The recent opening of the Morgentaler abortuary and the seeming inability of the Canadian judicial and legal systems to deal with him and the atrocities of abortions being committed all throughout this nation is forcing the evangelical community to re-examine its position with regards to a Christian’s obligation to promote social justice.
As an evangelical myself, I would like to see a far greater participation by our churches in the promotion of justice in our land. For far too long we have let others carry our share of the load.
For the past sixty to seventy years, evangelicals in general have been negligent in promoting social justice and engaging in works of social service. This has come about largely as a result of an over-reaction to liberal theology, which has tended to emphasize the social aspects of the Gospel at the expense of the spiritual. In response to this, evangelicals have taken a position which regards altruism and social action as supererogatory and even diversive from the ‘true meaning of the Gospel.’
This has not always been the case. Traditionally, evangelicals taught that evangelism/discipleship and social service/action went hand in hand – that through evangelism and discipleship people are brought into the Kingdom, but also there is a command and obligation to promote justice and compassion. Some of the great social and political reforms of the past were sparked by evangelical revival and dedication. Some of these would be:
-Abolition of slavery
-Prison reform movement
-Child labour law reform
-Treatment of mentally ill
-Universal suffrage and improvement in the status of women
-Schools, hospitals, orphanages and services for the third world
In effect, by rejecting social responsibility along with liberal theology, evangelicals threw out the “baby with the bath water.” The result has been tragic. At the very time in the history of our nation, when true Christlike compassion and justice are needed, those who hold the authority of the Word of God have become impotent and flavourless in being the “salt of the earth.”
With the current slaughter rate of unborn babies being escalated with the onset of Morgentaler’s illegal abortuaries, the rise in child abuse, violence and sexual deviations, the current starvation crisis in Ethiopia and throughout the third world, we can no longer ignore the prime mandate of “loving our neighbor as ourselves.”
Command to do justice
In the Old Testament God gave us His standards of justice in the Law. These were emphasized by Christ while He was on earth. In His condemnation of the Pharisees, He likened their neglect for justice and mercy to ‘swallowing camels.’
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23: 23,24)
Because Christ sanctioned the Old Testament principles of justice we must conclude that they are imperative duties for us as Christians.
Just as there are specific ministries and gifts which differ from one Christian to the next, there are also universal duties to which all Christians are obligated. We are all commanded to pray, witness, live righteously, etc. Doing and promoting justice is one of these. (Micah 6:8, Psalm 101:1, Proverbs 1:3, Deuteronomy 16:20, Amos 5:24, Isaiah 56:1, Jeremiah 21:12, Psalm 106:3, Proverbs 24:1, Luke 11:42)
Over and over again God’s people are commanded to do justice. Without justice God’s judgment would fall on that nation. (Leviticus 19:15, Psalm 89:44, Micah 6:8, Exodus 22:21-24). If, however, justice was carried out, rich blessings were promised. (Pslam 106:3, 41:1,2, Proverbs 14:21, 22:9, 28:27, Isaiah 58:10)
In the New Testament Christ reaffirmed these principles when He clearly pointed out that what we do for the weak and helpless we do for God. (Matthew 25:31). Without question, a nation or society which neglects social justice is headed for disaster. (Amos 4:1, 5:11-12, Ezekiel 22:29)
Christ’s first advent was to bring a Gospel which would have profound social implications. The sick would be healed, the hungry fed, the lame would walk and the oppressed would be freed. (Micah 4:6,7, Zephaniah 3:19, Luke 4:18,19, 7:22) It is impossible to spiritualize these passages without destroying their true interpretation.
In past years, some evangelicals have argued that because Christ did not speak out against slavery, then it was not his intention that we promote justice in our world. Christ, however, did speak out against slavery by saying that we must be slaves of one another. When a master becomes a slave or servant to his slave, the degradation of slavery no longer exists. What you are left with is a fraternity characterized by love and equality. Paul’s epistle to Philemon demonstrates this when he exhorts Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother, not a slave.
Just because Christ did not teach the violent overthrow of the state in a Marxist sense doesn’t mean we have a license to engage in social and political indolence and apathy.
Protection of the innocent – an important factor in justice
The Scriptures give a wide range of issues which demand justice; from caring for the poor, interest and usury, care for the land and environment , the paying of wages, equality and many others. With regards to the abortion issue, however, the command to defend the innocent is critical. In Proverbs 24:11 we read: “Deliver those who are being taken away to death and those who are staggering to slaughter, O hold them back.”
In Proverbs 31:8,9 we are told to defend the rights of all the afflicted and needy.
The foundation for justice is the sanctity and immeasurable intrinsic value of each human being, who is created in the image of God. Thus each human being is to be valued and his rights and dignity protected regardless of the person’s age, race, colour, sex or health. Handicapped people have the same intrinsic value as the rest. If God, Himself values each individual human being enough to die for us, we are all, without doubt, of limitless value. Therefore the life of a human being cannot be taken casually.
Mel Middleton is a pro-life activist from Stouffville, Ontario.
Part II of Social Justice and Evangelism will appear in the April edition of The Interim.