Longing for justice is a struggle to which God calls us. As NT Wright says, “Christians...have heard, deep within themselves, the echo of a voice which calls us to live [with a dream for justice].”
But behind the call for justice there is a little secret, something I don’t think we like to admit. We like the idea of justice more than we like “doing justice”. You see, I think I’m someone who works for justice, and who tries, as the Old Testament writers describe, “to put things right”, but when I’m honest, I wonder if justice is more of a hobby than a lifestyle for me. Justice sure is easier when you are not the one stuck in the mess. As we gain more power, we often gain more distance and disengagement. Our vision for justice seems so simple and clear. We discuss the topics, we write the letters, and we voice our opinions with such confidence. We know the ins and outs of the issues, and we can’t believe that “other people” act unjustly. We say, “Why can’t they...?” “I can’t believe they…” “How could they!” Justice no longer becomes something to live out; it merely becomes something to fight for.
What’s the difference? Living out justice means you are part of the action, you are engaged in the struggle, your life looks differently because of justice. Fighting for justice means you can step in and out of the “ring” when it is convenient for you. Fighting can be done at a distance; living out justice is an up close activity. To be honest, at my best moments, I think I’m just fighting for justice, and it’s leaving me feeling a little shallow.
Let me give you an example. A friend and I were talking about the recent Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which criminalizes sexual intercourse between same-sex partners with a life sentence in prison. We said, “How could they?” and “If they only….”. I searched for guidance, and Peter Vander Meulen, Director of the Office of Social Justice, offered his perspective: “I had a conversation a few years ago with Bishop Zac Niringiye, a strong voice for justice and peace issues in Uganda and East Africa, on this and other issues. His basic message was this: ‘We in the West would do well to understand that we no longer have the moral high ground (if we ever did). A society calling itself Christian that imposes long prison sentences on (mostly minority) drug users, sees nothing wrong with the death penalty even if it is applied mostly to minorities and poor people, and does nothing to end periodic massacres of its school children by people with assault rifles has very little to teach African societies or justice systems. And let’s not even start on the damage your rampant materialism and disrespect for God's creation has and will yet cost us all.’ Peter goes on to say that as we humbly engage in cross-cultural conversations about injustice, “the learning and change will likely be as much, or more, in ourselves and our own societies as it will be in the rest of the world.”
I need to humbly realize that my justice fight may not be doing justice. It’s easier to point fingers at another person’s, another country’s injustice, than to get involved in the injustice outside my door. It’s easier to create my own definition of what is just, without listening to God’s definition. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe we need to have conversations about the anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda and the prison system in the United States. These are important issues that affect human rights, but I believe that real justice begins by putting a human face on the issue. What if we stop just fighting injustice and got a little closer to living out justice?
I think we can start living out justice in three ways.
Listen: Move the justice issue from an idea to a real story. We need to hear directly from the people that are living under injustice and the people that are engaged in bringing justice. We need to talk with and work alongside people facing injustice. We need face-to-face and heart-to-heart connection.
Act: Connect our thoughts with our action. Justice should be lived out in how we give and spend money, how we interact with our government, how we design programs at our churches, how we treat our neighbors, how we talk to our friends, how we pray.
Repent: Ask forgiveness for fighting injustice from a distance and seek ways to get closer to the action. Ask God to prepare us.
I confess, I’m not living justice. I’m not there...yet. I ask God to move me from a fighter to a person who lives justice. It’s not easy, but God, make me willing.
[Picture taken by Jodi Koeman.]