Social justice is a Christian imperative Dr. Peterson

Dr. Jordan Peterson, the clinical psychologist and author beloved by many conservatives, is widely known for his crusade against social justice, the tyranny of using a person’s preferred pronouns, his extreme misogyny and gender essentialism, his rejection of identity politics -i.e. he believes that white privilege is not real despite all the evidence showing that it is – and his his hatred of anything he considers to be Marxism. His appeal is primarily to white males who are upset that Western society is finally, albeit slowly and with many growing pains, rejecting the white supremacist and androcratic underpinnings that have been propping it up for centuries. He can now add being known as completely ignorant of the Bible, its teachings, and for being antichrist to the list of things he is known for as the screen shot of the tweet above shows and which I will provide evidence for below.

Peterson was obviously trying to lend some spiritual credence to the demonstrably false claims about social justice that he has made in the past by quote tweeting Pope Francis and telling the pontiff that he is wrong about social justice being a Christian responsibility. His fans will likely eat it up if they, like Peterson, are completely ignorant or willfully obtuse about what the Bible teaches about social justice, and who use the Bible as a weapon to promote their false teachings and Christian nationalism. His take is so bad that it aspires without success to reach the level of being jejune. Simply put it is completely devoid of any factual, Biblical, or theological basis as I will show below.

To begin, let’s explore some of the texts in the Biblical canon that speak to social justice from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament starting with the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah in Is. 1 bemoans what he has seen in Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah the kings of Judah at that time. The rituals performed by the people are nothing to God because the people are wicked and sinful and refuse to heed God’s warnings. Then in Is. 1:16-17 the prophet takes on the mantle of social justice warrior by letting them know what they should be doing instead:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove your evil deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow. New Revised Standard Updated Version (all subsequent verses will also be NRSVUE)

Isaiah wants the kings and the people who are benefiting from proximity to wealth, power, and privilege to open their eyes to those who are being left behind by their corruption, bribery, and empty sacrifices made in the temple. Widows and orphans were among the most vulnerable people of that time. In our time BIPOC, LGBTQIA, the elderly, disabled, and others left behind by capitalism’s excesses are among the most vulnerable. These are the people Peterson thinks don’t deserve compassion and social justice. The Bible says otherwise.

The writer of Isaiah 58 (a different person than the writer of Isaiah chapters 1-39 and 40-55) continues the theme of empty worship practices in the face of human suffering. In verse three the people are said to wonder why their fasting and humbling of themselves is not serving them and the writer responds with: Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day and oppress all your workers. You fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. And then goes on to say speaking for God in verses 6-7 :

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Only by enacting social justice will the people begin to be in the Lord’s favor once again according to the writers of Isaiah. Only then will the people call upon God in their hour of need and hear God answer, “Here I am.” (Is. 58:9)

The prophet Amos was also a social justice warrior of the type derided by the Jordan Petersons of the world. In Amos chapter five, the prophet outlines some of the sins of the house of Israel which included: turning justice into wormwood (a plant known for its extreme bitterness) and bringing righteousness to the ground (vs. 7); trampling on the poor and taking levies on their grain (vs .11); afflicting the righteous, taking bribes, and pushing aside the needy at the city gate (vs. 12). Because of these egregious sins, God wants no more to do with their empty worship, platitudes, and festivals. Amos 5:21-24 is a well known passage and verse 24 was often quoted by liberation theologian and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them, and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream

An ever-flowing stream in a harsh, arid environment would be miraculously life giving to those who lived there. To Amos social justice was like water and therefore life giving to the oppressed, the poor, and the marginalized at the city gates crying out for support and justice. Once again, Peterson has missed the mark because he is caught up in his own privilege, just as the elites of Israel were in Amos’ day. The prophet Micah echoed Amos in Micah 6:8 saying that the Israelites knew what was required and that was: He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?

It is often said by people with bigoted views towards gay people that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of rampant homosexuality. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Jordan Peterson held such a view. The problem with that view is that it is completely incorrect. Another prophet, this time Ezekiel spelled out precisely what the sins of Sodom were and it was not homosexual behavior, but rather ignoring social injustice and attempted rape. Ezekiel wrote in chapter 16:49-50:

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.

In their prideful arrogance, the people of Sodom ignored the poor while feasting of the labor of the poor, and then attempted to commit rape of two men (who were actually angels according to the text of Genesis 19) who Lot had in his home. The latter was a violation of the sacred rules of hospitality that were in effect in that cultural context. Once again, the Biblical text shows that social justice is a huge priority to God.

The above examples all come from the Hebrew Bible. What of the Christian scriptures in the so-called New Testament? Do they also speak to issues of social justice? Of course they do as I will now show. Let’s begin with the Gospel of Luke – which I highly recommend be read from start to finish in one sitting as we were instructed to do in one of my seminary classes. Doing so was highly illuminating and shows how much social justice mattered to Jesus. In chapter one of Luke, we learn that Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist, and Mary will give birth to Jesus. Mary, a poor peasant woman, sang a song of prophetic praise in Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name; indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary’s song, known as the Magnificat, like many texts of the Bible is full of references to the need for social justice for those marginalized by people in positions of power and privilege. Her son Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry after his time of testing in the desert, picks up this them when he harkens back to the aforementioned prophet and social justice warrior Isaiah, by reading a portion of the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue one Sabbath day and then proclaiming that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled on that day by himself. What exactly were the words that Jesus read?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Peterson’s point that Christianity is about individual salvation is repudiated by Jesus’ own words according to the writer of Luke. Notice that Jesus did not announce his ministry by proclaiming that he came to save individuals, but rather to fulfill God’s call for social justice for the oppressed and marginalized. Jesus of Nazareth, whom we may call a social justice warrior for his time, is apparently someone Jordan Peterson would not like very much because he came to turn wealth, power, and privilege upside down.

Individual salvation is also missing from other important passages from the Gospels, while social justice is front and center. Consider the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13. The entire prayer deals with issues related to the here and now, life as we are living it on Earth, and not with salvation and the afterlife.

“Pray, then, in this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be revered as holy.
 May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

Having enough food to eat and not being crippled by debt were social justice concerns in Jesus’ day. They remain so in our day in a capitalistic society where crops are sometimes destroyed because it is not profitable to sell them, food is wasted with wanton arrogance and recklessness, and where predatory lending practices and legal fees can saddle people with life altering, all consuming debt. Jesus wanted all people to have bread enough for tomorrow in perpetuity so no one would go hungry. When poverty is a policy choice, ensuring that people have healthful, nutritious food is social justice. When foisting indebtedness onto people is a policy choice, canceling debt, as the Bible calls for in multiple places, is social justice.

A parable that is evangelicals and other conservative Christians often link to personal salvation and the after life is the parable of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25:32-46. As I have heard that parable explained multiple times, the parable is an allegory that means that people who believe in Jesus and become Christians are the sheep who go to heaven because they believe in Jesus. The goats are the people who refuse to believe in Jesus and thus end up in hell forever, and ever, and ever to be tortured for eternity. This view is as nonsensical as Peterson’s tweet about social justice. How do I know? Let’s look at the text to see.

As the text shows, there is no mention whatsoever of personal salvation and a lot mentioned about social justice “for the least of these brothers and sisters,” which in my theological opinion means people who are marginalized by those in power and those who want to benefit from that power. Jordan Peterson speaks for the powerful. He benefits from the old paradigm that privileges whiteness and upholds spurious notions of white supremacy. He relishes a world in which women are subservient to men thus creating an androcratic hellscape for women. He speaks for the moneyed interests of laissez-faire capitalism and all of its abuses, while complaining about being oppressed by those of us who believe in social justice including the needed justice for the abuses of capitalism which are harming humanity, the biosphere and all the life it contains, and making the planet increasingly uninhabitable. (1) He ignores Biblical teachings on social justice, love of neighbor, and the golden rule. He clearly does not speak for the Bible, for Jesus, or for Christianity as I have shown above. As he so often is, Jordan Peterson is on the wrong side of things and he is antichrist as a result.

In the unlikely event that Jordan Peterson or his acolytes read this essay, I would recommend further reading that would, I hope, disabuse them of their misogynistic, complementarian, racist, and bigoted views. In my book Go Golden, I explicate more fully on the need for social justice for the oppressed, marginalized, the victims of militarism, and for the environment, all through the lens of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. Peterson and his followers should read it and enact it to move closer to what Jesus called for in the above mentioned prayer. Only then can he see the Kindom of God.

(1) For more on capitalism from a progressive theological perspective see:

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