For Evangelicals, Christianity Today can usually be counted on as a pretty good current "state of the church" type of statement. They define social justice as follows:
It’s a tired trope that evangelicals only recently began caring about “social justice,” a buzzword that carries connotations of political activism and “the social gospel.” In fact, orthodox Christians have long recognized in Scripture a call to defend and uphold the dignity and well being of all persons, especially the poor and powerless. Take, for example, John Wesley, who led prison reform and abolitionists movements in 18th-century England. More recently, evangelical leaders like Ron Sider and Jim Wallis have promoted Christian engagement in anti-war, environmental, and immigration causes, while facing suspicion of falling prey to partisan politics. At the local church level, sex trafficking, fair trade, and clean water campaigns are trendy ways today for lay Christians to fight social ills, even if that means simply clicking a “Like” button.
This fits well with Pope Francis' call to:
protect... people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. (3/19/13)
All of this is rooted in Jesus' statement inn Matthew 25 that Christians should show love "to the least of these my brethren" or to Mary's Magnificat in Luke 1.
The focus of the phrase "social justice" almost always implies:
- a focus on those least able to speak up for themselves
- a focus on action to alleviate direct needs
At its worst, it can to some carry a negative connotation that implies liberation theology or a focus on "doing good works" to the exclusion of teaching "the gospel" - but mature Christians typically understand that social justice is actually not something that can be divorced from the redemption message of the Gospel.