The Concordia Publishing House Podcast

Social Justice Warrior with Rev. Dr. Matt Richard

July 23, 2020 Elizabeth Pittman Season 1 Episode 8
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Social Justice Warrior with Rev. Dr. Matt Richard
Chapters
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Social Justice Warrior with Rev. Dr. Matt Richard
Jul 23, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
Elizabeth Pittman

Social Justice…we’ve been hearing that term on the news and on social media with increasing frequency. But what is it? How can we recognize it? And most importantly, how can we avoid turning it into a false Christ? That’s our topic for today’s episode. I’m glad to welcome the Rev. Dr. Matt Richard back to the show to tackle this topic.

Show Notes Transcript

Social Justice…we’ve been hearing that term on the news and on social media with increasing frequency. But what is it? How can we recognize it? And most importantly, how can we avoid turning it into a false Christ? That’s our topic for today’s episode. I’m glad to welcome the Rev. Dr. Matt Richard back to the show to tackle this topic.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Welcome to the Concordia Publishing House podcast, where we consider everything in the light of Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. I'm your host, Elizabeth Pittman.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Social justice. We've been hearing that term on the news and on social media with increasing frequency, but what is it? How can we recognize it? And most importantly, how can we avoid turning it into a false Christ? That's our topic for today's episode. I'm glad to welcome the Reverend Dr. Matt Richard back to the show to tackle this topic.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Hi, Matt.

Matt Richard:

Hey there, Elizabeth. Good to see you.

Elizabeth Pittman:

You too. How are you doing?

Matt Richard:

Good. Good.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Good. Well, I think it's pretty easy when you look around the internet and media, that the phrase social justice or social justice warrior is popping up a lot. I did a quick Twitter search and it's just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom with mentions of it.

Elizabeth Pittman:

What is a social justice ideology all about?

Matt Richard:

Yeah, boy, that's a simple question, but it's a little bit-

Elizabeth Pittman:

But it's loaded.

Matt Richard:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, first of all, what we want to understand is that we want to be very careful anytime we talk about anything, whatever subject it is, we want to be fair, and we want to also be generous in how we define and critique something. Too oftentimes, we can run into this demonization where we demonize a position real quickly, and it makes it easy. If we demonize something, then we don't have to think about it, we don't have to take it with a respect. And then we can look at somebody maybe doing something contrary to us, and then we can just write them off and that excuses any possibility of conversation.

Matt Richard:

So I think a real generous approach to this, is perhaps maybe to define the steps of social justice, how it happens. So I don't know if we can maybe summarize it maybe perhaps with a nice little definition, maybe we can unpack what it is at the very end maybe. We can try to define it at the very end, you and I together, as we unpack it. Would that work?

Elizabeth Pittman:

Let's do it.

Matt Richard:

Okay. So I would say very simply stated, and one of the things, again, we don't want to oversimplify, but I think we have to simplify things in talking about it, especially for the listeners listening in to us, and I would say that when it comes time for doing social justice warrior actions, we have to understand there's different steps that are needed. So different steps.

Matt Richard:

So let's think of it this way in steps. The first thing, what would happen is a person, if they're going to enact and do social justice work, is they would have to identify an inequality. So you'd have to find, maybe if you think of scales, where the scales are not balanced, maybe where there's an inequality where things are not equal. So you're going to think of somebody may be in a higher position and another person in a lower position.

Matt Richard:

So a person who is perhaps privileged, you can hear that word a lot, and somebody who is unprivileged. And so we can look at that in any parts of culture, thinking of maybe the rich and the poor, or male and female, or maybe a citizen and an immigrant. You can just go on and on and on with hundreds of examples of maybe somebody who is, again, in inequality, you have a person up top and a person down below. So step one, is you've define and identify inequality. That makes sense?

Elizabeth Pittman:

Absolutely.

Matt Richard:

Okay. So then step two, be very simply this, is then once you define an inequality, what you would do is then the person that is going to be advantaged, you would create two categories. The advantaged person, we would call them the oppressor, or the exploiter, the privileged or the persecutor. And so we would then define moral qualities to those two categories.

Matt Richard:

And then the person who is perhaps maybe underneath their thumb, we would identify them as the oppressed, the exploited, the disadvantaged or the victim. So we find inequality, and we can find that everywhere we look, and then we define the person up top, again, as the oppressor, the exploiter, the privileged, the persecutor, and the person underneath their thumb, going to be the oppressed, the exploited, the disadvantaged and the victim. So then we've defined a moral quality to those two.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Absolutely. It doesn't take much to look around our news headlines to see example after example after example of this.

Matt Richard:

Yep. Absolutely.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So what's number three?

Matt Richard:

So number three is then, again, I alluded to that, we would assign value. So the person who is on top, now just using this idea of on top, the oppressor, the exploiter, the privileged, the persecutor, we would consider them as morally bad. They would be morally bad. And then the person who is, what, being exploited, the disadvantaged, the victim, they would be morally good. So we would then ascribe, like I said, we would describe a moral value to those two.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I find it interesting that, and you may be getting to this, but if I were to make this assessment of somebody, I'm passing moral judgment just willy-nilly, based on my view of what I'm seeing, correct?

Matt Richard:

Yes. Yeah. Yep.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Okay.

Matt Richard:

Yep. So again, we put those moral judgments. And then, now here's step number four. Step number four is this, is for a person who's going to enact social justice, they're not content with leaving that inequality. So then the job of them is to overthrow the person up top, to overthrow the oppressor, the exploiter, the privileged, the persecutor. The idea then is to come to the assistance, the aid, to rescue, the person who is then being oppressed. So to be a social justice warrior coming into the context, again, to overthrow and to liberate the person who is underneath their thumbs. So that's step number four.

Elizabeth Pittman:

It sounds like the social justice warrior is taking on the self-appointed role of judge, jury and executioner.

Matt Richard:

Yeah. Well, in a lot of ways, yeah. And so that's where we get to this step five, which is the goal is to create equality. So the goal is to create equality, and typically what happens, it's to bring the oppressor, the exploiter, down, and to bring the oppressed and the exploited and the victim up, to create a realm of equality. Now, here's the thing. You alluded to this a little bit here. Here's the thing. When it comes to this, when it comes to creating equality, oftentimes we do see this and it is indeed valid.

Matt Richard:

We think of in the Bible. We think of the Bible, we think of perhaps, maybe Moses and Pharaoh. Moses coming to want to liberate the Hebrews from their bondage and slavery in Egypt. We think about Xerxes and Esther. We think about the Babylonians overtaking the Kingdom of Judah. We even think of the first century Rome, the Roman Empire having control over Israel. And they were wanting Jesus to be what? A social justice warrior to liberate them from the powers of Rome.

Matt Richard:

Now, so we would have to, in many circumstances, we'd want to affirm, indeed affirm, that there are times, indeed, where there is an oppressor over the oppressed or there is a persecutor over the victim. And then we can see that idea of wanting to rescue them. So it's very attractive to want to be involved in that liberation process. But then that brings up your point then, that's assuming that the person that's on the top, the oppressor, is actually morally what? Corrupt. We'd have to assume ... We'd have to go through that first assume that.

Matt Richard:

And then the second thing is, do we have the moral right or the vocational right to actually liberate? How do you liberate? How is the process of that liberation to occur? And then where this gets really, really messy is this, is when we make Jesus ... The whole point, what you brought up at the very beginning, is when we make Jesus a social liberator. Was Jesus a liberator in that first century to liberate the people from that oppressive regime of the Romans, Pontius Pilot and the Caesar at the time? I mean, that's the great question.

Elizabeth Pittman:

That's a loaded question. I think we run into danger when we presume that Jesus came to liberate one small segment of people, and when we get away from the big picture of why He is the Christ.

Matt Richard:

Yeah. I mean, here's the thing to think about. I mean, did Jesus liberate the people from Rome? I mean, they certainly wanted him to. This comes back to our previous conversation on Jesus. The patriot confusing the two kingdoms, the left and right hand kingdom. They certainly wanted Jesus to come in and to kick Pilot out of Israel to establish that Israel, that kingdom. So they saw the Romans as being the persecutor and the Israelites as being the victims. So there's definitely an aspiration have a Messiah to be a social justice warrior, without a doubt.

Matt Richard:

We also see that Jesus coming against the religious leaders. We could divide it between the Pharisees and the Sadducees as being the oppressors. And to a certain extent, they were spiritually oppressing the people. But what we have to realize in all of this, is that when it comes down to applying morality, applying morality to Christianity, that there's no such thing as categories of the victim and persecutor. In fact, it could be argued that we are all, because of our sinful nature, persecutors to a certain degree. And it could also be argued that we're all victims. Victims of sin, death and the devil as well.

Matt Richard:

So when it comes to us and Christianity, when we understand that there really is not two groups in Christianity, there's one group, and we stand shoulder to shoulder as sinners in need of God's grace. And so when I see another sinner struggling, for me, it's going to that sinner, standing shoulder to shoulder. And then again, there's times and places where you would want to aspire to correct injustices in our society, through our proper vocations, and considering whether it is or is not an injustice. But in doing so, we always have to remind ourselves that we're not in a separate group, we're all sinners in need of redemption, of one who liberates us from sin, death and the devil, which is Christ.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Let's just put a finer point on that. You started down the path of the mission of Jesus Christ, and His mission was not simply to topple political leaders or religious systems, but His mission was more wide-ranging and bigger. Can you just break that down just a little bit more, so it's real clear?

Matt Richard:

Well, yeah. I think that all comes down to, again, like what we talked about last time, when they were going to Jerusalem, we can remember the disciples, to loosely paraphrase, they were like, "Jesus, when you come in to establish your earthly kingdom, thinking we're going to overthrow the Romans, when you're going to liberate us, we want to be in the position of power next to you." And Jesus is not going to liberate from the Romans, but He descends to death on the cross.

Matt Richard:

So I think we have to understand that if we place Jesus into a category of being simply a social justice warrior, liberating us, liberating us from what? Typically, what we want to be liberated from, in this vale of tears, this life in the vale of tears, is usually smaller than what Christ actually did. How would I say this? What Christ did is bigger than merely toppling a small, earthly kingdom. What Christ did is of eternal consequence. It is bigger than what we can even imagine.

Matt Richard:

So oftentimes, we fight to be liberated from social injustices. We fight to be liberated from inequalities that definitely exist in this life. And so we don't deny that, that they do exist. But Christ did not come to merely topple a small, now, I'm not trying to minimize the pain of individuals, but in the grand scheme of eternally speaking, He did not come to topple our small injustices. He came to topple the great unjustice, injustice, of our sin and death and devil, ultimately being that persecutor, being the devil himself, death itself, who takes a bite out of us. He came to topple something so much bigger. Not just a mere earthly kingdom, but to topple the kingdom of darkness to give us everlasting life.

Elizabeth Pittman:

That's huge. And it definitely, when you think about the magnitude of that, it puts everything else into a perspective, where you don't want to say it's small potatoes, but like you said, in the grand scheme, it definitely pales in comparison.

Matt Richard:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so if we think about it, is it Christ liberating us from persons and things and systems, or is Christ liberating us from sin, death and the devil? Again, we don't want to minimize oppressive persons, things and systems in this life, they do exist, but Christianity is much broader and bigger, spanning the generation after generation, which is the great problem, that is usually, typically, at the root of all these problems, of persons, things and systems, which is typically sin, death and the devil underneath that.

Matt Richard:

So Christianity digs deeper. It goes wider, bigger, more eternal. And so we limit Christ when we make Him just a mere social justice warrior of persons, things and systems, rather than the one who liberates us from sin, death and the devil. There, that sounds better. [crosstalk 00:14:47]-

Elizabeth Pittman:

That was great because at the end of the day, I would much rather be liberated from sin, death and the devil then pesky, problematic things that may or may not actively oppress me on a daily basis. That's the bigger ... It's definitely a bigger victory.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So there is a time and a place for us here on earth to challenge oppressive systems. How do we recognize where we should insert ourselves, and how we should conduct ourselves in places where we're called to help fight an injustice? Say there's a legitimate injustice and we're trying to help.

Matt Richard:

Well, something to think about is the way in our society, the ideological underpinnings of the social justice framework is really a call to deeds. And the way ... Now, we can get back into the philosophy of this and the history of this, but the philosophical underpinnings of the social justice movement is not a call to philosophy. It's a call to taking that philosophy and making it into actions, into deeds, to activism. And we see that quite often in our modern day and age.

Matt Richard:

I would simply say that there is a time and a place for us, as Christians, to do that, and to affirm brothers and sisters who are in struggles with oppressive systems and persons and so forth. However, I would say that that would have to happen underneath our proper vocations. And that was proper vocations, now, what would that mean? Proper vacations and also following the laws of the land. So we as Christians, we certainly don't function outside of our vocations, as citizens, pastors, teachers, and so forth. And we also don't break laws because that would be violating that Fourth Commandment as well.

Matt Richard:

But I would say perhaps something that we have, as Christians, that is actually quite profound, is that the Christian faith is primarily not deeds, but creeds. It's a confession. So we think about Christianity, there is a place for deeds. We hear that in the Book of James, the Epistle of James. But primarily, Christianity is motivated and fueled and proclaimed through the proclamation, the message of the gospel, which is creeds, the proclamation of what has already been done.

Matt Richard:

So as Christians, we can say to everyone around us, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of sex, regardless of background and so forth, we get to confess Christ who overthrew sin and death and the devil, that what Christ has done for all of us in the midst of all of these things. And then through our vocations and through our interactions, then we can indeed support those and love those without breaking the Fourth Commandment. And also again, walk in our vocations to serve the best of our abilities.

Elizabeth Pittman:

And then we absolutely need to do that because there is no lack of work to be done for our neighbor in this world. I think if we do do it properly and confess Christ while we're at it, we can make even a small difference in our respective corners of the world.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So as we consider the social justice warrior, false Christ, and the prevalence of social justice ideology out in the world today, how can we take what you have just shared with us and what we've learned and challenge the worldview of that false Christ in a way that is not divisive or aggressive? I liked how you referenced it at the beginning of our conversation, where it's really easy for people to make judgements, and it's almost lazy to just shut down when we've decided we don't agree with you and we're going to shut down or argue.

Elizabeth Pittman:

But how can we take what we've learned and have a constructive conversation, to hopefully show people that there is a bigger source of hope in the world that we we know, and we hope that they come to know?

Matt Richard:

Well, yeah, again, we want to understand, and I think it's very, very important to understand, like what we talked about, biblically speaking, we do see, looking back to Pharaoh and Moses, we think of Xeres and Esther, we think of the Romans and the Israelites. There are definitely situations and cases where this does exist, but we have to understand that we cannot exclusively make Christianity a liberation of making Jesus into a liberator of earthly kingdoms. It is bigger than that. It's not an either/or, it's simply we can affirm, when we do see injustices, we can affirm and agree to that. And then we would say, "Now, we reserve the right to tell you more because there's more good news for you. And that good news is that Christ indeed has overthrown sin, death and the devil. Not only for me, but for you too."

Matt Richard:

The reality, and this is the difficult thing for us to consider, and we have to understand this too, biblically speaking as well, that the Israelites were underneath that Roman rule. In fact, we hear sometime even after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, I think it was around 70 AD mark, Titus of Rome came in and he destroyed everything. So there are times where oppressive systems and persons and things are not toppled and things don't get better in this life. In fact, they can get worse. And when that doesn't happen, when equality doesn't happen, and inequality may perhaps even get worse, then what hope is there?

Matt Richard:

The hope is Christ. The hope of Christ is for us, regardless of the systems and persons and things that may oppress us, that we have one who is our rescuer, one who is our salvation, Christ, who has defeated sin, death and the devil. So that is the important thing to understand, is that even if things do not get brought to equality or fixed or remedied in this life under the sun ... In fact, generally speaking, it won't. Typically what happens in this life, history has shown us, is that this world that we live in is injust, this world that we live in is not fair. It's full of sin and death and pain and struggles of life that happen over and over and over. And just when we get things fixed, then they come unraveled.

Matt Richard:

I think of that Incredibles cartoon. The very opening of the Incredibles cartoon that I watch with my kids, Mr. Incredible goes, "Just when I fix things, they go and they mess it all up again." That's life, you know? Again, that's not to say that we don't strive for fixing injust things, but the reality is this life is messy. It hurts, it's painful. It's the reason why we call it this vale of tears. And in the midst of this vale of tears, we have that gospel of Christ, who makes all things new at the very end of the age, and that Christ has already defeated the evil foe, that Christ has already atoned for our sins, and that Christ will be for us in the very end.

Matt Richard:

So again, we can affirm those things to our brothers and sisters, other individuals going through different things, but also understanding that if they don't get fixed, we have something bigger than that. A narrative, a story, the gospel truth, the creed that confesses that crisis for us in this life, and even a death, into eternal life.

Elizabeth Pittman:

What a wonderful hope and assurance that is, to know that we have that to look forward to, even when the world around us seems to be unraveling. And I love the Incredibles reference. We've watched that many, many times in our house, so it's great to have that illustration. But it's true. It's easy, and I think in every age or generation to look around and go, "Wow, things really are unraveling. But wow, we have this solid rock to hang on to." That's an amazing hope that we can share with the world.

Matt Richard:

Absolutely, absolutely. I'm reminded of ... Here at St. Paul's, we have a big anchor out front of our church and we've used that as our theme as a church, that we're anchored in Christ. Over and over I've said to my church family here, that we can perceive and understand we are oftentimes a boat on the waves of life and storms hit us, the waves toss us, the wind blows against us, we can even lose our compass over the side rail into the water, and we can say, "Oh my goodness, what hope is there for me," but we always have to remember that we are anchored in Christ and Christ is our anchor.

Matt Richard:

In fact, when we go into St. Paul's Lutheran Church here, I love it, our tall, tall ceiling is shaped as the bottom of a boat. And I love our baptismal liturgy that talks to us about being kept safely in the ark of the church. That is the hope that we have, and that ark of the church, Christ's church, is for everyone. It is for absolutely everyone, that Christ bled and died for everyone. There is no sin that is out of the reach of Christ.

Matt Richard:

There's more grace in Jesus than there is sin in us. And so that is the hope that we have, the creed that we have to confess, is that there is Christ for us in the inequalities and the struggles and the pains, and the [inaudible 00:24:31], as we say, [inaudible 00:24:35] of life. There's hope in Christ, and He's our anchor in the midst of this crazy world that we live in.

Elizabeth Pittman:

And He is a much more sure anchor than any false Christ will ever be. Thank you for taking the time today to help unpack social justice warrior for us. If listeners would like to learn more about social justice warrior, false Christ, or the 11 other false Christs that Matt has identified, visit cph.org/realjesus, and you'll be taken to Matt's book where you can dig into this. It's a great read. There's some really good content in there. It makes for some really good discussion.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Matt, thank you so much for joining us today.

Matt Richard:

Thanks, Elizabeth. It was great.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Catch you next time, everyone.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Concordia Publishing House podcast. I pray that this time was valuable to your walk with Christ. We'd love to connect with listeners on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter @ConcordiaPub. Visit cph.org for more resources to grow deeper in the gospel.