What is social justice?

Recalling the conversation a few weeks back, the term “social justice” is all too often a euphemism that hides statist intentions as the cure for the vexing cultural problems facing us. Rather than fostering self-reliance, self-respect, self-control, and the other virtues necessary for independence, the programs and prescriptions that ostensibly cure the ills in fact erode any possibility of independence and success. Poverty — both material and and spiritual — is not at its foundation an economic issue. It’s a relational issue and the healing of poverty begins first by correcting one’s relationship to God and secondly to the neighbor.

View this video of Star Parker, a women who realized this and turned her life around:

I didn’t choose this video because Parker is black, or that poverty only affects the inner cities. I choose it because Parker strips away the veneer of false compassion and shows us how enslaving it really is. There is plenty of poverty elsewhere, call it a poverty of spirit, and it afflicts many of us Orthodox too.

Do you think the enslavement does not bind us? Think again. Did you know, for example, that abortion rates among the Orthodox are higher than the national average?

Read what John Couretas wrote a while back in A patriarch who ‘generally speaking, respects human life’:

Now, listen to a faithful Orthodox Christian who has labored on the front lines of the great struggle to protect the sanctity of life. This link (select the Real Video option) will take you to the presentation offered by Paula Kappos of Zoe for Life!, to the bishops at the 2006 SCOBA conference in Chicago. Watch the video. It will break your heart.

Kappos related a story about calling a local crisis pregnancy center and telling them that she represented an Orthodox Christian pro-life organization:

When we spoke with them on the phone, they nearly jumped through the phone line in their excitement to talk to us. And we couldn’t understand why and we asked them.

They told us that our [Orthodox] abortion numbers are higher than the national norm, as reported in the media. Well, frankly, we didn’t believe them. And we asked them why.

They said we have two major strikes against us as strong ethnic communities and strong religious communities. And that our children would seek abortion as a means to escape the eye of their parents and grandparents and the embarrassment that it would bring to their families.

Well, I have to tell you, I didn’t believe them. I went back to Fr. Stephen and I asked him, “have you heard about women in crisis pregnancies?” and he said, “Yes, all the time. But in confession, after the abortion had been committed and the child had been lost.”

Well obviously, this galvanized all of us into action and we began to meet to see where we could make a difference.

Kappos told the bishops that, “there are at least two victims in every abortion. The child and his mother. Because she truly feels she has no other option. Zoe was founded to offer her life saving options.”

What does that say about our leadership, our clergy, us?

Abortion is not the only problem here of course, but abortion is ground zero in the debate because if the bond between mother and unborn child is severed in the hearts of mothers and fathers, then all the relationships that are necessary to escape grueling material and spiritual poverty will be severed too. Mother Teresa was right: abortion is the greatest source of violence in the world. And if we, as Orthodox Christians, refuse to face the violence in our own churches that we perpetrate through our support pro-abortion politicians and other leaders of the false compassion that fosters the dependencies, we in fact prance to hell in our robes and lead others to perdition too.

Social justice is loving the neighbor. For us Orthodox it means living in the Gospel — going through the hard work of understanding where we fit in this society we are called to serve, making the sacrifices necessary to be obedient to that calling, and then working to restore the relationships that bring freedom to those yearning to breathe free. Christ came into the world to bring healing. That is what we are supposed to do too.

We Orthodox can be a triumphalist lot. We have the “true faith” and all that. But James says that true faith is this: “To visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Without any reference to the Gospel — without truth at home and love toward the neighbor — our triumphalism is merely a self-referential claim that blinds and binds us too.

The video of Star Parker comes from a series put out by the Heritage Foundation called Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives in Need by Christians serious about the biblical mandate to love the neighbor. They throw off the false compassion, the statist designs that in fact foster enslavement in the name of compassion, and urge a return to God that in turn corrects our self-understanding — our knowledge of who we really are as a child of God — to restore the relationships that break enslavement. Again, the enslavement is more than material poverty. It is also the enslavement of the spirit that manifests itself in many ways, such as addictions to food, sex, or chemicals — what we Orthodox would call the passions of greed, licentiousness, and avarice.

We can contribute to this. Our salvation only comes through service to our neighbor. There is no other way to be saved than to love the neighbor. We Orthodox have a great gift, but a gift has value only after it has been given. Hiding the light under the bushel or burying the pearl of great price are the same thing. We are masters at hiding and burying, while assuring ourselves that as long as the gift stays in our possession we are right with God. It’s time to start giving.


  1. The world we live in seems to be doing the best to get you started on the wrong foot. Before you “wake up” you accumulate a large luggage of sins. If you don’t wake up you can end up getting killed physically or/and spiritually.

    The waking up process can be different for everyone. It ranges from meeting the right people and hearing what they are saying, or getting into circumstances that bring you down to your knees (usually the very stubborn people get here, God loves them too). While down there you start hearing new “frequencies”.

    An elder said that in everyone’s life comes a temptation: to “meet” Christ and CHOOSE to follow Him or reject Him. Even if you are born Orthodox and proud of your faith does not really mean that you actually (fully) understand it.

  2. George Michalopulos :

    well put, Fr. I despise the fact that too many Christians promiscuously use the words “social justice” as a substitute for “virtue.”

  3. Father, you are 100% correct. This is a very well written post. Service to our neighbor is more important than justice. However, now I have to ask again: Why are we asking college students -in a national campus ministry program- to participate in a Pilgrimage for Justice where they do Shanty town simulations etc etc. Why not teach about the faith and have a Pilgrimage for Service where we serve our neighbors until it hurts? I think the question is certainly a legitimate one given the points outlined in your post.

  4. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Send me the link. I need to take a closer look at it.

    • Here is the link


      You have to page down to see the links tophotos and the quotes. Please know I am not attacking any person here but simply asking the question. Is a “Pilgrimage for Justice” -an event promoted by a national Ortodox ministry- the best way to help people learn to be literate Orthodox Christians who help serve the world?

      Quotations like the following make me wonder what is going on here.

      Tonight is the Shantytown Soiree… complete with trash can fires and dime store instruments!

      I welcome your input Father as well as those of other AOI readers.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    Why not just send these Orthodox youth to Project Mexico or to the Kuskwokwim Valley in Alaska? They could build and repair homes, etc. How about going to Haiti?

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