Students for Life of America asks this seemingly simple question, but finds that the definition of social justice is more complex and contentious than you might think.
As I see it, “social justice” is currently being abused by people on both ends of the political spectrum. On the one hand, we have those who use the term to justify violations of the human right to life. On the other, we have Glenn Beck, who says that social justice is “socialism,” an evil liberal conspiracy buzzword, etc.
I found SFLA’s analysis helpful in staking out a middle ground.
After researching social justice, we found that there is no one consistent definition. In fact, most people cannot explain it but highlight issues that they think need social justice. Issues like poverty, hunger, and illness.
First, let us define the term. Social means “pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations.” The word social refers to relationships.
Now, what is justice? Justice is “…righteousness, edibleness, or moral rightness.” Justice is more than the enforcement of the law. Justice infers a right relationship or harmony between human beings in which there has to be mercy, love, respect and caring for one another.
Social justice is right relationships or harmony with others. Its goal is to promote human flourishing and it is the sum of millions of acts of relational justice between millions of people.
The implication, of course, is that pro-lifers must pay attention to women’s relational needs. Abortion is clearly not a solution by this standard. But neither is just patting mothers on the back for choosing life. We need to develop friendships; counseling is just a starting point. We need to provide long-lasting resources; most pregnancy centers offer baby supplies, parenting classes, and financial assistance, but I’d like to see more job training. If we see a mother in need as just another case, we’re no better than the abortionist who sees her as just another procedure. (As ex-abortion worker Carol Everett put it, “You call them ‘baby’ so you don’t have to remember their name.”)
This definition of social justice is a challenge, not only in our pro-life work, but in our daily lives. As human beings, we’re unlikely to live up to such a high standard in 100% of our interactions. And yet Christians, atheists, and people of every religion generally want to live in a socially just way. So tell me: how would you define social justice in two or three sentences? We have some new commenters on the blog, so consider this a chance to practice social justice by getting to know one another.