Social Justice, the controversial phrase defined

Georgene Rice of KPDQ-FM interviews Ryan Messmore with the Heritage Foundation about what is meant by the term Social Justice, as defined in their six-part DVD & study guide, Seek Social Justice.

Georgene: It wasn’t long ago that the phrase “Social Justice” meant charity for the poor. Today that phrase has been adopted in America to mean a redistribution of wealth, among other misnomers. This has become popular among politicians and activists. After all, who wouldn’t want to have their project titled “Social Justice”.

The problems with drug addiction, poverty and crime in America are serious and complex. Passion alone is not going to solve them. Those who desire to make a difference need to have effective strategies for overcoming human need. That is the challenge that is addressed by Seek Social Justice.  

Define what you mean by social justice within the context of this project?

Ryan: For this project we interviewed several social activists and experts within the Christian community. One idea that kept coming up was the notion of right relationships, which is a pretty good interpretation of the Biblical words which are translated into justice. We approach social justice as doing justice to human beings made in the image of God, which means understanding them in all of their different relationships—their relationships with their Creator and with other people. Given we are made as physical beings we also must have a right relationship with creation. So, social justice is cultivating those right relationships wherein God intended us to flourish.

The experts felt there are certain institutions in society that cultivate relationships better than others—families, churches, local ministries and nonprofits, and businesses. Government is not very well equipped for those sorts of right relationships. The role of government is to protect those relationships. Other people have to cultivate them from the ground up. That’s the kind of social justice that we’d like people to think about and pursue.

Georgene: This was one of the most inspiring series that I have seen. Not to mention that in it are names many readers would recognize such as Chuck Colson, Albert Mohler, and Star Parker. But, also those people whose lives have been profoundly impacted in very simple but practical ways.  

Ryan: We found, especially among young people, when social justice and huge needs in our culture are discussed, they can often be overwhelmed by the size and the scope of these issues. We try to help them see how powerful one single relationship can be. Simply getting to know one other human being in need—knowing them by name, understanding what their situation is, and what they really need—can start ripple effects throughout an entire neighborhood.  

Georgene: Describe how social justice provides dignity and purpose to someone’s life.

Ryan: One example we show in the DVD is of the prison ministry that understands the importance of who these men were created to be. They were created to work, with gifts to give away to others and society. Approaches to social justice that don’t call out those gifts are treating them as less than human beings. In fact, that by definition is unjust.

After the convicts leave prison, this ministry walks with them for a full year in a residential program. They train them for work and seek employment opportunities for them so they can be contributing members of society. They can earn a paycheck and provide for their family. The recivitism rate of the men in these programs drops dramatically when men have purpose and dignity restored in their lives. Ministries that take a personal and relational approach can accomplish what large bureaucratic government institutions and welfare checks simply can’t do.

Georgene: It was amazing listening to how these men had to learn the value of work and how satisfying it was for them once that became a conviction and practice for them. When you come from a family where work is expected you don’t really appreciate that some people have no background in that at all. Another situation on the DVD was of children who never grew up in households where a couple function in a marriage setting. They have no concept of marriage and family except what they see on television.  The DVDs really give us the perspective of how we can help.

Ryan: Children who were born to families where there was not a mother and father married to each other are seven times more likely to experience poverty. Just those two factors—exposure to and expectations of work and marriage—are so significant in reducing child poverty. When we think about doing social justice to children to break these cycles of poverty, one of the most important things we can do is encourage work and marriage.

Georgene: The Heritage Foundation has provided a framework for understanding and engaging human need and the role churches must play to help the least among us. They believe social justice demonstrates the elements of moral, social and relational ingredients that stem from a way of life that respects human dignity, equality, mutual responsibility, neighborly service, and hard work.  It stems from a strong but limited constitutional government that protects a vibrant civil society of individuals, families, businesses and churches.  The  DVD and study guide are available free of charge and can be ordered online at

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