Our contemporary, American society has become enamored with the idea of social justice. Here referring to the respectful acknowledgment of human dignity (and all that entails), with injustice being a neglect of that dignity. Sadly, this worthy love can sometimes be more like a summer fling, lacking depth or fidelity. There is a surge of exciting—albeit fleeting—emotion and the ideation of someone new. After the surge is over and the warm fuzzies fade away, so too does the fling. So it is with social justice. How in vogue it is to discuss or, perhaps more accurately, wag a finger at any given injustice, be it the lack of respect afforded to the homeless or the prevalence of human trafficking. We hear of these issues, perhaps feel our hearts stirred a bit, chime in passionately on social media to join our voices to the cause, and promptly proceed no further at all.
It is too easy to merely talk about some grand injustice. The discussion alone is enough to make one feel cultured and compassionate. However, social justice cannot simply be a discussion of the unjust, because we must also include how to make it just. This discussion must give due respect to the issue at hand as well as the very real men, women, and children affected by it. That requires genuine, intentional effort. Reading a few tweets does not a thorough investigation make. We must dig deeper into the issues. There are questions to consider beyond the obvious “What is the problem?” Consider, for example:
- How did this problem arise? What blind spots in our awareness allowed this to happen? Perhaps if we understand the injustice’s genesis, we will have insight into solutions or preventative measures.
- Who is directly and indirectly affected by this issue? Victims are not the only ones with whom we must be concerned. We must also consider their families and friends, we must consider their communities and governments, and we must consider the perpetrators of the injustice.
- What are some solutions to this issue? Who is capable and responsible in carrying out those solutions? What will be the long term effects of the solutions? Are those solutions themselves just?
- In the pursuit of justice, are the victims of injustice being given due value and respect—as partners in justice? Or are they being relegated to statistics and recipients of do-gooder intentions?
Moreover, when contemplating and discussing the questions of injustice and justice, Christians must be mindful of our roles. To do this, we cannot simply become angry at a particular injustice, but allow ourselves to truly experience the reality that we live in a broken and painful world. If tears are called for, by all means weep. But in the midst of weeping, let us remember that Christ was first the Redeemer of our own brokenness, the Healer of our pain. If we truly believe that, the implications are staggering because they mean Christ-likeness must be at the center of our pursuit of justice. That means a pursuit of justice predicated upon humility, grace, compassion, restoration, and yes, even forgiveness.
Do not misunderstand me. I do not in any way mean to advocate for some naïve, sugarcoated meekness. We should absolutely be for strength and boldness in our conception of justice. Strength, though, does not mean bitter anger or violence. And justice does not mean revenge.
If Christ is indeed in us, then we are called to conceptualize and pursue justice as Christ would. Beyond all of these other questions and contemplations, we must still ask ourselves: What am I going to do about it?
After we ask ourselves those tough questions, we must go a step further and do something or we are no more than clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1). The problem with the modern social justice movement is not merely in how it is discussed, but also in the frequent divorce of word and deed. In Micah 6:8, the prophet Micah admonished, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Even more sharply, James writes, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). In other words, unless coupled with action, our words, emotions, and good intentions are worthless—for they do nothing to right the injustice. Clearly, then, it is not enough to talk about justice. We must do justice.
There is admittedly the danger that many may have a tendency to go and do rashly without preparation or proper skill sets. As many social workers, teachers, law enforcement officials, missionaries, and pastors could attest, this well-meaning but ultimately vigilante-like justice can cause problems for those already in pursuit of righting a given injustice. Some ways to avoid these dangers include going to local homeless shelters, churches, community development centers, or schools and asking how we can help in those areas for which we are equipped. We should also be careful to humble ourselves as partners in justice, and beware the ever dangerous “savior complex” over those suffering from injustice. Finally, let us each pray that the Lord would guide our minds, hearts, words, and deeds and show us where and how to pursue justice.
In the end, we must do so carefully, do so intentionally, but most importantly—do, lest we forget that every day the homeless are being regarded as something less than the beautiful and valuable individuals the Lord created them to be, or that every day women and children are taken, raped, and discarded. And the most we could muster up in their defense was clicking “Share” on social media. So please, by all means love social justice. But strive to pursue that love in a manner worthy of your calling.