Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Prodigal Christianity (9) Justice

There is some really good stuff in this chapter, but I do have a problem with the way that they use the concept of justice. Fitch and Holsclaw say that,

Justice, especially social justice, means different things to different people.
However, they carry on using the term anyway.

There is a lot of good stuff in the chapter, but I do not consider that it has to be hung on the concept of justice.

The problem I have with using the word in this way is the concept of injustice assumes that a wrong has been done and that justice means that it needs to be put right.

If a person or group of people are in as messy situation, it is not necessarily the result of an injustice. There are three possibilities.
  1. The person may have messed up their own life. This happens quite frequently. People in this situation need mercy and compassion, but no injustice has occurred.

  2. The person may be made decisions that were perfectly sensible, but because of unforeseen circumstances, they turned out badly. This is very common. People start a business, the economy turns down and they end up losing their investment and in debt. A person chooses an occupation that pays well, but technology changes and they find themselves at the bottom of the heap. People often end up unemployed due to circumstances beyond their control. In this case, no injustice has occurred, but the people are still trapped in an impossible situation. They need mercy and compassion, not justice.

  3. Some people suffer an injustice that leaves them financially crippled. Indigenous people get their land stolen. People in business get ripped off by a business partner, or a client refuses to pay a debt. These people need justice, and they deserve justice. There are two options with in this category.

    • The person or people who committed the injustice have disappeared, or died, or no longer have any financial resources top put the injustice right. Recognition of the injustice might be morally uplifting, but it relatively empty because there is no possibility of restitution. The victim of the injustice needs mercy and compassion.

    • They person or people who committed the injustice can be brought to account, and they have the resource to remedy the injustice. We need a process of justice the remedies these situations. The OT model of restitution, rejuvenated by Zacchaeus is good example justice working.

It follows from this break down of the various options that in most situations where people are in a mess, justice cannot help them much. What they need is mercy and compassion. They people to stand alongside them, understand their pain and help them to escape from their troubled situation. This is something that Christians should be really good at doing. Standing and sharing with people in trouble should be bread and butter to Christians.

I do not see any need to hang all these situation on the word injustice. Adding the adjective social confuses the situation. Good biblical words like compassion and mercy will do just as well. The motivation for doing something about these situations must be love, rather than a sense of justice. The 4000 Jesus saw hungry were day labourers who survived from day to day, so going to listen to a preacher for the day instead of seeking work left them hungry till they could work again. He did not feel a sense of injustice, he was filled with compassion.

The problem with using the word justice is that the word assumes that the existence of a political power with authority to remedy the injustice by coercion or sanctions. Citizens hold the authorities accountable for the satisfaction of the injustice using coercive mechanisms. That is fine if the injustice is real, but it leads Christians toward political solutions for problems that are better dealt with by mercy and compassion. The fundamental assumption behind the concept of social justice is that someone has the right and duty to take the reins of power to put the injustice right through the use of political power. I think it is better to avoid the term “social justice” because it leads to political power that is contrary to the gospel.

That said, if you can accept Fitch and Holsclaw’s use of the term social justice, they have some good things to say about getting involved with people in distress.
Most of us are constantly tempted to join larger, more magnanimous justice efforts in the world that promise big things. There is an allure around the promise of changing the world through "the worlds ways": big government, big fundraising campaigns, and heroic relief efforts. Frankly, a lot of good has occurred through these efforts. But many times these big campaigns distract from just being present with the poor in the simplest most patient everyday ways that God can use to bring the kingdom.
They turn the church into a recruitment centre for individuals to go out and seek a justice in the world that is more conceptual than real. And the church itself, the social embodiment of the Lordship of Christ, is never considered as an entity that lives God’s justice and reconciliation before the world and in the world. The justice of God must begin in communities of people who share the new reality of reconciliation and renewal, love and transformation in their neighbourhoods.
This is the key question.
How can a people come together and spread justice through a neighbourhood?
We cannot presume that putting Christians in city hall is the way God will save the city.
Their answer is no Jesus, no justice.

One last issue, I had with this chapter, and it pops up all through the book is that they talk a lot about “the Kingdom breaking in”. I find this an odd way to describe the Kingdom. A kingdom is not something that breaks in. A kingdom that just breaks in temporarily is not really a kingdom at all. The Kingdom does not just break in. It is Jesus ruling the world through the Holy Spirit.

In most places, it could just as easily be written as the church breaking in, but they seem to want to say more than that. I sense what they really mean is that the “the Holy Spirit breaking in”. He is a person who can be welcomed for a moment, and then ignored, or rejected, so he often has to break in over and over again. When people obey his prompting and guidance, the kingdom is a reality, because the father’s will is done. They are in the Kingdom, and people meeting them are seeing or being touched by the Kingdom. But it is really just a glimpse of the kingdom, not the fullness of it.

I know that Jesus talked about the kingdom being near (Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9). The kingdom could only come near, because the Holy Spirit had not been released on earth. The fullness of the kingdom requires the fullness of the Spirit. He has not been poured, so the kingdom is not limited to just breaking in.

I wondered as I read this chapter, if they did not refer to the Holy Spirit breaking in, because they were not sure that it was him. Are they seeing people doing the right thing, but are not sure of the Spirit’s presence.

David Fitch seems to have a very narrow view of the Kingdom. I think that may be because he is afraid of slipping back into Christendom. Christendom was the church ruling the world, so it not the kingdom, which is the world being guided and lead by the Holy Spirit.

His vision of the kingdom seems to be restricted to the church being among the poor. This seems to reflect an Anabaptist lack of confidence in the ability of the Holy Spirit to expand the Kingdom. Therefore, he visualises a Kingdom that is isolated on the edges of society.

No comments: