Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Where are all the social mercy warriors?

THERE’S AN OLD British saying that comes to mind when I look at many so-called social justice warriors (SJWs): all mouth and no trousers. In other words, they talk a good game. Tweeting about what’s wrong while sitting in a coffee bar sipping on a special beverage—the price of which could feed a starving family somewhere—may earn some “likes,” but it isn’t changing the world.

Still, internal discordance isn’t limited to the “woke.” It’s a part of the human condition. We all have an enduring debt to The Greatest Generation for the freedom we enjoy to complain about things—but while they are to be honored for facing down Nazism, it’s being honest (not disloyal) to recognize that they kind of dropped the ball on the likes of racism, sexism, and environmentalism.

So my concern about the SJW movement isn’t its inconsistency so much as something else—its frequent imbalance. From a Christian perspective, I see something missing in much of the admirable drive to make things right. Namely, that while there is a place for the anger God shares over injustice, His “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

Notice the verse says that says that mercy triumphs over judgment. It doesn’t ignore it. So kudos to those discontent with the way so many things are. But there needs to be more than diagnosis; there needs to be a cure. We see that in the gospel. God didn’t just tell us we had failed, He provided the solution. He literally had “skin in the game,” and it was pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5).

Without in any way diminishing wrongdoing and minimizing victims’ pain, how can we pursue justice while still somehow offering mercy to those responsible? What does that look like in practice? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’d suggest that it’s about more than just complaining about what others are or are not doing. Is there some way to not just point a finger but extend a hand?

Absent mercy, I fear, we end up just being angry. But there’s a fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness. Being a social mercy warrior probably does not include damaging other people’s property, as some modern-day protesters have done.

What about Jesus when He overthrew the tables in the Temple, you ask? Before addressing this, let’s pause to note that this encounter occurred early in Jesus’s public ministry. That’s no accident: He was making a statement from the get-go, that taking advantage of people is not acceptable. Social justice was part of His mission. But how did He go about that?

Well, He demanded change, but He did not cause damage. He inconvenienced people, but He did not injure them. He didn’t just fly into a rage. Consider that it would have taken Him some time to make the whip of cords He waved around. His actions were considered and deliberate.

Nor did He directly cause the money-changers loss. He spilled their coins and drove their animals out of the Temple, but both could have been picked up or rounded up. He told those who had pigeons for sale to take them away (John 2:16); note He didn’t do anything that caused the birds to fly away and be permanently lost.

He was uncompromising, but He was not unkind. Indeed, Paul reminds us that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). Good words for anyone concerned about social justice to remember.

Photo by Anthony Albright on Foter.com/CC BY-SA

7 Responses to “Where are all the social mercy warriors?”

  1. Douglas LeBlanc

    Amen to every word of this. Even Bruce Cockburn, no slouch in grievance-mongering, admitted in a song that “Everybody loves to see justice done [pause] on somebody else.”

  2. Deb

    Completely agree, Andy. Thank you for putting into words what many feel and quietly apply. Our world today is lacking the face to face interactions that require grace and mercy; social justice played out through social media is nothingness – like said in 1 Corinthians 13 –
    “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
    But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
    When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
    ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:1-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

    Mercy, Grace, attempting to listen to for understanding, loving the human in front of you … is so much different than typing and sending for ‘likes’. As a consultant and counselor- i have used the story of Jesus making his whip many times to illustrate anger and thoughtful action is much different and better than thoughtless rage. Mercy, Justice, requires Grace and love if we are to truly make a difference.

    • Andy Butcher

      You make a great point there… maybe it’s easier for us all to be judgmental because we are doing/being so at a distance, via social media… when you’re in person with someone there’s a tendency or a chance for more tolerance, patience, willingness to hear?I guess that’s why the gospel is incarnational, God with us, not just sending messages from on high… 🙂


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