What is Social Justice?


Social Justice

Below is a response to an inquiry I received today asking about my beliefs in Social Justice… Today, the day some in our culture set aside to respect the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, is a good day to consider this question…

What is Social Justice?

Hello XXXX,

I can agree with you, after giving it a little thought, that equal justice does mean that everyone is treated equally under the law….I believe that if we are to understand Social Justice, it is helpful to look to the Roman Catholic Church who, it seems to me, has a long record of attempting to care for the poor, the disadvantaged, the hungry, naked and sick… I can recall the words of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, who if I quote her correctly, said of her church, the Catholic church, “Throughout history the Catholic Church has been the spotless bride of Christ and the Whore of Babylon”, and on another occasion, “She is a Whore, but she is my mother”, I think we will be less than honest if we do not read the history of our own churches and organizations and our own actions or lack of action in the same way. To me, Social Justice is looking at each human being as a beautiful human being created with a “spark”, as the Quakers would say it, of God in them…. Or, as we may understand it, created in the image of God…. If mankind is created in the image of God, as I would hope you would agree, then mankind is deserving of our dignity and respect… Jesus came to preach a Gospel of the Kingdom of God… He opened the scroll of Isaiah and read:

Luke 4:18-21

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll , gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

To me, what Jesus read is Social Justice…. I believe we need a year of release, a Jubilee year, to which Jesus referred…. A year where prisoners are released, debts are forgiven, the oppressed are freed… I believe Dr. King envisioned this also that oppression would be justified…… I cannot imagine a more authoritative definition of social justice than that of Jesus, founded upon Hebrew Scriptures, than this… This is the essence of Social Justice…. Look to the Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are…

Matt 5:1-10
5:1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Dallas Willard, in his book, “The Divine Conspiracy”, spoke of Jesus opening up the Kingdom of God to the Rat upon, the Sat upon, the Spat upon…. (look to about page 100, if I recall properly)..

This is Social Justice…. The Rat upon, the Sat upon, the Spat upon, even us who are called to be peacemakers, and are thus vilified by political conservatives in most all nations, who ascribe to the Myth of Redemptive Violence…

Therefore, may I ask, why would anyone who has a heart for Jesus’ words have a problem with Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, such as this:

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Also, why would any individual, any nation, conservative, or liberal political system, or any church, not want to mention in respect and dignity, the contribution of Dr. Martin Luther King to our culture and society, and world, as he echoed the ethics of Jesus, as I understand those ethics of Social Justice and Freedom, to the world?

Oh, and I should add… equal justice is under the law, as you say, but I would add, Social Justice is under Grace….

This is how I see it…

Grace & Peace…..


About jcooperforpeace
Spiritual Director, Spirituality of Inner Peace

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