I have recently been reading the book, The Good News About Injustice, written by International Justice Missions (IJM) founder, Gary Haugen. Gary is really popular for his TEDTalk about violence, especially in a development context. IJM was started on the premise that although there was a lot of work being done to alleviate poverty and improve the standard of living in many developing countries, there was nothing being done about the injustices that would torment these communities. There was nothing being done to shut down local drug cartels, or child prostitution rings, or saving children from torturous labour. The authorities in such places cannot be trusted as they are often major stakeholders or friendly with those who run such enterprises. Needless to say, the work that IJM does and Gary’s vision is an incredible inspiration – and this book boldly declares the biblical mandate IJM believe their work is based on.
It is funny that, in my experience, there does seem to be an inexplicable division or taboo-like nature to using the phrase ‘social justice’ within certain Christian circles. Especially in a country, such as Australia, where Christians seem to have become incredibly comfortable at being able to publicly announce how they feel on issues such as abortion, or marriage before sex, same-sex marriage – issues that could be classified as pertaining to ‘personal morality’. The picture I am trying to create is not that Christians disagree with all issues that the contemporary ‘social justice’ banner now encompasses – rather, they just do not like using ‘social justice’ language, or perhaps are apprehensive about it as it is being used by so many other causes that have not been endorsed by their church, or Christian political groups. Further, in recent times, causes that fly the flag of ‘social justice’ appear to be movements antagonistic to the church, arguably, at fundamental levels.
This is somewhat saddening. It is incredibly important for Christians to understand the language of ‘justice’ and how it affects the mission of the Church. Do not misunderstand – issues of personal morality are incredibly important. However, we must remember issues of social justice are just as important. For example, we have come to our views on pro-life through solid theological interpretation – there is no express term in the Bible that prohibits abortion. However, the Bible is so full of references to the Lord as a God of justice, who loves justice – one only has to read the Old Testament prophets to see that they are bursting with this God of Justice. Furthermore, is God not a God of both righteousness and justice? Even the Hebrew word for justice, mishpat, denotes both justice and righteousness. You cannot have one without the other.
Admittedly, the New Testament does not read in the same manner. However, God was the same as he is today, and always will be. Most importantly, Jesus exemplified God’s perfect justice in his ministry. Jesus claimed that he came to fulfil the Law – which was there to show the minimum standard of righteousness and just living. But Jesus had come, not just as an answer to prophecy, but as a living breathing example of God’s will. Law not of stone, but of flesh.
At this point, I am unsure of the history that has led to such an apprehension towards talks of ‘justice’ in parts of the church. Perhaps it was a reaction to love-less preaching of judgement and damnation. But digging deeper into God’s justice shows it is one inspired by love and compassion. Perhaps it is because once one accepts God as a God of justice, they have to realise a world of injustice, which is often quite an overwhelming experience. But God and the Bible also offer great joy and promise to defeat injustice, so we must take heart and overcome our paralysis. I hope to be able to explore these concepts further. But whatever the reason, it remains important that this generation becomes interested in ‘justice’. The public sphere in Western Democracies is no longer going to be a comfortable place for Christian rhetoric. And so be it. If it means exploring a part of God’s character with a little more intention; if it means seeking Jesus and emodying his love with a little more zeal – so be it.
This space will be a place where I will try to unravel the circular conversations that happen in my head in regards to ‘justice’. I am convinced that, as Christians, we are not particularly good at having these conversations – and that just does not add up when we remember we have been equipped with a mandate to serve all people the way that Jesus did – which includes embodying God’s justice. You will hear more from Gary Haugen and other excellent thinkers who are helping me on this journey, including a few prophets, apostles, and more than likely, Jesus as well (probably important to include him).
It is my hope, simply, to start (or rather, get my head around) the dialogue. Because I definitely do not have the answers. I acknowledge that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea – but I will endeavour to talk about it in an accessible, honest, spirit and truth filled way. In our musings– whether with others, by ourselves, or with our computer screens as we write our two cents on these subjects—may we always edify the church and exalt God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Welcome to my journey with Justice.