Justice, Do It
Before trying to engage globally start practicing justice locally.

Nike has gotten a lot of marketing mileage from its straightforward motto, "Just Do It." In part two of David Fitch's post on social justice his message for church leaders is equally simple - just do it. Fitch argues that instead of focusing on national or global justice causes we must begin by acting locally. To accomplish this requires pastors to teach justice as a practice, something we actively do, rather than simply a concept we agree with.

If we are to avoid making justice into another program in the church we must resist the urge to make justice primarily about national politics, and only secondarily about local politics. For inevitably we get caught up in national politics believing that finally we are doing something. This then becomes an easy program to establish in our churches, and the work of local justice becomes an after-thought because political activism is always easier than living as a presence with the poor. It may be admirable and glamorous to help Jars of Clay fight Aids in Africa or Bono fight for Third World Debt Relief, but in the end I would ask us how much is accomplished if we cannot witness to a way of life that compels justice in our own back yard.

The main culprit here is that we pastors teach justice as a concept instead of a practice. For instance, we often make justice about the concept of individual rights or equal opportunity. It's an easy default move when we don't have visible justice going on in the local body itself. Yet defining justice in this way, as a concept born out of democracy and capitalism, individual rights or equal opportunity, too easily enables us to forget about doing justice in our local church by deflecting attention to national arguments. If we wish to see justice take shape in our midst we must go beyond rights to seek the simple righteousness of God fulfilled in our immediate locale.

I remember becoming an advocate (along with others in our church) for someone who was poor and an ex-convict who was unable to pay the rent. He and his wife were being evicted out of their apartment. We could have advocated renter's rights. We could have brought the person to a point of contention between himself, the owner of the apartment and the church. Or we could bring everyone around a table to discuss the situation (even though the building owner had never been to our church gathering). We could pray, confess sin, seek reconciliation, offer to step in and make things right. We did the latter, with coffee and pastries. The building owner was amazed. He forgave two months rent. I saw a miracle happen there that changed the ethos of our entire church. Perhaps now we were ready to make a statement about renter's rights on a larger scale.

June 29, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 19 comments


July 07, 2007  10:28pm

We seem to be having a debate about whether we do good good to our neighbors for its inherent value, or whether we do good for the purpose of telling them the gospel message. Or alternatively, we are debating whether it is even possible to do someone good without telling them the gospel message. Maybe I can put my position in more concrete terms. I give to an organization called International Justice Mission. They work in foreign countries to get innocent people out of slavery and the sex trade. I give to them because I think Jesus doesn't want people to become enslaved in sex trafficking. Telling these victims that Jesus saves is not going to get them out of brothels. I think that getting them out of brothels is a worthy endeavor by itself, something that Jesus wants his church to do. This is justice: helping to set the world right again, freeing the captive. We are Jesus' hands and feet in the world, sent to do His work.

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July 05, 2007  11:10am

While I agree we need to do what we can to help others in foreign nations, where do you draw the line? Where do you start? There is so much need in Africa, India and other countries that there are a multitude of agencies in need of donations. But, I think this is more about justice in the sense that we need to do more to help the widows and orphans and the poor as Jesus instructed. And we need to start in our own communities. Believe it or not, even in the shadows of some of the wealthiest churches and neighborhoods, there are single mothers or fathers who can't make ends meet. Many of them are lost or unchurched because their focus is on physical needs - like feeding children or paying rent. We have sent missionary after missionary overseas while neglecting the people in need of the full gospel right in our own neighborhoods. In fact, other nations are sending missionaries to the United States because they see a need for our nation to be evangelized. So, we as a nation perhaps have dropped the ball when it comes to evangelism in the U.S. Shame on us when our nation has become so decadent and immoral that Third World countries are sending their missionaries to preach the gospel to us.

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Jerry Borton

July 04, 2007  3:13pm

True. Social justice like any change begins locally. And probably closer to home than you think. Pedrhaps the most oppressed people on the planet are people with disabilities. Arguably they exist on the margins of every society including ours. Yet here in America they likely live in your neighborhood. Thus offering the opportunity to "live" social justice literally to the neighbor next door. Blessings!

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July 04, 2007  8:56am

I have been a christian for 30 years and am glad to hear about these issues. I have never heard it talked about or expressed except within the last 5 years in my area. Thank goodness its finally acceptable to talk about and act on something other than childrens ministry or praise and worship.

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July 03, 2007  3:32pm

Tony Campolo said, "I think that Christianity has two emphases. One is a social emphasis to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society - to relieve the sufferings of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. The other emphasis is to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ, where they feel the joy and the love of God in their lives. That they manifest what the fifth chapter of Galatians calls 'the fruit of the Spirit'. Fundamentalism has emphasized the latter, mainline churches have emphasized the former. We cannot neglect one for the other." It's not either/or. It's both. Geoff, I understand your concern that we spread the gospel, and I agree. But it cannot be done without practically improving the conditions of others as well. You seem to think it can. Do you? James 2 and Matthew 25 say telling someone "God loves you!" without giving them a drink of water, clothing them, and visting them in the hopsital or prison is pure dung in God's eyes, end of story.

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July 03, 2007  1:26pm

Friends, It strikes me that some posters and readers perhaps don't have relationships with those in our neighborhoods who experience injustice virtually every day of their lives. The uneducated, those from minority races, those without ‘connections;' those new to this country, those who can't speak English, those "widows and orphans"…all of these and more endure unknown injustice and oppression (both macro and micro) whether located in urban centers, suburbs, small towns, or rural areas. Spend time with a refugee, immigrant, single-mom, handicapped person, non-white person (etc.), and you will find periodic if not regular and systematic injustice suffered in their lives. For those who can't call any of these people a friend, justice is merely conceptual, because middle-to-upper class majority population members typically relate to those like them. For those in relationship with these and who love Jesus, one cannot help but respond to the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs that emerge in the course of relationship. For followers of Jesus in the U.S., I believe the absence of justice-doing locally is fundamentally a problem of (homogenous) relationships and less a problem of what we do when we encounter injustice.

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Dan J.

July 03, 2007  9:13am

Geoff, I understand that the word justice has baggage for you and you prefer "ministry" but Christian ministry has baggage for many people as well. There has been so many destructive and senseless things done under the guise of Christian ministry that I find that phrase meaningless. The politically left has taken the concept of social justice away from the gospel. The politically right seem to want nothing to do with social justice because it belongs to the left. But if we read God's call in Isa. 59 for justice we see that God calls worship (Isa 58) that is not backed by justice as empty and far from God. If fact God put on his own armour, the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness to make war against his own people because there was no justice in the land. When we are told to put on the armour of God it is so that we are in solidarity with God's desire to see justice on earth. Does not pure religion deal with how we treat the marginalized of the world, our world? Does not Matthew 25 suggest that if we are not concerned with the poor we will miss "ministering" to Jesus. Is it possible that this passage is telling us that if we concern ourselves with those that are not capable of defending/doing for themselves that we are then doing the will of Jesus? I think David is correct, until justice, justice as defined by scripture (righteousness and justice are the same word in Greek - dikaios - and Hebrew - tsedeq. ), is practiced and taught locally it is just a program. Justice (righteousness) must be normative in the community of faith.

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J. W.

July 02, 2007  7:13pm

In all honesty, Geoff, Jesus said that to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Without such love for our God as expressed in our love for our fellow man, anything we conceive as being our love is but a clanging cymbal. I spent quite a few years of my life as an independent long haul trucker. Every, and I do mean every time I would drive past some fancy new church edifice and have my CB radio on, some trucker would invariably make some sarcastic remark, pondering how anyone who calls themselves Christian could justify spending all their money on some fancy place to park their butts on a Sunday morning within eyesight of so much poverty. And it would go downhill from there as everyone else threw in their two cents. My challenge was always to somehow show them the real Jesus, separating him from the collective towers of Babel that dot our countryside. It wasn't easy, but once I got through to them, it usually wasn't long before they were wanting a relationship with the real Jesus, who also did not condone all the lavish institutionalism and I was often blessed with the opportunity to pray with them. My point is that we Christians can proclaim Jesus till the cows come home, but until our lives reflect his unconditional love, compassion and mercy toward all mankind, the Gospel message will remain null and void to the world. The world will not only know we are Christians by our love, when they see faith in action, they will want what we have. Isaiah 58 really says it all about the social heart of Jesus, as well as the hypocritical antics of the religious. Praying, fasting, going to church 5 times a week, building the biggest worship center, having the best worship band, the best kids programs, etc., won't gain us squat. Only when we spend ourselves on behalf of the poor and oppressed, when we visit the sick, imprisoned and elderly, care for the widows, and give shelter to the poor wanderers, etc., will God begin to pour out his blessing, and to hear and answer our prayers. Only then will the world see us as the reconcilers and healers, and as the hands and feet of our Lord Jesus. God-ordained social justice is not merely throwing money at the poor. It is not a matter of voting the "right" politician into office to get the job done. It is not simply protesting for the rights of the afflicted. No. God-ordained social justice is when God's people are finally willing to lay down their very lives for their fellow man. It is when they stop relying on governments, money, rock stars and missions comittees, and finally realize that God has called them, individually and corporately, together to break the cycles of oppression–not by legislation, but by selfless love and charity. That kind of Gospel message is so powerful that no words could compare to it.

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July 02, 2007  6:04pm

I'll bet your ex-convict could get a drink of clean water, even if he was evicted. I volunteer for Blood:Water Mission, Jars of Clay's organization that's building clean water wells in sub-Saharan Africa. I don't disagree with what you're saying, but it always gets to me that no matter how bad anyone's circumstances are in this country, we can at least get clean water to drink.

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Geoff Baggett

July 02, 2007  10:11am

Robert, You still didn't give that elusive definition. I still don't know what you consider to be "justice." Nate (& Bob), Read my comment again. I'm not discounting the "great commandment" at all. What I am saying is that, many times, when we hear individuals focus upon "social justice," that focus is at the expense of the Gospel itself. Indeed, you can have efforts at "justice" (whatever that may be) that are completely absent of the Gospel. But you cannot have the true Gospel conveyed without Christian ministry. I still do not see, despite the Luke 4 reference by both of you, a socially "crusading" Jesus. Yes, Jesus touched the lives of individuals in ministry, and He told them about being reconciled to His Father. He healed individuals who were blind. But in every case, the real issue was reconciliation with God. Reconciliation among men was simply the pathway for that God-action. I love your quote from Luke 4. Yes, Jesus proclaimed that HE was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, not that WE are that fulfillment. He sets the prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, and releases the oppressed. We are agents of that message. Ministry is our method. But Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, remains our message. This method is not "anemic," as you say. It is biblical, and quite effective. What is anemic is a gaggle of Christians on a social crusade, doing good works and demanding "justice" for all, but falling short of presenting a biblical, life-changing, eternity-changing Gospel. We do ministry and work for "justice" in order to communicate the message of Christ, not just for the sake of "doing it." That IS the "robust" Gospel.

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