Gideon Strauss has wrestled with questions of justice since childhood—a natural response to being raised in South Africa under apartheid. After his conversion to Christ, Strauss wondered how he could incorporate the biblical call to justice into his life. He says it wasn't easy, and that the journey required "much study, an openness to changing my mind, several false starts in resistance to apartheid, and a recognition that my own efforts were small and flawed."
Strauss's journey led to a role as an interpreter with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and as an adviser to the group that drafted the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Today, Strauss finds himself on the other side of the world, as CEO of the nonpartisan Center for Public Justice (CPJ) in Washington, D.C., a role he has held since October 2009.
Strauss frames CPJ's work theologically: If Jesus is truly risen, that shapes how we live out our callings as citizens and office holders. The mission of CPJ is to "to equip citizens, develop leaders, and shape policy in pursuit of our purpose to serve God, advance justice, and transform public life," and, as Strauss puts it, to do so "gracefully and hopefully."
Question & Answer
Define justice. How does it differ from public justice and social justice?
In the biggest sense, justice is when all God's creatures receive what is due them and contribute out of their uniqueness to our common existence. We are called to do justice in every sphere of our lives: how I love and educate my daughters, collaborate with my colleagues, interact with neighbors. Public justice is the political aspect—the work of citizens and political office bearers shaping a public life for the common good. Social justice is the civil society counterpart—nonpolitical organizations that promote justice.
How did serving on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission affect you?
It made me the servant of witnesses to abduction, torture, and murder—victims and survivors, but more frequently perpetrators—and as I spoke their words in the first person, I was forced to reflect deeply on what we South Africans did to each other. I spent much time praying Psalm 137, for God's vengeance on evildoers. It took me more than a year afterward, during a sabbatical, to recover a prayer life that spanned all 150 of the psalms.
What is the church doing well in the pursuit of justice? What could it do better?
Institutional churches are all over the map, but the Christian community is doing wonderful work through organizations like International Justice Mission and the Institute for Global Engagement. What the church itself can do better is faithfully proclaim the biblical theme of justice.
How do you find working in the U.S.?
I am vividly aware of the privilege U.S. citizens enjoy in living under the rule of law rather than in conditions of anarchy or tyranny, or being subject to warlords, like so many Africans are. There is so much to be grateful for in American political life, not the least of which is democracy.
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More information about Gideon Strauss can be found at cpjustice.org.
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