More Social Justice

Bill Donohue, head of the right-wing Catholic League, has tried to calm some intra-coalition tensions by saying that when Glenn Beck said people should leave any church that talks about “social justice” he wasn’t say all Catholics need to abandon their faith, he was just talking about parish shopping to find a more conservative priest.

This really seems untenable to me. To return to Beck’s exhortation:

I beg you, look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church website. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice –they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes — if I am going to Jeremiah Wright’s church. Yes! Leave your church!

Within the Catholic context, at a minimum, the association between the church and social justice isn’t some idiosyncratic here or there thing. The Vatican’s website talks about social justice. So does the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is from the Archdiocese of Washington website:


And note that just as Beck was saying, social justice isn’t merely church charitable work. It’s related to charitable work in that both aim at the relief of suffering, but justice ministry aims specifically at justice at improving the political order. Beck seems to me to be on perfectly fair grounds to note that this is a contestable political idea and one that’s incompatible with Beck’s own ideology in which everything to the left of Ayn Rand is creeping fascism. But the exhortation to leave churches that preach social justice is clearly an exhortation to leave the Catholic Church in general and not just to abandon some particular lefty outpost somewhere.

Meanwhile, I’d long known that Reform Judaism emphasized social justice heavily but it turns out that the Conservative branch of Judaism does as well.