I Hate All Your Show
Posted by Joshua M. Young
On Monday nights this semester, I have a class entitled “Worship and the Community of God.” Last night, it ended with this.
There’s a fairly strong social justice thread to the Bible. We all tend to focus on the parts of the Old Covenant that are things like “don’t eat pork” and “holy cow, guys, you’re gonna jump through hoops to be ritually clean” but we forget that there are all sorts of subtle things about taking care of the world around us. Do you know why Deuteronomy 25:4 tells you not to muzzle your ox when he’s working? So your ox can eat and partake of his share in the labor. Leviticus 23:22 bears instructions telling us not to be thorough when we’re reaping our fields– leave the corners and leftovers for the poor and the aliens, so that they can eat.
I don’t have an ox. I don’t have a field to reap, and if I did, I’m pretty sure that the people around me wouldn’t know what to do with the leavings of a field of wheat. I sure wouldn’t. I gather that you can just eat the heads? Maybe? I might be missing something from when the disciples were picking grain because they were hungry.
Fortunately, Jesus, a few thousand years later, summed it up all very nicely:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV)
Social justice, ya’ll. Pretty obvious, no? Deserving of a blog post? Maybe. Maybe not.
Here’s the problem: we’ve made a terrible mockery of the idea of social justice these days. It’s no secret that there’s a culture war raging in America– and, from what I’ve read, pretty much everywhere else in the Anglosphere. Some terribly important ideas have been co-opted and ideologically vandalized. Equality, the idea that we are all equal in the sight of our Creator, has turned into the idea that everything we do is valid. Freedom, the absence of oppression, has become “do as thou wilt.” In our hurry to undo the injustice of Jim Crow and slavery, Civil Rights has morphed into something I get the feeling the good Doctor MLK would be appalled by. Feminism, which bumper stickers tell me “is the radical notion that women are people” (You are! Huzzah! I value your opinions quite highly!) is wasting its time shrieking about some tacky shirt a scientist wore for an interview.
And it is tacky. Hideous. You’d never see me wearing that thing. But is it really important? Did it suddenly leach power from women and make their votes only worth 75% of the vote of a white male? (Alright, so there’s one opinion I don’t value quite highly.)
Self-disclosure: I am a white male. One flirting with the being the middle class, no less. Gasp, horror, shock. What am I doing talking about social justice? What can I know?
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Social justice isn’t. Not anymore. We’ve taken the idea of ministering to the oppressed and the fringe and the hated, of imitating the life, compassion, and mercy of Jesus, and turned it into attacking the things that make us uncomfortable because we’ve been slighted by them. It’s a slight, subtle difference, but it is a difference, and it makes a huge difference in the way we’re going about it. The social justice warriors in our world seem to be driven by hate, not by love. When you chase after “justice” with hate, you’re not chasing justice. You’re chasing revenge. You’re chasing a grudge. Your legacy isn’t the beautiful legacy of wisdom and compassion that MLK left us, it’s something twisted, tainted, and hostile. (Here’s the point where I want to insert a .gif from The Grudge, but I’m not going to. Cuz, y’know, Japanese ghosts are frikkin’ scary and I don’t want to stare at that every time I have to come back to this page.)
When you chase after something holy, without holiness in your heart, you’re putting on a show. And make no mistake: ministering to the poor, downtrodden, and excluded is holy. But when the goal is to level everyone else instead of elevate those who are in need of it, you’re lashing out with bitterness. Your justice is a sham, because your heart is false and you seek after universal misery instead of universal liberation.
Loving your neighbor is an act of worship to God. But this is what God says about worship with your heart in the wrong place:
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24 ESV)