Social Justice according to Peter Berger

What Richard Mouw heard (not sure he learned) from the sociologist who died last week:

In an informal group discussion at Hartford Seminary, back in the ’70s, we were discussing social activism, and I made this comment: “Every Christian,” I said, “is called actively to work for justice and peace in the world.” Peter repied, “Really, Richard? You really mean that?” I assured him that I did. Then he told me about an elderly aunt, who lived in a retirement home. Every morning, he said, she struggled to work up the courage to go to the cafeteria for lunch. She had a problem with bladder control, Peter said, and she was afraid of embarrassing herself in the lunch line. Each day she prayed to the Lord to give her courage, and then she would go down to the cafeteria. For her, he said, the most radical act of faith for her each day was to summon up the courage to go to lunch. “Now, Richard, what do you want to tell her about her obligation also actively to work for justice and peace in the world?” Peter Berger taught me an unforgettable lesson with that story.

Is the lesson that the elderly get a pass from joining the social justice warrior ranks? Or that social justice isn’t what social justice warriors think it is?


9 thoughts on “Social Justice according to Peter Berger

  1. Is the lesson that the elderly get a pass from joining the social justice warrior ranks? Or that social justice isn’t what social justice warriors think it is?

    well, God is social, and God is just, and He has two great commands Mark 12:30-31, w/ ’new’ John 13:34

    “The Rock! His work is perfect,For all His ways are just Deut 32:3-4


  2. wow cw, all caps, and ‘disagreeing comment’? hmm I thought dgh was soliciting comments for a discussion – oh well -not sure this is really the place to come THINK. Take care. Happy Holiday


  3. As a former “Lutheran” I always find it disturbing when someone like Berger is described (and, in fact, is self-described) as an “incurable Lutheran” by CT when he belonged to an ELCA congregation (therefore Synod), one of the seven sisters of mainline protestantism, far from anything conservative or confessional Lutheran-wise (he described himself as “moderately conservative,” whatever THAT means). In the CT article he goes on to describe himself as “evangelisch”, a German word that is reminiscent of the post-Reformation era which the followers of Luther’s persuasion about soteriology referred to themselves – not Lutheran, at that point in time! Those 16th Century “lutherans” would have tossed him out of Germany if they would have heard some of the modernistic thoughts of his beloved “synod.”

    Yet, the largely duped and ignorant subscribers to mag’s like CT read articles like this one and think, “Oh, that’s what Lutheran’s (as a collective) are all about! What joy!” NOT!! It’s similar to someone generalizing across the P/R landscape, assuming that the rude, crude, and socially unacceptable decisions made public by the likes of PSUSA apply to ALL presbyterians. Makes my blood boil.


  4. “Berger’s writing was ‘so good that it made all the theologians just want to be sociologists when they grew up,’ stated Gregory Thornbury.” Talk about an unintentionally damning comment to anyone who has sat through graduate studies programs at Christian institutions. And though he sounds like he was a good as well was very smart man, Berger’s “Social Construction of Reality” has probably had as much of a doleful contribution to intelligent faith formation in Christian classrooms as many self-consciously heterodox texts.

    Meanwhile we are all the Salvation Army now, even as so many Christians apologetically explain how they understand why those storefront bellringers offend so many basically good non-believers. Strange New World.


  5. This is rather a mindless post. especially since there are multiple ways to work for social justice and peace in this age of technology. And there are ways people can help each other join in and that helping itself can be a part of working for social justice..

    See, I had some issues with bladder control after cancer surgery. Of course, not everyone’s control issues are the same. But I write this to show that this person is not alone. It is our responsibility to care for others and to help each other do that.


  6. What our “responsibilities” are, in a communal sense, can hardly be discerned from Scripture. The imperatives for individuals are difficult enough to always spell out, but the often urgent appeals from the SJW contingent seem far more good than absolutely imperative. The poor will always be with us, and empires and affluence come and go. I am all for doing good, and helping others even at our own expense. But life is complicated, and policies are almost always matters of prudential judgement. The religious left is no more the righteous answer than the religious right, Falwell and Pope Francis to the contrary. But Planned Parenthood remains pretty apparently alarming. As for aging and bladders, I will need all the grace and love I can get!


  7. Joe,
    Whether our communal responsibilities can be derived from the Scriptures depends on how abstract one is willing to work with the Scriptures. As for some SJW imperatives, when they concern life-death matters or gross social injustices, they are imperative.

    That poor will always be with us does not tell us how much we should or should not care for them. We should note that ‘prudential judgments’ are usually ones that embrace moral relativity and look more to short-term profits. But I agree that life is complicated and that we all need all of the grace and love we can get with or without aging bladders. And that returns us to our communal responsibilities.


  8. Berger makes a great point. “Social justice” as our culture understands it today is NOT every Christian’s duty. This particular definition of “social justice” is far too narrow and in fact often involves heretical beliefs based on evil worldviews (Neo-Marxism for instance). In its broadest sense, social justice of a certain kind is demanded of all Christians – even if that is just praying in one’s heart for the peace of Jerusalem or the salvation of our pagan neighbors. An old lady in a nursing home can still intercede in prayer, thus working in a spiritual sense to bring justice to the world. God is in control of all justice and all social issues, so praying to him is working for social justice. Now as for those who are both physically and mentally limited, Scripture is clear: do what you can with what God’s given you.
    A finishing note: every good deed is (however indirectly) a work done to bring social justice. Whether you create art, tend a garden, fix a broken computer, or defend the helpless in battle, if you are doing good deeds as a humble service to God, you are making the world a better and more just place in every area, including social. Only be sure to be open to the Holy Spirit, in confession before the Father, led by Christ’s love, in submission to God’s Scripture, that you may know what is your first priority, what gifts and opportunities God has given you, and where specifically he is calling you.


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