Alicia Gossman-Steeves: Treat others as we would ourselves
With the passing of Earth Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about social justice and creation care. As Christians, what is our part in taking care of the earth and in ensuring social justice for those who cannot fight for themselves?
The issue is more complicated that it appears, unless you look at it from a biblical standpoint. There are many verses that talk about taking care of those less fortunate — the poor, the widow, the orphan — and in Genesis we find a mandate to “have dominion over the earth.” This means to rule over the earth and to take care of the earth as God would, according to some commentators.
When looking at scriptural references to creation care, which really includes social justice if you think about it, the desire of God seems straightforward. According to Jesus, we are to treat others as we want to be treated. We could use that same thought process when trying to decide how to treat our only home, the earth.
The matter gets complicated, however, when real life enters the picture. Nothing, except the love of God, is black and white in this world. Ethical issues complicate matters. We just need to follow God’s word and prayerfully try to do what is best.
Recently, a well-known radio and television talk show host, Glenn Beck, made matters worse by placing the desire to win social justice on the same level as communism and Naziism.
He said, “I beg you look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church website. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. … Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
According to several news sources, later on in the show, Beck held up a picture of a swastika and one of a hammer and sickle, declaring again that “social justice” has the same philosophy as the Nazis and communists and that the phrase is a code word for both.
If Beck is drawing his conclusions from the Jesuit practice of "liberation theology," which incorporates a strong social justice component, he may have a point, but he also misses a very significant point. The Jesuits became politically active in support of the poor and oppressed of Latin America, especially Central America. In so doing, they tended to lean toward revolutionary movements with Marxist ideologies.
The point that Beck misses - or chooses to deliberately ignore - is that the oppressive regimes of the nations in question were so far to the right they were arguably fascist. But most importantly, those fascist governments were backed by the United States — something that Beck fails to mention. In their exercise of liberation theology, seeking relief and justice for the poor and the oppressed, the Jesuits chose the lesser of evils.
Average Christians in America simply want to help the suffering. If that means changing laws, so be it, but we will follow the process of democracy, Mr. Beck. We have no inclinations toward death camps and genocide, thank you very much, and to insinuate that any mainstream Christian church would support such things is an unconscionable pandering to those who see conspiracies under every rock. But then, that is how Mr. Beck makes his living.
In Genesis 18, we find Abraham pleading with the Lord about Sodom and Gomorrah. “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?”
Abraham asked the Lord, taking the number down to 10. The Jewish Study Bible commentary says that Abraham was practicing social justice and we must do the same. It’s not communism, Nazism or socialism, it’s biblical. Creation care and social justice means simply to care for others — treating them as we would ourselves.
Alicia Gossman-Steeves writes for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat in La Junta, Colo.