It would be nice if there were a little checklist of dos and don’ts. Life would be so much easier. We would know instinctively who and what was right and wrong. But life is seldom clear-cut when people are involved. Oh, sure, issues are clear. We all agree on that even if we disagree which side of an issue needs to be taken. But when it comes to human beings things get even more difficult. Add that sub-species called “politician” and things get even worse.
Some Christians have adopted the neo-Marxist framework known as “social justice.” This movement seeks to produce social equity in all things. That includes housing, jobs, and income alongside legal protections. But this movement knows no higher authority than government (implicit in its Marxist/Hegelian origins) and as such all of these “positive liberties” (things we should all have) are arbitrary and subject to the whims of government.
Many conservative Christians of various stripes react to any discussion of social justice. None of us wants to be identified as “Marxist” or anything like that. Good-bye bathwater, good-bye baby. There are rules of social justice for ancient Israel that we read in the Bible. Don’t be unjust toward the poor or show preference to the wealthy. Don’t give false testimony (that one made the 10 Commandments).
Some of these justice issues made it into New Testament teachings. James teaches against showing preference for the wealthy. Paul challenged Philemon to tread Onesimus as a brother (breaking down class distinctions within the church body). Women were allowed a voice (the prophetesses in Corinth and Priscilla teaching (gasp!) a man, albeit alongside her husband. It wasn’t egalitarian but it was open and generous, far more generous than many even today.
Things We (Almost) All Know
Some positions are downright evil. The Canaanite sacrifice of children. The Greco-Roman abandonment of children to the elements and animals. The Holocaust. The genocide of native Americans. The Cultural Revolution. Stalin’s purge. These are things that get no argument. Wrong is wrong.
Now Something Difficult
But history is a, well, harsh mistress. We can’t change it. We can’t even make up for it. In that light, reparations is nothing more than a political football. You might disagree. Ok, then sell your land and possessions and give them to native Americans or African-Americans. Go ahead. Then move back to where your ancestors came from. Don’t forget to ask for reparations from the slave seller sin Africa, the tribal groups and Moslems who sold them. But ask really nice. They might not take you seriously otherwise.
At that point, though I’ll still disagree, you will at least gain some respect as having displayed the courage of your convictions and are willing to follow through completely. Without follow-through reparations talk is just that.
I’ve been told (by a friend from France) that in France there remains some class envy based on name. Those names derived from nobility (Du….) garner dirty looks from some who think the French Jacobin Revolution was all just dandy. But how do you make up for your name? The simple response is to tell them to just get over it. Easier said than done. Never works. Human beings are just too, well, human.
The same goes for reparations.
Slavery and Related Abuses
I didn’t mention this one, though it was hinted at on the reparations question. We have this human tendency to want to own things. It’s not just a capitalist fancy, either. Slavery has been around a long, long time. Slavery was the spoils and consequence of war. Whole nations would be subjugated and individuals would be sold. Sometimes people would enslave themselves. Others would go half-way and indenture themselves for a period of time. But in all senses the person is owned.
The Bible, the New Testament in particular, does not directly condemn slavery. But it does challenge the classist framework and reject it from church life. If there were slavery today the slave and the master would be, if we behaved properly, able to worship together as equals. That makes owning your brother or sister in Christ pretty difficult. Think of it as a back-door rejection of slavery.
Are there related issues to slavery? There have been some instances of household sex slaves in the US. There is also the well-known issue of sex slavery especially among Asians and massage parlors. Children are coming up from Mexico as slaves these days. It’s a real problem. (I wonder who they’ll ask for reparations from.)
Abortion’s first move is to dehumanize. Death is worse than slavery. The slave might one day be free but the dead are always dead.
Abortion’s sibling, euthanasia, is no different. The rhetoric of “death with dignity” makes no sense when you wonder how much of their dignity the dead think about.
It’s on Us
We’re better off building a church with internal unity and an external voice to serious issues than we are pretending to be change agents where nobody listens. We can’t change the world. We ought be speaking but we ought not abandon truth, especially not for fads, theological or political. Be both a private and a public theologian.