Friday, January 2, 2009

The Obama Evangelicals and Social Justice

By Andrew Faris

Last week there was an article by Phyllis Schlafly on Town Hall from Dec. 30 (you know, back in 2008) that starts like this:
Why did 18-to-29-year-old evangelicals vote for Barack Obama despite his apostasy on the fundamental moral issues of abortion and same-sex unions? They voted 32 percent for Obama, twice the percentage of that demographic group who voted for John Kerry in 2004. Many of these young people identify "social justice" as the reason that led them to relegate the prime moral issues of life and marriage to the back burner.
Fine enough- most of us are aware that this was the case. But some of us might not be as convinced of her next sentences:
But the term "social justice" does not define a moral cause -- it is left-wing jargon to overturn those who have economic and political power. What caused young evangelicals, the children of the so-called "religious right," to change their moral imperatives so dramatically? Most likely it's the attitudes and decision-making they learned in the public schools, which 89 percent of U.S. students attend.

The article goes on to defend this thesis by discussing the liberalism of public education over the last fifty or so years, and ends up reading more like a knock on that system than an actual explanation of what happened with young evangelicals in the Obama election. And frankly, you won't get much argument from me that (a) public education is liberal (cf. the teachers' unions' political donations) and (b) that is bad.

But that is exactly where my agreement with Schlafly ends. For one thing, this is the kind of right-wing conspiracy theory crazy talk that sounds like it's coming from the mouth of someone's 80 year old lifelong-republican grandma who fears change. You know, like talking Bible translations with a KJV-onlyist. Media sources like Town Hall and FoxNews get mocked for stuff like this.

Really Mrs. Schlafly? "Social justice" is meaningless jargon used by the sadistic left in their ongoing ploy to overturn all of the goodness, truth and beauty of right wing politics and run our country headlong into secular hell?

Try again. One wonders if Mrs. Schlafly has ever actually talked to a young evangelical who cares about social justice. Perhaps one of them would explain to her that social justice is what happens when starving people eat, homeless people have roofs, and sick people get treated. You know, helping people. One can see why Schlafly would be so opposed to such vileness...

And in any case, the concern for social justice isn't primarily coming from public education. Whatever there is to say about how to prioritize one's voting concerns, the reason that social justice matters to young evangelicals is because those young evangelicals think it mattered to Jesus. It's hard to say you've loved your neighbor (you might remember that Jesus was pretty big on that whole thing) if you don't feed him when he can't eat. That is, they think the Bible teaches concern for social justice. I don't think they're really that concerned with what their high school teachers said compared to what the Bible says. That's why they care about social justice, and that's why they should care about social justice.

It's a shame that more people are unable to integrate their concern for social justice into a more thoughtful political philosophy. I'm not convinced that fiscal liberalism and government programs are the best way to carry out social justice. Far from it- I voted for Bob Barr this year. It's also a shame that the MSM has refused to pay attention to some of Bush's considerable social justice work. But Republicans can blame themselves for doing a poor job articulating what the Bible most certainly does articulate: a comprehensive concern for social justice.

And just for clarification Mrs. Schlafly, by "social justice" I mean "loving people by providing for their physical needs." Oh, and overthrowing Republicans of course...


Jenny Bruce said...

Good stuff, Andrew.

How do you think Republicans could better articulate a comprehensive concern for social justice?

Anonymous said...

Wow--excellent. So well put: your English teachers should be proud. I know there's a reason I keep coming back to this blog: really, good stuff.

Anonymous said...

You should definitely read "A Crime So Monstrous," by E. Benjamin Skinner. While it can't be denied that PEPFAR was a great initiative on Bush's part, his work in Sudan comes off as less than noble in the big picture. A big heart must have the temperance of a sharp mind to be affective.

Anonymous said...

Where in the Bible is the term "social justice?"

Why use a term charged with political meaning?

Why do you feel the need to attack Phyllis Schafly? For years she has been a beacon of honestly and truthfulness on the state of public education in this nation.

Obama went to a pricey private high school. His daughters are attending prestigious private schools in DC. Yet he doesn't support the right of all parents to choose the schools their kids attend. So much for justice...

Andrew Faris said...

Second anonymous,

1. Where in the Bible is the term "trinity"?

2. Because "social justice" is a helpful shorthand for all of the things that I said it is in my post. Just like "trinity" is a helpful shorthand for "one God in three persons, eternally existent, who are all the same essence but differing in function and relationship."

3. Because Schlafly said some foolish and unfounded things. I didn't attack Schlafly- I attacked her bad ideas. I've never read any of her other stuff, but I suspect that she has elsewhere said helpful and intelligent things.

4. Of course Obama supports the right for all parents to choose where the children go. He has the money for private schools. If you do too, Barack Obama would be glad for you to stimulate the economy by paying for a private school.

If you're talking about vouchers, that's a different issue.