Guest Post: A Response to Meridian Magazine’s Article on Social Justice
This blog post originally was published on Facebook as a post and is reprinted here with minor changes.
by Christie Black
A recent article published by an LDS author tore apart critical social justice ideology by arguing that social justice is against the teachings of the Gospel. We can disagree on the best way to address issues, but we need to have a common set of facts to work from. Thus, I offer these definitions.
Critical social justice ideology does not view immutable characteristics as shameful. People are not inherently evil because of the color of their skin. This is a complete misunderstanding of White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo, as well as the misunderstanding of systemic oppression. A white person born on a deserted island would not automatically be an oppressor. Oppressors become so because of the culture and systems they are born into. The Stanford Prison Experiment is an example of how people are influenced by the power structures they are a part of. This is not original sin.
Social justice ideology does not reject the doctrine that we are all God’s children. Many of history’s incredible social justice warriors have, in fact, held that as a core belief, such as Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Perkins. The premise is not that a person’s race or identity is more important than their heritage as a child of Heavenly Parents. In fact, the issue is that the way power structures are formed here on earth, people mistakenly internalize thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are contrary to the inherent divine worth of souls. This is the very concept that social justice is trying to upend — the structures that lead one to believe all beings are not on equal footing, whether that be with the law or with God.
Race is an immutable characteristic of a person. The American view of race is a made-up construction. There are no inherent differences in people of different races. The only difference is how people are treated and the suffering bestowed upon them due to this fallacy. Social justice does not create those differences in treatment and opportunities, but it shines light upon them.
Are we truly living our ultimate goal of drawing near unto God and becoming like He is if we are not living His word? Truly, Christ is the ultimate example of loving and lifting the marginalized. We have been commanded to mourn with those who mourn and to lift the hands that hang down in sorrow. We are to serve the poor and needy. What better way to do so than by lifting the chains of oppression that bind us all? As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “No one is free until we all are free.” We will bring people to Christ most effectively when they see that His followers are truly living Christlike lives and seeking to make the world a more Christlike place to live. Many people have failed at this and have used the Christian doctrine to further oppress and demoralize others. Some, like in the article, use it to justify oppressive systems. Jesus tore down the money changers and tables within the walls of the temple, and I firmly believe He would like us to follow suit in tearing down the sacrilegious idea that trying to truly love and honor our neighbors goes against His doctrine.
Critical social justice theory does not oppose agency. The more freedom we have, the more choices we have. Critical social justice theory does hinge on the idea that some of us are more free than others because of the systems of power in place in a society. Does an undocumented immigrant have the same choices that a citizen has? No. Does that mean an undocumented person does not have agency? No. bell hooks said, “We can collectively regain our faith in the transformative power of love by cultivating courage, the strength to stand up for what we believe in, to be accountable both in word and deed.” hooks is truly a social justice advocate, hoping and working toward a world filled with more love and accountability. That seems pretty consistent with Church doctrine to me.
It is the ones who try to limit the actions of others who are restricting the agency. We are followers of Christ; we are commanded to teach and to love. Others seem to believe that as followers of Christ they are to demand and legislate, thereby making people’s individual choices illegal and exacting penalties of fines and imprisonment for intimate and familial behaviors. Again, social justice focuses on giving all humankind more agency, instead of leaving it in the hands of specific social groups.
Critical social justice theory does not reject the concept of truth. Sometimes as Latter-day Saints we fall into the trap of believing that all of our beliefs are objective truths. Especially when those beliefs are based on false information. I once believed it was truth that an undocumented person was a sinner and unworthy to attend the temple because they had broken the law. I no longer believe that — and neither does the Church. We should not fall into the trap that our political beliefs necessarily equate to moral truths.
Indeed, even our own faith’s apostles and prophets have contradicted each other. President Henry B. Eyring’s father Hal Eyring said, “Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men.” I would argue the same is true of true social justice. We may not understand how to reconcile the two at times, but that may be because we are not truly understanding God’s mind on the issue.
While on the earth, Jesus did not generally speak kindly of those with power. Indeed, the scriptures say, “… upon every one who is lifted up, and he shall be brought low” (see 2 Nephi 12:12). Social justice does not mean power is given only to marginalized groups but that all is equal. The end goal is not to make white people the new marginalized group; the end goal is equality of all people.
Critical social justice theory does not promote division over unity. It merely speaks of the division that is already present. Speaking of unity does nothing when entire groups of people continue to be marginalized. Shedding light on that truth makes the divisions that already exist more apparent, which is necessary for reconciliation.
Critical social justice theory does not oppose self-reliance. It does not dictate that people should rely upon social institutions for success in life. It does indicate that social systems that are inherently oppressive should be dealt with and changed, just as the Church teaches. Once the systems are truly equitable, marginalized people will have a greater opportunity to truly be self-reliant, rather than constantly fighting being a victim of the system.
True repentance means change. We must change the systems of oppression. What is racial reconciliation if not true repentance? John Perkins said, “There is no reconciliation until you recognize the dignity of the other, until you see their point of view — you have to enter into the pain of people, you’ve got to feel their need.” Not only is this repentance, this is true charity — to see the worth and value of each of God’s children. If we all lived charity to the fullest extent, we would not need further social justice because we would all be living it.
Critical social justice theory does not mean that traditional nuclear families are negative but that other less traditional families can also be effective and part of God’s plan.
One cannot claim to be a proponent of strengthening families while tearing down and denigrating those families they do not approve of. Rather than quoting statistics or pointing at certain families as cautionary tales, a true Christian would do unto others as they would want done to them.
One of the greatest lies we tell ourselves is that discomfort is not of God. When we are faced with facts or decisions that make us uncomfortable, we sometimes assume the Spirit is telling us it is wrong. But discomfort does not equal offense of the Spirit. Jesus was the master of making people feel uncomfortable. Jonah was uncomfortable going to teach the people of Nineveh, but God absolutely wanted him to go. We feel discomfort for a number of reasons, and it is critical that we determine where the source of our discomfort comes from. It may just be that our viewpoints are being challenged. That discomfort may be just what we need to change. “Fear of radical changes leads many citizens of our nation to betray their minds and hearts. Yet we are all subjected to radical changes every day. We face them by moving through fear,” said bell hooks.
The world can be a truly scary place, but I would argue that we needn’t fear the people around us. We needn’t fear people who are different, and we needn’t fear ideas that are different.
Christie Black is a stay-at-home mom of two and recent convert to activism. She enjoys reading and cooking and working with the marginalized in society.