Summary: We celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday here in the US. Examining the role of Judeo-Christian values in the early anti-slavery and nascent Civil Rights movement. Where modern social justice errs. Why Yeshua’s disciples ought not be social justice warriors.
Standing alongside the Christian pastor Martin Luther King Jr. were the Jewish rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel and Maurice Eisendrath.
What inspired Jews holding Torah scrolls to walk alongside Christians carrying crosses?
It's the values of the Bible.
The Torah – the first 5 books of the Jewish and Christian Bible –instructs us to treat oppressed people (poor, foreigners, widows, orphans, etc.) with kindness and fairness.
You are not to pervert justice to your poor. Stay far away from a false charge. Do not kill the innocent and the righteous, for I will not justify the guilty... Do not oppress the foreigner, for you know the heart of a foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
If a foreigner lives with you in your land, you should do him no wrong. The foreigner living among you shall be to you as one native-born. You must love your neighbor as yourself—for you yourselves once lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt.
You must not mistreat any widow or orphan. If you mistreat them in any way, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry...and your wives will become widows and your children will become orphans.
These Divine statements motivated Jews and Christians to undermine the legal abuses of minorities in the 1950s when so many others were either lethargic bystanders or approving cheerleaders.
Judeo-Christian values sparked these men of faith to work a marvelous and lasting justice that endures to this day.
Consider this: These men of faith actually saved peoples’ lives and reduced human suffering by the millions through their good works.
Let Christians learn the lesson: the all-grace, do-nothing-gospel preachers who tell you good works somehow cancels God’s grace are not telling the truth. All grace and no works reduces us to worthless, ineffective people of faith.
How Biblical values overthrew slavery
Atheists often call out the Bible’s apparent approval of slavery and other ugly practices of the old world. They point to these things and justify unbelief in God.
But these people miss the reality that it was the values of the Bible that ultimately undermined slavery in the West and sparked the massive social change necessary to overturn the millennia-old practice.
In the UK, the 18th century English lawmaker and Evangelical Christian William Wilberforce was convicted of the evil nature of slavery through his reading of the Bible. He wrote in his diary,
“God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and Reformation of Morals.”
He contended for the abolition of slavery for 20 years of his career. It bore fruit in 1807 when the Slave Trade Act passed, effectively abolishing slavery in the United Kingdom.
In the US, of the 4 groups that settled the American continent, it was the most religious group, the Quakers, that formally and legally opposed slavery as early at 1688.
The great Evangelical preacher Charles Spurgeon saw his sermons censored by slaveholders due to his preaching against slavery, calling it "the foulest blot" that "may have to be washed out in blood." (How sadly prescient a prophecy!)
And leading up to the American Civil War, the US Abolitionist movement found its majority among devout religious Christians. The influential American Anti-Slavery Society, with its campaigns of persuasion throughout state and federal governments, was headed up not by the secular Enlightenment, but by Protestant Christian clergy.
A 19th century historian recorded that American opposition to the Abolitionists was strong, as citizens protested an intrusion into the State by members of the Church. Separation of Church and State was once used in favor of slavery in the United States.
The early civil rights movement was birthed not by secular social justice warriors, but by Christian and Jewish religious leaders who took seriously the thrust of the Bible’s imperative to care for oppressed people.
What about slavery in the Bible?
In short, the Bible neither commands nor forbids slavery.
But this is misleading: the Bible does indeed forbid the kind of slavery that has existed in modern history: enslavement of a race due to the color of their skin, mistreatment and abuse, treating foreigners as less than human. This is explicitly forbidden in multiple Biblical commandments.
Much of the “slavery” in the Bible isn’t really slavery at all as we think of it, but rather a system of bond-servitude: In ancient times, if a person couldn’t pay off a debt, he could temporarily work for and live with the owner of the debt until the debt was repaid.
While many religious argued in favor of continued slavery, noting the Bible doesn’t forbid it, it was the bold faithful people who saw the Biblical injustice of the slave trade. The knew the modern slave trade was no parallel of the ancient Biblical bond service, and they recognized the abuse of human life ran counter to the Law of God.
The failures of the modern social justice movement
It’s now been 49 years since Rev. King’s assassination. Who now carries the torch of standing for the oppressed?
Today’s inheritor of all the good works of the faithful appears to be the social justice warriors and the new civil rights movement. These champion not only the rights of racial minorities, but also of religious minorities and sexual orientation minorities.
(It doesn’t champion all minorities, nor all helpless people, nor the innocent, as we’ll discuss shortly.)
Some Christians and Jews, particularly those swayed by the political left, identify with these social justice causes, believing them to be in the genuine preserved tradition of the great religious pioneers of civil rights.
Yet the modern social justice movement has erred, and like a lazy child receiving the inheritance of a hard-working father, it has become the very thing its civil rights parent once opposed.
Some examples are in order.
Martin Luther King famously proclaimed he dreamt of a time when “people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
The modern social justice movement opposes this in tangible ways. It’s gone so far to the other side as to promote a kind of new kind of racism, practicing unfairness to rectify past unfairness; a reverse oppression.
“The modern social justice movement has erred, and like a lazy child receiving the inheritance of a hard-working father, it has become the very thing its civil rights parent once opposed.”
For example, many American universities now support racial quotas for students. Students who are minorities are now more likely to receive full-ride scholarships because of the color of their skin.
This is color-compensation, not color-blindness.
It produces students who rightly question whether they’ve been accepted on scholarly merit or because of the color of their skin. And peers who do the same.
This is not MLK’s dream, but rather the dream of the spoiled child: modern social justice.
This form of reverse oppression is forbidden by the very same Judeo-Christian values that informed Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel:
You are to do no injustice in judgment. You are not to be partial toward the poor nor show favoritism toward the great, but you are to judge your neighbor with fairness.
The same Torah (in fact, the same chapter of the same book) which warns us against mistreating oppressed people also warns us against doing the opposite: showing partiality to someone because of his oppressed status. In matters of justice, God commands us, “do not be partial toward the poor…but judge your neighbor with fairness.”
Another example is one from my own profession. As a technologist and leader of technical conferences, I can attest first hand: there is now a kind of reverse oppression where people will boycott conventions that don’t have an arbitrary number of minorities as speakers.
One prominent and recent example is Jon Skeet, a well-known and respected software developer and renowned tech speaker, who announced just last month he will stop speaking at technical conferences if his arbitrary quota of speakers isn’t filled with enough women. Reverend King dreamed of not being judged by the color of his skin, but modern social justice demands we judge according to the shape of your genitals. This is reverse oppression and faux-morality.
As a technologist who helps run technical conferences, I can attest that we certainly don’t oppress minorities. I personally want more women and more minorities in tech; having a monoculture hurts us. Historically, we even encourage diversity by reaching out to minority and women-in-tech groups, and by making our conventions and conferences be agnostic to color, orientation, religion, and gender.
And yet, a kind of reverse oppression is going on through forced minority quotas – and whoever doesn’t get on board is the next boycott target.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the US is another such example of the failure of the modern social justice movement. BLM aimed to stand up against police brutality targeting blacks – a noble and Bible-values-approved cause – but has now gone into the other ditch.
BLM activists regularly engage in reverse racism, demeaning whites as oppressors and even vowing vengeance. In one incident last year, a BLM zealot opened fire with a sniper rifle on white policemen, murdering 5 people. Even the leftist New York Times admitted the sniper was “clearly encouraged by Black Lives Matter rhetoric.”
Another example: In a Minnesota town only a few miles away from me, a black man sitting in his car was shot by police officer who mistakenly believed he was reaching for a gun. The tragedy was broadcast live on Facebook. Black Lives Matter staged protests, blocking freeways, rioting, pressuring businesses and politicians to bow to their political agenda.
Few people had the courage to point out the offending officer was not white, but was a minority himself. But it didn’t matter; to BLM, this was clearly a matter of white oppression.
Black Lives Matter has become less about fairness and justice and more about reverse racism. This, again, is not the color-blind justice advocated by Reverend King and his Judeo-Christian values.
Inequality ≠ injustice
The modern social justice movement errs again when it perceives any form of inequality as an injustice.
Take, for instance, this week’s popular New York Times article, World’s 8 Richest People Have as Much Wealth as the Bottom Half. Social justice warriors cry “inequality!” and demand forced redistribution.
Where is the injustice in this inequality, you ask?
Well, there is none. Inequality does not equal injustice.
Just because something is not equal does not mean an injustice has occurred.
I’m 6’6” – unequally tall to most of the world! – yet no injustice has occurred. I work 3 jobs to make more money than most people; still no injustice has occurred. I stay in shape and try to be healthy unlike many in the West; still no injustice has occurred. Or on the other side of things, the best guitar players in the world have 1,000x the skills I have; still no injustice has occurred. (I wonder, do the top 8 guitar players have more talent than the bottom 50% in the world? Oh, the inequality!)
To social justice warriors, inequality of any kind is a great evil to be eradicated through the point of a gun by a powerful central government.
In truth, this is little more than a violation of the 10th commandment:
Do not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his servants male or female, his animals, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to him.
Income inequality is a politically correct term for coveting what our neighbor has. God calls us to something better.
In the case of the world’s wealthiest 8 men, they worked hard and took risks that no one else took. In a free market, risks and investment can produce wealth.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and other tech luminaries made a wild bet – that they could put in the hard work to make computers popular and on every desk – and they dumped all their time and money (and the borrowed money from relatives and friends!) to make this dream a reality.
And it worked.
Bill Gates put a computer in every home. Steve Jobs put a computer that can make phone calls in every pocket. In a free market, they were rewarded greatly for their work and investment.
But none of that matters to the social justice movement.
It’s not fair that Bill Gates has a lot of money. Social justice warriors demand wealth be shared with the rest of us; even Joe Blow, whose primary contributions to the world include viewership for Judge Judy and exhaled ganja smoke.
Social justice warriors and political leftists, particularly socialists in the West, rage against these inequalities. But inequality is not injustice.
Another example of inequality that isn’t injustice is the ratio of men to women in prison. Men far outweigh women in prison. Did some injustice occur? No, it’s that men currently commit more crimes than women do.
Some people are unequal because of the content of their characters, for better or worse. And that aligns with Rev. King’s vision and his Judeo-Christian values.
Social justice’s lack of standards
Modern social justice rightly champions one area – mercy – but fails in its corollary: standards.
God is a God of both mercy and standards.
Mercy: God is quick to forgive, slow to anger, overlooks our differences and squabbles, doesn’t hold a grudge, and judges people fairly by their character and their actions.
For the word of the LORD is upright
All His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice.
The earth is full of the love of the LORD.
The Lord is righteous—He loves justice.
The upright will see His face.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy—
Before the LORD, for He is coming!
He is coming to judge the earth
He will judge the world with righteousness
and the peoples in fairness
One could post nearly half the Bible talking about God’s mercy and fairness.
But if this was all there was to God, He would not be God at all. God is a God of mercy and standards.
A parent who loves his children but never corrects, never punishes, and holds no standards for his kids is not loving at all. Indeed, such a parent is inadvertently harming his kids, who will grow up thinking they are entitled to do anything as they please without regards to others.
God is better than that.
God has mercy and standards.
And this is where modern social justice warriors – now fully divorced from their roots in faith – have missed the mark.
God’s standards tell us we’re not to sin, for example. To the Reverend Martin Luther King, this was common sense and clear for a man of faith. But for social justice warriors today, this is heresy.
To say that an act is sin is purely heretical to the social justice movement. To the secular social justice warrior, sin doesn’t exist. There is almost no surer way to enrage (“trigger”) a modern social justice warrior than to claim one of their defended actions is sin.
For example, Reverend King’s Judeo-Christian values defines the sexual practices of adultery, promiscuity, and homosexuality as sin. God has something higher and better and life-producing for mankind. That doesn’t mean we should mistreat gays and adulterers, but rather, it means we are to amplify God’s better plan and stand against engaging in these practices ourselves in our communities.
Stating the Biblical truth that God’s ideal for mankind is faithful male-female marriage is total heresy to the social justice movement. And when you spout heresy to the social justice movement, be prepared for oppression.
Despite his unmatched gift to technology and the world, Brendan Eich lost his job through the abuse of the social justice movement. He was pressured to resign after LGBT activists discovered his personal $1,000 donation to a pro-traditional marriage cause in his home state.
This, again, is reverse oppression and demonstrates the very dangerous errors of the modern social justice movement. It damages free speech, it damages openness and diversity of thought. People lose jobs over the abuses of the social justice movement.
Only today, I found that social justice warriors issued death threats to the great opera star Andrea Bocelli. His crime? Planning to perform at the inauguration of the next President of the United States. (This, despite President Trump’s status as the first US President in favor of gay rights at his inauguration.)
Death threats were also sent to rhythm and blues star Jennifer Holliday for the same reason.
Is this really social justice? Surely not the kind Reverend King and his Judeo-Christian values espoused. This is oppression and it’s produced by the social justice movement.
Even the original impetus of the American Civil Rights movement – justice for the innocent and the helpless – is now frowned upon by the modern social justice movement. Millions of people who are both innocent and helpless are being oppressed right now in the US, legally, and social justice warriors are smiling on in approval.
That form of legal oppression of helpless innocents is innocuously called abortion. And it’s not merely tolerated, it’s applauded and vociferously defended in the name of the female rights.
But who – man or woman – has a right to kill innocent people? And where does that “right” come from? The founders of the United States saw rights as being granted by the Creator – so where does the “right” to kill innocent and helpless human beings come from? Surely not from the same Creator!
The great holocaust of innocent unborn children in the West is the most damning aspect of the modern social justice movement. Had it remained silent it would merely be passively evil. But that it cheers on and defends the gruesome reality of murdering unborn innocents makes it an active and useful tool in the hands of wicked people.
Instead of standing up against the oppression of the innocent and unborn, social justice warriors spend time arguing on the internet so that men with penises who fancy themselves to be women can use the female bathroom. In doing so, Reverend King’s grand vision is discarded in the name of feelings-based morality that only pretends to care for the oppressed.
Disciples of Messiah ought not be social justice warriors
The modern social justice movement, and indeed much of the new civil rights movement, has divorced itself from its faith-based roots. For these reasons, disciples of Jesus ought to not identify with them.
Instead, we must practice justice and mercy while retaining moral standards for our own communities. And we’ll do so in the name of God and faithfulness.
We ought to stand up for the oppressed without practicing reverse oppression. And we’ll do so in the name of God and faithfulness.
We can do good works and righteousness without marrying them to leftist politics. And we’ll do so in the name of God and faithfulness.
Rev. King’s vision of judging people by character-over-color is fulfilled not by the modern social justice movement and its abuses, its reverse oppression, and its grave failings.
Rather, we fulfill the faithful Reverend King’s dream by returning to what God told us to do some 3500 years ago, defined in the same book and spoken by the same God that sparked and stoked King’s holy fire.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on a lampstand so it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before men so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
-Messiah, Matthew 5