Why It’s Hard to Have a Conversation Online about Social Justice and the Gospel

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I like definitions, and I like distinctions. Without them, conversations get confused and muddled.

That’s why I liked posts like this from Jared Wilson.

He identifies two major views—call them the Pro–Social Justice side and the Anti–Social Justice side—and four subsets within each one:

Side A – Pro Social Justice

  1. Faithful evangelicals who believe social justice in relation to the gospel simply refers to the general interpersonal obedience of loving one’s neighbor and may include corporate or systemic categories. It also may — or may not — refer to seeking legislative/governmental influence in providing for the welfare of the needy.
  2. Faithful evangelicals who believe social justice in relation to the gospel refers to both general interpersonal obedience of love and governmental institution of policies related to care for the needy.
  3. Religious folks of different persuasions who (unfortunately) genuinely affirm the social gospel.
  4. Secular leftists who openly advocate socialism or Marxism, etc.

Side B – Anti Social Justice

  1. Faithful evangelicals who believe the only justice the Bible speaks of that is bearing on Christians today is interpersonal fairness with each other, and that primarily and overwhelmingly justice should be spoken of in relation to Christ’s satisfaction of the wages of sin at the cross.
  2. Faithful evangelicals who may or may not be concerned about so-called “social justice” issues but who are largely concerned about the misuse of corporate or systemic categories to refer to sin or justice and who are concerned about the appeal to governmental or legislative remedies specifically.
  3. Religious folks of different persuasions who oppose social justice-related issues through genuine affirmation of radical individualism, etc.
  4. Rightists who openly advocate white supremacy, ethnic nationalism, etc. (And also online trolls, frequently but not always anonymous, who may or may not purport to have a religious affiliation.)

Wilson writes:

There are more subsets of folks in each side, and there is admittedly some overlap between some of the subcategories, but those are, as I see it, the 8 major categories of folks trying to have this “conversation” with each other.

But then he goes on to show why the conversation is often unproductive:

Aside from the obvious problem of different motivations and foundations even within our own “side,” here is another problem this breakdown has demonstrated in practice: people tend to borrow ideas or even spokespeople from subcategories within their side to advance their own argument, which causes even more confusion.

For example, you will see folks from A1 quoting writers from A3 or A4 to make their case. Those quotes may not be anything egregious in themselves, but the source material or context can be, opening A1 folks up to the charge that they are advancing Marxism.

Similarly, I regularly see folks from B1 and B2 buddying up with folks from B4, and even if they are finding common ground in opposing social justice, the impression can be given that B1 and B2 don’t have much problem with B4’s advocacy of a white ethnostate, arguments that non-white races are mentally inferior, that chattel slavery was a blessing for the enslaved, and that any and every evangelical institutional leader is a cuck, a soyboy, or whatever stupid insult they’ve cooked up in their 4Chan basement lately.

A post like this may not change which “side” you are on. But it can help clarify what you are saying, what you are hearing, and why many are talking past each other.

I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, as he goes on to explain some of the things he thinks we should do in light of this.

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