In 1920, a young activist organized a public meeting in a major city. Inside a hall holding hundreds of poor, underprivileged people, he delivered a speech describing how his ethnic people were oppressed and burdened, exploited and betrayed, excluded and bullied by a more privileged group.
He explained the oppressors had infiltrated nations and become parasites for centuries. His point was that the oppressors destroyed nations because they were greedy and bloodthirsty for privilege. He made the claim that his people were forced into food shortages while the oppressors lived in excess. Then he said:
We do not believe that there could ever exist a state with lasting inner health if it is not built on internal social justice, and so we have joined forces with this knowledge…we realized that if this movement does not penetrate into the masses, to organize them, then everything will be in vain; then we will never be able to liberate our people and we will never be able to think of rebuilding our country.
That social justice movement penetrated to the masses. The activist organized a powerful, promising group of politicians. He formed a group to liberate his people and to rebuild his country. And five years later in 1925, he wrote a book called Mein Kampf. The activist’s name was Adolf Hitler.
Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party were a threat to Jews because social justice is a threat to human rights.
Jews in Europe were considered privileged and oppressive in their nations long before Hitler’s influence. In the 17th century, poor Europeans in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth killed between 50,000 and 100,000 Jews during the Khmelnytsky Uprising because they believed Jews were oppressive and privileged. And Hitler’s social justice activism against Jews wasn’t too dissimilar to Joseph Stalin’s propaganda against Jews in the Soviet Union. Stalin caricatured Russian Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans” and “bourgeois cosmopolitans” to describe their privilege and to incite discrimination against them.
Social justice was the basis for stripping rights away from Jews in the Khmelnytsky Uprising. Social justice was the basis for discrimination against Jews in the Soviet Union. Social justice was the basis for the holocaust in Nazi Germany. Social justice is the basis for South Africa’s initiative to strip property rights from White farmers. Social justice is the basis for stripping a pre-born baby’s right to life.
When I talk to pro-choice people about abortion, I use a human rights argument. I ask them:
Do you believe in human rights? They answer, yes. Then I ask, who deserves human rights? They say, humans. Then I ask, if two people reproduce, what will their offspring be? They say, human. Then I ask, can something grow without being alive? They answer, no.
Then finally, I ask them, isn’t abortion a human rights violation? By that point, they’ve already admitted pre-born babies are living humans, and that compels them to agree that abortion is a human rights violation.
But virtually every single pro-choice person I talk to rejects the original premise by suggesting that a woman’s right to choose is more valuable than a pre-born baby’s right to live. And that is why Planned Parenthood describes themselves as a reproductive rights and social justice organization, rather than a human rights group.
The term “social justice” was apparently coined by a catholic priest named Luigi Taparelli in the 19th century to describe a process by which justice is applied in society. In the 20th century, however, social justice became a relative term. It had entirely different definitions for different people. For instance, Adolf Hitler used the term to describe his motivations to liberate Aryan Germans from the disproportionately wealthy and–in his mind– oppressive Jews. However, his rival, Winston Churchill, used the term to describe his and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s motivation to liberate the world from Hitler.
Over time the term ‘social justice’ became associated with critical theorists and Neo-Marxists from the Frankfurt School in Germany. They rejected universal rights or human rights as a basis for justice. They essentially rejected liberty for individuals as the hallmark for justice in society. They believed, instead, that parity between groups were the mark of justice in society. They rejected individualism and embraced collectivism. They did not define justice as equality of opportunity; they defined justice as equality of outcome.
They agreed with Karl Marx that disparities between privileged and underprivileged members of society are indicative of injustice. They believed privileged members of society and underprivileged members of society make up the oppressor and the oppressed. Therefore for them, justice—social justice meant eliminating disparities between groups in society. They concluded that justice is when a society implements a system that produces equality of outcome for groups, instead of equality of opportunity for individuals.
This is why disparities between men and women and disparities between White Americans and Black Americans are two of the biggest issues for social justice activists today. This is why White privilege and male privilege are two of the biggest social justice buzzwords today.
The Neo-Marxist and critical theorist understanding of social justice is overwhelmingly the definition for social justice today. That is how colleges and universities define social justice. That is how my professors described social justice to me. That is how many dictionaries define social justice. For instance, Google and The Oxford Dictionary define social justice as, “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”
A society that embraces Neo-Marxism and distributes wealth and privileges between groups will inevitably violate an individual’s right to life and liberty. When South Africa’s government voted to strip property rights from White farmers in February, they did so as a means to distribute wealth and privileges to Black South Africans.
In South Africa and every part of the world today, social justice doesn’t fight racism, it fosters it. It doesn’t defend rights, it destroys it. It conflates disparities with discrimination. It suggests people are guilty before proven innocent. It believes in the rule of leftism, not the rule of law. It believes in feelings, not facts. It believes in microaggressions, not maturity. Social justice is about perceived injustice, not proved injustice. It is an unending, unhelpful, unsatisfying thirst to fill broken cisterns. It doesn’t affirm human rights. It doesn’t advance the gospel. It isn’t the gospel. It worships the critical theory, not Christ.
When the Bible commands us to “hate evil, love good, and establish justice” (Amos 5:15), it isn’t instructing us to eliminate disparities in society. Instead, it instructs us to identify evil and oppressive laws in society, so that being led by compassion and conviction, we would work to protect human rights for all. In other words, we should be like or support people like William Wilberforce and Francis Grimké, who identified slavery and segregation, respectively, as violations of human rights and worked tirelessly to establish liberty for all.
If we can identify objectively evil and oppressive laws against members in our society today, then we must name these laws. We should not, however, be distracted by perceptions of privilege and disparities. Otherwise, we will sow division into society and division into the church, and thereby threatening work to establish human rights and threatening work to advance the gospel.