“justice is what love looks like in public”
– from call+response (a must-see movie about modern day human slavery)
this is a picture of me in the third grade, 1976. yeah, i know you love the princess leia buns, but check out what’s around my neck. coolest crocheted peace sign choker, ever! my dad was always a peace-lover, a berkeley guy, a hippie. i even have letters from his friends in my scrapbook that say “peace, love, and vote for mcgovern”! when this picture was taken i was in this artsy-fartsy progressive alternative class in northern california, and this was just one year before my mom got remarried, we moved to nevada & i accepted Jesus into my heart at vacation bible school. i have no idea why it came to mind when i thought of this post, but it did, and i think the reason why is that it draws me back to a piece of me that has always been inside, got buried for a little while & is now getting uncovered again–my passion for justice. when i was a senior in high school i wanted to go to cal berkeley and change the world but somehow gears shifted & i ended up at a conservative christian school and some of that passion started to wane. i loved college–such amazing friends & experiences–but i think it set me on a spiritual path that was focused way more on a personal spirituality than a corporate one. i was into God for me, but i wasn’t really that concerned about God for the world (beyond just conversion). it’s all part of my journey, but i have to say in the past chunk of years, the justice spark got re-lit & now, there’s no putting it out. to me, part of our responsibility as Christ-followers is to pursue justice on behalf of those who are being treated unjustly. to risk our hearts, time, position, you name it, to stand up for the underdog in any way we can.
i believe part of our genesis 3 brokenness includes a corporate natural propsensity toward injustice. it’s a piece of our humanity & has its deepest roots in power and control. injustice always leans toward taking advantage of the poor, marginalized, oppressed, less than’s, in some shape or form. and because injustice is so intensely rooted into almost so many aspects of every culture it is quite easy to say “there’s not much we can do about it, it’s just part of the ways of the world.” but Jesus says the kingdom of God is available now. that as Christ-followers it is our responsibility to do our part to model the image of God to the world. in micah 6:8, God says this is what is required of us: to seek justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly. i love the words “seek” and “pursue” because they imply something very important: they won’t come naturally. we will have to work for it, fight for it, sacrifice for it. so when it comes to thinking of “what could be” related to us as “the church”, there’s absolutely no escaping the importance of being people, communities, who pursue justice on behalf of those being treated unjustly.
this can take so many different shapes & forms and i definitely don’t have a list of “sure ways to make sure that justice is pursued in faith communities”, but i do think that some of these values & practices probably ought to be more and more present individually & corporately in order to truly live out the kingdom principle of justice as followers of Christ:
learn to smell injustice. this is sometimes tricky when we live in worlds where on the whole, we have the power & life is pretty good. we only really start to notice it when we either have experienced injustice ourselves or are somehow in relationship with people who are currently living that experience. this means the underdog in any shape or form, people who do not have the power & voice that others have and are set up to get taken advantage of. the poor, marginalized, physically disabled, mentally ill, underrepresented, undereducated tend to be the places where injustice preys. hmm, no wonder why Jesus kept pointing to the margins. for the past few years i have been in contact with so much injustice that it sometimes seems that’s all i ever talk about. jose, my amazing husband, is such a good listener and puts up with my swearing & screaming & yelling about how messed up the system & “the church’s” response can sometimes get. now that he is a part-time practicing attorney at a legal aid clinic working with the poor & marginalized, he’s the one swearing and screaming and yelling and telling me the same stories, exclaiming “now i see what you were talking about!” before, he just wasn’t as aware. now, his nose can pick up the scent like that. to pursue it, we’ve got to learn to smell it first.
use our voices on behalf of others. i always want every person to use their own voice & be able to take care of what they need to, but the truth is that is easier said than done. injustice beats down people’s spirits and a variety of realities can make it nearly impossible for some to use their voice. that is why we, as Christ-followers, must speak out on their behalf. that is happening in so many amazing ways around the world right now when it comes to movements on human slavery & women’s rights & advocacy for the poor in third world countries. i am so excited about this groundswell & hope that more and more people will stand on behalf of those who can’t stand for themselves. most of what i believe in this area is in the post make advocates not buildings but i will say that we don’t have to go out to participate in big movements to use our voice on others behalf. it can come in small & subtle ways where we stick up for someone who is being taken advantage of, call out injustice instead of stand on the sidelines watching it happen and assume there’s nothing we can do about it.
be willing to take the hit individually, corporately. yeah, this is the tough part. are we willing to lose our jobs for it? are we willing to sacrifice positions in our church for it? are we willing to lose face with groups of people we’ve been in relationship with for years and won’t be too happy about our “bleeding hearts”? are we willing to actually have people leave our communities (especially the ones who give lots of money) when we make decisions on behalf of justice or fully welcome & love the world’s outcasts? are we willing to roll up our sleeves and enter into the mess & muck of another person’s experience? Jesus promised we’d be persecuted if we followed these kingdom principles here on earth. there is a cost. it looks different for each person, but i think when we advocate for justice we will absolutely take a hit personally, professionally, in all kinds of other ways.
recognize our limitations but never give up. for me, this is the hardest part. living in the tension of continued injustice gets under my skin like none other. i think that’s why i’ve gone a little nutty when it comes to all these people who flock to churches who will never ever let marginalized or “perceived-as-less-than” folks into every aspect of their communities. to me, it is a justice issue because it represents such a bigger picture of the kingdom-of-heaven-here-on-earth-now and it is hard for me to see us as Christ-followers being banner-raisers for justice in the world when we continue to knowingly (or unknowingly because we’re too distracted to care) breed injustice in our own systems. but alas, i must remember, all my hopes & dreams for heaven-on-earth aren’t going to happen the way i want them to. so do i give up & throw in the towel? i don’t think so. i think we just need to recognize our limitations– that we are not God, that it’s a messed up mixed up crazy world, that ultimately all that is wrong will eventually be made right, and there’s only so much we can do. but that “so much”, let’s be willing to do, even when it means we’ll never taste the full fruit of our labor. because injustice is against the status-quo, if we take our hand off it, unhealthy, disparate systems will always go back to the path of least resistance. that is why activists are so painfully aware of their need to keep injustice in the forefront of people’s minds because if they don’t, it’s too easy to forget.
in this wonderful renewal of missional-mindedness among churches, my hope is that we remember the difference between charity & justice. bill moyers says “faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table.”
so there it is, another attempt to scratch the surface on one of the deepest issues of humanity, but here’s my hope of what could be for us as people, as communities:
that we’d be relentless pursuers of justice on behalf of those being treated unjustly, whether it be in the circles we live in or around the world. that we’d risk our reputations & use our voices, our time, our resources, our power to advocate for individuals & groups who can’t advocate for themselves & that we’d be unafraid to enter the fray on our brothers & sister’s behalf.
God, give us strength and courage to passionately & actively pursue justice on behalf of others.
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ps: i’m not a big worship music person, but i love this micah 6:8 song “seek justice” from my friend tracy howe’s CD with brian mclaren for the everything must change tour. we sing it sometimes at the refuge weekend gathering, and the chorus always gets stuck in my head all week.
ppss: merry christmas! i am thankful for a God born from below. may you feel Jesus’ peace & love & hope in all kinds of wonderful & unexpected ways this week…enjoy.