Political Diversity

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Are the Office of Social Justice, the Synod of the CRC, and other official organs of the CRCNA — whether intentionally or not — attempting to define Christianity in a way that excludes conservative political and economic views?

Please provide evidence for your answer.

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Please clarify what you mean by conservative political and economic views. As someone who would put herself in the fiscally conservative but socially liberal camp, I have not felt excluded by the denomination but rather the two political parties that we have in the U.S.

I mean conservative political and economic views.

For instance, the Synod of the CRC officially endorsed the Micah Statement on Climate Change even though it makes several questionable (and in my opinion false) declarations such as:

"We acknowledge that industrialization, increased deforestation, intensified agriculture and grazing, along with the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels, have forced the earth’s natural systems out of balance. Rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions are causing the average global temperature to rise, with devastating impacts already being experienced, especially by the poorest and most marginalized groups. A projected temperature rise of 2°C within the next few decades will significantly alter life on earth and accelerate loss of biodiversity. It will increase the risk and severity of extreme weather events, such as drought, flood, and hurricanes, leading to displacement and hunger. Sea levels will continue to rise, contaminating fresh water supplies and submerging island and coastal communities. We are likely to see mass migration, leading to resource conflicts. Profound changes to rainfall and snowfall, as well as the rapid melting of glaciers, will lead to more water stress and shortages for many millions of people."

The statement also castigates those who (like many conservatives) are skeptical of the science undergirding the claims and even more skeptical of the proposed solution (UN and governmental dictats).

One particular official of the Micah Center, one Dr. David Van Dyke (distinct from the Micah Network and not officially sponsored by the CRC, but still supported) flatly declared that the Bible requires us to support federally funded, single-payer health care systems (according to this report: http://www.crcna.org/news.cfm?newsid=2517&section=1).

The Contemporary Testimony, in articles 44-54 (with the exception of its statements concerning embryonic research and abortion) apparently adopts almost wholesale the premises and assumptions of the social-welfare state as a requirement of faith.

These are not statements that argue social-welfare or statist policies are the best means to the ends of caring for creation or the poor, but statements that suggest or declare social-welfare, statest policies are the only way to achieve these ends.  And they are officially sanctioned by denominational leadership.  And that concerns me.

UPDATED TO REFLECT CORRECTION BELOW

Just to clarify, the Micah Network and Micah Center are two completely separate organizations. The article you cite also makes clear that the Micah Center is not officially sponsored by the CRCNA.

Thanks for the correction.

Not sure it mitigates the overall point I'm making, but accuracy is a good thing, so again, thanks.

Oh - and in the interests of accuracy, regarding the Micah Center, after stating that the Micah Center is not officially sponsored or approved, "...many CRC individuals and churches help to sponsor it and the CRC’s Office of Social Justice has co-sponsored events with the organization and considers it a regional partner." (from the article referenced above)

So there's a basis for saying it's supported by the CRC, but that doesn't mean the denomination as such gives them money except for specific services and or events.

Easily solvable. We'll have a synodical overture demanding that, first: for every person hired or placed on a committee, another person who represents the opposite political position of the first person be hired/appointed alongside the first person. And, second: all hirable positions and committee appointments will be made on the basis of providing a representation of the spectrum of political views in both Canada and the United States to the hiring entity or specific committee.

In a year or two, we can read fawning Banner articles on how the Kingdom of Christ is being realized on earth by the fact that Conservatives, LIberals, Progressives, Tea-Partiers, Marxists, Libertarians and Anarchists are all working together for the Gospel of Christ. 

But that would be no solution.  I do not seek some fantasy of political balance.  What bothers me is the apparent attempt to define the faith as excluding those with certain political and economic opinions.

It's one thing, for instance, to argue that a federally funded, single-payer health care system is the best way to provide for the poor.  It is quite another to say that being faithful to the Bible requires such a system.  The first is a statement about which Christians may disagree.  The second says that if you disagree, you're not Christian.

The Bible says much about taking care of God's creation and work and responsibility and caring for the marginalized of society, it says not a whit about anthropogenic global warming, ethanol subsidies, food stamps or appropriate income tax rates. Would it not perhaps be best for the Church to officially remain silent where the Bible is silent - to espouse, expound upon, promulgate and defend biblical principles while leaving their prudential application to our members?

b-ver,

Under the system you are describing would preachers able make applications in their sermons?  

Community Builder

Kris: It would seem that the b-ver post you replie to is no longer here, but I suspect b-ver was suggesting pastors/churches should not take political positions.

If I'm accurate about that, I would agree with what b-ver indicated, and I can understand why you would ask whether preacher would then be able to make applications in their sermons.

Sure they can, but there would be lines.  Indeed, I would suggest I've seen my pastors over the years do a pretty good job of drawing those lines and staying on the appropriate side.

So, for example, if it comes to abortion, the pastor would be appropriate to lament and condemn the taking of innocent life that abortion represents.  But if there was pending legislation on the matter, the sermon should not take a position on that.  Certainly, it will seem obvious to everyone in the room, at least in some cases, what position the pastor might take, but people would be surprised how complex legislation can get, even when it seems simple.  I'm on the "practicing law" side of legislation and I can't tell you how often I shake my head, thinking that the language of this or that statute was passed by the enthusiasm of folks who had a great hearts but really didn't know as much as was required to competently evaluate actual legislation.

Abortion presents a relatively simple application.  I would suggest "Social Justice" becomes much more complicated, but a similar analysis would still be appropriate.  Pastors may (and should ) admonish congregants to 'do justice, have mercy and walk humbly with God' (my favorite verse for over 30 years, BTW).  But if the pastor starts to favor or disfavor certain broadly described political/economic systems (eg., "free market" versus more "government regulated"), or specific legislation that has regulatory effect, he/she is really out on a competency limb, and is clearly wandering outside the traditional Kuyperian sphere of the church. 

Yes of course, there are fine lines here, sometimes hard to see precisely, but there are lines, and the CRC historical tradition is pretty rich in providing wisdom in defining those lines.  Ignoring those lines tends toward a Roman Catholic model, which historically created no such boundaries.

Kris V. E. -

Of course.  Remember the topic of this thread - we're talking political diversity - and if the only applications you can think of are political, you need to get out more.

The manner in which it is applied is also important.  Is the preacher saying, "Passage 3 verse 4 says you need to vote for the coming tax increase"?  I ask questions, make suggestions, point out salient facts, but I rarely say "chapter X verse Y means you must do Z" and almost never when it comes to political matters.

Community Builder

To answer the question, "Are the Office of Social Justice, the Synod of the CRC, and other official organs of the CRCNA - whether intentionally or not - attempting to define Christianity in a way that excludes conservative political and economic views," yes of course, but that simple answer demands explanation.

The CRC has been and is a member of WARC (World Alliance of Reformed Churches), which together with REC (Reformed Ecumenical Council) has now become WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches).

WCRC, and previously, WARC, have adopted the Accra Confession.  CRC representatives have spoken favorably about the CRC (as reported by CRC News Releases).

In turn, the Accra Confession condemns what it calls "neo-liberal economics."  If you review the Accra Confession (get it from http://www.warc.ch/documents/ACCRA_Pamphlet.pdf), you will find that by that reference, the Accra intends to condemn what we all know better as "market driven economics," or "free market economics."  "Market driven economics" is a necessary corollary of what we know as "political freedom."  You cannot, by definition, have political freedom without having economic freedom.

The United States was, historically speaking, a grand experiment in human history, one rooted in the historic Protestant Reformation, the result of which was more political/economic freedom than the world has ever seen.  This was called "liberalism" back in the day (today it's called "conservatism").  John Locke, Adam Smith -- those sorts of guys -- advocated this new freedom, and those ideas were picked up and implemented by the American "founding fathers" in our constituion and other structures.  What was the net result of this "liberalism"?  The most politically free and economically prosperous nation human history has ever witnessed.  Which is why today's conservatives bemoan the reduction of market freedom and the increasing role of the goverment in all things economic.

Those who hold to the Accra Confession, including WCRC, the ecumenical organization the CRC belongs to, call this sort of freedom, literally, the "worship of Mammon."  The Accra is pretty classic "Liberation Theology."  Whether we are willing to recognize it or not, all the "social justice" talk we engage is more than just a fashionable phrase.  It has deep roots in the political/economic perspective embraced by the Accra Confession.  Indeed, the Accra is really much more of a political/economic document than a "confession" as we have ever defined "confession."

So yes, there is a very strong drive in the CRCNA to adopt a political/economic view that, by sheer definition, excludes those persons who in the US today are known as "conservatives." Indeed, its not just a drive, it is already an actuality.   The question is whether or not the move in that direction will continue or reverse.  I for one would like to see the CRC stay out of political/econonomics.  Doing otherwise will, by definition, divide the CRCNA because it does exclude today's "conservatives."  In all of this, we have forgotten the boundaries articulated by "Kuyperian Social Sphere Sovereignty," which really was a close cousin to to the political/economic theory that launched that grand experiement known as the United States of America.

Community Builder

Would anyone be willing to offer a definition of "social justice?"  In order words, what is that as opposed to "justice?"  Or approaching it from the other side, what within the definition of "justice" is other than "social justice?"

This is a fashionable phrase these days but I frankly don't have working definition for it.  I honestly don't understand exactly what someone means when they say "social justice".

Doug - Originally "social justice" meant justice that was social.

In our more traditional understanding of things, individuals act and are responsible for those acts.  Custer did this, Crazy Horse did that, the men of the 7th Cavalry did this other...  Justice requires a response to these individuals and their actions.  A man robs a bank, he's caught and he - as an individual - is held accountable.  Justice.

But in "social justice", the man is not an individual.  Rather he is a member of a society, a social group.  Now it is not an individual robbing a bank, but an oppressed minority group striking out at their oppressors (Occupy Wall Street is a prime example of this).  Now it becomes a matter of social groups dealing with one another.  It isn't the men of the 7th Cavalry slaughtering Indians at Wounded Knee, but the White race doing it.  Similarly, the victims are not those who were murdered at Wounded Knee, but all Indians.  Social Justice requires that the White race be punished for the attrocity and until the whole is punished, an injustice exists.  Though couched in terms of human rights and equality, it is a rejection of the individual.

There is a smidgen of truth in it.  There are systems and structures that oppress specific groups.  The 7th Cavalry wasn't a mob, but a disciplined military force operating on the orders of the U.S. government.  To the extent these kinds of social (communal) sins can be identified and corrected, it's worthwhile, for there is a social, communal nature to the act.

But there are two major problems with it.  The first is its tendency to utopic visions.  Somehow, if we can just tweak the system here, adjust the structure there, we can create heaven on earth.  Sin, however, still rears its ugly head and human ingenuity comes to the fore.  Somebody (or group of bodies) figures out a way to use the new system for selfish purposes, too.  This is the tragedy of communism and socialism.  If men were angels, maybe it would work, but we're not.

The other problem is that it has become an excuse for all manner of specific, individual injustices - redistributionist politics in which the majority votes to steal from the minority, "Free Mumia", Occupy Wall Street, and so on.  Because there is little room for forgiveness (forgiveness is still individual, it seems), old grievances are constantly dug up and maintained.  An Israeli soldier shoots a Palestinian who is attacking him, and he's a terrible tool of an evil tyrant.  A Palestinian blows up a bunch of teenagers at a pizza parlor, and he's a "freedom fighter".  Why?  Because Israel won its war for independence in 1948, and won again in 1956, '67, '73...  As long as there's one Palestinian somewhere who is still angry about that, Palestinians are justified in their terrorism and Israel is unjustified in defending herself.  Other examples can, I'm sure, quickly come to mind.

Community Builder

I've searched our (CRCNA) OSJ site and can't find a definition for "social justice," although I can find lots of language about "what they kind of do," but even then, the language can be really vague (eg., .  That which is not so ambiguous largely sounds like "mercy" to me, as opposed to "justice," let alone "social justice."  And there was an example that involved justice, but I'd just call it "justice."  (Understand I've practiced law for 32 years.  I'm not unaquainted with "justice.") 

I do find this language:

"When we talk about social justice, we mean God's original intention for human society: a world where basic needs are met, people flourish, and peace (shalom) reigns.  God calls us, the church, to participate in the renewal of society so that all--especially the weak and vulnerable--can enjoy God's good gifts."

but the above language really covers pretty much everything in life, whether justice, mercy or anything else, and even the words don't really make sense (as in, "social justice" is said to mean "God's original intention for human society"?????).

I get a better explanation from Wikipedia I think.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_justice.  But Wikipedia offers a variety of definitions/perspectives from a variety of historical movements that used the phrase.  So I'm still left wondering what the CRCNA means by "social justice?"  I see a subsection of "Restorative Justice" on the OSJ website and I think that is pretty reasonably  defined.  See: http://www.crcna.org/pages/osj_restorativejustice.cfm.  It says:

"Restorative Justice is a biblically based view of criminal justice that attempts to engage victims, offenders and the affected communities in bringing about deep and lasting solutions by focusing on restitution, restoration, healing, and the future. At its core, it's about relationships."

I do think it important that before the denomination sets off on a supposed concrete project like "doing social justice," it articulate a better (more narrow and meaningful) definition than "When we talk about social justice, we mean God's original intention for human society ...".

Can anyone who has had involvment with CRCNA OSJ activities help out on this?  Is there amore narrow definition for the key two-word phrase that makes up the meaningful part of OSJ's name than "God's intention for human society"\?

Community Builder

Hopefully to clarify my question(s), below is a quote (from Wikipedia) of a Polish fellow:

Janusz Korwin-Mikke argues simply: "Either 'social justice' has the same meaning as 'justice' - or not. If so – why use the additional word 'social?' We lose time, we destroy trees to obtain paper necessary to print this word. If not, if 'social justice' means something different from 'justice' - then 'something different from justice' is by definition 'injustice'"

I guess my perplexion is the same as Mr. Korwin-Mikke's.

I don't think this is just quibbling about words.  Micah 6:8 distinguishes between Justice and Mercy, saying "Do Justice" but "Love Mercy."  If we put "justice" content into "mercy," that redefines "mercy" so that Micah 6:8 becomes "Do Justice" and "Do Mercy."  If "social justice" is intended to define mere inequality (of whatever) as "injustice," as opposed to an opportunity to "love doing mercy," we've really changed Micah 6:8 and what I understand the Reformed worldview to be. 

Have we?

Do Justice, as it is meant in Micah and other places, means "act in accordance with the law of God".  In this, then, "Do justice, love mercy" reflect a parallelism common to Hebrew, for to act in accordance with the law of God is to be merciful.

A prime example of what is meant by this is in the way Boaz treats Ruth.

But we have come to define "justice" as "fair" and "getting my rights".  So to us the parable of the master with his workers in the vineyard in which the folks who only worked one hour got the same pay as those who worked all day seems "unfair" and therefore "unjust".  But even if it is unfair, it is not unjust and it is arguably not even unfair. 

So in the "social justice" mindset, there is something terribly unjust when person X has $5 million and person Y has $5000 or $5 - it's unfair on its face.  Somehow it's terrible that there's a 1% even if we 99% have access to video equipment, the Internet, food, clothing, shelter, vehicles, education..... 

I remember a conversation with a member of my congregation who was complaining a bit about this income inequality and I asked him what difference it made to him - after all, he easily makes 2-3 times what I make and that doesn't bother him.  Why does it bother him that somebody else makes 2-3 or even 200 times what he makes?  None of us are starving and if that is how God in his providence chooses to dispense his beneficence, what is that to me? 

All of us are answerable to God for how we use what is entrusted to us and it's fine to remind each other of that (and to be perfectly honest, I really don't want the responsibility of a multi-million dollar income).  Part of how we are to use it is to care for those who are starving.  But inequality is a given, not an injustice, and many who shout "Social Justice" - including our own OSJ - can't seem to grasp that.

Community Builder

Eric:  When you say "In this, then, "Do justice, love mercy" reflect a parallelism common to Hebrew, for to act in accordance with the law of God is to be merciful," are you suggesting the reference to "justice" and "mercy" are references to the same concept but with different words (that mean the same thing), or otherwise.

I've always considered the two phrases ("do justice" and "love mercy") to refer to two different commands: (1) we must do justice; (2) we must love mercy, with a much greater degree of subtlety in the latter.

And this coordinates well with Leviticus 19:15, which says (NIV), "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly."  Justice is justice, and should be shown equally to poor and rich alike.  On the other hand, given other scripture, it would seem clear that the poor are to be (for obvious reasons) the recipients of mercy, and the not-poor (which doesn't necessarily mean rich) the providers of mercy.

What is particularly damaging about that which its proponents call "Social Justice" is it rejects (or at least ignores) the the idea of mercy, and replaces it with a rights-based justice.  Thus, those who receive mercy ought not respond with "thank you" but rather, "its about time you do me justice, you oppresive rich person who unfairly gained wealth from the worship of the idol god Mammon, also known as 'market economics'."

I say this is damaging because it destroys biblical unity, replacing it with "class animosity."  The other damage it does it substitutes action of the government (the power of the sword is required to take from "the rich" and give to "the poor") for reliance upon biblical unity and love, which is voluntary.

Participant

Some "sharp" insight, Doug... it seems the "sword" mentioned in Hebrews 4:12 is doing some dividing between "soul and spirit", "bone and marrow" and now "justice and mercy" =)...

I think you hit on a key thought with how mercy is meant to be done voluntarily based on biblical love and unity (God's way), not forced (man's way?).  and i wonder if "social justice" aka "rights based justice" (is that a fair equation?) is part of the reason "entitlement" seems to be so rampant.

The word translated as "justice" in both Leviticus and Micah (also the most common word for "justice" in the OT) is "mispat".

The sense of that word is not "fair" as that word has come to be understood in a modern context, that is, equal or even.  It is more along the lines of "in accordance with the law", or more specifically, "in accordance with the law of God".  Since the law of God does not distinguish among persons on the basis of wealth, status, power, or any other human characteristic, it is most certainly "fair", but that is not the primary purpose of the law.

The words translated as "mercy" (at least in the NIV) are more varied, but the one in Micah 6 is "hesed".  Included in the sense of the Hebrew word is "faithful", "loyal", "devout" - all characteristics called for by the law of God.  And indeed the law of God is merciful since that law is what requires us to tend to the interests of the poor, the alien, the orphan, the widow, etc.

There is merit in the notion that "justice" pertains to actions and "mercy" to an attitude of the heart, hence "do justice" and "love mercy", but it is also true that - at least in Micah 6 - the latter is intended to build on and expand what is understood by the former.

As to "rights-based" justice, I have come to be very skittish about the word "rights".  Justice is not a matter of getting my rights, but a matter of acting in accordance with the law of God.  It is not "me-directed" (my rights), but "other-directed" (God's commands).  There is an appropriate use of the word "rights" in the context of contingency.  If I agree to pay you X dollars in exchange for item Y, then pay you X dollars, I have a right to item Y.  But that right is contingent upon my paying you.  But when it comes to inherent (aka human) rights, that is not a biblical concept.  The poor person does not have a right to my mercy or charity.  God has a right to demand that I act mercifully and charitably (he made us and we are his), but neither the poor person nor the rich one has any inherent rights.  Unless you mean the right to be damned for eternity (all have sinned and the wages of sin is death).

Social justice, or any other form of justice, understood as this panoply of ever-expanding "human rights" is inherently flawed and is in the long term unsustainable.  This understanding of justice not only rejects the concept of mercy, it ultimately rejects the divine basis of the covenant, and therefore of justice and law, rooting them instead in human nature (dignity, image of God, etc.).  It is, therefore, decidedly not Reformed and not really even Christian.

Doug, good comments.   Just to expand a bit more on it:   As Christians, we all confess that justice (God's justice) demands that we are all unworthy, undeserving.  We deserve punishment for our disobedience to God.   This punishment Christ took on himself, on our behalf.   It is God's mercy that put this punishment, this justice, on to Himself, on to His Son.   When we insist on justice only, then we condemn ourselves.   It is when we appreciate God's mercy to us, that we are able to grant mercy to others.   Indirectly, this concentration on justice alone, seems to remove God's grace from us, or remove us from God's grace.

Justice means paying a worker an adequate wage to buy his food and shelter and not defrauding the employer or his worker.   Mercy means giving someone unable to work, or unable to find work, enough to prevent starvation and freezing to death, just as God gave us life, even though we did not deserve it and had lost our  real right to it. 

Community Builder

Bev: When you say/ask "and I wonder if 'social justice' aka 'rights based justice' (is that a fair equation?)...", my response is yes, that absolutely is a fair equation, and is at the core of my objection to it.

"Social Justice" movement thinkers do indeed get rid of talk of mercy.  I suspect they consider it demeaning to the receivers of mercy to characterize what they receive as mercy. Sort of like "I don't want your pity or your charity!" but "you will give me what my justice rights demand!"

And yes, I think the current zeitgeist of "Social Justice" (which is really a successor to Liberation Theology, the political orientation of which is neo-Marxist) is, as you say, "part of the reason 'entitlement' seems to be so rampant."

If you read the Bylaws of the CRCNA (last updated January 28, 1995), you will find as one of its statements of purpose for the CRCNA to be "to extent mercy ...".  More significantly, you will NOT find even one occurence of the word "justice."  Flash forward to the present and check out the website of the WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches), the ecumenical organization the CRCNA belongs to. If you do a word search there for the word "mercy," you'll get no hits (zero), but if you do a word search for the word "justice," you get 11 pages of hits (that's pages, not just 11 hits). Indeed, in one of the "section reports" of the WCRC (you can find it at their website) the "section" participants recommend to the greater WCRC body that it:

"Affirm[] the centrality of the Accra Confession to the life of WCRC and so name[] covenanting for justice in the economy and the earth as WCRC’s number one priority ...".  The Accra Confession (adopted confession of the WCRC) reads largely like a political manifesto. Probably the most often used word in it is "justice" (or "injustice), and again, there are zero (0) references to mercy.  It is a clear and unapologetic call to action that is predominantly political.

So the number one priority of WCRC (our ecumenical organization) is "justice" and no mention is even made of "mercy."  This is a pretty big shift from our CRCNA 1995 Bylaws. What a difference 16 years can make, eh?

I think another reason "Social Justice" advocates like to talk about only "justice" and never "mercy" is because "justice" is associated with government action, and "mercy" with personal action. The net effect of the vocabulary shift here is profound. The best and most appropriate way to do justice to the poor is by lobbying the government to do it, instead of doing it ourselves. And indeed, the WCRC's activity (read the Accra Confession and spend some quality time with the WCRC website at wcrc.ch) is largely political, and aimed at government/political restructuring, and the CRCNA's activity is increasingly moving in that direction as well.

"Neither praise thyself in what is good in thee, nor accuse God in what is evil in thee. For this is wrong judgment, and so, not judgment at all. This thou didst, being evil; reverse it, and it will be right. Praise God in what is good in thee; accuse thyself in what is evil. So shalt thou anticipate the judgment of God, as He saith, "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged of the Lord" 1 Corinthians 11:31. He addeth, love mercy; being merciful, out of love, "not of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver" 2 Corinthians 9:7. These acts together contain the whole duty to man, corresponding with and formed upon the mercy and justice of God Psalm 101:1; Psalm 61:7. All which is due, anyhow or in any way, is of judgment; all which is free toward man, although not free toward God, is of mercy."     "(Barne's (B   

(Barnes Notes)

Community Builder

I would add to John's comments the text of Leviticus 19:15, which is:

        "Do not pervert justice; 
         
do not show partiality to the poor 
         or favoritism to the great,
         but judge your neighbor fairly."

Certainly, justice and mercy must be two different things, and not merely synonyms, for in Leviticus, God declares is it a perversion of justice to show partiality to the poor. That would not be the case for mercy, particularly (but not limited to) economic mercy. Given that, why would we want to rid our language of the word "mercy" when advocating for the poor?

This is why I regard the Belhar Confession (as the Accra) as very mistaken when it says, "that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged".

I wouldn't say "justice" and "mercy" are synonyms.  I say they are, in the context of Micah 6 anyway, parallel concepts.  Think of it as a spiral - do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God - the latter imperatives build on the former, including and enhancing them to develop the fullness of the author's intended conceptualization.

Parallelism in Hebrew writing is not mere repetition with different words.

A partiality for the poor is a perversion of justice - and not particularly merciful to either the wealthy or the poor (and the wealthy, in their own way, need mercy as much as do the poor).  We beggar the concept of mercy if we restrict it to those materially less well off.

So I'm not saying we should get rid of the word "mercy" or "justice", but that the two are intimately connected and mutually dependent concepts, not opposed or estranged one from another.  I agree that the Belhar (and similar documents) misunderstand both justice and mercy, and that the vision of justice they have is neither biblical nor merciful.

Community Builder

 

Doug, I ran across this comment thread recently and found something on the OSJ's website that I thought might be helpful in answering your original question: 

 

What do you mean by the term "social justice"?  Isn’t the name of the OSJ controversial?

The term “social justice” emerges out of Scripture, and was actually originally coined by the church: a Jesuit monk based the phrase on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. Contrary to some misconceptions, “social justice” is a concept deeply rooted in the historic, Biblically orthodox traditions of the Christian faith.

When we talk about “social justice” in a Reformed context, we are referring to God’s original intention for human society: a world where basic needs are provided for in love, where people flourish, and where shalom reigns in the Kingdom of God. This vision of shalom is a vision of “the way things ought to be,” or the way God created the world to be before sin. As Cornelius Plantinga writes, “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight… the webbing-together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” 

Social justice refers to the pursuit of shalom in human, social relationships. There are many types of justice (retributive, restorative, etc.). The significance of social justice is that it references the pursuit of shalom — righteousness, harmony, and “the way things ought to be” — specifically in our human interactions and societal structures. The CRCNA rightly emphasizes the pursuit of God’s shalom in all areas. However, the choice of the specific term in the name for the OSJ acknowledges the mandate of the OSJ, which focuses the office on addressing societal structures and injustices which hinder human flourishing.

One final note of clarification: technically, the full name is the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJHA). However, because the activities of the office extend beyond issues related just to hunger and poverty, the shortened term is more commonly used.

 

The FAQ page is pretty useful. If you're interested, here's the link: http://www.crcna.org/pages/osj_faqs.cfm