I’ve spent some time lately thinking about the idea of social justice, a notoriously difficult idea to pin down. I believe it is something that liberals and progressives spend a great deal of their lives pondering, while conservatives and others on the political right tend to dismiss it or diminish its importance. For example, someone on the political right might say something like, “the free market is social justice,” which I believe to be demonstrably false.
Rev. Joseph Lowery’s benediction at last week’s Inauguration had some great lines that urge us in the direction of social justice:
For we know that, Lord, you are able and you’re willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.
I believe that the idea of social justice allows for rich people and poor people to exist simultaneously in society. To suggest otherwise (i.e. “we should all be rich,” or “we should all be poor,” or “we should all be neither rich nor poor,”) is contrary to reality. However, a key concept of social justice is that the poor are not exploited and the rich are not shown favoritism. All one has to do is read about another crooked or incompetent CEO with a so-called golden parachute, visit a jail for white-collar criminals, or speak to someone who works 40+ hours a week and still does not receive a living wage to see that we have a long way to go before we achieve this aspect of social justice.
And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.
Another cornerstone of social justice is respect for one’s fellow human beings. We have a long way to go in this area as well, as America has shown a tendency to sort itself into demographically homogeneous communities in the last few years. We need institutions that will bring together diverse peoples from across the nation.
At one time, the American military fulfilled this need to a certain extent. I believe that some sort of non-military civil service — a promise of the Obama campaign — will contribute to our capacity to tolerate, understand, and love one another.
By the way, a full transcript and youtube video of Rev. Lowery’s benetiction are available online. I thought it was a beautiful meditation from a man who’s seen a lot of serious stuff in his lifetime.
I’ve only scratched the surface of this important topic with the above two quotes. What are your thoughts about social justice?