For too long, public debate and discourse on important issues has turned ugly, particularly among the faith community. Civil discourse has not been civil, leaving many hurt and few opinions changed.
I know I miss the mark. It’s much easier for me to identify problems, rather than find solutions.
And I long for a new way to hold convictions and engage in public conversation.
As one small example, I think of the event hosted by Dean Curry and the College Honors Program at Messiah College where Shane Claiborne and I discussed our differing approaches to social justice. You can listen to our conversation here: Social Justice – Shane Claiborne and Peter Greer
This was a follow-up to an event in DC where we discussed “Is Jesus a Communist or a Capitalist?” (We decided the answer to this question is “neither”).
In both events, you’ll hear areas where Shane and I disagree about the best way to respond to issues of poverty and injustice. But more importantly, I think you will hear a discussion by two people united by faith and friendship.
What if instead of reverting to elementary school name calling, we truly made space for conversation? And if we really need to do some name calling, let’s make those names brother, sister, and friend.
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:8).
Clips on: Social Justice – Shane Claiborne and Peter Greer
- What does social justice require of me? 45:05 – 47:10
- Why we need social justice - 24:40 – 28:18
- Dinner with Jesus must have been awkward - 28:20 – 31:40
- Who owns the pond? Wealth disparity and restorative justice – 31:40-35:00
- What does social justice require of me? 41:45 – 45:05
- The world’s best antipoverty program is a job -18:36 – 20:50
- Buffet line Christianity? Are we counting the costs? - 15:38-16:48
- Are we treating the root cause of poverty? 17:54 -18:36
Shane – What does social justice require of me? 45:05 – 47:10
The real question for me is, What does love require of us. And who is my neighbor? I think those are two really important questions because if our neighbor is just the folks that live next to us in the suburbs, then I think that defines the question differently than if our neighbor is the kid overseas that is dying because they don’t have the mosquito net that costs $3.
I think the redefining of things in light of what Jesus says, “That what is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the spirit is spirit.” If we really believe we’re born again, then love isn’t confined to biological family or geography or nationality or ethnicity.
And I think Mother Teresa was right when she said, ”It may become very fashionable to talk about the poor, and still not so fashionable to talk to the poor.”
So I think that one of our challenges in the justice movement, if there is one, is that we will never really make poverty history, until we make poverty personal. Fundamentally, it is a relational disconnect of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s why I began by saying that at the heart of this is an ethic of love. To love our neighbor as ourselves redefines our possessions. And what that means of us – I think that’s the beautiful ramifications, right … like, can you love your enemy and simultaneously prepare to kill them?
To love our neighbor in the early Church meant that you don’t have a right to have more than you need while someone else has less. And across the board, they said things like “If you have two coats, you’ve stolen one.”
Paul said, “When I go and feed the hungry, I get on my knees and ask for forgiveness; I’m only returning what was stolen.” So that radical ethic has ramifications, but it’s rooted in a love for Jesus and a love for our neighbor that redefines how we think of us and how we think of what is enough.
Shane – Why we need social justice - 24:40 – 28:18
…what’s good about [social justice], though, is that it insists that our Gospel engages the world we live in, and that our faith doesn’t just become a ticket into heaven and a license to ignore the world around us. And that we have to be immersed in the world.
As Karth Barth said, “We got to put the Bible in one hand, but the newspaper in the other.”
I grew up in the Bible Belt and a lot of what we talked about is life after death. But I think God is also concerned about life before death. And Jesus didn’t just come to prepare dialogue to teach us how to live. So when I look at the ways we used our faith as an escape into heaven, I get concerned because the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about was not just about going out when we died, but bringing God’s Kingdom down. And I think that has everything we do with addressing the real stuff that is going on in the world.
And Jesus wasn’t just talking about pie-in-the-sky theology. But he was talking about unjust judges, widows, and orphans, people that didn’t make fair wages, and the weird stuff about the world around him. So it breaks my heart that someone once said that too many Christians are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.
So I want to see as Christians that our faith fuels us to engage the brokenness of the world around us. I’m so excited about conversations like this one, and folks like my friend Peter who are doing that work in real ways.
Also, with this idea of social justice, the danger is that one of the things we do in history is exaggerating the truth that we neglected so that we continually have overemphasized whatever has been neglected… so I think that this pendulum swing between the evangelical and social must break God’s heart.
And CS Lewis said that loving God and loving our neighbor are like two blades of scissors. They don’t work very well without each other.
So I think that idea that we pass by our neighbor in need, and if we are not moved with compassion, how can we say the love of God is in this earth? The Scripture say, ”If we speak in the tongues of men and angels, and do all sorts of miracles and prophecies, but if we don’t have love, it’s all empty.” So that fusion of caring about the wrongs of the world and the love of God have to go together.
Shane – Dinner with Jesus must have been awkward - 28:20 – 31:40
I also think that one of the dangers is creating these in-groups. And I think one of the things that Peter and I really feel passionately is this whole area, the culture wars, the ways we divide between the left and the right–are really unhelpful.
When I look at Jesus, one of the things that I love is his creative subversive friendships.
He’s got a woman from the street with a Pharisee. He’s got a Roman tax collector with a zealot revolutionary, sitting at the table together. I mean, zealots kill tax collectors for fun on the weekends.
You know, I think dinner with Jesus must have been awkward. But everyone was being invited to be a new creation. And Jesus won’t only challenge the tax collecting system of Rome, but he’ll also challenge the sword of the zealots.
And to invite everyone to reorient themselves around Jesus. Every orientation around Jesus defines why we care about our neighbor and how we live in the world.
And then one of the things that I would push back on some of the things that Peter said is I think the language of social justice actually can allow us to build bridges with folks that don’t share our faith, but they share our vision and our passion to do something about injustice. And that’s a great opportunity I think to work together.
… when I got back from Iraq, I was invited by a group of Muslim folks that told me, “We are doing a study of your book in our mosque.” And I’m like, “That’s awesome. Wow.”
And I think of other folks in my own neighborhood also in the world around that are doing a lot of stuff that many of us care deeply about–annihilating poverty and things like that, and they don’t share our faith. So I think having an umbrella in our land that says “We can work together” is exactly what Jesus was doing over and over.
You know, when the disciples come out and say, “There’s this dude out in security doing miracles and prophecies, but he’s not one of us. Should we shut him up?” (I’m paraphrasing a little bit.)
And Jesus says, ”NO!”
“If he’s not against us, he’s for us.”
And I think that example of Jesus to invite people who are doing good in doing the work of the Kingdom even if they don’t recognize is the work of the Kingdom is so typical and beautiful of Jesus.
Why tell stories like the good Samaritan, when all the typical cast of religious folk ignore the suffering of the neighbors, and the most unlikely suspect actually does something about it?
So I think it’s those things that Sister Joan says so well, “Jesus consistently challenges the chosen and includes the excluded.”
And I really think that’s part of what we should be about in the church. It’s working together with those of us with many of the same values and goals and challenging our own hypocrisy within our own inner circle.
Shane - Who owns the pond? Wealth disparity and restorative justice – 33:29-34:18
And I don’t think social justice is the best phrase to capture the biblical vision of justice. And a buddy of mine who is a little smarter than me and studied the Bible, he’s a theologian. He said the best way to capture this idea that was often justice and righteousness, how do you put language on that–it’s restorative justice.
And I think that’s a beautiful language for what we are talking about. What we’re talking about is not just getting what we deserve. But it’s healing what’s been wounded. And that’s how I would suggest that as Christians we can understand biblical justice, that is restorative. And my native friends have taught me the wounds of history are there; there’s no doubt what we have done to indigenous people, the legacy that slavery and racism has left, that sin is there. But they say, ”It’s not just about getting our land back. If we can’t forgive, we are still hostage to history.” And I think that’s one of the powerful and most subversive, scandalous things in Scripture is the idea of grace and forgiveness. And this idea of shalom or restorative justice is that we’re trying to heal the wounds that history has left us.
But in order to do that we have to also recognize that sin has a social value… There are things that have happened in the past that have continued to leave a legacy for us today. And that’s where the social and restorative aspect come into this.
And you see that, over and over we can see the repercussions that our neighborhood in north Philadelphia. Dr. John Perkins, whom Peter quoted, is a great friend and mentor of mine.
And one of the things that Dr. Perkins says when there’s all kinds of elements that we combat, the poverty and social ills of our world. ”You know you’ve heard the old saying, ”You give a person a fish and you feed him for a day; but if you teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
He says, “We’ve also got to ask, “Who owns the pond? And who polluted the pond? And who built the gates up… and why does a fishing license cost so stinkin’ much?”"
I know a lot of people that have a fishing rod, and they can’t get to the pond.
And I think the deeper issues around this are so important, and I think Peter is doing in beautiful ways in others countries and somewhat maybe here too, but I think that part of the issue is we pit these things against each other. So we say, “Oh no, we need to be giving people fish,” or “No, we need to be giving creating jobs.” Or “Oh no, we just need to be in the Occupy Movement on Wall Street.”
I think we should say, “Yeah, every little element of giving people fish, teaching people to fish, and challenging the patterns of injustice are all a part of the movement of what God is doing in the world.”
Peter – What does social justice require of me? 41:45 – 45:05
I guess I’d start with saying social justice has no claim on me or you at all. It’s impossible for social justice to make a claim on someone. Jesus Christ has every right to ask everything. And that’s not a radical thought.
Everything single thing, if we understand that we have been loved, we have been forgiven, out of that, every single thing we have in our hand, everything single thing we have in our wallet, every single thing we have in our heart… becomes a claim.
It’s like that old hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” I love the last line in that: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Jesus has the right to make a claim on every single thing we have. The broader question is then, What does that look like for those of us that are here? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? How do we live out justice and mercy right where we are?
And I think it’s really interesting to look at the example of LifeChurch.tv, a large church in Oklahoma. And what they discovered is that they initially were taking small groups of people all over the world in massive numbers. And what they found is that in the wake of their good intentions were a lot of problems. When you just pick up a group of people from central Oklahoma, and you just indiscriminately drop them around the world without long-term relationship–without proper training, without a bigger context–then it’s actually going to cause more harm than good.
So what they said was, “Let’s change our paradigm, and what does love look like?” And they did that by doing a lot of research and a lot of listening, and some friends, Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett came in… and they totally redesigned [their program].
Here’s what they found: every single one of their congregation members should be actively serving in their community. And they said, “Let’s transform that city with our time and talents. Let’s get serious so everyone has an opportunity for mentoring, for coaching, for cleanup, for volunteerism. Let’s get so many people actively loving and serving in our community that we are going to transform this city.” And they did a beautiful job doing that.
And they also said, “We still do not want to ignore the needs of the world. So let’s make sure what programs work, and what really makes an impact, and let’s get resources behind them. Let’s send out smaller teams of people so that they really go deep, where they live and serve. And they go deep in what really works in strengthening the local church in those contexts.”
And I think that is a powerful example why it’s not actually good for all of us to feel like we should spend all of our time doing little bits of service here and there. It’s way better to go deep. To be intentional. And to figure out what works – but to be exceptionally generous as we serve with our talents wherever they are best fit and also with our treasure, figuring out how to fuel and how to advance what is really making a lasting difference.
Peter – The world’s best antipoverty program is a job -18:36 – 20:50
John Perkins said, “The world’s best antipoverty program is a job.”
Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup said, “If countries fail at creating jobs, their societies will fall apart, will experience suffering, instability, chaos, and eventually revolution.”
One of my favorite economists, Bono said, ”I’m a rock star preaching capitalism.” Not something you would have heard Bono saying several years ago.
“Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it. Commerce is real. Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce–entrepreneurial capitalism–takes more people out of poverty than aid,” said Bono.
When Bono, a very bright individual, was looking at the statistics, he recognized the recent study at Yale University and the Brookings Institution: in 1981, 52 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty, unable to care for their own needs. That’s incredible. That’s a really high percentage.
By 2011, the rate is down to 15 percent.
We’re living in a time of more people exiting poverty than ever before. And the report concludes with this; it wasn’t due to the World Bank or the United Nations. But it was due to the rise of globalization and the spread of capitalism. The Economist wrote about this study and said, “Most of the credit, however, must go to capitalism and free trade, for they enable economies to grow–and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution.
Jobs, in the social justice conversation, to often are missing as a central ingredient in the war against poverty.
Peter – Buffet line Christianity? Are we counting the costs? - 15:38-16:48
But the current dialogue in social justice almost makes [caring for people in poverty] seem like an item that we can take or leave as we please. And so we go up to the menu and say, “I’d like a little bit of Christianity. Thank you.”
“I would like a whole lot of “bless me” please.”
“I would like a whole lot of answers to my prayers.”
“You know about the whole thing about caring for the widow, the orphan… You know the whole thing about helping others, even when it costs laying down my life?”
“I’m not into that. That’s for other people. That’s not for me.”
The way we have had the discussion on social justice allows it to be this opt-in for people as opposed to what Scripture says, that if you understand what Christ has done for you, you have no choice. It would be better to stop calling ourselves Christians than to still wear that label and not have an active response to the needs of our world.
The second challenge I have with the Social Gospel movement is that it makes [caring for people in poverty] seem like an optional activity for us.
Peter – Are we treating the root cause of poverty? 17:54 -18:36
And sometimes in the social justice conversation, we want to continue to treat symptoms without ever going to the root cause.
It’s like we keep seeing individuals floating down the river in front of us. And so we want to reach and save them. And we want to reach out to help. And we’re motivated to help without ever going up stream to say, “Why are people falling in in the first place? Why isn’t there a fence there? Why aren’t they able to swim?
Jobs are the secret force in alleviating poverty. Ward Brehm wrote famously,“The best way to help the poor is to help them not be poor anymore.”