Please read today’s great entry on this blog – she’s a friend of a friend I recently “met” online. Her entry deals with race and poverty after Katrina, and she has a great two-screen summary of the history of affirmative action that has propped up our country and benefitted majority races to balance the conversation. To top it off, after pain and righteous anger over stereotypes and racism in the reflection, the conclusion is a prayer for humility and peace. It’s beautiful – thanks Lisa!
Of major interest to me are the areas of compassion and justice – how these concepts are rooted biblically and theologically, how they are lived out in community and in local ministry, and how acts like these can actually transform the church (as well as the world), as they help us understand and embody God’s call to discipleship.
My understanding of “justice” as an idea, action, and goal has meandered for some time – and I’m grateful for both my “in the trenches” experience with injustice in urban cities and through relationships, and my more academic studies pulling apart various “ology-s” that deal with justice. Its helped me not just react or label “justice,” but feel it and live it and wrestle with it and think it over. I am in no way done with that journey – but it of course can affect daily life and choices we make, from the smallest way we choose to treat another person, to the largest sense of how we participate in society.
Below is an excerpt from a talk Scot McKnight (former Prof of mine), gave on “Social Justice” at North Park. He brings up many of the issues I’ve studied in the last few years, including what is justice, whose justice, what is the telos (or end goal), of justice, and he writes some of how this interacts with the U.S. political sphere and its notion of “justice.” One of my strongest critiques of both “leftist” and “right” Christians doing political speak since the last election is their over-reliance on party lines while mis-using words to speak of issues like faith, values, life, freedom, etc. Ultimately, as much as I believe in and am engaged in redeeming social life through the political stuctures, my motivation for this work and my ultimate definition is “Christian”, not American citizen, nor Liberal, not Conservative nor Democrat. I’m first and last a citizen of the kingdom of God – whose borders aren’t totally open for new residents yet. Of course what this means for current political debates that affect the welfare of millions, and the way we use our biblical language to talk with people of other (or no) faiths is important to reflect on. McKnight helps me think through this (so does Stanley Hauerwas and Miroslav Volf, for very different reasons, and so does John Perkins and Delores Williams.)
What we are facing in the retributive and reparative debate about justice then is a sense of justice that has almost nothing to do with the biblical sense of justice. The reason there is such a disparity concerns the ontology of the public square and the ontology of the Christian ethical system. In the Bible, the operative words are not equality or freedom or rights. The operative words, in their place, are “image of God,” “love,” and “grace.” I could explore all of this through the lens of one word of Jesus – kingdom – but I won’t in this context. But, let it be said that for Jesus the “condition” he was bringing was called “kingdom,” and kingdom is always about community, about society, and about relationships – and it was not about personal freedoms and individual rights. It was about an alternative society in which relationship to God and others discovered shalom.
My friend and work colleague, Holly, has a great recent post on her blog about race, class, and poverty being exposed by the wake Katrina left. Visit her site at hungerforjustice.net to read this entry, and for her ongoing thoughtful comments on current news, justice, hunger, and incarnating faith. Thanks Hols!