Social Justice?

La Shawn has an interesting post on watchdogs for political content in sermons. My initial take is that it's dicey business, at best. I can easily see a situation like that devolving into a witch hunt based on political affiliation and ideology. We don't need all that. What's more interesting to me is the question she asks about the definition of social justice. As always, I think there are different ways to analyze things. We can try to dichotomize and isolate things into binary pairs or we can look at issues as if they are on a continuum. I'm with the continuum. There are polar opposites, but most of life, at least as it exists on the physical plane, is somewhere between the two. Social justice is one of them. There's a way to look at along Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative axes, but I don't know that that really gets at the issue. To me, that's just a means of dismissing it as something not worth interrogating instead of looking at as a potential corrective for complacency and inaction. As I've said before, I think that the church is primarily a spiritual institution, but if it is properly carrying out its mission, then it will reflect in ways that register on the social justice scale. I think that social justice seeks to navigate the space between what is legal and what is right. I think there is a tendency to conflate those terms. For example, to go to one of my favorite examples, Dr. King's Letter From A Birmingham Jail was not addressed to politicians or to klansmen, but to a group of Christian ministers. Segregation in the South was legal at that time, but that did not mean it was right. Nevertheless, the ministers addressed in the letter were more concerned with upholding the law than confronting the moral limitations of the legal edict. Churches emphasizing social justice follow that model. That one was easy, though. Nowadays, the issues that social justice concerns itself with are much more slippery. In Ambra's post on this very topic, she highlights homelessness. I know that some churches look at gay "rights" as a matter of social justice, as well as affirmative action and any number of other challenges. That's why it normally breaks down to that binary we-they setup, because "we" have our positions on the issues, and "they" have theirs. "Our" position is right because "we" have rightly divided the Word, "their" position is wrong because "they" have allowed "their" own selfish wants to lead them to an improper eisegesis. The problem is that the truth and political opinion rarely converge, especially partisan opinion. It's a classic case of Who's Right v. What's Right. For instance, on the issue of gay rights, I just don't believe there's any biblical justification for homosexuality. I've read some attempts to make Romans 1 gay-friendly, but I really don't think that interpretation is valid. It just seems incompatible with everything else that's being said there. Because of that, I don't think the church has any business validating homosexuality as a lifestyle. At the same time, I don't think it's appropriate for the church to hate on gays. It's one thing to speak the truth in love but it's another thing altogether to use the truth as an excuse to spit venom. You know, it's one thing to say "That's not biblical." Or even to explain the consequences of remaining in sin and say "if you keep that up, you gon' wind up in hell right with the rest of that lineup in Romans 1:25-32 (which is everybody)." To jump out like "God hates fags" though? That's not righteous. Neither is it righteous for the church to sit idly by while other so-called Christians spew this nonsense. Jeremy has an excellent post pointing out the inconsistency of the mainstream church in its declaration of the threat gay marriage poses to the institution of marriage while portraying divorce and cohabitation as less-serious threats. Let's face it, gays are easy to pick on. They do stuff that the majority of us find physically repulsive and there aren't really that many of them. Moreover, as a political entity, they're pretty aggressive. That makes it easy to let the discussion break down into name calling and general dislike. And I'm not advocating for some special treatment for gays, or some special set of laws or anything like that, but let me put it like this: if you saw a gay person being beaten, would you step in to help him? What if he was being verbally accosted? What if the attackers were self-proclaiming Christians? In some instances, I think the church, on both sides of the political aisle, has become a bunch eighth graders at a dance. We get comfortable where we are, talking to our friends, who think like we think and do what we do, but we don't get out on the floor and mix it up. Social justice means sometimes dancing with that person we don't like or the one who looks funny or smells bad. It's not about the teachers making us dance, we should be out there because it's the right thing to do. Sometimes it will take courage to get away from the partisan cool kids who want to play the wall all night, but in the end, we'll all be better for it. Somebody go get a record.