One of the main dividing lines in modern evangelicalism is between the proponents and the opponents of the social justice movement. Unfortunately, the differences between these two groups can sometimes become a source of contention, as it did at the 2018 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Within the SBC, the staff of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) are probably the most vocal supporters of social justice efforts. At the SBC’s annual meeting in June of 2018, someone made a motion to defund the ERLC for “condemning Christian supporters of President Trump,” advocating “for Islamic mosques to be built,” and being in favor of illegal immigration. All of these allegations are caricatures of the valuable work the ERLC does, and the motion was soundly defeated. However, the contentious nature of the debate over the social justice movement is all too real.
What is the Social Justice Movement?
The social justice movement is one possible response to something we all realize: society has a sin problem. Our society has been negatively impacted by sin; furthermore, as a society, we take corporate actions that are themselves sinful. We see this from both a biblical and a contemporary point of view.
In the New Testament, the Bible contrasts the world with the kingdom of God. In Ephesians 2, for example, Paul considers the change wrought in Christians by Christ. Prior to salvation, we “followed the ways of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Similarly, Jesus repeatedly warned his disciples about conforming to the world. He said that the world hated him and would hate all those who belong to him. Regardless of how we parse all of the details, we can agree that the Bible teaches that the world—including human society—is evil and runs contrary to the will of God.
In addition, even the most casual glance at the morning news will reveal that our society is not a baptized utopia. Materialism, racism, immorality, and all our other favorite sins constantly remind us that we do not live in a Christian society. Our society favors some groups while making life more difficult for others, which runs contrary to God’s will. Like all human institutions, our society is negatively affected by the sins of humanity.
Regardless of how we feel about the social justice movement, we can all agree that our society is fundamentally flawed. We simply do not live in the New Jerusalem.
Examining the Social Justice Movement
The social justice movement is one of the ways that Christians try to respond to these social sins. Proponents of the social justice movement agree that we should fight against social sins. Like all movements, the actions that form the social justice movement can differ in their size and radicalness. The common theme is that people are doing something to fight against sinful currents in society as a whole.
One recent example of a social justice effort was from ERLC president Russell Moore. When a terrorist attacked a Jewish worship service in Pittsburgh recently, Moore believed that the attack was motivated by rising anti-Semitism in American society. As a response to this trend, Moore, a leading evangelical scholar, wrote the provocatively titled essay, “If You Hate Jews, You Hate Jesus,” which was subsequently published by the Washington Post.
Though opponents of the social justice movement often clash with its proponents, the fact is that we’re all in favor of the social justice movement in some way. Virtually all evangelicals are against abortion. Fighting abortion is a social justice issue, however. So, maybe the question isn’t really whether we’re for or against social justice efforts. Maybe the real question is what social justice causes we deem worthwhile, and what we’re willing to do to protest the sins of society.
Notes & Sources
 Ephesians 2:2.
 Galatians 3:26-29.