Social Justice


As Christians we believe that all people are made in the image of God and so possess an equal and inalienable worth. Because of this essential dignity, each person has a right to all that is needed to allow him or her to live their full potential as intended by God. This is what the fight for social justice boils down to: an unshakeable belief that all individuals everywhere should have equal access to rights, opportunities, and resources, and the grit and optimism to achieve that. These individuals may be people known to us or part of a group at the other side of the world. Each one is a beloved child of God.

Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison, used to tell her students, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

Originally a religious concept, Social Justice has come to be conceptualized more loosely as the just organization of social institutions that deliver access to economic benefits. But to us, as Christians, it is more that just reforming inequities in social institutions. It is a whole way of living that flows from our faith. It is the total way we interact with others as Christians. In fact, t is the way we live out the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbour.

For us as Christians, Social justice must start with how we live in the world. The compassionate life is a fruit of the virtuous life. We saw that the virtuous life, the holiness stream, was a way of being; the compassionate life is the accompanying way of doing. And both are fuelled by the Prayer filled life, the spirit led life, the word empowered life and the sacramental life. The six streams, flowing together, are like a rope with six strands which is much stronger than any of the strands alone.

These personal traits we develop in the virtuous life will spill over into our interpersonal relationships; our marriages and how we treat our families, our friends and all the people we meet. If we have leadership roles anywhere, such as on boards of clubs or as coaches to children, we should apply this honesty and integrity to their organisational policies and how the organization deals with members or associates? Likewise in our jobs. As much as it lies within us, we live at peace and in honesty with all people.

This work of healing reconciliation and compassion extends into all our relationships and social networks; we strive to bring the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is where we feed the hungry with our contributions to the food bank; we visit the lonely; we help the helpless and we reach out to those on the margins of Society.

It Is only when we have our inner life and personal interactions in order as far as we can, that we turn to the wider realm of the arena of institutional structures. Here our task Is to envision and work to realize a society whose institutions, laws and public policies provide justice for all and enhanced life for all.

And this is where we face a myriad of issues, and some of them are terribly complicated as they become tangled up in historical allegiances, cultural traditions and political interests. Things like the problems of poverty, homelessness, climate change, health care and immigration. You know them all!

Many, or should I say most, of these issues are not clear cut.  It Is hard to discern what will be the most loving and life giving to all people.  Prayerful discernment is needed to balance the needs of different groups, as we seek out the ways that best express the love of God and love to our neighbors.

The work for social justice is found in all denominations of the Christian Church. Christians have been prominent in all major reform movements through the ages. William Wilberforce and Harriet Tubman in the abolition movement; Florence Nightingale in the reform of nursing; Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement; Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in the civil rights movement; in more recent years, Mother Therea, Desmond Tutu, and so many more. I’d be remiss not to mention Willian Booth and the Salvation Army for there tireless work for the poor and marginalized.

As with the other streams, there are potential perils to the social justice stream; the need is so great. This can be so overwhelming that it sometimes leads to paralysis of action. We don’t know where to start, so we don’t start. We do nothing. On the other hand, we can rush into so many causes that we are ineffectual in all of them and wear ourselves out. In either case, the answer is to select one or two causes and do what we can. Remember, Jesus didn’t heal all the lepers in Israel …

Then, when start working for a particular cause, there are other pitfalls. Maybe we think we know what is best for a particular group and fail to consult them. Doing unto others as we would have them do unto us does not mean that our way must be their way and that we know what’s best for them. We would want to be asked how we want to be helped, and so we should be aware of the need to work with others rather than to impose solutions.

Another pitfall is when we forget why we are doing this; Are we looking for praise and recognition?  Does it make us feel that we are holier or better than others? These issues often degenerate into legalism and we forget we are serving humanity, person by person, not just a bunch of rules.

But when we seek to love and to serve prayerfully and with reverence for all creatures. We are cocreating with our divine Creator the Kingdom of God here on Earth.  This is what we promised to do at out Baptism and renewed those promises today.

I leave you with some words from William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army:

While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight. While children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight, I’ll fight to the very end!”  May God bless you as you fight!