Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Seeking Social Justice: The Product or the Process?

I recently finished a good book called, "What is the Mission of the Church", by DeYong and Gilbert. In one chapter, they discuss the current trends and meaning of social justice and make the statement, "Justice in a fallen world is not an equality of outcome, but is equal treatment under a fair law." They base their views on the Old Testament concept and teachings of justice saying, "Doing justice is not the same as redistribution, nor does it encompass everything a godly Israelite would do in obedience to Yaweh...Doing justice implies, then, fairness, decency and honesty."

DeYong and Gilbert moreover discuss two current main views of social justice: the unconstrained view and the constrained view. The unconstrained view is a result oriented view that says wherever people do not get their fair share, there is injustice. Conversely, but related, is the constrained view that sees social justice as a process by which people are treated fairly. In other words, not a 'fair' distribution of goods and resources but a 'fair' system.

I tend to agree with the authors on this point. While I am moved with compassion (and sometimes a bit of anger) when I see the results of social injustices, I tend to think it more wise and effective to focus on the process of how to make systems more just. While there is always a place and need for those to cry out with passion, stand up and even intervene for the injustices which exist, there is also a very important need for the church and the followers of Jesus to stand up for systems which help to exclude these issues.

Bringing it frighteningly closer to home, when I read the Bible exhortations touching on justice, they seem to have more to say to me as a person than they do to society as a whole. The often quoted justice statement in Micah 6:8, "Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God", is easy to proclaim to a crowd and society, but isn't it more challenging to take these words and commands to heart and let God change my life to these attributes? I wonder if the world wouldn't become a much better place if all of us who call for and promote social justice would allow God's justice and plan for justice to work in our own hearts first?

I am big on being a process oriented person. In sports, you play the game like you practice the week before. In education, you learn how to learn not just meaningless facts. And in Christian life in regards to social justice, you "do" and practice justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God before, and as a preparation to, your fight with society.

When I pray for "social justice", I eerily hear a voice that says, "Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God." I tend to think that there are better ways to effect justice in this fallen world. God seems to think that a great place to start is in my heart.

As Deyong and Gilbert say, "The story (of the Bible) is not about us working with God to make the world right again. It's about God's work to make us right so that we can live with Him (and others) again."

God, let there be justice and let it begin in me...

1 comment:

  1. Ian Sterling - KBC DRMarch 30, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    To my mind, if you take care of the constrained view, the unconstrained view takes care of itself. Furthermore, equality of outcomes seems fundamentally incompatible with the human condition in my view. I share your focus and emphasis on process, believing that many other issues resolve themselves if the "process" is conducted justly and fairly. Having said this, all systems on this earth are human systems in the end, and what one carries in their heart will determine not just their individual choices and outcomes, but the outcomes of the system as a whole, as all systems (just and unjust) are made up of individuals. I pray every day for more and more people to look to Jesus and his teachings for their understanding of how to best function within the various systems that envelope their lives. But I never forget that justice in this world has to begin with me and what I choose to do every day. I always pray for the strength to be just and fair in accordance with God. The responsibility is always mine first and foremost ... and failing on any particular day is no excuse for me not to try my best the following day.