Biblical Justice and Black Lives Matter. Review and Comments

I posted in Facebook some of Tim Challies’ observations in his review of Scott David Allen’ s book, Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice  (Credo House Pub., 2020).

Social Justice Redefined:
Scott David Allen notes the contemporary redefinition of “justice”: “Deconstructing traditional systems and structures deemed to be oppressive, and redistributing power and resources from oppressors to their victims in the pursuit of equality of outcome.” It is obsessed with power, privilege, oppression, and victimization; it uses pragmatic tactics to cow dissenters into submission; it fixates on identity markers such as class, race, gender, and sexual orientation; it is openly hostile to Judeo-Christian religion; it is militant against the natural family and traditional sexuality; and it focuses on the redistribution of wealth and power by means of a powerful state apparatus…

Scott Allen Contrasts this New Definition with Biblical Justice:
Conformity to God’s moral standard as revealed in the Ten Commandments and the Royal Law: “love your neighbor as yourself.” [Its two components are:]
Communitive Justice: living in right relationship with God and others; giving people their due as image-bearers of God.
Distributive Justice: impartially rendering judgment, righting wrongs, and meting out punishment for lawbreaking. Reserved for God and God-ordained authorities including parents in the home, elders in the church, teachers in the school, and civil authorities in the state.

A Biblical Response:
Tim Challies agrees with Scott Allen, “Let’s not simply be anti-ideological social justice. Let’s be probiblical worldview.” This requires faithfully preaching the gospel but then also calling Christians into faithfully engaging the culture. “The temptation by opponents of ideological social justice to overreact by pitting evangelism and gospel proclamation against cultural engagement is a grievous error that must be avoided.” Thus we must, as did so many of our forebears, fight for justice in this world and defend the victims of injustice. But always we must be careful that we do so according to a biblical, wholistic definition of “justice.”

I was asked whether I agree with Tim Challies and Scott Allen who argue that the currently fashionable view of justice which focuses on “equality, diversity and inclusion” championed by “Woke Church” and  Black Lives Matter is not the same as Biblical justice.

In recent years, Christians in other parts of the world have looked to the USA as they seek to develop ways of engaging society, but the USA has lost its moral and spiritual leadership in the light of its current internal political conflicts and social disintegration. Christians are well advised to look elsewhere as they seek to develop their own social theology. After all, there is no one size fits all answer for the issue of social justice. Fortunately, there are global resources that can help us address the complex and contentious issue of social justice.

My understanding of the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility in general reflects the spirit of the Lausanne Movement (see attached document taken from John Stott, The Contemporary Christian (IVP, 1995), pp. 339-341.

Of course, application of the principles drawn from the historic Lausanne Documents will assume specific nuances & priorities as the context requires.

Having clarified that the historic Lausanne documents (insofar as they are consistent with the Bible) serve as the framework for my understanding of evangelism and social concerns (which includes both social ministry and social action), I shall now answer the question about what I think of the controversy about social justice in the USA.

First, every social justice movement has its distinctive goals. For convenience, let’s consider Black Lives Matter (BLM) since it is arguably the most prominent social justice movement in USA today. The question is, “What is BLM’s view on social justice?”

The official position of BLM on justice given in its website says, “We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.”

The current statement is different from the earlier BLM statement (which has been mysteriously scrubbed, but we can still locate it using the Internet Archive WayBackMachine). The former statement says, “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable. We foster a queer-affirming network. When we gather, we do with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless/he or they disclose otherwise).”

The two statements may seem different – but the phrase in the new statement, “all Black lives along the gender spectrum” covers much of the LGBTQ groups explicitly mentioned in the older statement. However, the sanitized new phrase of the gender spectrum remains inconsistent with the traditional/biblical affirmation of the heterosexual family unit. I leave it to the readers to judge for themselves whether the BLM agenda is consistent with biblical moral values and social justice– with due acknowledgment that understanding of biblical justice assumes different nuances as can be seen in the writings of Wayne Grudem to Walter Bruggemann.

Second, it should be noted that BLM adopts intersectionality in defining its agenda of social justice. Intersectionality provides BLM a shrewd strategy to counter any criticism. For example, BLM lumps together LGBTQ and disabled folks and women rights. As such, when one critiques BLM (because of its LGBTQ agenda), BLM supporters protest that one is against disabled folks and women rights (which is ridiculous).

How then can one direct relevant and effective criticism at an ever growing (inclusive) amorphous blob? Personally, I refuse to engage BLM on its own terms (intersectionality). My critique of its social justice agenda will first uncouple the components of its intersectionality, followed by an answer of “Both Yes and No.”

Third, readers may refer to the excellent research paper published by Georgetown University – The Fight for Black Lives is a Spiritual Movement which describes the spiritual underpinnings of BLM that originate from West African tribal religion system of faith, divination and worship. In the light of these spiritual underpinnings, the readers can judge for themselves whether the social justice agenda of BLM is compatible with biblical justice.

Finally, I agree with the view expressed by people who support the struggle for better justice for the black community in USA, but feel uneasy about BLM recent turn to rioting – “We support blm (as a proper agenda of social justice) but not BLM (as a movement).”

11.00 am, 26/12/2020 – Additional comments arising from a discussion with a friend over Facebook:
First, any final judgment on BLM will need to be based on a more comprehensive reading of the movement which includes engaging with its theoretical framework, its spiritual underpinings, its social program and its actions on the ground. (a) Regarding theoretical framework. We should take a critical look at the ideological foundations of BLM based on its Critical Race Theory. I was quite sympathetic towards Critical Theory (Habermas & Frankfurt School) when I studied it years ago, but I find myself disagreeing with its present American adaptation. (b) On spiritual underpinings – everyone should take a closer look at what BLM publicly proclaims and what it fundamentally affirms, based on its spirituality. After all, our social values are ultimately shaped by our spirituality (c) I find the violent riots promoted by BLM rather disturbing. The violent actions of BLM certainly affect my judgment on the movement.

3 thoughts on “Biblical Justice and Black Lives Matter. Review and Comments”

  1. Hi Kam Weng,

    Thanks for the post here. I will reserve comments on the matter of the BLM since it an issue not directly related to our concern and which is lodged in another context which we may not be fully informed.

    My comments relate more directly to the general observations by Tim Challies in his review of Scott Allen’s book. I have not read Allen’s book yet but the observations by Challies reproduced here is telling,

    “contemporary redefinition of “justice”: Deconstructing traditional systems and structures deemed to be oppressive, and redistributing power and resources from oppressors to their victims in the pursuit of equality of outcome.” It is obsessed with power, privilege, oppression, and victimization; it uses pragmatic tactics to cow dissenters into submission; it fixates on identity markers such as class, race, gender, and sexual orientation; it is openly hostile to Judaeo-Christian religion; it is militant against the natural family and traditional sexuality; and it focuses on the redistribution of wealth and power by means of a powerful state apparatus…”

    In my experience in civil society work on racial harmony and religious diversity, championing freedom of religion along with countering/preventing hateful extremism within the local communities (the PPR communities), I find Allen’s description on the contemporary redefinition of justice quite accurate. While the context in Malaysia is not quite the same as in the US and social activism here unlike the US, there are however some common threads that exits between the two outlooks. Like the contemporary social justice movement, we here also place great emphasis on justice, social inclusion, non-discrimination, against marginalisation, uplifting the oppress and those that are place in the peripheral simply because of their “lived experience”. It is often said here, social justice must be based on a “human rights approach”. This is not to say the human rights approach or its quest for justice is unimportant. Injustice and all forms of oppression and discrimination must be addressed.

    That however is not the issue for Christians and the church. The issue is like Allen says, one of definition. Contemporary definition of human rights like that of justice has also varied. There is a tendency in my experience for those who adopts a more secular persuasion on public and civic life issues to pit human rights against religion or even the broader frame of culture. Similarly, there are the coreligionists who wish to pit religion against human rights. Both tend to think exclusively. But the crux of the matter is, what is human rights and how should one understand human rights.

    As I see it, there is confusion on definitions. Like justice, the human rights approach today is characterise by matters such as non-discrimination, anti-marginalization and the quest for greater inclusion irregardless of race, sex, gender spectrum and any forms of religion or any belief. The strange thing is, the human rights approach talks about inclusion, yet when one differs on what the term really means and how the cause is to be served, we see exclusion. Take for example the agenda of gender equality. Gender equality has a particular definition within the feminists camp and activists. But when the religious community gives a different take from the feminists and attempts to add to that definition, they are often labelled as patriarchal and bigots. The same applies to the LGBTQ+ movement.

    It is in this more general observation or scheme of things I find Allen’s take on the contemporary redefinition of justice an apt description of the challenges we face here in so far as it relates to the advocacy work undertaken by some of the human rights organisations in Malaysia and the region. In term of engagement, the agenda for greater freedom of religion remains with critical address on issues like Islamisation, Islamophobia, the dominance of political Islam as it impact inter-religious diversity and our multicultural life remains. But there is another dimension arising which needs address too – the separation of freedom of religion into two distinct components; one pertains to ensuring freedom, the other the so-called notion of “religious rights”. This separation is occasioned by the redefinition of justice which Allen spoke about. In this scheme of things, freedom of religion should be confine to matters of freedom only – that of preserving free choice, ensuring non-discrimination and the protection for minorities. The matters of ensuring core beliefs and spirituality such as in the Judaeo-Christian traditions or for that matter Islam in public life and consideration are religious rights, which must be either be left out or jettison away along with her traditional values, ethics and its institutions such as chastity and the family unit.

    I am however unsure if the church is quite aware of these subtle changes. Or perhaps the church is unconcern with social justice or biblical justice. It appears they are still lodged within the so-called “secular vs sacred” divide or the matter of evangelism, prayer and proclamation over social/public engagement. But the changes within the contemporary world is happening, and to my mind, the church urgently needs to be awaken and beware. The sexual revolution along with its underlying ideologies that Carl Trueman (subject of your earlier post) spoke about is really at our door steps in Malaysia and making in-roads more than ever. Ironically, the Muslims are the ones more concern when Christians are called to be salt and light ……

  2. Hi Eugene,

    Contemporary Western demands for rights based on perceived victimhood rely on artificially constructed criteria, for example, self-defined gender identity or arbitrarily chosen lifestyles. Existing social mores and institutions are deemed oppressive social constructs and must be deconstructed to eliminate alleged systemic racism and victimization.

    The new demands for justice/rights is not equal justice/rights for all. For example, there is a hierarchy of group rights in the totem pole of the cult of victimization. In the West, the top to bottom hierarchy flows accordingly: Muslim minority -> LGBT -> Women -> Blacks/Hispanics -> Other minority groups -> White man.

    Demands for rights based on essentially contestable social identity can only result in perpetual social conflicts. Hence, the ongoing cycles of social violence currently witnessed in the USA.

    For better or worse, these Western ideologies have gained global influence through the media. Not surprisingly, we notice a similar hierarchy seems popular among Malaysian social activists?
    Since there is no “Muslim minority” in Malaysia the hierarchy of rights is modified accordingly to LGBT -> Women -> Orang Asli? -> [I leave it for those who feel left out to fill in the blank]… and finally religious rights?].

    However, local Muslim bureaucrats have exploited the prominence of LGBT rights featured in the social media as an excuse for their rejection of legitimate demands for human rights, supposedly because these demands are actually a Trojan horse for “insidious Western LGBT agenda” (I am here quoting what I have elsewhere).

    The Christian community cannot ignore the struggle for equal social justice and human rights for all citizens. But it will define its own terms of engagement. For example, in contrast to rights based on the victimhood, the Church should argue for rights based on the inherent dignity of man/woman created in the image of God. For this reason it will resist any attempt to compartmentalize individual human rights (since human rights comprise a seamless cloth) or differentiate unequal group rights (since all men and women are created equal in the image of God).

    Given our biblical values, we reject both LGBT dominated social activism and disregard for social justice/rights by local authorities. Perhaps as a strategic choice to stay in the middle ground, the Church may at the moment focus on negative liberty/rights rather than positive liberty/rights as defined by Isaiah Berlin? Negative liberty/rights includes civil and political rights such as freedom of speech, life, private property, freedom from violent crime, freedom of religion, habeas corpus and due process of law. Positive liberty/rights is wider and includes social, cultural and economic rights. Berlin’s concerns is that positive rights are ambiguous and subject to distortion and exploited as tools for political agenda. For example, racial and religious rights have been exploited by Malaysian politicians to ensure political supremacy.

    Just brain storming and open to new options. We need to avoid giving simplistic answers to these complex and controversial issues. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Malaysian church leaders have given much thought to this vital area of public theology or social engagement.

    1. Thanks Kam Weng for your enlightening views, as always.

      I totally agree with you on the cult of victimization, especially so in the west. I have observed their overtly focus on “discrimination”, the corollary to the victimization mentality. Yes, social activism in Malaysia is largely premise on this construct, which unfortunately is due not only to western media but also funding and grant opportunities along with its stipulated terms of reference. In this way, the movement is perpetuated. The LGBTQ agenda and gender equality movement features very high on the hierarchy and priority especially with more secular human rights organisations like Amnesty, etc.

      While I agree some within the religious bureaucracy and political elites have exploited and gained leverages for themselves with the LGBTQ agenda to the extend many of the trans have come to experience undue hardship, suffering and even threat to live, there exits a coterie of pro-LGBTQ activists bend on dismantling culture, religion and the religious institutions, mainly by playing the victimization tune. They are pretty aggressive and i might say, selective in their engagement. Not all are so, most have just imbibed the western narrative as explained in Trueman’s book. For Christians, more recently we have seen the Good Samaritan Church under one Ps Joe Pang with their “Roof Project” ostensibly to provide protection to “persecuted” LGBTQ people. They speak against orthodox Christian beliefs preferring to accept the notion God Loves All. In this sense, the church and the religious institutions of other faiths must be cautious and wary of the Trojan horse for “insidious Western LGBT agenda”.

      There are advantages in pursuing what Isaiah Berlin term as “negative freedom”. Our quest and experience to pursue the more positive affirmation and rights implicit in the call to ratify ICERD and attempts to redefine the NEP as an affirmative action policy rather than a cultural Malay right, have come to nought simply because it has been exploited and manipulated for political gains and weaponised against the then PH government.

      Even then it presents a challenge. For example in the pursuit of freedom of religion and religious diversity, the basic conception of freedom of religion and religious diversity is very much focus on victimhood and therefore discrimination. There is very rarely or even against the idea on centering the freedom/rights on the inherent dignity of man/woman created in the image of God. For this reason, civil activism on freedom of religion rest low on the “hierarchy of rights”, often compartmentalized, contested and never seen as important in contrast to the right of gender equality.

      To my mind, the key then is to redefine or contextualise the meaning of such rights/freedom away from the western conception of playing on victimhood and discrimination to include the very basis or foundation of human dignity centered on God in a universal humanity. The effect is a right and freedom that does not just address discrimination (negative freedom) but one that leads to greater wellbeing of people, both spiritually and materially. The Muslims groups and NGOs are open to this and this is where I see prospect of inter-religious cooperation and collaboration in areas such as family life issues including the threat of the western LGBTQ agenda and hopefully on to other issues of Islamisation and political Islam that affects the wellbeing of all people. Sadly, this remains an individual project away from the church simply because the church is far too behind even to think about such vital matters …..

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