What’s wrong with being a social justice warrior?

Unless you are one of the ‘woke’ you’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what is a Social Justice Warrior (SJW). The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views.’ This sounds rather benign, except for a word meant to add clarification: derogatory. This one word gestures towards almost a decade of heated debate.

So to be called an SJW is not exactly a good thing. Though some have tried to redeem the label, the term typically refers to those keen to tackle injustice (great!), but either go about it in the wrong way or with the wrong motives (not so great). The SJW debate is complex. I don’t have space here to discuss all the nitty-gritty details, but if you’re interested in learning more, I recommend Cathy Young’s thoughtful critique.

The biblical framework

If you’re a Christian, you share something in common with the so-called SJWs. You, too, care deeply about tackling injustice—and if you don’t, I suggest you should care. We need to leave the ‘faith vs. works’ debate in the sixteenth century where it belongs, and the Social Gospel movement in the twentieth. To care about tackling injustice means to see your new life in Christ as having implications for how you live in community with others and how you exist as a member of society. 

Tackling injustices of various kinds is simply the extension of living out Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. It’s one way that we can partner with God in heralding the gospel – the holistic, life-transforming gospel – and join in with the work of reconciling and redeeming all things to Him. The way we love and relate to others, witnesses to the reality of the God of Love we claim to know. (see, for example, 1 John 4.7-9).

Interweaving our faith and the SJW label

If you’re a Christian that cares about tackling injustice, you also differ from the SJWs. In fact, when I hear the critique that SJWs are excessively politically correct or even self-righteous, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees: “You tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weighted matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matt 23.23) There is, of course, much to commend in the SJW movement (as there is the Pharisees! See Matt 23.1-3), but we Christians must remember the “weightier matters.”

Christ is our guide, so we are not slaves to the changeable ideologies of our day. He is our model, so we serve one another in self-giving love, inspiring change through compassion not naming-and-shaming. And ultimately Christ is our hope, so as we partner with him, we think not too highly of ourselves or our efforts, but trust that in Him all will be made well. 

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