While there is no set and commonly agreed upon definition of social capital, common elements include the
- sum of the social, economic, and moral resources that accumulate through a network of mutual relationships;
- goodwill among the persons and organizations that make up the network to disseminate the resources within the network; and
- positive benefits from a range of economic and sociological outcomes.
Thus, social capital comprises both the network and the assets that may be mobilized through that network.
There is, however, one commonly agreed upon belief regarding the earth and its resources expressed throughout the scriptures, which is that “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1).” The Psalmist also exclaims that “The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it (Ps 89:11).” The New Testament echoes these very words “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (I Corinthians 10:26).”
In terms of assets and resources, each one of us is poor because any assets and resources are God’s and not ours as proclaimed in the scriptures. If we chose to hang unto any resources that God has given us to disseminate to help others, we will likely begin a cycle of spiritual poverty as a result of a deteriorating relationship with God.
The scriptures are filled with examples of the very opposite. The Second Book of Corinthians, Chapter 9 and verses 10 and 11 state that
As it is written: “He (or she) has scattered abroad His (or her) gifts to the poor;
His (or her) righteousness endures forever.” Now He (or she) who supplies
seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply (God’s)
store of seed and will increase the harvest of (God’s) righteousness.
For it was written, as noted in Psalm 112:9
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.”
If we choose to give any resources that God has given us, we can give them within the context of social capital and they will be increased many-fold. Such an action is a collective action in which the resources, along with the interests, ideas, and ideals are brought together to work towards a common purpose like social reform.
Such a purpose can be within the context of social reform by directing the collective resources towards a social injustice, issue, or ill. The scriptures are filled with such commands. The Psalms clearly state that God wants justice administered to
- the oppressed (9:9; 10:12; 103:6; 146:7);
- the orphan (10:17; 68:5; 82:3; 146:9);
- the poor (12:5; 41.1; 72:4; 72:12; 140:12);
- the needy (12:5; 72:4; 72:12; 82:4; 109:31; 140:12);
- the widows (68:5; 146:9);
- the desolate (68:6; 82:3);
- the weak (72:12; 82:3);
- the hungry (107:9; 146:7); and
- the brokenhearted (147:3).
You may have been moved as an individual to fulfill these commands. I have been moved to do so by integrating scripture while seeking to administer justice as directed by God. There are many verses in the Book of Isaiah that have motivated me. Reading, and thus hearing God say, “maintain justice, and do what is right (56:1a)” or “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow (1:17)” are a couple of the verses. What has been particularly moving has been reading, and thus hearing God say “Here is my servant whom I uphold my chosen in whom my soul delights I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations (42:1).”
Perhaps the most moving of all verses in Isaiah has been 59:14-16
“So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;”
My reaction to this passage is that I want God to see me as someone who wants to intervene. I had the same reaction when I read Ezekiel 22:30
“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall
and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land
so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”
I want God to find me willing to stand in the gap on behalf of the land.
However, I have learned to integrate my feelings of being moved by scripture with moving with others as part of a collective group. The collective groups that I have been part of over the years have focused on affordable housing, small business development, and homelessness. Homelessness in particular is tied to injustices, issues, and ills that stem from chronic health conditions, disabilities, domestic violence, incarceration, limited income, mental illness, and substance abuse.
Leveraging and coordinating the social capital to administer justice has necessitated the assets and resources of a wide-range of public and private agencies, committees, groups, and organizations who are willing to work together and apply their resources to seemingly intractable problems. Such a network usually consists of businesses, corporations, civic groups, faith-based organizations, local government, and nonprofit agencies.
Being part of such a network has helped me shift from serving a social injustice to solving it, which has a specific and desired outcome—social reform. Collectively, the issue can be solved.
My individual efforts would largely result in attempts to solve the problem through charitable works. Thus, I came to realize that perhaps I was serving the problem out of a charitable model that was shaped by the following:
- wanting to act out of the goodness of my heart;
- choosing a worthy effort;
- giving money if I had spare change; and
- getting involved in hands-on ways if I had the spare time.
I came to realize that my service and charitable acts were necessary band-aids because there was no justice. At best I was helping a few individuals gain justice.
Also, I came to realize that Justice
- was not a matter of choice but rather of responsibility according to many verses of scripture;
- is focused on changing a whole neighborhood or community, not just an individual;
- requires us to do all that we can, no matter the cost, and not just giving spare time or money.
Seeking justice within a context of social capital has helped me move beyond self-interest to public interest over the years. By self-interest I specifically mean what I get out of my involvement through acts of charity. Shifting to public interest has helped me focus on what “we” get out of it, or in other words, what is good for the neighborhood or community is good for all of us.
Also, shifting to public interest often results in many persons seeking and advancing various means of defining and solving social problems.
Christians, and congregations, have to be comfortable with the persons and institutions that make up a network of social capital. This includes local government, individuals and congregations of different faiths, or those within the Christian tradition but that adhere to different tenets of faith.
Social reform has involved many movements that seek and have sought solutions to end social injustices, issues, and ills in the world. Movements that have been successful have been as inclusive as necessary.
Thus, integrating scripture, social capital, and social reform involves being:
- moved to administer justice as directed by God;
- part of a network of a wide-range of community organizations that are willing to mobilize their assets and resources;
- reminded that that “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” and
- willing to solve a social problem and not serve it.