An Open Letter: Dear Pastors, Jesus Was NOT a Social Justice Warrior
I have often been asked how do I reconcile my sociopolitical views with my religious beliefs, and quite frankly, it’s a question that has been posed to many libertarians and conservatives alike. While I have never given a written response to this question, I believe in light of recent events, the timing is perfect.
A couple years ago I wrote an article outlining why I thought Jesus was a democrat, odd for a person who generally trends to the center right on most sociopolitical issues. However, the premise behind my thought process, that most of the social causes that Jesus championed here on earth, care for the poor, redistribution of wealth, animal rights and the care of elderly, orphans and refugees, are on the agendas of most democratic politicians.
The inevitable question arises, if we are to be like Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2), should we not attune our lives to his example? The simple question is yes. However, what most people are uninformed about is nowhere in the Bible did Christ take a political stance on any issue at all.
The text most often used to justify Christians involvement in sociopolitical issues is found in Luke:
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”Luke 4:16-21
Just like with any other Bible text, this one must be read in context. Notice where Christ was, within the synagogue (church). This wasn’t an #occupyRome, #zealot or #JewishLivesMatter protest. In fact, there is no evidence that Christ attended such events (and yes such movements were alive and well during Christ’s day). When given the option to justify Peter’s defense of him (Christ), he instead rebuked Peter:
“Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”John 18:10-11
By all intents and purposes, Peter was in the right. Christ was being arrested on trumped up charges, at night, and eventually tried using the accounts of lying witnesses. Sounds eery similar to many of the court proceedings we have seen in recent months.
It’s not that Christ was against self defense or defending one’s self against false allegations. The reason why Christ in this, and almost every other instance, did not defend himself, is such acts would do more harm to his ministry. Christ could have easily called on his followers to resist the unjust treatment they were receiving from the Jews and Romans, two enemies bound by a common cause. Yet he didn’t.
The same is true for all the apostles. Except for a few instances when Paul used his Roman citizen card to preserve his life, he, like the other twelve disciples did not make calls for action against unjust treatment, and imprisonment. In fact, Paul himself said:
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.Romans 5:3-5
Peter echoed similar sentiments when he said:
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.1 Peter 4:13
Now before I am accused of insinuating that Christians should not defend themselves against false accusations, illegal arrests and the likes, let me once again remind you that this is simply the stance that Christ and his disciples/apostles took. So the notion that Christ was out there championing the cause of social justice reform among theocracies and secular governments is false.
Why didn’t Christ champion such causes? To illustrate this, let us list some of the social issues that plagued Israel and the Roman Empire as a hold:
- Exploitation of the poor
- Exploitation of orphans
- Exploitation of widows
- Prejudice against Jews
- Prejudice against Romans
- Prejudice against Gentiles
- Unfair taxation
- Corrupt justice system
- Corrupt politicians
- Corrupt religious leaders
Now there are many who might claim that Christ did speak on many of these issues, and they would be right in their claim. However, Christ never called for governmental leaders to address any of these issues. Rather his message was to Christians/Jews who claimed to follow the Bible. The Bible has very specific instructions on how Christians should treat sojourners (immigrants), widows, orphans, the poor and many other groups often maligned by society. However within the Bible, there is no such admonition for secular governments.
So what about Leviticus 19? Glad you asked. Once again, we must look at the context.
And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.Leviticus 19:33-34
While great words to live by, just a couple verses before, Israel was warned about the consequences of adultery which included public flogging. I don’t think anyone is suggesting we petition the government to flog people for cheating on their spouses. So clearly, the above text was written for a theocracy and not a secular government.
However, the clearest example of Christ non confrontational role concerning secular governments is his discourse with Peter concerning taxes.
The backdrop for the story is found in Matthew:
“Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.”Matthew 22:15-22 KJV
The history behind this incident stems from the Roman’s invasion and eventual occupation of Jewish lands. After settling in Canaan, the Jews had become subject to a number of foreign empires including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and eventually the Romans. Just like the previous empires that occupied Jerusalem and the surrounding lands, the Romans, levied taxes on the Jewish nation, taxes that were thought by many to be unjust as they were not imposed against who abandoned Judaism.
Now some could say Christ was just attempting to avoid confrontation, and that would be correct. However, were this an issue Christ felt strongly about, no doubt he would have risked his own safety to deal with it as he had done in countless other occasions (Mark 3:1-7).
So why was Christ so reluctant to come in direct opposition to political governments? Simply put, it would distract from his ministry and could ultimately lead to his ministry being cut short. The Roman’s knew that the Jews were planning on rebellion and there were many such attempts during the time of Christ. Had Christ taken a stance that was in conflict with Roman governance, the Roman’s could have used that as a pretext to jail or kill him. More importantly, the religious leaders of Christ’s day, who absolutely despised him, would have used this as a pretext to bring him to Pilot sooner then they had (citations needed).
The same can be said today. Many Christians find themselves in countries that are hostile to their faith, N. Korea, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Cuba, etc. Such governments actively seek to persecute Christians. Should the Bible contain language that might seem hostile towards such government, the pretense could be made to ban said book. Granted many governments have used this same argument, but such arguments are false as Paul clearly States in Romans:
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.Romans 13:1-7
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Obviously there are exceptions as Christians have long taught that obedience to the government should not conflict with what is outlined in the Bible.
The principles in Christ’s words are so uncontroversial and yet foundational that even though he never addressed many of the sociopolitical issues of his day, they could easily be solved had those individuals who listened to him abided by them.
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.Matthew 22:36-40
If Christians were to practice this simple rule (especially verse 39), there would be no need for additional calls to justice. And certainly there would be no need to define acceptable and unacceptable treatment of marginalized groups. But alas modern Christendom is so far removed from the Bible that she has lost sight of the most important rule that governs her interaction with her fellow men: “Love they neighbor as thyself.”