3 How did social justice evolve through the Bible? – Justice, Mercy and Righteousness in the Old Testament 2
A. Intended beneficiaries of socio-economic justice laws 2
Zelophehad’s inheritance 2
5 What does social justice mean to me? – Social Justice, the Micah Mandate and Covenantal Faithfulness 2
A. Social Justice as Term of Art 2
6. Discovering justice and mercy ministers in Singapore – Social Justice and Evangelism 4
A. Social Gospel, Liberal Theology, Liberation Theology 4
Walter Rauschenbusch’s Social Gospel 4
Evangelicalism vs Liberalism 8
Liberation Theology 11
7. What’s distinctive about the Christian view of justice? -- Principles of Biblical Justice 13
A. Empowerment and Capacity Building 13
D. Biblical Justice and Contemporary Theories of Justice 14
John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice 14
Ronald Dworkin’s equality of resources 16
Human Capabilities: Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum 17
Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save and Effective Altruism 18
Other theories of justice 19
Some thoughts on contemporary theories of justice 20
C. Principles of Biblical Justice 23
History of Pro Bono Legal Advocacy 23
8. Should our ideas of social justice be brought into society? -- Justice and Righteousness in the Public Square 25
Ethics of Civil Dialogue 25
9. Is social justice just a new fad? -- Social Justice in the History of the Church 28
A. Nothing new under the sun 28
B. The Early Church in the Patristic Period 29
C. The Church in the Post-Patristic Period 34
D. The Church in the 19th to 21st centuries 37
E. Singapore Church 44
F. Reflections 49
Reflection / Discussion Questions 50
3 How did social justice evolve through the Bible? – Justice, Mercy and Righteousness in the Old Testament
A. Intended beneficiaries of socio-economic justice laws
An example of how entitlements to land and inheritance in Old Testament Israel were patriarchal is the issue of land inheritance entitled to one Zelophehad who passed away before receiving the inheritance. In Numbers 27, Zelophehad’s daughters appealed to Moses to have the land inheritance transferred to them and not be forfeited simply because their father had no son and therefore their father’s lineage could not be preserved. Moses sought the Lord, who adjudicated the matter and held that Zelophehad’s daughters were “right” and ought to be given possession of their father’s land inheritance.
However, this decision appeared to be merely an interim judgment. Sometime later in Numbers 36, the male relatives of the Manassite clan which Zelophehad belonged to appealed to Moses and pointed out another issue. If the daughters were entitled to the land, and if they were to later marry men from other clans, the land inheritance would be transferred to another clan. This would be contrary to the intended land distribution scheme, which provided that the land was to be kept within each tribe, clan and family for the purpose of the Jubilee reset. Moses determined that they were correct, and so ordered Zelophehad’s daughters to marry within the tribe of Manasseh so that their land inheritance would stay within the clan and tribe.
What was the origin of the term “social justice”? Michael Novak explains that the term was first coined by a Sicilian Catholic priest Luigi Taparelli D'Azeglio, S.J., in his book Theoretical Treatise on Natural Right Based on Fact (1840-1843) to posit a certain virtue relating to the older expression of “general justice” used by Aristotle and Aquinas.1 Subsequently, Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891), that social justice is not about equality; in fact, equality is a bad thing—just imagine if everyone were a lawyer! Social justice later evolved to become many different things. John Rawls, for instance, set out on his political philosophy project to construct a theory of society which epitomizes social justice. Different ideas and associations attributed to the term resulted in social justice becoming understood as a redistributive welfare state system.
Regardless of the inherent ambiguity of the term and its contested meanings, I nevertheless adopt the term ‘social justice’ for several reasons. I use the term social justice as a convenient expression to distinguish justice as it pertains to social aspects of people and communities, as opposed to legal-adjudicative justice. The former may encompass the latter, but not the converse. This is because the law cannot perfectly obtain holistic justice for a person.
First, the law cannot ensure economic justice. While legislation can impose taxes, there is only a limit to the effectiveness of taxation as a means of economic justice. The rich have the means to evade taxes. Further, excessively redistributive laws would violate property rights and the value of personal responsibility, both of which are biblical principles enshrined in the Mosaic Law.
Second, the law cannot ensure social inclusion and relationships. The law cannot create or place enforceable obligations on community. We cannot legally mandate people or communities to love one another, to empathize, to show care. Contrast that with artistic, social or cultural programmes. One example is Just A Handful of Coins, a festival I co-organised under HealthServe to bring different communities together. At the festival, we did away with the concept of paid tokens and made people ‘earn’ tokens for food, games, flea market goods and prizes by participating in conversations—that was how we got people from different nationalities, ethnicities, languages, professions, socio-economic backgrounds to talk to one another. Can the law ever mandate something like that?
Third, the law cannot be perfectly enforced in this world. The inevitable scarcity of resources in this world means that there will always be insufficient resources to enforce the law. Further, people are not omniscient. Because administering legal justice is contingent on evidence, i.e. the proof of historical events, evidential difficulties often arise in the enforcement of legal rights and remedies. Moreover, not every moral right can be made an enforceable legal right.
Fourth, the law can sometimes produce unjust outcomes. Man-made laws are imperfect and may be imperfectly applied. The fact that even good, intelligent judges often disagree with one another supports this.
Fifth, man-made law is the outcome of political and moral conflicts. It follows that conflicting morals, values and political goals result in compromises and inadequate provisions in the law.