An Obligation to Justice
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God-Micah 6:8
Jesus turning the tables of the money changers
Recently, I had a conversation with an evangelical Christian who argued that a focus on social justice among Christians distracts from the “real issues,” especially evangelism and discipleship. This person argued that we just need to trust Jesus and primarily focus on the spiritual needs of people. However, when I read Scripture, I see a God of justice and a faith that is lived out in action (James 2:14-17).
An obligation to social justice echoes throughout the words of our Holy Scriptures, from the Old Testament commandments for righteous living, to the prophets crying out against the injustices of their time, to the honest and emotional Psalms, and of course culminating in the life and teachings of the revolutionary Messiah-Jesus.
It is a theme that cannot be ignored and yet, in reality, one which we too often brush aside to focus on other issues, such as increasing our numbers or ensuring everyone is interpreting scriptures the way we do.
Yet we are losing our testimony and our relevance by not standing on the forefront of the issues of the day, by not “speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8). The only issues the church seems to find worth fighting for are issues of purity, not much different than what the Pharisees did in Jesus day, ready to stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).
But it was the victims of such social issues that Jesus reached out to, the ones deemed “unclean” and who may not have had stellar reputations.
He is also the revolutionary who flipped the tables of the money changers and those taking advantage of their position to cheat the poor (Matthew 21:12 and John 2:15) and who called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33) and “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27-28). He was a man of deep love for the people, a perfect love that logically led to a pursuit of justice and condemnation of those exploiting them.
So, as Jesus’ followers, why do we so often sit on the sidelines? Why do we leave the important things to the world? Rather than following His example or being His hands and feet, we are careful to not be “too extreme” or“too critical” regarding the wrongs we see. We are afraid of being “polarizing” or judging, so we get comfortable and passive, preferring to have prayer meetings devoid of action. Yet prayer without action is empty (James 2:14-26).
When we see protests and riots of desperation, when we watch as people suffer under conflict and occupation, or struggle against “glass ceilings” of racism and sexism, why are we the most silent? Love is not silent and if we love, we cannot allow injustice to continue for any reason.
I too often hear people point to ISIS as a good example of how much worse it could be. This is like a woman struggling under the weight of an abusive relationship saying, “Well, at least no one has tried to kill me...I am still alive,” without any thought to improving the situation. Love compels people to stand with her so that she has the strength to stand up for herself and take action to improve her life, strength she wouldn’t have alone. In fact, real love desires an improvement for both people, even when it’s hard and seems hopeless.
By leaving the important issues of justice to the world, we are hiding our light and missing out on a large part of our calling in the world. We talk about the Great Commission and evangelizing, but people will look to our words and the actions we take to contribute to a more just society as an indicator of the kind of God we serve.
Is He a God of the rich and powerful, who cares nothing for equality or for the oppressed, or is He the Messiah of the Sermon on the Mount who calls out for the poor time and again in His Word? Is He a God whose love is passionate enough to care and be involved with those deemed undesirable or is He a God who is aloof and distant from the problems of this world? People will answer these questions by our behavior and how we reflect Him.
For this reason, I would argue that social justice is a huge part of the calling that Christ left us with, to go and make disciples and to be salt and light to a world full of injustice. If we choose to stand aside while confronted with racism, extremism and occupation, we are willingly allowing evil to permeate our society, leaving both the perpetrators of injustice and its victims in the dark, an act that is far from loving for either, and we forfeit our testimony by doing so.
We have an obligation to not simply miss the train on these issues, leaving them only to secular activists and humanitarians, but rather to confront injustice bravely, sacrificially “spending ourselves” on behalf of those who are oppressed and in need (Isaiah 58:10) in whatever form we are able. Let’s make up for lost time, becoming the foremost voice for social justice and for change, rather than pandering to the Pharisees and powers of our day.