By / Jul 2

In the introduction to Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just, Tim Keller responds to three questions: 1) Why write this book?; 2) Who is this book for?; and 3) Why am I interested in justice? Keller says writing the book was critical because “less well known is the Biblical teaching that true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world” (p. xiii). He also explains why he was personally motivated to write the book. His own life was lacking in the pursuit of justice, and the more he studied the Scriptures and gained proximity to minorities, the more he understood that God’s people must do justice in the world. 

Generous Justice consists of eight chapters and two main sections. Chapters one through four lay out a theology of justice while the chapters five through eight focus on practices. It’s a great introduction to the relationship between salvation by faith through grace and its social implications in the Christians life. In explaining Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, Keller writes, “What does it mean to love your neighbor? . . . By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need—regardless of race, politics, class, and religion—is your neighbor.” (p. 67) I consider it a must-read because it is biblically rich, practical, and seems to speak from an objective political lens. 

Justice grounded in the Word

Keller approaches each topic from a biblical worldview. He argues that justice begins to take place as a result of the right relationship with God and a heart-posture of generosity. As he expounds on texts in both the Old and New Testaments, it becomes clear for the reader that God’s concern for his people doing justice is a main theme throughout the Bible. For example, in chapter two, Keller digs into Deuteronomy 15:1-8 to show how God expected Israel to deal with the poor among them. If Israel had followed God’s direction with all their hearts, the existence of long-term poverty in their land would have ceased. 

Practical applications 

Because Keller makes the terms, ideas, and biblical truths around justice accessible, Generous Justice is highly practical. For example, in chapter seven, he discusses what justice looks like in the public square, explaining how there is significant division within academia around the definition of “justice.” Keller argues that justice is inherently judgmental and religious in nature. Therefore, to take a stand on what justice means inherently forces value judgments, which is the greatest sin in academia and our current American culture. For the Christian, to understand that justice inherently contains value judgments that are religious in nature should create a boldness when discussing the issue. 

Another example is in chapter five, when Keller says we do justice because it reflects God’s character, everything we have is ultimately God’s, and doing justice is a response to the grace of God poured out on sinners. In his conclusion to these points Keller shares,“The world makes social class into bottom-line identities. You are your social status and bank account—that is the basis for your self-regard.” (p. 104) But this is not true for the Christian. Our identity is in Christ, and everything we do is a response to his grace.

Politically objective

Finally, Generous Justice takes an objective political lens. This is especially evident in chapter one when Keller explains why he embraces the term “social justice.” “When these two words, tzaedqah (righteousness with social implications) and mishpat (justice in Hebrew), are tied together, the English expression that best conveys the meaning is ‘social justice.’” (p. 14)  

Keller then argues that a robust, biblical view of justice doesn’t fit neatly into either party in our two-party system in America. He goes so far as to say, “In the end what the Bible says about social justice cannot be tied to any one political system or economic policy. If it is possible, we need to take politics out of this equation as we look deeper into the Bible’s call for justice” (p. 32). Keller concludes with a warning, “And if we tie the Bible too tightly to any particular economic system or set of public policies, it bestows divine authority on the system” (p. 164).     

The main weakness of Generous Justice is chapter three. Where every other chapter thoroughly exposits the context, significance, and meaning of the text, this chapter is lacking. Scriptures are primarily relegated to parenthetical references. More robust examples from the gospels would show how Christ perfectly demonstrated justice in his earthly ministry.

Despite that, I think every Christian should read Generous Justice as an introduction to social justice and the Christian’s role in it. With a pastor’s heart and balanced approach, Keller speaks uniquely with authority, biblical fidelity, and cultural awareness on the issue. In a day and age where American Christianity has become overly individualistic and highly consumeristic, Generous Justice is an exceptional resource that turns the Christian’s gaze away from the self and toward others so that we can, as Keller writes, seek the “shalom” of our environments.

By / Jan 24

A right unenforced is no right at all. U.S. law, through the Weldon Amendment and other provisions, has long protected the conscience rights of all Americans. And yet, because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the previous administration refused to enforce the Weldon Amendment in several cases involving medical professionals, these Americans are left without a remedy to defend their right.

Current federal law prohibits the coercion of those with religious and moral objections to abortion into participating in or funding abortion services. The Church Amendment of 1973 states that hospitals or individuals who receive federal funds will not be required to participate in abortion. The Hyde Amendment prohibits government appropriations from being used to fund abortion or health benefits that cover of abortion. And the Weldon Amendment prohibits appropriations to the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education to be made available to any governmental entity that discriminates, “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” There has long been bipartisan consensus on the compromise between abortion and conscience rights; both the Hyde and Weldon amendments have been attached to every appropriations bill passed through Congress since 2004.

In the face of all these protections, numerous state governments and entities receiving federal funds are violating federal law. In 2009, nurse Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York was forced by her superiors to assist in the dismemberment abortion of a 22-week old baby. When she objected, she was threatened with the loss of her job. Mount Sinai, a recipient of millions in federal funding for research, violated the Church Amendment, a related conscience protection, by coercing nurse DeCarlo to participate in the abortion. Another example of abuse, among many others, happened in 2011 when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services was denied an HHS grant renewal for serving survivors of human trafficking. HHS, in blatant violation of both the Hyde and Weldon amendments, denied this grant because USCCB would not commit to referring their survivor clients to healthcare providers that covered abortion.

HHS failed to defend those like Nurse DeCarlo and USCCB, leaving them without a remedy. This is especially problematic considering that in USCCB’s case, HHS was the alleged violator. Protecting the right to live according to one’s own deeply held beliefs is too important to leave to political discretion.

The Conscience Protection Act would provide conscience abuse victims the ability to defend their rights with tailored legal remedies. Healthcare professionals need a stated and reasonable legal remedy to defend their freedom of conscience when infringed upon by a superior. Currently, the only enforcement mechanism should HHS honor a conscience abuse complaint is to eliminate federal funding to the state government or entity in question because Church, Hyde, and Weldon are “limitation of funds” riders. The elimination of federal funds to an entire state is an unreasonable, and therefore not used, response. This is why new congressional action for conscience protection is important even during a presidential administration friendly to conscience freedom claims.

The ERLC is committed to this policy because it touches two of our most closely held convictions. Protecting the consciences of our neighbors is an exercise in religious liberty. Protecting health-care workers from the coercive on-demand abortion industry is a pro-life responsibility. Protecting the conscience freedom of pro-life healthcare professionals is one of the ERLC’s top legislative priorities.

The ERLC urges White House, Senate, and House leadership to make the Conscience Protection Act a top priority in negotiations for the December appropriations package. The Conscience Protection Act was included in the House package passed in September. The Senate bill is silent on this issue. The Conscience Protection Act is a top pro-life and religious liberty priority for 2018 for the ERLC, and we urge White House and Congressional leadership to ensure the Conscience Protection Act becomes law.

By / Jan 23

The United States is home to less than 5% of the world’s population, and yet almost 25% of the world’s prison population. A faulty assumption is at work in our criminal justice system: higher incarceration rates and longer sentences will automatically lead to safer communities and lower recidivism rates. Unfortunately, this conclusion has not proved true. 

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) upholds the belief that all men and women are created with dignity, and have the right to fair and just treatment under the law. The statistics on incarceration do not simply represent data, but people. These are our neighbors who bear God’s image—sons, daughters, and, more often than we realize, mothers and fathers. A balance needs to be struck between upholding the law for community safety and dealing holistically with how we punish and rehabilitate individuals who break those laws. Moreover, faith communities play a needful role in having a transformative effect on the life in question. 

The cost of incarceration absorbs a significant percentage of taxpayer dollars at the federal, state, and local levels. Overcriminalization and poorly managed parole and reentry programs creating a crisis that negatively affects more than 65 million Americans with criminal records. It also consumes more than 80 billion dollars from state and federal agencies annually. These numbers are alarming and suggest our current system is broken. Public revenues saved by a reformed criminal justice system could be applied to improve and expand parole, probation, and reintegration programs. 

Government should commit to implementing a criminal justice system that supports the flourishing of communities and families. The ERLC is committed to advocating for thoughtful changes that strengthen families and reconcile offenders to their communities. We support legislative policies that seek to reduce high incarceration rates without jeopardizing public safety. We affirm that probation and parole may serve as a wise, just, and effective alternative to prolonged incarceration for certain nonviolent offenders. We urge churches and other ministries to participate in programs that assist prisoners with reintegration into society, including transitional housing, vocational and drug rehabilitation, and family support. We want to see lives not only reconciled to society but ultimately reconciled to Christ. A criminal justice system that deals justly with offenders serves that end. 

As Christians, we recognize the value of second chances and restoration to community. We support prison chaplains, local churches, seminary educational initiatives, and other ministries that serve in prisons and youth detention centers. Furthermore, we support programs that seek to reintegrate prisoners into their communities to reduce recidivism through moral and spiritual transformation. Southern Baptists are committed to leading the way in forming and maintaining healthy communities and families who welcome the trapped, broken, and afflicted to new beginnings and more productive futures.

By / Jul 13

Russell Moore speaks on what unity in the church means for racial justice at the 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit on "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation." Find more videos like these in the resource section.

By / Jan 27

Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, explains why abortion is a social justice issue that should lead the church to care for lives wherever they are threatened.

By / Sep 23

Ryan West outlines how a church can help its surrounding community, and in turn, share the gospel.

West is the national coordinator for LoveLoud at the North American Mission Board. LoveLoud is a movement of churches demonstrating God's love by meeting significant human need while sharing Christ.

By / Jul 18

As LoveLoud Sunday approaches, we—at the North American Mission Board—would like you to lead your congregation to join the social justice movement currently underway among evangelicals globally.

What is social justice?

Social justice is a phrase that conjures up a vast array of images and feelings, while lending to numerous attempts to define what it is. By definition, social injustice refers to something that is wrong in our society. From hungry children without meals to eat when school is out of session to our sometimes nebulous approaches to addressing problems like human trafficking, one thing is clear when talking about social justice: There are things in the world around us that are not as they should be.

Some of the ‘wrongs’ that we see are caused by oppression by others, such as prostitution and abortion, whereas some social justice problems are the result of living in an imperfect world, such as natural disasters and sickness. In the midst of the potentially confusing discussion of social justice, Christians can be paralyzed, not knowing how to—or even if they should—act. For instance, should we care about the current border crisis? Or, is that emergency the government’s problem and not something that concerns the church?

Should Christians get involved?

So that the central point of this article is not lost, let me state it clearly here: All evangelicals must engage in social justice, to correct things that are wrong, yet not all evangelicals will engage in the same type of social justice efforts or to the same level of personal involvement.

God’s word leads, without doubt, to this position. Passages such as Deuteronomy 10, Zechariah 7, and James 1 show us that God is a compassionate God, who expects the same from his people. And these chapters are not isolated texts, but rather are representative of an overwhelming message within the Bible. According to some estimates, there are over 2,000 biblical texts that lead to one important conclusion: All evangelicals must engage in social justice. We must strive ardently to foster compassionate cultures within our churches so that the body of Christ exudes the aroma of a caring and merciful people.

Historically, Christians have understood these truths to be non-negotiable and have seen the fruit of applying them to social injustice. It was such a natural and self-evident aspect of what it means to be a Christian, believers have not needed reminders such as this article until the 20th century.

The early church was known as a merciful and compassionate group of people, providing dignity and care for the sick and dying victims of the great plagues in the late 2nd and 3rd centuries. William Carey, known as the “Father of Modern Missions,” bought women out of prostitution, fed countless men and women, and started socially conscious businesses to benefit persecuted Bengali Christians. In short, the church, throughout two millennia, applied these 2,000-plus passages to social injustices by physically caring for the weak while proclaiming Christ. Christians set wrongs right through their words and deeds.

What does involvement look like?

So, the answer is ‘yes,’ we should care about the border crisis as well as other injustices. The key question is how? Again, not all evangelicals will engage in the same type of social justice or to the same level of personal involvement. I think it is helpful to use the following matrix to help individuals and churches consider what social injustices they will address and how they will go about it. Also, I believe all four of these elements must be in place to see catalytic social justice that truly transforms an injustice to become a just situation.

Applying this framework to the border crisis, we can think through the reality that believers should engage in compassionate action in various ways. Whereas all of us should increase our knowledge of the circumstances that led to this calamity, some believers will have the expertise necessary to engage in political action, including advocacy on behalf of the women and children suffering through this situation and addressing the policies and circumstances that led to these conditions.

While some Christians will raise awareness through social media or personal conversations, some men and women will feel that their very souls are tied to the welfare of these individuals. Some of God’s people will search for financial margin in their budgets to assist local churches on our southern border ministering to these refugees, although they will never take a trip to do so personally. Yet, my church may not give as much financially as another church that has a strong interest in caring for neglected children.

Hopefully, all evangelicals are praying for the kingdom of Christ to come in power for the border refugees—to rescue them from their oppressors, to see their physical needs met, and to see them come to faith in Christ—although not every believer will make it a priority to pray in this way with great fervency or regular consistency. A very select few believers will combine all of these types of personal engagement to be used of God as an agent of catalytic social justice on a particular issue. The result, in some cases, has been a dramatic change in socially unjust situations, such as the impact of Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon on marginalized people.

How will you get involved?

We could (and should) apply this framework to every social injustice that individuals encounter in our culture. There is great freedom in Christ to not be involved in every type of social injustice at the same level as others who God leads to deeper, long-term engagement. There is no freedom in Christ, however, to avoid doing what Scripture clearly calls us to. Involvement is beyond question.

Whether the issue is adoption and foster care or ministering to the homeless population, God has called us to minister to the least of these—to the men, women and children who are lost without a shepherd. You and your church may not be called to rescue women from the sex trade at your local strip club, but surely you can finance ministries that do and pray for receptivity among the women they will encounter.

Our hope, as evangelicals, should be to see God burden his people men and women with relentless compassion, who foster congregations that are noted for offering physical, emotional and spiritual enrichment to a hurt and dying world. Our part, as evangelicals, should be to engage in significant ways. If God’s people will run full-steam into the mess of broken lives and injustices around us, proclaiming the hope found in Christ alone according to an individual’s or a congregation’s specific level and type of involvement, we would see the possibility of being catalysts of social justice become reality as great believers experienced in previous generations.

By / May 16

Did you ever imagine a hashtag could help spread the word about Christian persecution in a matter of hours? Neither did I.

The #BringBackOurGirls Twitter trend has garnered global media and government outcries after Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, kidnapped over 276 mostly Christian girls ages 14-18 in Nigeria. Unfortunately, young evangelicals (and the broader world) did not take notice of this tragedy because the girls were Christians, but because their captors intend to sell them into human trafficking. Something is very wrong with this “social justice” scenario.

We thank God for the attention this egregious offense has gained worldwide. And so the problem is not that young evangelicals focus heavily on injustices like human trafficking. The problem is that too many only focus on issues like human trafficking, because they are deemed politically correct.

Constantly, young evangelicals, influenced largely by the Religious Left, speak out against the “marginalized,” making the poor, women, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community top priorities. But if we want to talk about the marginalized, then let's remember that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world.

Among Millennials, the term “persecution” is a dirty word when applied to Christians. Society continues to paint Christians as “clamoring and crying” over nothing when we decry discrimination targeted our way.

Let's face it, if media outlets were calling the Boko Haram travesty what it is, a matter of severe Christian persecution by Islamists terrorists, then many of us Millennial would shy away from voicing our outcry, all for fear of being called Islamophobic. Why do I suspect this? Because kidnapping Christian girls is not the first attack by Boko Haram. Far from it. Yet the evangelical world has remained largely silent.

Hanging on her office wall, Faith McDonnell, the Institute on Religion and Democracy's Director of Religious Liberty programs, has a calendar documenting all of Boko Haram's attacks on Nigerian Christians during 2012. It was put together by the Nigeria Working Group Washington, Justice for Jos+ Project, and Jubilee Campaign. To list just a few of a myriad of Christian-targeted assaults, the calendar included:

  • January 20, 2012 -Boko Haram attacked and killed more than 200, including Christians
  • March 11, 2012 -a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked a Catholic Church, killing 13
  • July 7-9, 2012 – 50 Christians were killed, 187 homes were burned and 200 families were displaced. Boko Haram took responsibility.

This is what injustice looks like.

Millennial evangelicals have big hearts. We know that social justice is an important facet of Christianity. So why are we ignoring the voices of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being harassed, kidnapped, arrested, beaten, beheaded, and burned alive for their faith?

“Our biggest problem is we feel forgotten by the church,” were the chilling words of the Rev. Dr. Canon Andrew White, chaplain of St. George Anglican Church in Baghdad, Iraq. Speaking at a Congressional press conference on American Christian Leaders' “Pledge” to Stand in Solidarity with Imperiled Christian Communities in the Middle East, Canon White explained that Iraqi Christians are under immense persecution, and yet, he said, “Our problem is not there in Iraq.” It is here.

Christian persecution happens every day. Your local news channel probably didn't report this, but just Wednesday night, Muslims attacked a Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem during their annual St. George's Day services. Lela Gilbert, journalist and adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute reported that Muslims “stabbed a Christian man who was outside the church serving as a guard. He was hospitalized.” Gilbert continued, “Several then started throwing stones at the church. Seven or eight Christians were injured and some physical damage was done…the police didn't show up for an hour.”

“This is a multi-generational issue,” said 30-year-old Jonnie Moore, the Senior Vice President of Liberty University back at the press conference on Christian persecution. “We live in a young world. 50 percent is under 25 years old. And 85 percent of that 50 percent lives in a country where severe religious persecution isn't an occasional occurrence.” Moore continued, “If they fit in a certain group, they live in fear of going to school, they fear professing their faith, they fear even praying silently in their bed at night that they might be the next victim.”

In America, young evangelicals take for granted how blessed we are to worship freely. We become fearful of the name-calling, including hateful, bigoted, narrow, and uncompassionate, for a start. But social justice is not always going to be politically correct.

It won't always be easy or popular to live our faith. It requires courage, boldness, Scripture reading and lots of prayer. Young evangelicals must refocus our commitment when it comes to social justice because there are marginalized people in this world, and most of them are called Christians.

This article originally ran at The Christian Post.

By / Apr 20

Ryan West, NAMB, outlines how a church can help its surrounding community, and in turn, share the gospel.