The progressive Left has so captured our educational institutions, large corporations, and social media conversations that it is now quite risky for evangelicals to dissent from any of its beliefs. Prospective students and job candidates are now evaluated on how deeply committed they are to “social justice.” To say, “I think the progressive view of social justice is quite unjust” is, effectively, to cancel your college application, terminate your own job interview, and suspend your social media account.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for justice, but the phrase “social justice” is now used to denote an aggressively progressive agenda that is, in fact, fundamentally unjust. Thus, to criticize the progressive view—Social Justice Theory (SJT)—is to criticize a very recent, quite specific, progressive view of society and politics.
What is Social Justice Theory?
Social Justice Theory is the fruit of a marriage between postmodern philosophy and progressive politics. It consists of a constellation of affiliated movements, including Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory, Disabilities Theory, and Fat Theory. Common to each of these movements is the belief that American society is structured by hidden and evil identity-based power systems that oppress certain “marginalized” social groups while enabling certain other “privileged” social groups.
Thus, SJT ideologues and activists assert that American society enables and privileges people who are white, skinny, heterosexual, and able-bodied. Further, they believe that privileged individuals are complicit in their own privilege and in other people’s marginalization. White people are racist. Men are sexist. Skinny people are fatphobic. Able-bodied people are “ableist.” And so forth and so on.
Social justice proponents argue that the solution to American society’s alleged pervasive injustice is to overthrow the system. Americans who are “woke” to these injustices must reject traditional categories, re-engineer the English language, and overhaul an American justice system that is currently based on individual responsibility and procedural justice rather than on “classes” of people and outcome-based “justice.”
The Negative Effects of Social Justice Theory
There are several negative effects of Social Justice Theory.
SJT devalues individual responsibility and individual accomplishments. While true justice demands that we acknowledge the historical disadvantages faced by certain groups, SJT overemphasizes group identity and devalues individual accomplishments. When Clarence Thomas or Tim Scott, for example, express gratitude for living in a free country that enabled them to make certain achievements, the partisans of social justice theory dismiss them. In doing so, they undermine personal responsibility and that directly fosters a culture of dependency, entitlement, and grievance.
SJT infantilizes our society. Once individual achievements and personal responsibility are undermined, individuals who don’t like their situation in life will be more likely to blame others and less likely to take responsibility. Blaming others, in turn, nurtures resentment and a sense of victimhood. Paul told the Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32). But social justice theory encourages people to nurture their resentments rather than resolve conflict.
SJT suppresses free speech and shutters dissenting views. SJT has brought about the rise of “cancel culture,” in which people with dissenting views (i.e., people who reject SJT) are ostracized, silenced, or punished. In other words, SJT opposes one of America’s historic constitutional liberties: freedom of speech. It undermines the very foundations of our constitutional republic.
SJT sets the conditions for reverse discrimination. Social justice theory’s focus on group identity will result in reverse discrimination. For example, whereas black and brown communities were treated unfairly in the past (because of white identity politics), white communities will be treated unfairly in the future (because of contemporary identity politics). The point is this: if we want to correct historic injustices without creating a new set of injustices, we must create a level playing field that emphasizes equal opportunity and individual merit.
A Better Way to Achieve Justice
The Social (In)Justice Movement, rooted in progressive ideology, poses challenges for evangelicals who dare to dissent. If SJT “wins the day,” America will devolve into an authoritarian society in which arguments are based on emotion and experience, freedom of speech is suppressed, and discrimination is perpetuated.
To create a more just society, we must adopt biblical justice; we must foster a culture that encourages personal growth, protects freedom of expression, and values the importance of dialogue and diverse perspectives. In doing so, we provide a preview of the coming Kingdom, in which justice will roll down like the waters.