Social Justice, Collective Guilt, and the Christian

There is a moral cancer that is feeding itself on the apostasy of Western society. It has been called “social justice ideology”, and it manifests itself as a sort of amalgamation of various narrower ideologies, such as Marxism, feminism, intersectionality theory, critical race theory, and post-modern thinking.  This insidious movement, warned against by many godly Christian teachers, is not at all on the order of the justice prescribed by the word of God in passages like Micah 6:8: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  For the Christian, this ideology or model ought to be recognized for what it is: one of many manifestations in history of “the spirit of the world”¹ that we have not received from God.

Others have written and spoken on the subject from a biblical perspective much more ably than I could hope to, and I would refer my readers to the work of Voddie Baucham,² Samuel Sey, and John MacArthur, to name a few.  My burden is not to spend much time defining terms or breaking down theories, but to address a few specific ways in which this spirit of the world is making inroads among young people who have been raised in Christian homes, and who may have been exposed for years to sound teaching and “the true grace of God”.

Believers in Christ are exhorted very definitely as to their behavior towards their fellowman in various New Testament texts, including this one: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10; I Thess. 5:15). Doing good to all, showing kindness and mercy, has always been the proper attitude and spirit for saints to operate under. But notice the distinction made here between “all” and the “household of faith”, and the emphasis that is placed on doing good to other members of the body of Christ, who are in the family of God.  This emphasis would run against the grain of the social justice model, for in its quest to identify and remediate the supposed disadvantages of a multitude of groups segmented by skin color, gender, and sexual preference, it has become a de facto denial of the scriptures that clearly tell us that in Christianity “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28).

The Christian mandate for doing good to all, and for taking advantage of opportunities to practically express “judgment (justice) and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23), has not just recently come to light. Godly saints have been practising this for many centuries. Of course, we need frequent exhortation and correction in these things, but it is to the wisdom in the word of God that we must turn for guidance in our “doing good”, rather than to human wisdom, which is “the wisdom of this world”¹.  James 3:15-17 defines further the character of that wisdom from God, which operates on an entirely different plane than human wisdom: “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” If the ideology or model you are hearing promoted as the way to do the most good in society has not these characteristics of purity and peaceableness, in that order, then you can be quite certain it is merely “earthly, natural, and devilish” wisdom, and you ought to reject it.  I believe the social justice we see promoted and acted on in our day is neither pure nor peaceable, when carefully examined in the light of God’s word.

I am concerned over the attractiveness (especially to younger Christians) of one of the major principles of social justice (and a logical conclusion of critical race theory), that responsibility and guilt for the real or supposed oppression of certain groups can be attributed corporately or collectively.  In light of this, these questions suggest themselves: Is “collective guilt” a real issue, and if so, how should it be addressed? Is it in the same category as what we might call “guilt by association”?  Do the scriptures have anything to say on these matters?

The idea of collective guilt or corporate evil might seem particularly compelling at this moment in time, and many people who have been categorized as part of the oppressor group have been seen confessing and genuflecting with regret and humility before those whom they believe they have collectively oppressed.  Now, if you have ever lived a day of your life acting as though (for example) black lives do not matter, or as though the life of anyone made in the image of God is meaningless, then you ought to repent of that individual sin, and make restitution (if applicable) to the persons you wronged in whatever manner. But let us look at a few portions of scripture for spiritual and moral principles.

We might begin with Ezekiel’s prophecy in chapter 18 of his writings: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son . . .”  Jehovah establishes here the primacy of individual accountability for one’s sin and guilt. This could hardly be plainer. But then we also see collective, national responsibility for departure from Jehovah, as evidenced by this confession of Daniel, a man of God without recorded failure:  “I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God . . . We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments” (Daniel 9:1-19).  You might ask: If Daniel felt this burden and repented on account of collective guilt or national failure, would this not be the appropriate posture for a Christian who grieves over the past or present mistreatment of people groups by his countrymen? Before we directly address that question, let us go to the New Testament.

The ministry of John the Baptist was to preach repentance and to baptize the repentant in preparation for the manifestation of Jesus Christ to Israel (Matthew 3:1-17). That baptism was the sign of moral separation from the Jewish nation that claimed Abraham as their father, but which had borne little more than bad fruit. Going forward to Pentecost, we see that the repentance and Christian baptism called for there also had the promise and the effect of separating new Jewish believers morally from the generation that crucified their Messiah, forgiving them for that terrible sin (Acts 2:38).  Even later, Saul of Tarsus submits to baptism in order to have his “sins washed away” (Acts 22:15-16). In other words, he could not be useful as a witness to the risen Christ while yet fully identified with the guilty nation who had called for Jesus’ crucifixion, who had in hateful prejudice delivered up the Man whom Jehovah had sent to be their Savior. Saul (later called Paul) received by baptism an administrative forgiveness from the corporate sin of the Jewish people, and from his own participation in their sin. He could later say with a pure conscience: “I am clean from the blood of all [men]” (Acts 20:26).

Then we find the Roman centurian Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, who believed the message of the gospel of the grace of God, and was baptized with his household (Acts 10 & 11). His baptism was not to separate him from the Jewish nation, of which he obviously was never a part, but it was nevertheless a symbol of his death to sin in the flesh, as well as his death to the principle of the world, in identification with Christ (Romans 6:1-7; Colossians 2:10-20).  Now, if ever a modern Christian social justice warrior might have reason to make a case for collective guilt being attached to a believer in Christ, it should be in this case. Cornelius was part of the Roman military machine, and connected in that way with many oppressive and violent acts, yet upon believing and being baptized, neither God nor the assembly of God held him any longer responsible for violence committed by the Roman army. He would have been individually responsible, as one who feared God, to “do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely,” complying with the standard set by John the Baptist for soldiers in Luke 3:14. God had long patience with His saints during this transitionary time, as the full dignity of their separated, heavenly position in this world was still in development, to be fully revealed through the Lord’s chosen vessel, the apostle Paul.

Much more could be said on the matter of individual responsibility as it relates to collective guilt or corporate evil. In Christianity, we do find the need for local assemblies in the character of “God’s house” to maintain the truth collectively (I Timothy 3:15), to put out “the leaven of malice and wickedness” (I Corinthians 5), and to go through a process of collective mourning and repentance in order to clear themselves of evil that dishonors the Lord Jesus Christ, whose house we are (II Corinthians 7:8-12).   But to press the need for repentance and confession for having a certain skin color or ethnic origin or income level is a gross misrepresentation of how God sees accountability for evil and oppression in the world today.  The social justice ideology that makes such demands is antithetical to the truth of the transforming and healing power of the gospel of the grace of God.

Now let’s return briefly to Daniel.  There is very little analogy between Daniel’s burden for his nation’s evil on the one hand, and a corporate responsibility for the evil done by people of a particular skin color or gender. God’s way in this dispensation of grace is not to deal with a nation, for that dispensation of a chosen nation under law ended in failure, and in the end the godly were constrained to separate morally from it by repentance and baptism. It is now God’s way to transform the heart of the individual believer in Christ, and to bring him or her onto Christian ground by baptism, and by faith into an entirely new kind of corporate entity that surpasses all others as to its claims and its associations:  that is, the body of Christ.

If you are a baptized saint of God, you have taken the position of being separated from the world’s politics and its social and racial struggle. Now you ought to act consistently with that position. Christian, if you identify yourself with a particular denomination in Christendom, or if you identify yourself with a particular political party, or even take pride in your racial or ethnic characteristics, do not be surprised if such voluntary identification or pride leads social justice advocates to call for your repentance from, or confession of, the evils those parties or groups have committed in the past. And this is morally as it should be. Be very careful of any name or cause with whom you voluntarily identify, and be careful as well of proudly owning any earthly citizenship that may legitimately connect you with oppression or evil.³  You are called to be separated to God by Christ (in heart, in name, and in moral position) from that which would dishonor Him, including oppression or violence toward those He made in His own image.

 

¹   I Corinthians 2

²   Recommended viewing: “Defining Social Justice”, address by Voddie Baucham, 2019

³   See II Corinthians 6:14-18; I Timothy 5:22; II Timothy 2:19:22; Revelation 18:4-5

 

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