Social Justice, the Church, and the State
Glen Beck got many of us riled up by his attack on churches that talk about social justice and economic justice. I've already taken him on, so I want to move on, because there are broader issues at hand.
This morning, scanning the various postings of the day that I follow, I noted a Religious Dispatches article about Ralph Reed's attempt to merge Christian Right activism with the Tea Party libertarianism. Then, I can across Scot McKnight's push back against the suggestion that charity is simply a private affair and that the state should have no role in such affairs. That is, we're seeing a merging of Christian Right social activism with economic libertarianism.
Scot's essay this morning essentially says -- what a minute, let's check this out scripturally. There are, he suggests, sufficient texts that would seem to support government sponsored care for the poor and marginalized, ranging from gleaning laws to jubilee laws.
One more point before we get to a simple case for government-mandated charity: I'm not saying whatever the government wants, the government can have. Our government is getting too greedy, and it is getting its hands into too many pockets, and the government needs to be much more fiscally responsible, but the solution is not to equate libertarian radicalism with what the Bible says and pretend the Bible is teaching our political theory. Least of all, I'm not saying let's trust the government to take care of all the problems, but the government can protect the poor from the lack of generosity by many who fail to respond to the needs (Michael Kruse pointed out to me that this is "subsidiarity".)
I want to increase the church's role in alleviating poverty and working out justice, but libertarian radicalism is not the answer. I'm all for more locally-shaped charity. It appears to me the the solution is two-fold: let's be Biblical and let's practice justice in the best way possible, which in our fallen world combines individual compassion and governmental support.
Now, as you can see, Scot is no political liberal or socialist (Scot is to my right both politically and theologically), but he understands that libertarianism isn't the answer. That means, there is a role for government to cover the needs of the poor and marginalized in society.
I would suggest that one of the reasons why the Tea Party folks are making such an impact right now is that people are frustrated that government can't help them as much as they'd like. It's almost as if the fact that Obama didn't end the recession the day after he was inaugurated then government must be a failure. No government is perfect -- any more than a church is perfect.
As Scot notes, the church has a role to play in the alleviation of poverty, and can increase its activity, but by itself cannot take care of the needs that are presented to us. Consider Haiti or Chile or Katrina; facing such disasters involves the church, but the church alone can't handle everything by itself without letting lots of people fall through the cracks. We can do a lot to supplement the government, but we don't replace the government.
So, as Scot says to Jerry Falwell, Jr., maybe he should read the Bible's a bit more carefully! Indeed, perhaps we should all pay closer attention to what Scripture is saying. What say you?