The Adventure of Living in the Kingdom of God

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Seek Justice...

One current trend among today's churches (and particularly our youth) is a pursuit of justice for the marginalized and oppressed among us - the poor, the enslaved, the trafficked, the orphaned, etc. Social media,  the internet,  ministry pages, and non-governmental organization (NGO) websites are replete with causes wanting and deserving attention from the world. "Social justice" is a rallying cry for people across the nation, religious and not, seeking a solution to the many wrongs around us.

People's pursuit of justice for their cause is as varied in approach as the number of causes, with obvious differences in the level of commitment required. Some people load their Facebook page with as many 'Likes' of justice organizations as they can (but in actuality 'do' very little). Some read books about justice and write blogs. Some change their lifestyles to fit with new realizations about certain injustices in the world such as some good friends who chose to only buy American-made clothing in order to insure that they were not unintentionally supporting companies that used children as slaves to make their clothing. Some jump wholeheartedly into making people like Kony famous. Some decide to adopt. Some move their families toward less desirable parts of town and have the audacity to allow their children to go to school there as well. Some move to the other side of the globe. All do so in the pursuit of this thing called justice.

Deep down there is something innate within each of us that is fulfilled only when we wholly seek the good of the person next to us, especially the person who cannot repay. Amidst all the selfishness within our hearts that so often dictates our actions, part of being truly human is the ability to see the other as equally and fully human. When we see a human being digging through a landfill for lunch, something gnaws at our core because it just isn't right! In a world with so many problems, how do we begin to understand what questions to ask and what steps can be taken to right the wrong as both individuals and communities.

A helpful starting point can be to unpack what we mean when we speak of justice and try to provide a framework for encouraging one another to pursue lives in concert with a just world. I recently revisited a book by Chap Clark, a teacher at Fuller Theological Seminary who has devoted his life to working among youth. In one of his books, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Dr Clark describes three very simple yet helpful levels of response - physical, relational, and systemic - to injustices. The physical response is the most natural response - a response to fix what's broke! A need is identified and the need is met, with or without developing a relationship with the people being served. The relational response seeks to know and develop relationships with the recipients in order to learn from them and partner with them in trying to solve the problem at hand. Friendships are developed because a priority is placed on listening rather than doing. The systemic response is one which attacks the systems in place that perpetuate the brokenness and injustice of our world. Here, what Clarks calls deep justice is attained often after a long, messy, exhausting journey alongside people. He argues that all three responses are good but not all three are equal.

Clark makes the following comparison between what he calls "shallow service" and "deep justice," calling those who wear the name of Christ to seek justice by asking deeper and messier questions.
Shallow service makes us feel like the 'great white (or whatever race) savior' who rescues the broken. Deep justice is reached when God does the rescuing through his diverse community. Shallow service dehumanizes the receivers. Deep justice restores dignity. Shallow service is something we do for others. Deep justice is something we do with others. Shallow service is an event. Deep justice is a lifestyle. Shallow service expects immediate results. Deep justice requires a commitment to be present for the long haul. The goal of shallow service is to help others. The goal of deep justice is to remove obstacles so others can help themselves. Shallow service focuses on what our ministry can accomplish. Deep justice focuses on how to work with other ministries to accomplish more. Shallow service involves serving food at a homeless shelter. Deep justice asks why people are homeless and hungry...and then acts.

"When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor are poor, they call me a communist."
                                                            - Bishop Oscar Romero (martyr)

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