DOREEN
Hi everyone! We're back again and this time we'll be doing a little series on a topic that's been talked about a lot and that topic is social justice. So I want to start by asking you Rich - what's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term “social justice”?

RICH
First thing...probably at this point protests and marches come to mind...but as to what I think it means I think it's about everyone getting a fair share of the earth's resources and being able to live with a sense of dignity which of course I think is a positive thing. But of course nowadays it's become a political term that can set people on edge...

DOREEN
Right because different appeals to justice being made in the culture today can sometimes be conflicting like for example LGBTQ claims at times can conflict with religious liberty claims. You often see the term “social justice warrior” being tossed around negatively online. But I don't think the culture wars are something we want to get into in this series. It’s indisputable that at its core, justice is something that everyone wants.

RICH
Right, so let's talk about what makes “justice” “social”. There's a long philosophical tradition of justice going back to Aristotle and a theological tradition going back to Moses or earlier. The term social justice originated in Catholic theology with the publication of Pope Leo the Thirteenths 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum (hope I'm saying that right) which is the first of a number of important Catholic social teachings very much including Pope Francis' recent encyclical which has a Latin name I'm not going to say because I'll make it sound stupid.

DOREEN
Well I'm brave enough to give it a bash - Fratelli Tutti. There I did it. It means “All brothers” or as one joker on Twitter translated it, “All the dudes”. Anyway there are many different definitions of justice but what matters for us Christians is biblical justice which is always “social” - it's for human beings living justly together. And biblical justice is very much about economic justice and by that I mean inherent equality

RICH
Yes, and jumping in here on the theme of economic justice there's this really interesting test case we want to talk about in the New Testament - the book of Acts. And it's not one of those comforting stories from the Gospel you often hear preached on a Sunday. It's the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

DOREEN
That story always terrified me.

RICH
Well apparently, it scared the people back then too. So for the people who don't know it, want to do a quick recap?

DOREEN
Sure. So this is in the Book of Acts after the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. That event marks the creation of a new community or society of people sanctified or made holy by the Spirit. Huge stuff. The people called into this new society through the working of the Spirit *voluntarily* divest themselves of their wealth and share all their possessions. It says in Acts 4:34 “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked”. But it's not just a warm and fuzzy socialistic utopia. And this is the story Rich was referring two - Ananias and Sapphira (they're husband and wife) are or want to be members of this new radically just society and they give a sum of money to the Apostles to be shared but then they hold back a portion of it (it was money they'd made from a land sale) and then when they're asked “is this all the money” they lie about it. And at the moment they tell this lie they fall down and die. Actually they both tell the same lie individually - Ananias before Sapphira - and there's this line the Apostle Peter says to Sapphira, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

RICH
Pretty shocking stuff. Now I don't think we should try to over interpret the story and risk getting beat up by actual theologians but it seems pretty clear that Ananias and Sapphira's failing or sin is both against distributive justice to the poor and against God himself. And this is a point that many Christians tend to ignore or explain away. This story makes resoundingly clear: God takes social justice - economic justice - very seriously among the people who've decided to follow him. It's not an optional thing.

DOREEN
What has always impacted me about that story from the early church is that as a believer, we must honestly renounce all possessions which results in social justice! Our commitment to following Jesus’ commands is a life of complete justice and equality. Jumping forward 1500 years, the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation who we on the Bruderhof take a lot of inspiration from, were themselves inspired by reading the recently translated Bible and the teachings of Jesus and they took it on themselves to challenge the church structures at the time which had to a large degree been co-opted and actually involved in perpetuating economic injustice. These were mostly folks from the lower classes who were very strong in rejecting the view that property exists only for the possessor and most of them rejected the concept of strict private property and believed it should be available to care for the poor. Some took it even farther arguing that love abolishes private property altogether which they then put into practice in full community of goods. We'll talk more about that in a later video.

RICH
And like them, we on the Bruderhof renounce private property completely and devote our working lives (everything we have) to take care of one another and reach out to others because we believe it's the only way for social justice to become a reality.

You know I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone supports injustice and inequality (or maybe I have too positive a view of things). It seems to me we all have a basic sense of what's fair and what isn't. But the thing that's difficult is that for justice and equality to become a reality people have to actually be willing to give up what is theirs or what they see as theirs. It's not going to happen through passionate Facebook posts and cosmetic adjustments. Martin Luther King, writing for The Nation in 1966 calls civil rights gains “emotionally satisfying but materially deficient” primarily because black people remained in poverty even as segregation laws were overturned and blacks were given voting rights.

DOREEN
I guess he saw some of those gains as surface level changes and people adjusting the way they talked about race to be more socially acceptable. Which is much easier to do than to commit to what Oscar Romero called “the violence of love” which he explains as “violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us”. I think we have to acknowledge that many people would disagree with our definition of a just society. Some would argue that they would be treated unjustly because their talents and hard work for example do more for society than others, and therefore their just desert should be greater. Our view clearly doesn’t go there, because we are all equal before God no matter our abilities which is how we interpret true justice!

RICH
Just to interject I find it interesting and even kind of funny that we’re Anabaptists sitting here leaning so much on Catholic Social Teaching

DOREEN
Well, many of the most influential early Anabaptists were priests or monastics. But they had another way to talk about this overcoming of ourselves which I think is in some ways a better way to frame it than “violence” which brings to mind the flagellants during the Bubonic plague who went around whipping themselves. The word the early Anabaptists used is a German word (like all good words are) and it's Gelassenheit - which means complete and voluntary surrender of self to God and forsaking all concern for personal benefits and property.

RICH
Yeah, and Martin Luther King hints at exactly this in his Beyond Vietnam speech (which by the way pretty much got him cancelled at the time) when he talked about the need for a “a revolution of values” to combat inequality. Basically, economic justice, or distributive justice were ultimately the most important goals for him.

DOREEN
Social justice *is* revolutionary but just not in a Che t-shirt wearing way.

RICH
Excuse me don't bust on my Che shirts.

DOREEN
Well that's it for this video. Make sure to like and subscribe if you haven't already and we'll have more videos on this subject coming up soon.