This is the second of several essays on social justice by Andrew. God willing, the others will appear in coming issues of Life News.
Conservative politicians are unconcerned about poverty and the poor. Similarly, evangelical, conservative and Bible-believing Christians have little or no interest in the plight of the poor. These are the claims of social justice advocates, and these are the claims I hope to refute in this essay.
Jim Wallis, who is probably the most influential social justice campaigner in the world, maintains that there is “a right-wing economic agenda, which values wealth over work and favours the rich over the poor”. It is remarkable that someone who claims to be so concerned about justice can make such a sweepingly unjust allegation. Yet these are the sort of exaggerated and malicious statements that advocates of social justice and Christian socialism routinely make.
Contrary to Wallis’s claim, the Right does not value wealth over work. Rather, it values work over welfare and insists that work is the means to wealth. Because conservative politicians refuse to look with envy at the wealthy, because they refuse to assume that the wealthy must have gotten their wealth through conniving and exploitation as opposed to effort and enterprise, because they refuse automatically to equate the unequal distribution of wealth with inequity, and because they reject the idea that the government has the right to reach into the pockets of its citizens whenever and however it pleases—because of this, they are slandered by Wallis and the Left as, at best, heartless with regard to the poor! It would be one thing for Wallis to say that he does not agree with the Right’s assessment of how to help the poor, but it is quite another to claim that the Right only wants to trample on the poor.
Kevin Rudd makes similar sweeping accusations against John Howard, the then Prime Minister of Australia, in his 2006 essay, “Faith in Politics”. He states,
If we apply a Christian socialist critique to contemporary Australian politics, the precise nature of the widening values divide in John Howard’s Australia becomes starkly apparent. Mr Howard is a clever politician who often succeeds in masking the essential self-interest of his political project with a veneer of “duty to the nation”. Mr Howard’s politics are in the main about concealing the substantive truth of his policy program because—with his new industrial laws—fully exposed to the light of public debate, their essential truth is revealed: a redistribution of power from the weak to the strong. …
Rudd claims to have uncovered the “substantive truth” about Howard’s “policy program”. What is it? What is this truth that Howard managed to conceal from the Australian people for so long? It is that Howard secretly planned to bring about “a redistribution of power from the weak to the strong”! And no doubt he would have got away with it if not for Rudd and his remarkable “Christian socialist critique”.
These are not the words of an under-graduate student studying politics and journalism under the mind conforming tutelage of leftwing university lecturers. These are the words of a man who, at the time, aspired to be Prime Minister, words accepted uncritically and repeated reverently by socialist and social justice Christians and non-Christians around the country.
Rudd’s claim that Howard tried to bring about “a redistribution of power from the weak to the strong” raises some interesting questions: How could Howard redistribute power from the weak when by definition the weak do not have any power? Conversely, if the weak do have power, how can they still be defined as “weak”? Further, how can the strong be defined as “strong” when it seems they lack the power that the weak have and that Howard wanted to wrest from the weak for them? Conversely, if the strong really are strong, why did they need Howard to redistribute power to them?
Mr Rudd would no doubt wave such questions aside. His critique is a socialist critique (albeit with the adjective “Christian” tacked on), and so by definition it does not need to be truthful, factual, logical or fair: it merely needs to be passionate and partisan—it merely needs to wave the banner of class warfare, express spite towards class enemies, and encourage resentment and envy towards those who are well off.
Of course, Howard could not possibly have been a decent man who genuinely cared for the poor and genuinely believed that the best way to lift and keep people from poverty is to provide them with employment; and the best way to provide them with employment is to help businesses to prosper. No, Rudd and his fellow Christian socialists will not allow that a social conservative could just conceivably have a right motive despite having (in their view) a wrong policy. In their simplistic but savage critique, anyone who does not agree with them on the causes of and solutions to poverty does not genuinely care for the poor.
Advocates of social justice and Christian socialism are utterly wrong when they claim that conservative politicians are unconcerned about poverty and the poor. And they are equally wrong when they claim that evangelical, conservative and Bible-believing Christians have little or no interested in the poor and the causes of poverty.
Conservative Christians have always been concerned about the plight of the poor and have given practical expression to that concern through the establishment of missions, hospitals, aid agencies and welfare services. As even a passing glance at history confirms, it is not the liberal-left churches who have promoted missions and voluntary aid work, but the conservative-right churches.
Although most aid agencies in Australia are now firmly in the hands of people who hold and seek to implement a social justice ideology, those same aid agencies were not set up by people who held such views. They were set up and managed by people with conservative Christian convictions.
It is the Christians who have been most concerned for the eternal souls of the poor who have cared most for the temporal welfare of the poor. It is Bible-believing Christians, not social justice Christians, who have over the past three hundred years set up schools and hospitals and clinics for the poor in third world countries. It is the spiritual gospel Christians, not the social gospel Christians, who first began to run mothercraft classes and teach the poor about hygiene. It is the Bible-believing Christians, not the business-bashing Christians, who first asserted the value of women by opposing practices like foot-binding in China, temple prostitution and wife burning in India, polygamy in Africa, female genital mutilation in the Middle East, the ceremonial rape of adolescent girls in the Aboriginal path-making ceremonies in Australia, and the forced marriages of young girls in all of these places. It is Christian evangelicals, not Christian socialists, who have dared to confront cultural practices and religious beliefs that contribute to the misery of the poor.
What is more, conservative Christians have traditionally acted to help the poor with their own money. While social justice Christians covet other people’s money and urge governments to confiscate it through taxation for “redistribution” to the poor, conservative Christians fund their initiatives for the poor though voluntary personal giving.
When it comes to politics and elections, conservative Christians are aware that conservative governments share the concern of “progressive” governments about the problem of poverty. The difference between conservative and progressive governments is not a difference of concern but a difference of approach. Certainly, rightwing governments have a different view from leftwing governments about the causes of and the solutions to poverty, but that difference has nothing to do with indifference. Conservative governments are genuinely concerned about poverty and want to alleviate it as much as possible.
Conservative Christians understand this, even if socialist Christians do not. And conservative Christians further understand that whoever wins government, existing welfare and aid policies will continue much the same. A right-leaning government or a left-leaning government—either one will continue to pay old aged pensions, either one will continue to pay unemployment benefits, either one will try to lessen Aboriginal disadvantage, either one will give a percentage of gross domestic product in foreign aid, either one will admit into the country properly identified and processed refugees. Given this reality, and give an understanding of this reality, conservative Christians can rightly assume that the matter of poverty is largely agreed upon and therefore largely settled regardless of who gains power. Consequently, they can rightly set aside the issue of poverty when they ponder how to vote and can turn their attention to the question of which prospective government is most likely to do what is right in matters involving the sanctity of both marriage and life.
Furthermore, conservative Christians do not hold the utopian delusions of the Left. They do not believe that a perfect society can be established in this fallen world. They know that no matter how we strive, every society will be an imperfect society. And so they do not delude themselves into thinking that this or that government or party has got the policies and the power to create a utopia. There will be no heaven on earth until Christ comes to make a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Indeed, every attempt to establish a socialist utopia—whether the attempt has been motivated by the scientific socialism of Lenin or the national socialism of Hitler or agrarian socialism of Pol Pot—every attempt to establish a socialist utopia has resulted in misery and horror.
Conservative Christians do not expect conservative governments to be perfect and to produce perfection. They do not expect that every injustice and all poverty can be eradicated. They know that Christ is right when he says that the poor you have with you always. So they set themselves to lessen poverty but do not delude themselves into thinking that poverty will ever be entirely eliminated. And on the basis of this realism, they are more realistic in the expectations they place on governments; and when governments fail, they are not consumed with the disappointment and resentment and rage that is so characteristic of people on the Left.
Finally, conservative Christians recognise that poverty is a popular issue. There are dozens of organisations and hundreds of churches and thousands of policies and tens of thousands of people all running the social justice line. Virtually every journalist, academic and artist is sympathetic to, if not enthusiastic about, the need for “social justice” for the poor and disadvantaged. Poverty gets plenty of press and calls for social justice get plenty of coverage. Conservative Christians do not need to alert the public about the harmfulness of poverty: everyone is agreed on it and everyone is talking about it.
However, if conservative Christians do not alert the public to the sinfulness and harmfulness of, for example, homosexuality and prostitution, who will? These are not popular issues. There is no prestige attached to speaking about them. The Jim Wallises of the world can expect praise from Time Magazine and the New York Times and CNN for their stance on so-called social justice issues. But the Fred Niles of the world can expect only vilification in the media for their stance on sexual and life issues. It takes no courage to speak out for social justice; but it takes great courage to speak out for sexual morality. Conservative Christians are just about the only people prepared to exercise that courage today.