• Discovering the meaning of 'doing justice'

    Posted by Scott

    6 April, 2014

    Yesterday I was asked how I got into the whole advocacy/justice thing. My reply ran something like this: I grew up in the Christian church. My church imparted to me a love of Jesus, the sense that life is meant to be lived as something extraordinary in response to the call of Jesus, and an experience of both the great highs and the great lows of Christian community. It was a faith community where Micah's call to love mercy and walk humbly with God was taken very seriously. But as I look back, and my memory may be fuddled by time, it seems to me we left out the "do justice" part. We weren't against justice, it just didn't feature that strongly in our account of what Christianity was all about.

    I went off to theological College and soon discovered that doing justice was one of the missing pieces in my attempts to follow the call of Jesus. Since then I've been discovering what the Bible means by 'Justice' and what it means in practical terms to do justice.

    The best explanation of what Scripture means by justice that I have found comes from a New Zealand New Testament scholar named Christopher Marshall:

    [T]he justice of God is a dynamic, active power that breaks into situations of oppression and evil in order to bring liberation and restore freedom. Its basic concern is not to treat each person as each deserves but to do all that is necessary to make things right, even though it is totally underserved and immensely costly. It is a restorative justice more than a retributive or distributive justice. It is God acting to end oppression and secure harmony and well-being, especially by meeting the needs of the disadvantaged and downtrodden.*

    As I read through the biblical narrative, God's work to end oppression and secure harmony and well-being seems to get ever wider. It begins with the rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, but once they are in their own land the focus shifts to those within their community who are vulnerable to exploitation by the powerful: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner. As Nicholas Walterstorff notes in his book Justice: Rights and Wrongs, with Jesus the vulnerable groups to whom he ends oppression and brings well-being expand to include the disabled, the diseased, the marginalised, the possessed, the unforgiven, and more. Then as I turned to the writings of the apostle Paul as well as giving attention to the materially and physically oppressed, the apostle describes all of us as subject to the oppression of sin and Christ's death as an act of God's justice to liberate us.

    So I've had to stop and ask who and where are the disadvantaged and downtrodden and how can I join God in ending their oppression and disadvantage? This has seen me rediscover the prophetic calling of faith. The prophets, including the greatest prophet of all, Jesus, sought out the disadvantaged and downtrodden, served them with mercy, and called those who were oppressing and disadvantaging them to repent of their sin.

    Recovering my prophetic vocation, a vocation I think we all share, I've been involved in advocacy campaigns like Micah Challenge and Stop the Traffik. I've seen some pretty amazing wins; wins that have taught me that advocacy works. I've reached the conclusion that speaking up with and for the disadvantaged and downtrodden is powerful when 4 things come together: well thought out policy proposals; lobbying of decision makers; a constituency demanding change; and champions within the decision making group.

    Good policy proposals allow campaigners with policy expertise to put a case for change to decision makers, while a popular constituency provides the motivation for decision  makers to adopt change. Out of this process will emerge individuals from within the decision-making group who champion the cause.

    I have become convinced that the Christian churches are one of the best placed societal groups to form a constituency for justice. Our faith places justice, mercy and faithfulness at the centre of spirituality; we meet regularly; we are committed to working toward a better world; and we can quickly mobilise people to sign letters, join marches, and meet with politicians.

    My journey towards justice has been a really important part of my faith development, and one for which I'm thankful.

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    Scott Higgins is a member of Micah Challenge's National Steering Committee previously worked as the Director of Community Engagement at Baptist World Aid.

    *Marshall, Christopher. Beyond Retribution: A New Testament Vision for Justice, Crime, and Punishment (Eerdmans, 2001).