Prophets and preachers challenge us to do better, do justice, for the marginalized.
Title: Do Justice: The Case for Biblical Social Justice
Author: Stephen Allred, JD
Publisher: Do Justice Books, 2021
One sentence summary: Attorney and ordained minister, Stephen Allred, addresses issues of social justice in America by drawing on biblical principles and the teachings and examples of early Adventists.
What are the main concerns being addressed? Allred emphasizes proclamations of prophets and lessons from the ministry of Jesus that challenge Christians to look beyond issues of individual salvation and see the Bible’s call to “pursue what is just and right for all members of society, especially the powerless and marginalized.” (p. 12)
Were these concerns clearly stated?
Yes. Allred appeals to the Bible and a variety of Christian voices (especially that of Seventh-day Adventism’s co-founder, Ellen G. White) to address issues of racism, sexism, poverty, and religious bigotry that go beyond the bad attitudes or harmful actions of isolated individuals. There is a role Christians are called to play in advocating for societal change for the common good. What exactly that looks like changes according to context, yet there are some consistent values that reverberate throughout the Bible and Christian history we can’t ignore.
What are the book’s strengths and contributions?
One of Allred’s rather unique contributions to conversations like this has to do with his focus on maintaining separation of church and state, so that we preserve people’s individual liberty of conscience. Even as he challenges us with biblical imperatives for justice, he urges us to question how we seek to mandate compliance from others. Why is it important to protect the right to practice (or abstain) your faith according to your conscience and understanding? How do believers advocate for social change without enforcing religious dogma on others through state coercion? What negative consequences might result from the Christian pursuit of political power? Is it possible that a greater threat to religious liberty comes from religious ranks than secular forces?
What are the book’s shortcomings? Allred skillfully cites and builds upon the work of others, but I wanted to hear more of the author’s voice. Are there any legal cases he’s argued that he can share? Are there some personal encounters that have motivated him to use his platform for justice? Allred is a good podcaster and conversationalist and I hope for more of the author to come out in his next book of this nature.
What were some good conscience quickening quotes from the book?
“[W]hile citizens of heaven, followers of Jesus are also part of the human family who are called to do justice in the world in which they live.” (p. 17)
“We have a collective responsibility to, as far as possible, rectify the wrongs of our society – even the wrongs committed by our ancestors that still affect those around us today.” (p. 31)
“Unfortunately, most American Christians don’t even realize that racism is a problem. And God can’t save us from sin we won’t confess.” (p. 56)
“…relying on the generosity of the selfish human heart is not enough; legal structures and regulations are needed to help promote equality of opportunity… the Bible teaches that a government that ignores poverty – or worse yet, encourages oppression of the poor – is an immoral government.” (p. 68)
‘In a world as complex as ours, philanthropy is not an adequate substitute for systems that alleviate poverty…” (p. 78)
“While followers of Jesus will work for a more just and fair society, they will never consent to forced religion.” (p. 96)
“Our world’s problem’s won’t be fixed by politicians who promise to bring America ‘back to God.’ Why? Because, while government exists to defend the oppressed, it’s not the government’s job to bring people to God. Jesus actually wants His church to be His agent on earth to show the world who He really is.” (p. 109)
“Why is doing justice for the least of these the litmus test for those who will inherit the kingdom? Because that’s what heaven is like. It’s a place where unselfish love is the reigning principle, and only those who live unselfishly will fit into heaven for eternity.” (p. 121)
What was so liberating about the book? Do Justice is a conversation starter that asks more questions than it answers, on purpose, so that we will actively seek how to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God in our own contexts and expressed through our unique abilities and opportunities. The principles he lays out are firm, yet Allred seems to recognize that there must be flexibility as believers seek to build upon it. That’s why he’s a litigator for liberty of conscience.