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Do Justice and Faith Go Together?

Despite the variety of ways in which CRC members in Canada understand justice, there is a strong consensus that doing justice is an important – even essential – part of Christian faith. This suggests that it should be fairly easy to find points of agreement with fellow congregation members regarding how we understand justice and how justice is related to faith. These significant points of connection on the basics are reassuring when we talk about justice, and certainly provide a solid common foundation for further discussions about what justice means and how we pursue justice together.

Furthermore, core aspects of life in a Christian community such as preaching, personal and group Bible study, and interpersonal relationships are the most important ways that people learn what justice means and what justice requires, over any other written resources, conferences, or workshops. This suggests, not surprisingly, that relationships are much more important to learning about justice than facts.

These findings are drawn from a research project entitled Justice and Faith: Individual Spirituality and Social Responsibility in the Christian Reformed Church in Canada. The project surveyed 264 CRC members from 78 congregations across Canada on the relationship between justice and faith.

The Justice and Faith project seeks to answer three questions:

-How is the relationship between justice and faith currently understood and practiced in North American (especially Canadian, evangelical) Christianity?
-To what extent is doing justice a priority in the faith lives of CRC congregants?
-How can CRC people be best mobilized to embrace justice as an integral part of Christian faith and life?

How are justice and faith related?

When asked to rate the importance of several aspects of Christian faith, over 85% of CRC members in Canada indicated that doing justice is an important aspect of Christian faith, agreeing that “Supporting efforts to identify and address systemic injustice” was very or somewhat important to Christian faith. Likewise, nearly 87% of survey participants strongly (46%) or somewhat (40%) agreed that “Being a Christian requires me to pursue justice.” Only 8% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.


Despite this high rating, doing justice was actually ranked the lowest among the aspects of Christian faith options in question 10. Nearly all respondents indicated that “Having and nurturing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as my Saviour” is very important (91%) or somewhat important (6%). “Following God’s commandments and doing what is right,” or faithful Christian living, followed closely behind. Doctrinal adherence, discipleship, and local church involvement received somewhat lower rankings. Evidently, all of these practices are considered important to Christian faith, though some are considered relatively more important than others.

What does “justice” mean?

Fairness and accountability are two of the leading ways in which CRC people understand justice. Question 12 shows that fairness (i.e. “Justice means that people are treated fairly”) is the most common understanding. Nearly one quarter of all respondents included concepts of fairness, equity, or equality in their answer when asked to provide a one-sentence definition of justice (question 19).

Accountability for breaking laws was the second most common definition of justice in Question 12. Addressing “root causes” or “systemic barriers” were also ranked highly. Interestingly, 80% of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that “God is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged.” This phrasing is copied directly from the Belhar Confession.

The relative strength of responses to all options in Question 12 seems to indicate that several understandings of the term “justice” are in operation at once; justice can mean many things to many people, and also many things to the same individual.

How do CRC members learn about justice?

Although respondents overwhelmingly agreed that justice is an important aspect of Christian life, only about one third indicated that they had, in the past, looked for resources to help them better understand justice.

CRC members rely heavily on the Bible to learn about justice: 80% replied that the Bible had helped them “a great deal” or “much” to understand justice. Sermons and personal or group Bible study were also ranked relatively highly as ways that helped respondents to better understand justice. Family members and teachers are other valuable resources.

Overall, written resources had a modest impact. Only 37% of people said that “resources from faith-based organizations” had helped them “a great deal” or “much” to understand justice. Less than 25% said the same for CRC denominational and other Christian resources.

The Justice and Faith Project

Justice and Faith project findings are summarized in two reports: themes and insights from twelve key informant interviews, and findings of a CRC member survey. Themes from a literature review can also be found in this series of blog posts on the Institute for Christian Studies’ blog, Ground Motive:

Part 1: The quest for salvation and our social engagement: Are they reconcilable?
Part 2: Whose Reformed tradition? Which Kuyper?
Part 3: A replacement hermeneutic and an individualist soteriology

The Justice and Faith survey results are representative of CRC members in Canada. They are considered accurate +/- 6%, 19 times out of 20.

The project is a partnership between the Christian Reformed Church, the Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics at the Institute for Christian Studies, and the Centre for Community Based Research. It is funded by a Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and contributions from the partners.

For more information about the project, including ways to offer feedback and discuss results, visit or

Remember, relationships are paramount in helping people hear the biblical call to justice. So drop the pamphlets, and strike up a conversation!

[Image: Flickr user Yersinia Pestis]

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

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