and we all rely on the atmosphere our tradition provides. For simplicity’s sake, you can think of a tradition as being something like a way of thinking and acting durable over time. Exactly how these traditions converge and diverge occupies the large majority of MacIntyre’s account, the reason being is that we aren’t educated into one coherent way of thinking and acting but instead absorb an “amalgam of social and cultural fragments.”2Ibid. Whatever is true or justified is true or justified for that tradition because of principles internal to it. MacIntyre’s account of how various traditions conceive of justice is meticulous, learned, and often dazzling; a great strength of the book.

The primary culprit to our intractable disagreement is modernity itself, particularly its Enlightenment ideals and liberal sensibilities. If everyone is afforded the freedom to pursue their own individual end, as liberalism promises, then what counts as most decisive will be relative to the cluster of people holding roughly similar commitments. According to MacIntyre, modern liberalism not only protects the conditions needed for intractable disagreement, it enshrines them. The only way to get past this intractability and irresolution is to get beyond liberalism itself. This line of argument (among others) has made MacIntyre an important voice in post-liberal intellectual circles.

Areas of agreement

Before offering a few problems with MacIntyre’s account, let me first identify a few things he gets right. First, he is correct to question basic precepts of modern self-understanding. We have, all of us, been inescapably shaped by the liberal tradition. It has formed us. We, to a great extent, want a free and equal society where justice prevails while at the same time admitting that the principled foundations of that liberal order can never secure those lofty aims.  

Second, MacIntyre identifies a modern feeling shared by many, especially Christians, that social disagreement is intractable and irresolvable. A strength of MacIntyre’s account is highlighting why that disagreement occurs as it does. Even if it isn’t true that disagreement is intractable and that traditions are irreconcilable, it certainly feels as though our social situation is permanent. And in desperation or disgust we might contrive our own solution, retreating into localities, embodying our faith as called and commanded. A commendable strategy irrespective the liberal state of things, but, if we cherish truth, then it is worth asserting and reasserting, for without truth justice disintegrates into precisely the malaise MacIntyre posits.

Third, MacIntyre is correct that liberalism is under duress. Everywhere is evidence of social dissolution and fracture. Freedoms crash into one another. Our order is strained. 

Lastly, he is correct that, shorn of any notion of Final End (or telos), liberalism can at best propose only a provisional notion of justice, a notion that assumes some future unanimity but without accepting there’s a Truth about justice. This idea explains some of the resistance to the notion of “social justice” common today. It supposes not a static standard of justice—i.e., giving each their due—but a pliable, often amorphous standard of equality that shifts with the winds of opinion and sentiment. What sort of justice isn’t social, after all? It isn’t a program. It is a virtue and objective authority. Anything that is just for society must also be Good and True. And the question with respect to “social justice” is not whether equality is a worthy aim—of course it is—but of how much inequality and untruth this particular conception of equality may hide within itself.

The problem with MacInyre’s argument

Problems in MacIntyre’s account are well-noted. There is, first of all, the notoriously challenging method of intellectual history itself. Telling a how-we-got-here story, what academics call a genealogy, requires what every story requires—a selection of cast, setting, plot, etc. Including some means and not including others makes it difficult to near-impossible to avoid exaggerating some claims or features and understating others. MacIntyre’s history is selective in this way. Second, and most glaring, is MacIntyre’s argument that truth is relative to traditions of rationality. It simply cannot be that what is just is just because my tradition of rationality justifies that conclusion. Justice, if it is to be meaningful, must be about what is Good and Right. As such, it challenges our errors and biases.  

WSWR is among the most important books on justice of the 20th century. A challenging book for the average reader, but one that, if read carefully, is full of ideas and perceptive to the contested nature of justice today, provided that readers remember that Whose Justice? Which Rationality? offers not a solution but penetrating insight into the nature of our social disagreements about justice. If, on the Christian account, justice has its root in God, then there is a justice that bears universal scope.

  • 1
    WJWR, 2.
  • 2
    Ibid.
By / Oct 27

My friend Rod Dreher has put forward an important observation and queryabout the cohesiveness and difference in moral convictions between evangelical Protestants and Catholics on matters related to culture war issues like abortion and homosexuality:

Here’s something I have never figured out. In theory, Catholics ought to be a lot more theologically conservative on such matters. They have a clear teaching proclaimed by a clear church authority, with a deep Biblical theology behind it. And yet, on the whole, it doesn’t seem to matter to lay Catholics. Evangelicals, on the other hand, have the Bible, but no binding interpretive authority to keep them from diverging. Yet, on these issues, they are more morally conservative than Catholics — even by Catholic standards.Why is this? I’m asking in a serious way. Any of you have a theory? I’m not going to publish gratuitous Catholic bashing or Evangelical bashing in the comments.

Dreher’s observation and question are clarifying and worth considering. Why is it that Catholics with an interpretive authority (the Magisterium) are all over the map on key moral issues while evangelicals (with all their attendant schisms) are relatively settled on the same issues?

I have two main responses to Rod.

First, I want to challenge the assumption behind Rod’s question that protestants are inherently prone to “interpretive pluralism.” I’d argue that there is much less interpretive pluralism in protestant evangelicalism than it is accused of by our Catholic friends. While we do not need to rehearse all the different denominations with varying interpretive conclusions, evangelical protestantism has not redefined itself out of existence. Why? Because protestantism (well, evangelicals, at least) recognize that the Bible is supremely authoritative. The Bible is the supreme guide for all matters related to faith (the norming norm). Furthermore, the essence of the faith that all protestants agree on is remarkably consistent and uniform (I have in mind the early creeds). Protestant evangelicals reject the Magisterium not only because we believe it is an unbiblical office, but that it isn’t even necessary. For all the protestant differences on matters that are important (Baptism, Lord’s Supper), the kernel of Christian doctrine is central and clear: Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. No Magisterium is necessary for what the Scriptures plainly teach and on issues that give rise to our culture wars, the Scriptures are resoundingly clear.

My second response is one that my Catholic friends may not like, but I have to say it with all respect: The difference in how evangelical Protestants and Catholics understand regeneration has enormous implications for one’s doctrine of Scripture, which has enormous implications for the consistency and uniformity of doctrinal-ethical convictions.

Catholics believe in infant baptismal regeneration. The overwhelming majority of Protestant evangelicals reject baptismal regeneration (I’m probably mistaken, but I cannot think of any evangelical branch that believes in infant baptismal regeneration). For Protestant evangelicals, regeneration occurs when a person becomes a new creation in Christ (John 3: 5-7; 2 Cor. 5:17). This makes possible the Bible becoming the living and active Word of God. Christians believe that a supernatural illumination is necessary for the Scriptures to be read authentically as God’s authoritative self-revelation. As the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). The implication of Paul’s statement is that believing Christian truths requires authentic regeneration accomplished by the sealing of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:13-14). Evangelical Protestants reject that infants can be born again of the Spirit without conscientious acknowledgment of who Christ is. How and when people become Christians testifies to their convictions on the Bible as the Word of God. Only a regenerate person can accept the supernatural claims and authority of the Bible.

But if a person is baptized but not regenerate, how can the Bible be supremely authoritative? That’s the crux of disagreement. Protestants believe that Catholics have a faulty doctrine of regeneration, which leads to a faulty understanding of what the Scriptures are to those who identify as Catholics but are not regenerate, which then allows for massive interpretive pluralism by self-professing Catholics on issues that are otherwise very clear in the Bible (ex: sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage). An unregenerate Catholic will not accept the teachings of the Bible as authoritative. My conviction on the matter is that evangelical Protestants breed a higher reverence for the Scriptures out of the conviction that the Bible is very Word of God, something that can be proclaimed only by a regenerating Spirit upon self-aware persons (1 Cor. 2:14-16). Said different: A biblical view of regeneration leads to a biblical view of biblical authority.

I offer this perspective with as much admiration and respect as is possible for Catholicism. Some of my closest friends are Catholic. Catholic allies are among the most devoted in today’s cultural trenches. And Catholic influence on my ethics, particularly natural law, has been immense. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Protestants and Catholics disagree on some major issues. My Catholic friends would tell me I’m wrong, and that’s okay. Disagreement does not mean hostility. There are simply chasms between Protestantism and Catholicism that are unbridgeable.

For an amicable read on what unites and divides Catholics and Protestants, I would highly recommend Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo’s The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics and Protestants After 500 Years.