Thursday, October 30, 2008

Does Social Service conflict with Social Justice?

In a speech I heard today by Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, Bond responded to a question about the rates of volunteerism among the younger generation (contextually, everyone considered a youth vote-that is, everyone 18- 30).

He concluded that, while extraordinary and commendable, the high rates of volunteering among our nation's youth end up in hours almost entirely in social service-Habitat for Humanity and similar organizations. This was not true in the 50's and 60's, when America's young people worked stridently for social justice- social change in civic centers.

"If you had social justice," he concluded, "you would not need social service."

That, I've decided, was a deliberately provocative statement. And because this is not an editorial but something different, I'm establishing some rules: first, let's set aside the issue of generational difference. There's not much we can do about it at any rate. And let's set aside the conflicts of the 60's, which I've never considered particularly interesting; this includes the question of ennabling dependency vs. addressing need. And, to be monkish about it, let's put it in a Gospel context- what advances the Kingdom of God?

So, all of that being said, does social service conflict with social justice? Obviously, we should and must do both. But, given a limited lifetime and finite resources, is my generation's propensity for ladling soup and spackling the homeless itself a sort of injustice by ommission? Or is the act of giving of oneself for the sake of others the most justice one can ever do, whatever comes of it? Obviously, pace Paul, we must answer individual callings- but should we consider our broader social context when doing so?

This is usually when I yell at myself about being abstract. But we're talking about real people acting toward other real people in very real ways. It would behoove us to know if we're better off going down to People Serving People or applying to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And the real decline of talent in civic service is a hugely lamentable thing- but the Church's role as the hub of charity to millions cannot be overlooked, and it's on the decline, too.

Perhaps it's the split, not of ideology, but of people, that buggered us.

I'd be curious, too, about where liberation theology would come down on the question. What would the poor themselves think about this? What can we learn in the faces of the poor in this regard?

Well, this is your chance to editorialize! I haven't decided yet myself, so I'd like to know what you think! It is not good, after all, for Curious Monk to be alone.

I look forward to your comments below.

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