Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

I remember hearing a talk radio host recently warn people that if their church spoke about social justice, they should leave because the church isn’t Christian, it’s communist. I understand that labels can mean all sorts of things, but I find it hard to be against social justice. If you’re against it, are you for social injustice? The Bible does speak about social justice all the time – not necessarily in those words. In fact, maybe we should call it what the Bible calls it – righteousness.

Everyone talks about justice, Democrat and Republican, though they’ll use different language to do so. Justice for the unborn. Justice for oppressed. Justice for the immigrant. Justice for those whose convictions go against the cultural tide. And all these groups deserve justice!

But, I don’t hear many talking about intergenerational justice – and I think we need to start talking about that in earnest. In a 2011 statement, a group of evangelical thinkers (Evangelical for Social Action with Center for Public Justice) issued a Call for Intergenerational Justice, contending “Intergenerational justice demands that one generation must not benefit or suffer unfairly at the cost of another.”

The issue that sparked the petition was the mounting debt crisis. Unfortunately, this crisis has not gone away, though it is being ignored. The federal budget deficit was $984 billion in 2019 – a 26% increase from the year before. Our national debts is $23 trillion ($23,000,000,000,000).  Obviously, this is not sustainable. It’s also unjust! To fix today’s problems on tomorrow’s dollar keeps snowballing…and the monstrous snowball will destroy our children’s economic futures.

And I listen to debates where politicians promise new programs – free this, free that…with no viable way to pay for it – and I think we’re selling our kids to the god of mammon, unwilling to sacrifice a modicum of our material prosperity today to help them in the future. Biblically, it is the parent’s role to save for their children, not mortgage their children’s future (2 Corinthians 12:14, and a lot of wisdom literature).

My small-government Republican friends may like this post so far. You won’t if you keep reading…

As unjust as those who rack up massive debt for their children are those who use up all the earth’s resources, leaving it polluted and stripped. Some will quibble over the science of climate change. Set it aside. Can we quibble over the loss of 3 billion birds in North America in the last few decades (or are bird watchers and ornithologists also just a tool of ‘big solar’ – ok, I’m getting a bit sarcastic)?  Shouldn’t we all be able to agree that we want clean water (not like what my mom and dad lived with in PA where some of their neighbor’s water was flammable)?  Shouldn’t we be able to agree that we need clean air – not like people in the LA Basin suffered through a few decades ago? Shouldn’t we agree that there are some places of such awe-inspiring beauty that we shouldn’t befoul them with oil rigs or mines and ruin them for future generations?

Regulations (that were barely addressing the massive problems to begin with) are being rolled back to make energy cheaper, manufacturing more competitive, etc.  But it is unjust. Biblically, the land (and sea and sky) doesn’t belong to us – we are stewards of it for God. And, it’s a common good – not just ours to use, but everyone’s, including future generations. The Bible has quite a bit to say to those who destroy the earth (i.e. Revelation 11:18, Proverbs 12:10, Deuteronomy 20:19-20).

I am sure there is a myriad of other applications of this concept of generational justice. Let’s include this in our dialogue, expect it of our elected officials, and strive together to find solutions for everyone, even those who are yet to be born.