What’s in a word: Social Justice

This post was originally published on Sept. 19, 2010.

I thought exploring the term social justice was worth reviewing again given the nation is dealing with a growing debt  problem and a struggling economy. Just this month Congress is wrestling with bills dealing with payroll tax cut extensions, the Medicare/DocFix, and extending unemployment insurance. The issue is how to offset the costs of these items. Whose taxes will get raised and what social programs will be cut?

As the nation debates this the #OccupyWallStreet movement continues highlighting income inequality, corporate greed, and the need for social justice. However social justice is a difficult term to pin down.  What do you think?


Roger Olson in his blog recently asked – why is the term social justice now considered a bad phrase. He then urges Christians to save the phrase and reject any attempt by others to give the term negative connotations.

My fear is that this good term “social justice” will be demonized like so many other good terms to the point that it will be virtually impossible to reinvest with its original valuable meaning.  Christians of all political persuasions should stand up and say a loud and resounding “No!” to those who use it pejoratively.

The problem is how does one define social justice? Not that I want to step into this argument, but clearly Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis are having trouble agreeing on a definition. What does the term social justice mean to people today? How the word is defined is going to determine the reaction you get.

Olson offers these definitions (one in the blog and one in a comment):

“social justice” is any concept of improving the social order for the good of all people.

“social justice” is simply a term to cover any concern for the poor and oppressed and goes beyond charity.

If social justice is a phrase that means “concern for the poor” then it is certainly open to discussion how to best help the poor. Continue reading