Lutherans, the Bible and justice

FernLeeHagedorn
10/05/2010

Lutherans, the Bible and justice

For the Bible tells me so?

In a recent e-mail exchange, a Lutheran friend wrote, "Churches should not be involved in promoting 'social' or 'global' justice."

He went on to explain that social justice was something secular, a product of socialist progressives and extreme-left liberals.

Where had I heard this before?

Glenn Beck of Fox News advised his followers that if they heard the terms "social justice" or "economic justice" preached in their churches to run as fast and as far away as they could.

He went on to give a lengthy explanation of these terms, which, in essence, boiled down to one word: socialism.

Although Lutherans are credited with being "People of the Book" (sola scriptura), I wonder how many of us could either dispute or support Beck's assertions based on the Bible? Is social justice unbiblical? Is social justice the same as socialism? Is socialism unbiblical?

In one congregation, a young Sunday school student brought his Bible to church. "What is that you're holding?" asked a friendly parishioner. "It’s my Bible. I didn’t see any here so I thought I’d bring my own.”

There are Gallup polls that tell us that nearly every American owns a least one Bible, but few know what’s inside. "Who were Cain and Abel?” Jay Leno of "The Tonight Show" asked a passer-by in Los Angeles. "Friends of Jesus?” was the sheepish reply.

Measuring biblical knowledge is not necessarily a game of "Jeopardy!" However, many would agree that all of us could study the Bible a little more.

From 1948 to 1960, Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler led the city through major projects including thousands of new public housing units and an educational television station.

Zeidler was conversant in Martin Luther’s "two kingdoms” theory in which both church and government have a responsibility to each other -- and that those in public office have responsibilities to ensure justice and preserve peace.

Zeidler was a member of the Socialist Party. Zeidler was also a biblically grounded, faithful Lutheran.

Words such as justice, evangelical and progressive, among others, have become the subject of serious discussion and polarizing blather. Often these terms have taken on new meanings and values.

Often, these meanings are incorrect: Social justice means socialism; an evangelical is a fundamentalist; progressives are left-wing, radical liberals.

Unfortunately, media celebrities have become our new scholars, theologians, pastors and yes, even savior.

Imagine this conversation:

Glenn: Jesus, don’t you think that social justice is wrong? I mean, it’s another way of saying that the government should take from the rich and give to the poor. That’s socialism. That’s not right, is it?

Jesus: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.

Glenn: OK, you’re God’s Son. I’m all for helping the poor. I give a lot of money to charity.

Jesus: There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.

Glenn: I know you just meant that as a metaphor for being generous. Americans don’t need the government to take care of the poor. We’re pretty good at that as private citizens.

Jesus: Moses once said, "Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.”

Glenn: But those illegal aliens; first of all, they’re taking away all of our jobs and draining our tax dollars. We need to take care of our citizens first.

Jesus: Again, Moses said, "Do not deprive the alien or fatherless of justice.”

Glenn: Justice? I’m for justice. What’s fair is fair -- if you work hard, you live well.

Jesus: It is said, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

Glenn: Sure, Jesus. But I’m only one person and I’m doing the best that I can.

Jesus: And learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need.

Glenn: We’ve run out of time, Jesus. And come to think of it, I’ve gotta run too.

Whether we’re talking about social justice, global justice, economic justice or just justice, Lutherans should run as fast as they can into their churches to study the Bible regularly, and simultaneously run out into the world with that good news.

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