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A Message to Religious Leaders From An Outsider

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   “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”  –Jesus, speaking in the Temple during the last week of his life, according to Matthew 23:23-24.


Some time ago I was in conversation with a pastor who heaped a bunch of us other pastors together as “social justice pastors” and did so in a not-so-subtly dismissive way.  From this pastor’s perspective, the social justice bunch had missed the true mark and not focused in on the core message of grace that defines our denomination.  Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising to the SJP’s that they find themselves struggling with their vocations  in the church. It was too bad, yet also implicitly deserved.

It seems to me that Jesus is saying you can’t parse grace in ways that leave justice–and it’s key component , mercy–on the sidelines of “proper theology.”  The systems that do so are systems that inevitably result in a few folks pleasuring themselves while ignoring the needs of the many.

And right now, the needs of the many are growing exponentially huge.


3 responses »

  1. Social Justice Pastors (SJP) probably have one main thing in common – they perceive salvation as happening now and continuing after death. Hence, they take social justice very seriously. Those who think SJP’s are missing the mark most probably see salvation as something that happens only after death. Hence, they see the purpose of Chistianity as getting people to heaven. These two views make a huge difference in how one understands the task of a Christian in today’s world. “I was hungry and you have me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, as stranger and you welcomed me…” is involvement in both salvation and social justice. Perceiving the purpose of Chirstianity to be the afterlife is where the real problem is.

  2. Social justice is an important part of the Christian faith; however I would disagree with anyone who says it is the Gospel as has Jim Wallis and others. Particularly as Lutherans, we believe the core focus of the gospel is the proclamation we are saved by grace through faith. Period.

    Yet, that proclamation bears fruit–at least theoretically. While we are not saved by our good works, we hopefully are so moved by God’s action that we seek to commit as many good works as possible–particularly those Christ called his followers to commit. Unfortunately, there are times when I sense and feel pastors who are consumed with social justice issues making those issues the exclusive gospel message or making those issues a new sort of legalism. In my estimation, such foci are wrong.


  3. Kevin,
    That’s a good apologetic for traditional Lutheranism.

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