The following is a transcription of Dr. Voddie Baucham’s talk, “Biblical Justice vs. Social Justice,” given in January 2021 at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. The content has been selectively edited for ease of reading.
Defining “Social Justice”
Nobel Prize winning economist Fredrich Hayek once said, “I have come to feel strongly that the greatest service I can still render to my fellow men would be that I could make the speakers and writers among them thoroughly ashamed, ever again, to employ the term social justice.” I could not agree more with that sentiment. “Social justice” is a term that we need to avoid to any and every degree that we can. And I think it’s a term that we don’t understand.
One of my all-time, favorite movie characters is Inigo Montoya. If you don’t know who he is, you might need to reevaluate your faith and watch The Princess Bride. Inigo Montoya has this famous line, “You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” For many Christians, that’s true when it comes to the idea of social justice. We keep on using that word, but I don’t think it means what we think it means. Most people who use it mean well, but we need to understand that the term “social justice” has a very specific and well-defined meaning…
Why does the meaning of this matter? It matters because God demands justice. It matters because injustice is sin. And if social justice is truly justice, then anything that does not align with it is sin. Therefore, the term is incredibly problematic, and this is why so many of us fall prey to it because we know that God demands justice.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:1-8; emphasis added)
God demands justice from his people. This is why, as people use this social justice terminology, we must understand what it means. Justice is not optional. If social justice is justice, and injustice is sin, then we must be about the business of social justice. But what does social justice mean?
The Oxford English Dictionary says that social justice is a noun related to politics and philosophy: “Justice at the level of a society or state as regards the possession of wealth, commodities, opportunities and privileges.” And it says, “see distributive justice.” Social justice is distributive justice. That’s what social justice means.
William Young writes, “While often an amorphous term, ‘social justice’ has evolved to generally mean state redistribution of advantages and resources to disadvantaged groups, to satisfy their rights and social and economic equality.” Social justice is state redistribution… It is not a heart issue.
In Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, social justice is defined as “an analysis of how power, privilege and oppression impact our experience of our social identities” — our experience of our social identities, not the reality of our social identities. Social justice includes a vision of society “in which the distribution of resources is equitable [and] all members of a space, community, institution, and society are physically and psychologically safe and secure.”
Here is a warning – a stark warning about social justice from New Discourses which I’d recommend highly:
Social justice is the ultimate Trojan horse term, where it seems to mean one good thing as most people understand it (a more fair and equal society), but actually means something else. That something else is very specific and most people, if they knew what they were encountering, would be unlikely to accept it. The idea advertised by the phrase social justice doesn’t match the ideology and worldview bearing the seemingly identical name. Social justice means something more specific. It means critical social justice… This is, in fact, an ideology that very aggressively pursues, the social, cultural, institutional, and political installation and enforcement of a very specific and radical understanding of social justice, as derived from various critical theories and their specific analyses of socially constructed dynamics of systems of power. As such, they do not necessarily seek to achieve social justice in the broad sense or the sense that many people would assume of the term. Instead, they seek to empower and enforce their particular worldview that revolves around one narrow and authoritarian interpretation of the concept.
You keep on using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means. This is why Hayek says he wishes he could use all of his energies and efforts to make the writers and speakers that he could influence ashamed to use the term “social justice.”
From a biblical perspective, justice is a heart issue and a law of God issue. If the law of God says “this,” and you do “that,” it is unjust. If the law of God says “this,” and your heart goes toward “that,” it is unjust. Social justice, by definition, is not a heart issue; it’s a state issue. It is about the state redistribution of advantages and resources to disadvantaged groups. This is another critical distinction. Social justice is not about individuals. It is about groups and achieving specific outcomes for groups.
The Mission of God and the Mission of Social Justice
Our mission as Christians is to align ourselves with the law of God. That’s our mission in justice—to see to it that things align with “thus saith the Lord.” That is not the mission of social justice. To understand the mission of social justice, you have to understand a couple of concepts. When you know the roots of these concepts that undergird critical theory, critical race theory, and intersectionality, you will discover that social justice is inherently incompatible with biblical justice.
For example, the concepts of critical social justice, critical theory, critical race theory, and intersectionality, these terms are part of a very long line of ideas and ideologies. We go back to Karl Marx and his concept of conflict theory. Conflict theory for Marx was his way of explaining sociology and the relationships between people. Marx argued that the root of relationships between people is a conflict over limited resources. The whole idea of the bourgeois and the proletariat, of the haves and the have-nots, of Marxism versus capitalism is rooted and grounded in conflict theory.
The Frankfurt School developed this idea and gave “critical theory” to the world—the “critical” part of “critical social justice.” Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist, argued that the Marxist vision of proletariat uprisings around the world did not materialize because of a concept he developed called hegemony. Hegemony is the idea that there is a ruling group in a culture and in society, and they establish the rules of the game to benefit themselves and those like them, and to oppress all other groups of individuals.
What does all of that have to do with this idea of social justice? When you interpret America through the Marxist paradigm of oppressor and oppressed, most people would identify rich people or white people as the hegemonic oppressor. That’s part of it. But according to critical social justice, the oppressor class in America is white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, native-born Christians. Most people have heard of white privilege, and you’ve heard of male privilege. Have you heard of Christian privilege? Christian privilege is also identified as a major source of oppression in Western culture in general and in American culture in particular. Christian privilege is as evil as white privilege. Christianity is the oppressor for social justice theorists.
If social justice is about alleviating oppression and Christianity is identified as a significant source of oppression, social justice has to be opposed to what? Christianity. Social justice must be opposed to Christianity because, in this culture, Christianity is a major (for some, the major) source of oppression.
Social justice is concerned with pursuing equity, not equality, and those terms mean different things. Equality involves people being viewed equally and treated equally under the law. Equality says regardless of who you are, where you come from, or the color of your skin, you are viewed the same under the law as anyone else and given the same opportunities. Social justice is not about equality but equity. Equity is concerned with achieving equal outcomes for groups, not individuals. Equality says we are going to look at the entrance exams and we are going to take the best students. Equity says when we only look at entrance exams, we end up with a less than representative group of individuals—a problem that needs to be fixed through redistribution. Harvard and Yale are right now being sued because of their admission policies. Why? They instituted admissions policies that intentionally discriminated against Asians because they noticed they had too many Asian students in their student body. That is where equity gets you.
Joe Feagin, sociologist and social justice advocate says:
As I see it, social justice requires resource equity, fairness, and respect for diversity, as well as the eradication of existing forms of social oppression [Voddie: By the way, Christianity is an existing form of social oppression]. Social justice entails a redistribution of resources from those who have unjustly gained them to those who justly deserve them. And it also means creating and ensuring the processes of truly democratic participation in decision making. It seems clear that only a decisive redistribution of resources and decision-making power can ensure social justice and authentic democracy.
You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
So, what is the mission of social justice? Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the “holy trinity” of social justice. First, diversity: identify the disadvantaged groups. There is a reason these disadvantaged groups continue to multiply when there are now advantages to be gained by belonging to these particular groups. Second, equity has to do with achieving equitable outcomes for groups. And third, inclusion is how to achieve these aims: resources and power must be redistributed in society to ensure that every disadvantaged group is equitably represented.
If white male heterosexual cisgendered able-bodied native-born Christian is the oppressor class, who are the oppressed? If white is the oppressor, non-white is the oppressed. If male is the oppressor, non-male is the oppressed. Heterosexual is the oppressor; non-heterosexual is the oppressed. Cis-gendered is the oppressor, non-cisgendered is the oppressed. And so on…
This is where the concept of intersectionality comes in. Intersectionality is the idea that you multiply the oppression an individual experiences based upon their participation in multiple oppressed groups. So, if a black man is oppressed, a black female is doubly oppressed because she has two intersections of oppression: being black and being female. If she is black, female, and transgender, now she adds a third intersection of oppression. If she’s black, female, transgender, and not able-bodied… do you see?
So first, identify these disadvantaged groups. Secondly, assess group outcomes. Thirdly, assign blame for disparate outcomes and redistribute power and resources to redress those grievances. That’s the mission of social justice. But this is not the mission of biblical justice; it is antithetical to the mission of biblical justice.
The Social Justice Boxcar
Most Christians, when they get sucked into the social justice movement, usually think about one area and one area alone: race. We love the brethren as Christians. Racism is ugly to us. It’s evil to us. So, when somebody says there are issues here related to race and justice, we ask “Where? Point me in the right direction and let’s go to war!” And the social justice movement comes, and it sounds innocuous. We jump on board having no idea that the social justice movement is like a train with multiple box cars. There’s an engine driving the train: critical theory and intersectionality. But many boxcars are trailing behind.
What are the main “social justice” issues being identified today? Marysville University lists: Climate justice, racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, affordable healthcare. Yeshiva University lists, justice, healthcare, refugee crisis, racial justice, income gaps, gun violence, hunger and food insecurity, equity. Here’s the list from Educating for Social Justice: Consumerism, death penalty, education, genocide, homelessness, human trafficking, immigration, intergenerational justice, land grabbing, mental health, natural disasters, racial justice, restorative justice, sexual abuse crisis in the church, terrorism, US elections, water, climate change, hunger, migration, economic justice, inequality, torture, gender equality, interfaith relations, US poverty, war, healthcare, sustainable development, refugees, human rights, liberation theology, global poverty, integral ecology, and racism. The list goes on and on and on.
Are you beginning to notice a pattern? Christians jump on the train because we care about racism, but behind the “racial justice” boxcar is the LGBTQUIA+ boxcar. Right behind that is the climate justice boxcar. Many Christians think they can embrace “social justice” and jump onto the racial justice boxcar but not be attached to all the other box cars. You can’t. Everything is a social justice issue. Why? Because social justice is about redistribution…
Social Reorganization By Force
One of the significant differences between social justice and biblical justice is how the social justice movement seeks to achieve its intended outcomes. It must do so by force. Do you know the name Ibram X. Kendi? His book, How to be an Antiracist, is being used in government agencies, universities, and Fortune 500 companies. He charges up to $40,000 an hour for his lectures… Even Christian organizations and Christian ministries are now using Kendi’s book.
Kendi has proposed an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution to address racial injustice. His proposal begins by saying, “To fix the original sin of racism.” Many have said, and I have said, this is a cult of anti-racism. It is a religion: They have their own doctrine and saints. They have their own canon, priests and theologians. Kendi is one of the theologians of this movement. But notice, this is an amendment to the constitution starting with, “to fix the original sin of racism.” The 1619 Project, the Pulitzer-prize winning, horrible piece of history, is about shifting our understanding of the founding of America from 1776 to 1619. If the founding of America is 1776, then it is founded on specific ideas and documents – ideas that are good and which social justice theorists would need to contend with directly. But suppose the founding is understood as 1619 when the first slaves came to America. In that case one can disregard the enshrined, legal principles of America and argue it is rooted and grounded in the “original sin” of slavery and racism.
Kendi’s anti-racist amendment says the following:
To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy, and the different racial groups are equals. The amendment would make unconstitutional racial inequity over a certain threshold, as well as racist ideas by public officials (with “racist ideas” and “public official” clearly defined). It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-Racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees” [Baucham: Who wants to guess who is going to be the one to formally train the experts?]. “The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state, and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.
Kendi proposes two principles: racial inequity is evidence of racist policy, and different racial groups are equals. It is biblical that different racial groups are equal, but is every “inequity” evidence of racist policies or discrimination? Let’s look at COVID-19 deaths. We see black people and minorities disproportionately dying from COVID-19. There it is: racial inequity. According to Kendi, this must be evidence of racist policies. How do we know? We know because the numbers aren’t equal, and anytime the numbers aren’t equal, the answer is injustice. The social justice mindset says in a “just” world, every disease would kill people in perfect accordance with their demographic representation, never mind that nothing else in nature works like that. There is nowhere in the natural universe where you see an exact representation percentage-wise of anything. Period. Full stop. It doesn’t exist. But Kendi proposes a top-down reorganization of society and the redistribution of resources based on these faulty premises.
Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize-winning economist, said, “A society that puts equality, in the sense of equality of outcomes, ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.”
Social justice has nothing to do with the heart. It has everything to do with politics and power. It is antithetical to biblical justice in every way imaginable. And here’s what you need to know—the church has a big bullseye on her as the source and root of these inequities.
This is not how we, in the body of Christ, are supposed to function. We are not about gaining political power to force people to do justice. We are about the proclamation of the gospel, recognizing that true justice must and can only come from hearts transformed through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our greatest political desire is the freedom to proclaim the gospel in the marketplace of ideas. But guess what? Critical social justice will ultimately not tolerate proclaiming the gospel in the marketplace of ideas because it is a source and a means of oppression.
You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
We must pursue justice. Injustice is sin. The primary difference between biblical and social justice is in how to define injustice. The Bible would define injustice as that which fails to comply with, to comport with, and to rise to the level of the law of God. That’s how the Bible would define injustice in my relationship to others, in my relationship to the state, and in my relationship with my family. Injustice comes down to whether or not I was submitting to the law of God in this circumstance. We want justice. But what we mean by that is, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s the justice we want.
1 – F.A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty: The Mirage of Social Justice, vol. 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 96.
2 – Lee Ann Bell, “Theoretical Foundations for Social Justice Education,” Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, ed. Maurianne Adams (New York: Routledge), 3.
3 – Social Justice – https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-social-justice/
4 – Joe. R. Feagin, “Social Justice and Sociology: Agendas for the Twenty-First Century: Presidential Address,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 66, No. 1 (February 2001),
5 – https://www.asanet.org/wp-content/uploads/savvy/images/members/docs/pdf/featured/feagin.pdf, emphasis added.
6- Ibram. X. Kendi, “Pass and Anti-Racist Constitutional Amendment” – https://www.politico.com/interactives/2019/how-to-fix-politics-in-america/inequality/pass-an-anti-racist-constitutional-amendment/
7 – Milton Friedman and Rose D. Friedman, Free to Choose: A Personal Statement (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979)