Praise be to our Father, God, and King, and to His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ! He alone can save–and has saved–the world. He saved my life–literally and spiritually. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). For reasons only He knows, He put in me a desire to question the nature of justice in the world, before I ever knew Him. By the Holy Spirit, “I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise” (Psalm 101:1). We should praise Him for His love, but we should also praise Him for His call for us to do justice. And seeking to do His justice in the world is a way to glorify Him.
What Is Social Justice? – Some Personal Explorations
Helping People In Need?
Unfortunately, I myself have been slow to find out more about the deeper meanings of social justice, even though I have been interested in social justice and anti-poverty efforts for over 10 years. Early on, I thought of the two in very simple terms, based on the well-known passage, Matthew 25:31-46: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat . . . .”
So, I tried to learn how to help people in need: the poor and elderly using government-run health insurance, the homeless, victims of human trafficking, children and parents who live in housing projects, and disadvantaged people in communities of color.
But “helping people in need,” while good, seemed to be a somewhat weak concept of social justice, especially in the terms of changing the causes of injustice. In many cases, these are unjust social structures—roughly speaking, these are the institutionalized power dynamics that allow some people to frequently take advantage of those weaker than them.
Changing Unjust Social Structures?
I thought studying public policy and learning how to work with it would help me understand how changing social structures relates to social justice. But I have not found very satisfying answers to how policy, politics, government, nonprofits, and businesses promote social justice, even when we say we are talking about “social justice.” We go through countless political debates, endlessly analyze issues, and spend millions of dollars, and volunteer and work hundreds of hours. But in many cities across America, like Baltimore, progress on problems–such as poverty, violence, and racism–seems painfully slow.
Public policy practice, as a field, seems to assume what is good, rather than critiquing itself and leading debates on what “good” truly means. Attempts to analyze and debate the moral dimensions of public policy are quickly shot down. Instead, it is usually considered good to “play the game”—run the analysis according to prevailing ideologies, and generally accept the establishment’s norms. Among other causes, this might have contributed to the failure of most mainstream political analysts and the media to accurately predict the rise of President Trump, whose election was in part fueled by the anger and mistrust of the American people. Public policy practice is largely a mental exercise that lacks heart and soul, and it is probably designed that way.
Jesus Brought the Good News About Love and Justice; Do American Christians Bring No News or Bad News?
If the institutions of public policy practice tend to lack heart and soul, then where might we find them? Perhaps the Christian Church?
Jesus brought the good news of salvation—the gospel. It is wonderful news!
|[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Part of the gospel is Jesus’s authoritative command to love others and do justice (cf. Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42). As I’ve walked with Jesus through the years, I have been inspired by this.
However, in the American Church, we seem to overshadow Jesus’ command to do justice with his completed work of saving grace and mercy. We preach an incomplete gospel.
Jesus preached both parts, and did both parts. He scolded hypocritical religious leaders and peacefully defied the political powers. And He welcomed outcasts, healed the sick, and fed the poor. And He died on the cross for everyone’s sins, and rose again! That’s the good news!
Sadly, most of the time when I hear Christians talk about social and political problems, it sounds too much like the world: blame of the poor, fear of being too generous, a narrow focus on certain social issues, nationalism, complaints about taxes, being selfish and angry, etc. That’s bad news.
And as American society has once again ebbed into violent hatefulness and selfish individualism, the general silence or incoherence of the Church and Christians on such issues is sometimes deafening. No news is bad news, too.
Christians have additional concerns, both theologically and with regard to practical ministry, such as the following:
- Whether political involvement is too worldly
- Faith vs. works
- Judging others vs. mercy
- Faith in waiting for Jesus to return and bring complete justice
While we do live in a fallen world, one where people will inevitably commit injustices until Christ returns, how much are we being the “salt” and the “light” (as Jesus said in Matthew 5:13-16) to our neighbors who are struggling to survive—neighbors down the street or on the other side of the city, not to mention across our nation and world? We pray the Our Father prayer do we not?
|“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.Matthew 6:9-10 (emphasis added)
We can do justice on earth, it seems!
Is Christianity Irrelevant? What is Our Role?
Many people in our society today believe that Christianity is irrelevant in social and political issues. But now more than ever, we can surely use some good news—the Good News!
Throughout history, Christians and the Church have been far from perfect, and we never will be until Jesus returns.
However, I believe there are basic ways we can understand our role with regard to doing justice:
- Jesus told us to both love others and do justice (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42)
- The fight is fundamentally spiritual—we are born again of the Spirit (John 3) and we are to fight the spiritual fight “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms “ (Ephesians 6:12)
- For our faith in Christ to be alive, we need faith with works (cf. James 2:14-26, John 14:15)
- Jesus gave us the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, emphasis added)
With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can do this!
Who is Supposed to Teach Us How to Do Justice?
Following from the above, part of the Great Commission is to teach people how to do justice. We probably do not lack teachings, but perhaps we lack teachers and students. Are we letting the secular world teach us about justice, when we should (also) be teaching about it? Are we mostly letting the secular world define social justice without seeking God’s understanding ourselves?
Methodology of This Blog: Seeking Understanding by Asking Questions Based on Christ’s Inspiration
Instead of disengaging from the world, we Christians should be seeking to understand God’s heart for engaging the world. And part of seeking understanding is to ask questions.
If we want to be like Christ, why not let His words inspire us to seek understanding from the Holy Spirit, so that we can act boldly in faith in Christ, for God’s glory?
The questions I have asked above have been inspired by God’s Word. May we continue to seek Him for understanding. Amen.