Recently, we’ve seen some distrust of religions that advocate social justice, from sources as diverse as the political punditry and lay Mormons.[fn1] The criticism is unfounded, of course, and strikes me as ahistorical and anti-Catholic. The term “social justice” comes from 1840, when the Jesuit scholar Luigi Taparelli as he worked through the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. As you look at Jesuit schools’ mission statements, you begin to understand how central social justice is to the Jesuit identity.
I teach at a Jesuit law school. Part of our mission is to “prepare graduates who will be ethical advocates for justice and the rule of law.” This social justice emphasis is inspired by the belief that each human being “deserves dignity and respect.” And Pope Benedict XVI takes this dessert further: he says that charity is inseparable from justice.[fn2]
So why spend this time, on a Mormon blog, talking about Catholic conceptions of social justice? Because not only does the Mormon tradition has the same biblical and traditional Christian justifications to pursue a just society,[fn3] but Restoration scripture and modern prophets provide additional impetus.[fn4] That is, as Mormons, we have a duty to pursue a just society.
Recognizing this duty doesn’t, of course, define the contours of a just society, or prescribe the route we use to arrive at this just society. We still need to ask what and how. Neither is a simple question, and I don’t have an overarching vision for what I believe a just society would look like. I do, however, want to ask, with respect to discrete issues, what Mormonism adds to the discussion of social justice and how we, as Mormons, can contribute to that justice.
So I mean this post mostly as an introduction to that project. I don’t plan on doing it as a multi-part series with a common title and links back to all of the parts, and I certainly don’t plan on blogging about nothing but social justice issues, but I do plan to return the subject on occasion with more specificity with respect to a variety of particular issues.[fn5]
[fn1] I don’t want to suggest, of course, that Mormons (whether pundits or not) are the only religious persons up in arms over socialist social justice churches. But I don’t feel like taking the time to search for anti-social justice invective, so I’ll stick with the two sources I knew of off the top of my head.
[fn2] “If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it.” Caritas in Veritate.
[fn3] See, e.g., the story of the Good Samaritan.
[fn4] I’m thinking of things ranging from the City of Enoch to the Nephites after Christ’s visit to our belief in the ultimate spiritual significance of even putatively temporal concerns to the affirmative side of the Church’s political neutrality statement.
[fn5] For example, the first post in this series will probably revolve around New York’s recent requirement that schools teach a comprehensive sex ed curriculum. But we’ll get to that later.