• When did justice become an optional extra?

    Posted by Josh

    7 August, 2012

    Voices for Justice 2012 is fast approaching.

    It feels a bit weird to write that because it seems like hardly any time at all has passed since I was last down in Canberra at Voices ’11, crashing at my old college buddy’s place, soaking up the atmosphere of the Voices sessions, revelling in the presence of a like-minded (but nevertheless surprisingly diverse) group of people, and converging at Parliament House to get our lobby on with our elected representatives.
    I really love getting along to Voices, and I guess I’ve come to regard it as one of those non-negotiable parts of my year. I often find myself in conversations with people describing what we do while we’re in Canberra every year and trying to explain why I think it’s so important, and I encounter a range of responses to what I say (probably because I’m not so good at explaining it…).
    I’ve discovered over these past couple of years that, along with genuine interest (and the obligatory, half-condescending “good on you” that pops up every now and then), one of the really regular responses is people asking me how I fit these ‘extra’ things into my already-busy schedule.
    Josh takes part in a lobby group meeting with local MP, Alex Hawke, around the giant toilet at Voices for Justice 2011.Josh takes part in a lobby group meeting with local MP, Alex Hawke, around the giant toilet at Voices for Justice 2011.Josh takes part in a lobby group meeting with local MP, Alex Hawke, around the giant toilet at Voices for Justice 2011.Like almost everyone I meet, I’ve got a few things on my plate. Trying to fulfill all my obligations of work and study around my sometimes-underwhelming attempts at being a half-decent husband and father is admittedly tricky sometimes.
    So, the million-dollar question becomes: why, then, add all these other ‘extra’ bits on?
    I’ve got to admit at this point that I don’t actually understand the question as it stands.
    What I do understand is that at the heart of the question is an apparent desire to define clearly what is ‘central’ and what is ‘peripheral’, and to jealously guard that which is central from the intrusion of all these annoying things that seek to steal our time away from what is ‘important’.
    I think, by the way, that this is actually a good thing to do.
    We spend so much time sitting in gridlocked traffic, working long hours for often-modest returns, and generally fighting people off so that we can safeguard that sacred ‘time-out’, or spending quality time with family.
    These are good things! We should be seeking that sort of balance in our lives where we don’t drive ourselves into the ground or neglect the truly important things. Only a fool (or perhaps, dare I say it, a boss…) would argue otherwise.
    So I understand where these people are coming from, but I just don’t think that their definition of what is ‘central’ is well-rounded enough.
    I’ve come, over the past decade-or-so, to see more clearly than ever that this ‘Good News’ that we Christians bang on about (our understanding of which is certainly ‘core’ to how we live as Christians) is, well, a bit bigger than I first thought. The work of N.T. (Tom) Wright has been especially important to me here, and I very much encourage you to read some of his work (beginning, perhaps, with his extraordinarily simple-yet-profound Surprised by Hope).
    Wright has helped me see that ‘the Gospel’ is not something separated from our actions and interactions with issues like justice and poverty, and that discipleship includes not only my own response to personal sin and the proclamation of the forgiveness available in and through Jesus, but also includes the way I live, the way I interact with other people, the way I spend my money, and the way I respond to people who are made in the image of God but are being treated as something less than that.
    As a disciple of Jesus, all of these things therefore become ‘core’ issues for me. They do not trump the importance of the way I interact with my family by any means—it is not a competition(!)—but they are at the same time not ‘add-on’ issues that one may take or leave. These things are important; they are ‘core’. Our response matters.
    And so I think it’s important that we Christians take very seriously our actions in regards to issues of poverty and justice. If we are to believe that all people are made in the image of God, then it kind of matters if someone is being ‘dehumanised’ by the actions of others. Where the image of God is marred in one, it is marred in us all.
    But there is something we can do!
    We can, through our actions and our lives in general, prophetically embody what the coming Kingdom looks like, and begin to enact a foretaste of that Kingdom in our families and our communities. We can demonstrate in the now a taste, a glimpse, a hint of the not-yet; the possibilities that exist in God through the work of the Spirit now.
    With this in mind, then, I come back to my statement above that I don’t understand the question that is often put to me as it stands.
    As it stands, it implies that there are truly important things, and then there are these idealistic fantasies about ‘saving the world’.
    I just don’t accept the premise of the question.
    As far as I can see, my task in life is to live out this Good News in everything I do. So, I do need to make sure that I spend time with my family and friends. I do need to spend time out on my own, making sure I stay grounded and focused.
    But I also do need to make sure that I’m working towards living out this Good News in every area of my life.
    And this brings me back to the beginning ... 
    Voices for Justice—this truly amazing opportunity that we have to engage directly with our elected representatives—is therefore a chance to prophetically embody this alternative. It is a privilege to take part, and I believe, a profound possibility for demonstrating the not-yet in the now.
    I’ll see you there! 
    Josh Dowton is an Associate Lecturer of New Testament and Biblical Languages at Alphacrucis College and is completeing a PhD on the book of Revelation at Macquarie University.