What is Social Justice?

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” — Amos 5:24

Social justice is a phrase Christians often use that refers to the dreams God has for the world. Being committed to social justice means partnering with God in order to make God’s dream become a reality in the here and now, for “God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Social justice is different than charity. Charity tries to help people who are in need, which is certainly important and worthy of our best efforts. But social justice tries to figure out why they are in need in the first place and tries to alleviate the causes of need. As the popular analogy goes, it’s one thing to pull a body out of a river (charity), but it’s another thing entirely to figure out why bodies are being thrown into the river in the first place (social justice).

This can be compared to what the great Martin Luther King Jr. said about the parable of the good Samaritan: “A true [transformation] of values will cause us to question the fairness of many of our policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” In other words, justice is not about putting a band-aid on those who are bleeding. It is about eliminating the reasons they are bleeding in the first place.

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