A Mormon Perspective on Social Justice

I write about social justice, mostly the theory of justice presented by the late philosopher John Rawls. I am not looking to add anything new today. But considering the recent comments by Brother Beck, I want to point out some of the things which I, a Mormon, has had to say about social justice.

I have written about the moral justification of liberal justice in two posts (here and a much updated version here).

I have looked at the economic and social implications both here at FPR and at this post on BCC. These are both central to what I view as social justice. I also introduce John Rawls and my Mormon Rawls Project at this post.

My sense of justice influences everything, from my view of nationalism and patriotism, to the way in which I analyze church policies about caring for the poor.

These views are mine. I do not claim that they represent the views of the Church or that they are the only possible interpretation of certain scripture. However, my Mormonism and my sense of justice are one and the same for me. It might be a different perspective, but it is mine

Oh, I forgot about the podcast on global social justice.

26 Replies to “A Mormon Perspective on Social Justice”

  1. Chris,

    Thanks for this primer, including the referenced items. I’m new to your blog (having wandered over here from Mormon Blogs recently), and this gives me some good background.

    I enjoy your point of view and find myself nodding my head a lot.

  2. When will you all stand up and in full voice tell Beck to back down and that he is so wrong about so many things? He has done more harm to what people think of Mormons and Mormanism in a few short years than any other force against the church. The State of Utah Travel Council even advertises on his show (the ONLY state to do so and one of the few advertisers left). A very sad time for all of you I’m sure. Is his ‘membership’ in your church so important (it surely is bring in a lot of money lately, isn’t it?)

  3. Deb,
    I can’t speak for others, but I have no desire for Beck to leave our church. Not because he is a good spokesman (I don’t think he is), not because I agree with him (I don’t), and not because I covet his tithing money (we’re doing ok. Thanks for asking). Rather, I think that membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, belief in its doctrines, and a life lived in accord with its principles can actually help folks become better people (even Glenn Beck). I certainly need the help and I don’t see any reason to try convince Beck to look elsewhere for it. To each their own, I suppose.

  4. Hello all,
    I’m not condoning kicking him out of your church…what I’m asking is why isn’t someone (anyone out there?) speaking in a loud clear voice and saying that Beck does not speak for all Mormon people – the State of Utah advertising, puullleeaasee. Whether you like it or not your religious views are all tied up in politics – always have been and always will be and Beck is taking you down with him. If you are not a racist, violence-promoting, hate-filled people then why sheepishly stand aside and let some newcomer stand there and spew this stuff without letting the people of the world hear him denounced for his views. I believe that you are all paying the price for your silence and it won’t get any better. Don’t you wish you could make millions by being a convert and writing about it? “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” ~Martin Luther King~

  5. “what I’m asking is why isn’t someone (anyone out there?) speaking in a loud clear voice and saying that Beck does not speak for all Mormon people”

    There are likely hundreds of blog posts saying just that. I attended a presentation by conservative professors at BYU who were distancing themselves from the like of Beck. You not being aware of it, does not mean that it is not happening.

    This post is my way of doing my part to counter Beck. I could discuss why Beck is so horrible, but that has been done over and over. Here, I am presenting an alternative view.

    Since, I am largely considered an obnoxious jerk, I am not sure what to make of being called sheepish.

  6. Chris – No harm intended…I only found you because I googled ‘social injustice’ and ‘mormon’, so something good for me did come out that – you may wish I hadn’t found you. I’m just so frustrated with being a Mormon apologist (and I’m not Mormon, or Christian) – live and let live – but to see this man spewing his stuff with impunity from those he taints by association makes me sick. You’re doing a good thing but I would ask that instead of talking amongst yourselves (people who think alike don’t usually learn too much from each other) it would be good to see you putting comments out there in other places drawing the comparisons. If you’re already doing that then please forgive me – but you are just one person and maybe all of your followers could do some good in that direction as well. I am comforted that there are people in your world talking about the differences and will do what I can to point that out. Peace.

    The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
    Or the open hand held out and waiting.
    For we meet by one or the other.
    ~Carl Sandburg

  7. I don’t think I had ever considered Rawls in conjunction with LDS thought. The immediate impediment that I see is that I’m not sure that LDS theology allows for an “original position.” While it has not been said over the pulpit in recent years, previous general conference talks have colored our culture with that idea that our current circumstances are the result of divine intention. Even when we are not using the offensive versions of this we did in the past, such as that blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence, we still refer to the idea that the young generation of LDS were saved for this time and born in LDs homes to fulfill a special mission. This is the continuation of the idea from Abraham of there being “noble and great ones.” So the idea that privileged status is actually the just dessert of former valiance has not only not left the culture, it has not left current doctrine.

    That is a long way of saying that I very much like the idea of getting people thinking about what they would do in the original position, but I’m afraid many LDS will not accept the premise that it should matter to them for the reasons I state.

  8. Further to #10, wouldn’t it be interesting to read an attempt at considering Mormon folk belief in the context of Sebastianism? I suspect that many Mormons could relate to Antônio Conselheiro’s story, properly told. I mean, at the end of the day, my people who fled to Deseret from Lancashire aren’t much different from those who flooded Canudos.

  9. That updated post from a while back is good. I think though it also highlights where Beck differs from traditional conceptions of social justice. At the various blogs where this has popped up (both Mormon and non-Mormon ones like Yglesias here and here) I think the issue that hasn’t been sufficiently addressed is the question of force. Those, who like Beck, fear “social justice” as a kind of keyword and adopt a quasi-libertrarian streak in all this typically do out of a fear of force. And that whole conception in LDS thought goes back to the council in heaven. So it’s interesting to read your post on Rawls and the Council in Heaven yet see you not quite engage with this enough.

    Now of course we can point out hypocrisy in all this. Folks who seem quite fine to use force relative to drinking, smoking or the like suddenly getting fearful when force is used to help the poor. Especially here in Utah there is a definitely double standard. I’m not that familiar with Beck’s claims so I don’t want to attribute to him any double standards. But such are common.

    Yet there is also a truth in the worries about effectively force people to help the poor. What isn’t clear is where to the draw the line. (We force people to pay for an active police and fire department that goes well, well beyond what government did in the early 19th century — why be accepting of that?)

  10. Since the church airs Br. Beck on its Bonneville stations, it is complicit in anything weird he says — and in case no one has noticed, he says a lot of weird, almost obscene things about sex. How the church can distance itself from him with a straight face is beyond me.

  11. john,

    In my market Beck is not carried on a Bonneville station, though Hannity is. However, a Bonneville station in my area carries The Office. Can we take credit for that? Since it is an NBC station is the Church also conplicit in the Jay/Conan disaster?

    Since the church employs me rather directly (much more directly than carrying Beck’s books at DB or carrying his show on some Bonneville stations), is the church complicit in my writings and somehow endorsing my views? Uh, no.

  12. Beck was not speaking of BIBLICAL SOCIAL JUSTICE. He was speaking of POLITICAL SOCIAL JUSTICE. For example:

    “Social Justice: Code for Communism
    By Barry Loberfeld
    FrontPageMagazine.com | February 27, 2004

    The signature of modern leftist rhetoric is the deployment of terminology that simply cannot fail to command assent. As Orwell himself recognized, even slavery could be sold if labeled “freedom.” In this vein, who could ever conscientiously oppose the pursuit of “social justice,” — i.e., a just society? ”
    [snip- Ed.]

  13. (continued)

    “This culmination of centuries of ideas and struggles became known as liberalism. And it was precisely in opposition to this liberalism — not feudalism or theocracy or the ancien régime, much less 20th century fascism — that Karl Marx formed and detailed the popular concept of “social justice,” (which has become a kind of “new and improved” substitute for a storeful of other terms — Marxism, socialism, collectivism — that, in the wake of Communism’s history and collapse, are now unsellable).”

    Please, just take a little time to get educated on how the term “SOCIAL JUSTICE” is used today.

  14. Harold, I have little doubt that few Mormons would accept this. However, I think that there is a reasonable argument for why they should, whether they do or not (that is one of the more Rawlsian sentences I have ever written). As for the noble and great one, I address it a bit in the comments of this post. I am planning on addressing it is some more detail, soon. Have to write a paper outlining a Mormon theory of distributive justice for next week. What great timing, eh?

  15. Clark,

    I will have to address the issue of force sometime. To be honest, the “force charity” argument is sometimes hard for me to deal with because I think it is pretty lame, but I really should explain why. I does take on a certain libertarian view of agency which is hard to defend. I will have to do so in a full post. However, it may be a few weeks. Thanks for your kind support.

  16. Ameritianity,

    I am not sure what Beck is talking about. I am talk about SOCIAL justice. This is inherently political.

    “Please, just take a little time to get educated on how the term “SOCIAL JUSTICE” is used today.”

    You should probably read some of the posts this post link to. I am actually just shy of a doctorate in “leftist” social justice. I am fully aware of what it stands for, because it is what I stand for.

  17. Marxism = anything that suggests that some people are more fairly treated than others in the current political, cultural, and structural norms. The signature of modern rightwing rhetoric is the deployment of terminology that simply cannot fail to command assent. As Orwell (you know he was a socialist, right?) himself recognized, even slavery could be sold if labeled “freedom.” In this vein, who could ever conscientiously oppose the rejection of “communism,” — i.e., an unjust society?

    Please, just take a little time to get educated on how the terms “Communism, Marxism, socialism, collectivism” are used today.

  18. TT,

    That is what makes me mad. Like Orwell, I am an anti-Marxist socialist/lefty. While I am a lefty in the vein of Rousseau and Kant, that Marx guy gets credit for all of our good ideas, even ones like justice, which he rejected.

    That said, while Marx was wrong on much, but he was still freaking brilliant. Good food for thought.

  19. I completely lack the training and vocabulary to adequately discuss even my own sentiments when it comes to modern political philosophy and all things right to left but it gives me great comfort to read the leftist tendencies of other LDS especially those in the academy. From my brief encounters with modern Marxist criticism and socialist literature, I have become a bit afraid of learning more and then discovering just how far to the left I have moved during my twenties. Anyhow, nothing to add, just a thank-you from a lefty lurker.

  20. I think Beck needed to define his terms more clearly. I think Christians in general do support social justice–but government enforced social justice is a different story, and not something I’m okay with. He should have been clear that he was referring to churches that promote government enforced social justice, and not the general idea of social justice.

  21. What is so screwed up is that we live in such an unjust nation that so many people view it as “forced” or “government enforced.” That we seem to be able so easily dismiss poverty and inequality in the name of “agency” (because Jesus is really Milton Friedman) makes me baffled and sick. Are we a democracy or a republic? Neither. We are a cesspool of greed and extreme selfishness.

    This is ultimately why I am a political philosopher. I can teach and write about ideals while my fellow countrymen and fellow Mormons champion injustice. Too bad. It is the poor that suffer.

    Of course Glenn Beck should have defined his terms better. Or better yet, complete morons like Beck should avoid complex ideas that they do not understand.

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